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Europe

Anti-Ziganism in focus on International Romani Day

Across Europe, Roma and Sinti are formally marginalized and frequently abused. International Romani Day is one way of drawing attention to that.

Many Roma experience poverty, violence, crime, neglect and reduced opportunity in Europe, where they make up the largest transnational minority. It's a cycle that is difficult to escape.

In Romania, for example, social services stop short of reaching the people who need them most - the people who have been forced to society's margins. This is where private local initiatives step in. Financed by donations from Switzerland, Austria and Germany, Eginald Schlattner, an 83-year-old Lutheran pastor and novelist in Transylvania, is seeking to send 25 Roma children to a career school in the city of Sibiu.

Schlattner keeps his parsonage open to the children of his community. They can eat there, bathe there, get their homework done there. He believes that education is the only way to integrate Roma into a society that excludes them.

Roma, also known as Romani, do not have it easy anywhere in Europe, but anti-Ziganism - prejudice against Roma - can run especially deep in countries such as Romania and neighboring Serbia and Bulgaria and their fellow Balkan lands. "The Romany people are the losers of the European Union," said Petra Rosenberg, the chairwoman of the Berlin-Brandenburg chapter of Germany's national association of Roma and Sinti.

Following on centuries of racism, Roma experience poverty at its deepest in Europe's east, they have little access to education or the labor market there, and they are vulnerable to hate groups and official segregation. Some stake their last hopes to a journey west, often believing that, at the very least, things cannot get worse. "But they don't receive any recognition here," said Rosenberg, who is Sinti, a Roma ethnicity in Central Europe. "They just run up against the same old stereotypes."

Many younger Sinti and Roma even try to disguise their heritage in the face of widespread social exclusion. "We still experience rejection and isolation," Rosenberg said.

'Unbearable'

On Friday, International Romani Day intends to call attention to such challenges. In Germany, for example, more than 20 political bodies, civil society groups and cultural organizations have joined together to discuss solidarity efforts with Roma and Sinti and ways of drawing attention to racism.

"The racism experienced by Sinti and Roma across Europe on a daily basis is unbearable," said Uwe Neumärker, the director of the Foundation for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is part of the initiative. "And nobody pays any attention."

Neumärker called for expanded solidarity rather than forcing threatened minorities to fend for themselves. "As the majority, we have to draw public attention to these situations, condemn them and stand against them," he said.

Uwe Neumärker

Neumärker has called for broad solidarity with persecuted minorities

The organizations taking part in the Roma rights initiative have set their sights on Germany's policy of designating various countries as "safe" and thus categorically rejecting asylum claims from nationals who are unable to prove special circumstances.

Take Kosovo, from where Kefaet Prizreni and his parents fled when he was just 4 years old in the early 1990s, when it was part of the more-or-less-intact Yugoslavia. His brother Selami was born here. Both children attended school from kindergarten on in the Ruhrgebiet city of Essen and went on to make a name for themselves in Germany's hip-hop scene. And then in 2010, like many from the Balkans, they were deported to Kosovo, like many others.

The brothers have been back in Germany since 2014, but their official status here is yet to be decided. Their story is told in the documentary film "Trapped by Law."

"We don't want sympathy," Selami Prizreni has said. "We want recognition." The brothers planned to take this message to the stage at the International Romani Day festivities in Berlin on Friday. It's a message that Roma and other minorities can relate to - and one that the rest of Germany may slowly be warming up to.

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