Members of the group Sinti and Roma still face a big deal of discrimination. Prejudices hold for a long time …

In Europe we often declare our tolerance and acceptance concerning minorities. Let's face reality. While this might be true for some minorities, we still discriminate against others. There is one group that is a minority group all around the world. Sinti and Roma. According to the historian Wolfgang Benz they are “the most unpopular minority in Europe”. Hence many people have prejudices against Sinti and Roma and they are faced with structural discrimination. Although the first Romani people came to Europe in the 14th century, the image of a loud, criminal, annoying and rubbish producing minority is still very present in European heads.

Media reports can support stereotypes

One reason these prejudices linger around might be the way media reports about Sinti and Roma. In many cases they create a negative image of poor beggars who live on cost of the society. The pictures used in media to display Sinti and Roma mostly have a negative connotation as well, such as photos of rubbish, women with long skirts and veils and beggars with many children,. According to a study of the German youth organisation Amaro Foro, half of the articles in Germany discriminate against Sinti and Roma by using old stereotypes.

Apparently, we forgot that Sinti and Roma are a very heterogenic “group”. There are young, old, rich, poor, diligent, lazy, conservative and modern people among Sinti and Roma. As any other group one can not define Roma people in one attribute. Although humans tend to think in clustered categories, every human is individual and is not defined by the origins, physics or ethnicity. Among Romani people there are huge differences in culture, socioeconomic background and language.

History of the discrimination until today

“Antigypsyism” is a huge and long-lasting problem in Europe. Todays stereotypes towards Sinti and Roma came into existence in the 17th century. Since Roma people partly lived nomadically, they were considered as “Stateless”, and have been the negative example in comparison to “rooted people”. During the national socialism in Germany, “Antigypsyism” reached the worst extent. Sinti and Roma were considered “inferior” and “work-shy”. Compulsory sterilization was a common way to prevent the reproduction of Sinti and Roma. Approximately 500.000 Sinti and Roma have been persecuted and killed in concentration camps by the Nazis. And still, until the 1980´s the genocide of Sinti and Roma was not an important topic for the German public. It was only within the last decades this changed.

Since 2012 there is memorial place in the center of Berlin to remember the killed Sinti and Roma. While that might be an important sign, Sinti and Roma have to struggle with discrimination in many parts of their everyday life e.g they are disadvantaged when looking for an apartment. Undoubtedly there are differences across European countries. Especially in Portugal, Czech, Slovakia and Greece, Sinti and Roma feel discriminated while looking for a job. In these countries people have an especially strong negative attitude towards Sinti and Roma. In Greece, Italy and Slovakia even three quarters of the population have a hostile attitude. Apparently, we still have a problem in Europe with tolerating minorities - but this can be changed.

The memorial in Berlin © OTFW, Berlin – GNU Free Documentation License

Making discrimination an issue

Reflecting ourselves, our own stereotypes and being aware of prejudices is really important. Insight is the first step to improvement. Further we have to listen to minorities how they experience daily discrimantion and thematise the discrimination of Sinti and Roma or other minority groups in media and everyday life. Since minorities are only a small part of society, the majority can give a voice to certain groups. Public discussions often create a consciousness concerning a topic.

Referring to a quote of the former german chancellor Helmut Kohl: “The humanity of a society can be seen not least in the way it deals with the weakest members”. It means a society is solidary and humane if it cares about outsiders and minorities and doesn't discriminate against them. We have to stand together against any form of discrimination, reflect ourselves and others. Then we can celebrate equality in a diverse society!



Written by: Helene Ruf







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