THE UKRAINIAN RROMA ARE BEING PERSECUTED
By Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia
400,000 gypsies live in Ukraine
We knew that it would happen sooner rather than later. Every time that the gadjé (non-Rroma) declare war, it is always the Rroma that suffer the consequences because we receive blows from both sides. That is what happened in the Balkan War and the Spanish Civil War; that is what happened under the Nazi regime and that is what is happening now in the territories experiencing ethnic or territorial conflict. I remember with particular pain how one of the former chairmen of the International Romani Union told me that one day, some villagers entered his home and put a rifle in his hands, with the categorical order that he used it to shoot any enemies of the homeland.
Where are these enemies? I do not know; I don’t know who they are, nor where they live.
This is the greatest tragedy of the civil wars, because although a citizen does not consider himself to be anyone’s enemy, it is highly possible that his own neighbour would report him and he ends up being shot dead… How is that possible? And as my friend did not want to kill anyone, and knew that his and his family’s lives were in danger, he fled his homeland and came to find me at the European Parliament, where I found a way to help him go to Germany as a refugee.
Two days ago, well-known European organisations such as the European Roma Rights Centre, the International Charitable Organisation ‘Chiricli’ and the International Renaissance Foundation made a declaration, urging the governments of all Ukrainian factions, as well as international organisations, to adopt the necessary measures to preserve and protect the rights of the Romani minority and assure their safety, independent of the country’s political situation.
These organisations referred to what have, in recent weeks, brought about anti-Rroma protests that have, in turn, led to a series of violent acts against the Romani people, which could exacerbate the situation in a tragic way. For example, they denounce the following:
In Slaviansk, a Rroma came under fire and was seriously injured as he attempted to defend his house from an attack on 29 April. The man remains in a serious condition. Previously, in Slavyansk, a group of more than 20 men had attacked seven Rroma families. The men entered the houses and beat up the Rroma that lived there, including the children. They then demanded money and looted the houses for anything of value.
On 29th April in Cherkassy, as these organisations continue denouncing, the house of a Rroma family was set alight, while a group of Ukrainian gadjé threatened to attack the Rroma families if they did not leave their homes immediately.
What continues to happen is a dramatic reminder of the angst suffered by the Rroma who told me about his escape during the Balkan War. The European Roma Rights Centre, International Charitable Organisation ‘Chiricli’ and International Renaissance Foundation state that on 27 February 2014, a Rroma man was attacked in Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky, in the Kiev region, by a group of people who levied the accusation against him that the Rroma were not participating in the country’s political affairs and that they were apolitical. Following this, a group of around 15 people attacked four Rroma families in Korsten, in the Kiev region, and declared that they were planning to attack other Romani homes.
What is happening in Ukraine is nothing new. The closest reference point is the dismembering of Yugoslavia, where more than a million Rroma lived. When the Second Balkan War broke out, it was our Rroma community that suffered the consequences most keenly. Until 1997, some 300,000 Rroma were forced to abandon their homes and flee for the Western Diaspora that was never on the radar of the European political leaders. After the territorial division of Yugoslavia, some 40,000 Rroma became refugees in Italy and 30,000 in neighbouring Austria.
All of this, without forgetting Kosovo, which was a former Serbian province. Before 1999, around 150,000 Rroma lived in this territory. Now, barely 40,000 remain. And the accusation keeps coming back: the new leaders of the small country that achieved independence in 2008 accuse the Rroma of being friends or collaborators with the Serbs.
The Ukrainian Rroma are simply Ukrainian. There will be individual supporters of the Kiev regime and thus those who wish to integrate into the European Union, or those who strongly wish to join Russia, in whose bosom they feel safer and better protected. But, if there are, these are specific people; individuals who are not representative of the Ukrainian Rroma. Because, and I must repeat this once again, above all, the Ukrainian Rroma, as a collective, feel like Rroma. And then as individuals, they are Ukrainian, European and citizens of the world.
It frightens me to consider the consequences of a possible conflict between the communities, occurring when the flag of one culture is raised as a protective shield for its own culture, or as a sword of attack against others.
Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia
Lawyer and journalist
Chairman of the Spanish Romani Union
Vice-President of the International Romani Union