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Romani Rose and Horst Seehofer at Tuesday's Berlin press conference
Horst Seehofer (R) says he'll campaign for Roma rights during his retirementImage: Wolfgang Kumm/dpa/picture alliance

Minister urges action to tackle anti-Roma discrimination

July 13, 2021

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has backed a study that calls for an inner-German treaty to benefit Sinti and Roma, a minority still facing "massive discrimination."

https://p.dw.com/p/3wQyw

Germany's next interior minister must give "high political priority" to tackling discrimination against Roma and Sinti people, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer urged on Tuesday, warning that this would be "extremely important" for societal cohesion in Germany.

Receiving an 800-page expert study commissioned by parliament, Seehofer backed its twin calls for a federal treaty between the government and Germany's Central Council of Sinti and Roma and for a special commissioner to tackle anti-Roma discrimination, assisted by Germany's regional states.

Addressing journalists in Berlin, alongside council chairman Romani Rose, Seehofer warned that negotiating such a treaty would be "very difficult," but even on retirement — after Germany's September election — he would "make his contribution."

Almost all of the panel's recommendations had his "high sympathy," Seehofer said, rejecting, however, the advisers' call for a blanket halt to Roma deportations to other European nations.

Two states already have such treaties at the local level, Baden Württemberg and Bavaria. Seehofer, of the Bavarian CSU, said he had struggled to persuade conservative colleagues to adopt such a document in 2018.

"It was one of the toughest cases I had to resolve in my political career," he asserted.

German government 'exemplary,' public less so

Rose said the intended federal treaty must highlight Germany's responsibility for the Nazi era annihilation of an estimated half a million Sinti and Roma.

"We must denounce discrimination of Sinti and Roma just as we denounce anti-Semitism," Rose told DW. "We denounce this, because we know that anti-Semitism was the foundation stone during the Nazi era for this campaign of extermination, committed against Jews but also against Sinti and Roma people." 

The origins for the prejudice in Germany go back at least six centuries, said Rose, who added that sentiment against "Gypsies," as Sinti and Roma are often called, was still an everyday experience for people at schools or dealing with the authorities or with police.

Rose called the German government's attitude over the past 30 or 40 years "exemplary," albeit adding: "The people we are yet to reach [in Germany] are society at large." 

In April, Chancellor Angela Merkel was awarded the Roma Civic Prize for the "special way" she had advanced the minority's recognition across Europe.

"First and foremost, we are Germans," Rose said. He added that a future treaty must acknowledge "Sinti and Roma as an integral part of German society." The group was first officially recognized as a minority in 1995.

A treaty assuring Roma equal rights would resemble Germany's long-existing federal treaties with Catholic and Protestant churches, and, postwar, with its Jewish community, said Rose.

Seehofer said he could foresee a government commissioner dedicated to tackling discrimination against Roma, similar to the role of the commissioner to combat antisemitism.

Lack of educational material

The experts in their study recommended special status recognition for Roma seeking asylum in Germany as particularly vulnerable persons. 

The panel also complained of a lack of materials in German classrooms and political education courses to help end discrimination against Roma.

A woman wears a sign that says
June 2021: A Berlin protest after a Roma death in police hands in the Czech RepublicImage: Oliver Feldhaus/Roma Trial

"Awareness of the massive discrimination against Sinti and Roma in all areas of life is almost completely missing," Rosesaid, citing one example of a real estate company which he said "did not rent" apartments to Sinti and Roma.

The EU's Fundamental Rights Agency estimates that between 10 to 12 million Roma currently live in Europe, with some 6 million within EU member states.

Known historical records on Sinti and Roma in Germany date back to 1407 in Hildesheim in Lower Saxony state.

ipj/msh (epd, AFP, dpa)

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