The usual gypsies

soliti1 350Sulta has lived in Italy for 43 years and by now considers it her country even though she is often the victim of prejudices of other people. Brenda, just twenty-one, lives in a camp in the capital. With a mixture of sadness and indignation, she tells that one day a man in a park said to her if he was the president of the republic he would do everything to send the gypsies back to their country. "I decided to answer him and I said: Look, I am Italian, like you. Excuse me, but in which country would like to send me?".

Of Roma origin and resident in Rome, the two women, while belonging to different generations and backgrounds, share very similar stories of marginalization and discrimination. To talk about it is the only way for them not to continue to suffer: both consider communication and accurate information to be the most effective antidotes against fear, mistrust and racism that always affect their communities.

With other Roma men and women, Sulta and Brenda joined the project Sar San 2.0 ("How are you", in the Romani language) that, with training sessions and workshops coordinated by a team of facilitators, volunteers and cultural mediators, is realizing a "living library" to analyze and question some of the most entrenched and widespread "Rom-phobic" prejudices and stereotypes in the country.

"The method, born in Denmark, involves marginal social groups and victims of discrimination", says Simone Zamatei from the cooperative ABCittà, creator of the project with the 21 Luglio (July 21) association. "Each with its own title, a back cover and a story to tell, these people will be transformed into real 'human books', to be consulted by readers, as in a library. In order to facilitate emotional dialogue between the two parties it is necessary to prepare the ground through a process of capacity building aimed at training and informing the group that has joined the project. We organize a series of meetings, twice a month, accompanied by a steady editorial work to collect testimonies gradually shared".

The objective is to help people who normally would not have the opportunity to know each other by helping to break down the distorted and negative visions that some people have against certain minorities.

The Roma involved in the workshops have begun to confront each other, then working individually on the prejudice that hurts them the most on a personal level, and that, therefore, they would like most to overcome.

Elviz lives in an "equipped camp" and chose the phrase: Gypsies do not know how to live in houses and can not do that. "Not true", he says. "If I had a job I would not hesitate to leave the camp and look for a house for rent [...]. The fact that we live in a camp, however, increases in itself prejudices on us and we lose the possibility of finding a job. If an employer understands that I am Roma by looking at my residence, [...] it is very improbable that he will give me the job. "

Liliana feels hurt every time someone tells that "the Roma don't send their children to school". "My eldest son is already in seventh grade", she explains. "I live outside of Rome, and every day I make twenty kilometers just to accompany my children to school in the city. I am proud of this sacrifice that I do as a mom and I would like to tell about it."

 "Making even only one person change his/her mind on Roma would make me satisfied" concludes Dzemila.


Weapons of mass distraction

soliti2 280Although unfounded and resulting from ignorance and popular hearsay, prejudices and stereotypes against Romani people are very numerous and still strongly rooted in Italy. Journalists and politicians often contribute to feed them, turning the Roma and Sinti in perfect "scapegoats" to direct the anger and frustration of public opinion, turning it away from the discomforts caused by poor governance and crisis.

"The central point of all racism is [....] in avoiding of reason" says the social psychologist and researcher Roberto Mazzoli. "And it is from here that we must start to defeat it. Racism against Roma is, therefore, one of the many forms of fulfillment of intergroup social violence [...]: the majorities, to strengthen cohesion within themselves, in order to maintain and consolidate power in the hands of its ruling class, identify a minority on which to reflect a portion of the frustration of the social body, feeding on the discriminatory sentiments already circulating among the population; in this way attention is shifted from the responsibilities that should be attributed to the institutions for the ill functioning social coexistence. This is always valid, and especially during the historical periods of economic crisis."

PeW Research Center[1] in May 2014 revealed that 85 percent of Italians share negative views against Roma, although the presence of Roma in Italy is very low compared to other countries of the EU. Estimates reported by the document "National Strategy for inclusion of Roma, Sinti and Caminanti "[2] (2012) refer to 160 thousand people, of which 70 thousand with Italian citizenship. It is, therefore, a very low percentage (0.23 to 0.25 percent) compared to the overall population. However, it is very difficult to get exact figures because the census does not have an ethnic basis.

But one thing is certain: the attempts of inclusion solicited by European directives have so far had rather disappointing results.

Yet another recall of Strasbourg, that on February 24 published the report "Conclusions on the Implementation of the Reccomendations in Respect of Italy. Subject to interim follow-up"[3] confirmed this. Monitoring by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has shown that policies implemented in Italy are still very far from the real integration of the Roma.

These failures are largely caused by the absence of an effective and practical anti-racist rhetoric reserved for these communities, constantly feeding on atavistic fears and beliefs that are still existing in the collective imagination.

"In substance [racism against Roma, Ed.] is not different or more serious than any other form of racism, but it is [...] the most socially legitimized", continues Mazzoli. "It is found in many cultural settings, sometimes even those who should be immune [...] because it is very old and thus entrenched: the gypsies are the descendants of Cain the brother-killer, are blacksmiths who forged nails with which Jesus was crucified, they are mysterious nomads, impostors and sly people, devoted to magic and deception."

PeW ResearchCenter has confirmed the relationship between political ideology and discriminatory attitude: Italians who consider themselves to be "rightists" have more negative opinions, but the democrats and progressives are not immune to this trend either. "Over the years I have seen that you can be an anti-racist, a firm anti-racist, a militant anti-racist, and yet hate the Roma", comments the writer Christian Raimo on the blog Minima&Moralia. "Over the years I have seen that you can have an internationalist spirit, be cosmopolitan, go to volunteer in the Balkans, and yet hate the Roma. Over the years I have seen that you can have fun, move, that you may love the films of Emir Kusturica and Tony Gatlif, and yet hate the Roma. Over the years I have seen that one can fight for children's health, be supporters of UNICEF or Save the Children, and yet don't give a shit about the children in the nomadic camps. But above all", concludes the author, "I have seen administrators from the left rule Rome for almost twenty years uninterrupted and yet address the issue of Roma and Sinti in the most retrograde and racist way that could ever be conceived: the invention of camps".


"A world of worlds"

The resolution passed in 2011 by Brussels on the "European strategy for Roma integration" was denouncing the numerous violations of fundamental rights, such as housing, education, employment and health, suffered by these minorities in all member states. "The material deprivation and lack of social opportunities trap these people in a cycle of poverty and marginalization from which it is hard to exit", says Marco Brazzoduro, ex professor of Social Policy at La Sapienza University in Rome.

In order to combat "Roma-phobia", the phenomenon must first be known from a historical, social and cultural point of view. "We always talk about the Roma in the singular despite the obvious traits of heterogeneity and complexity associated with different backgrounds, nationalities and traditions", continues the professor who, citing the anthropologist Piasere, speaks of "A world of worlds"[4].

The Roma, together with the Sinti, the Kale of Spain, the Manouche of France and Romanichels of the Anglo-Saxon countries, would be about 16 million worldwide, of which 11.5 million in Europe. "Among them, there are the rich and the poor, intellectuals, artists, university professors..."says Brazzoduro. "Typically, the religious life is influenced by the cult practiced in the context of settlement: they are Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Protestant (mainly Evangelists, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses). The common transverse element is the Romani language, although many do not speak and espescially do not write it. Depending on the region, however, even the language changes, due to the natural process of hybridization with words absorbed from the local languages ​​".

soliti3 545

Some prejudices against Roma go back to the Middle Ages, when the first caravan arrived from India through the Near East and the Balkans. "They were different by definition in a Christian Europe where it was unacceptable to profess another faith. So, th legends that are still persistent were created, but totally unfounded, such as the absurd belief born in Bavaria seventeenth century that they kidnap children. It is said that three children were lost in the woods and the men of the villagr went at night to look for them. After having stumbled upon a camp of zigovnje, they kidnapped and interrogated 17 of them who, under torture, admitted to having killed and eaten them. The men were dismembered alive and the camp was destroyed. The next morning, the three children returned to the village. The same infamous prosecution had also hit the first Christians and the Jews: it is, therefore, a constant in the history of mankind, which always needs to stigmatize the minorities."

University research "The gypsy kidnapper. Stories, complaints, judgments (1986-2007)" on the alleged attempted abduction of non-Roma infants by Roma, conducted by Sabrina Tosi Cambini showed that none of the persons that went missing during the analyzed period was found in a camp. In Italy there have been several processes for attempted kidnapping and all cases except two, were resolved with acquittal, despite the frequent phenomena of hysteria fueled by the media, which often spread these news without verifying them. In 2012, in Naples, a 16 year-old of Roma origins was sentenced to 4 years for attempted kidnapping: after she was released from prison, she said she had not even seen the child whom she had been accused of wanting to kidnap. The incident triggered a violent "Roma hunt" that culminated with the burning of the Ponticelli camp.

"Some defend themselves by saying that they have already 10-12 children to look after", says Brazzoduro. "Their attitude toward the filiation is based on a strong sense of extended family, as in all pre-capitalist, pre-industrial and patriarchal realities. The limited economic autonomy constrains many people to forms of group solidarity preventing the overcoming of this social model."

Nomadism is another unfounded legend, used to segregate thousands of families on the edge of the city in camps more or less temporary, mischievously called "nomadic".

"Their eternal wandering was linked to the persecution suffered since the Middle Ages onwards", comments Brazzoduro, "when proclamations forbidding cingani to stop in the same place for more than three consecutive days were posted in the residential areas: after that short period, killing them and appropriating their property did not constitute a crime. It is important to remember that most of the Roma families have started living in spontaneous, tolerated and eqipped camps here in Italy, and according to recent estimates, 4 out of 5 Roma live in normal houses".

On the common belief that "Roma have the habit of stealing in their culture", as Mr Gianfranco Fini said when he was Speaker of the House, Brazzoduro concludes: "The phenomenon may relate to some of them because they are poor, not because they are Roma: all the marginalized of the world share the same ancient forms of lawlessness. There is no doubt, however, that the recent municipal policies of closure of markets and the prohibition of trade in scrap metal have made it difficult for many people. "


Anti-Gypsyism 2.0

In 2012, the UN expressed concern about the increasing incitement to hatred by the Italian media, particularly the social networks. Despite numerous campaigns to raise awareness among journalists and the introduction of a mandatory training on immigration and integration at some professional bodies, the road is still long and not without obstacles and setbacks.

soliti4 300The report of the 21 Luglio Association, "Anti-Gypsyism 2.0"[5] (2013) has pointed out to 370 cases of incitement to hatred and discrimination at140 national and local newspapers in 8 months, by politicians (75%), private persons (58%) and journalists (20%). Of the 482 cases of incorrect information, 11% came from Corriere della Sera, 7.5% from Il Messaggero, 6% from Il Tempo and La Repubblica. The data from 2014 are not more encouraging, with 406 cases of incitement to hatred and discrimination, mostly by politicians (86%).

Despite the recommendations and complaints in the prosecution, much of the press continues to spread messages of intolerance and racism. Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament, speaking on Radio 24 on April 8, 2013, International Roma and Sinti Day, rebaptized the day as "the day of demagogy and 'do nothing'ism [...], a festival of thieves". More recently, MEP Gianluca Buonanno has called the Roma "the dregs of society" on La7 tv channel, to the applause of the public and the astonished gaze of the actress and activist Djana Pavlovic, and Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Northern Leauge, is heard almost every day on radio or television with his shameful racist proclamations.

"There is a substantial aspect on which we invite people to reflect", says Giovanni Maria Bellu, president of the Carta di Roma association. "It is, 'if hosting a person who expresses himself in this way does not in any way constitute 'connivance'. And if there is a way to avoid that - behind the screen of a political mandate - racial hatred propaganda is made on tv channels. For example, by obliging the guests to sign a commitment - with economic sanctions in case of violation - not to use expressions of xenophobia and racism."



Federica Araco

Translated from Italian by Övgü Pınar

Supported by :

 From the gypsies to the Roma, old and new mythologies | Elisabeth Clanet dit Lamanit, Martin Olivera, Olivier Gros, Jean Rossetto, Nicolas Sarkozy, Grenoble, Emmanuel Valls, R.O.M. Rights of Minorities















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