On Roma in Europe and Norway

 

This photo was taken in Berlin and depicts a 23 year old Roma woman by the name Erna Lauenburger. Erna was a skilled writer,and had she been allowed to live, she might have contributed  much more than she already has.   She was executed in 1943 for no other reason but having been born Roma.

This photo was taken in Berlin and depicts a 23 year old Roma woman by the name Erna Lauenburger. Erna was a skilled writer,and had she been allowed to live, she might have contributed much more than she already has. She was executed in 1943 for no other reason but having been born Roma.

(Again) note; I do not claim to have the answers as to how the problem of the Roma could possibly be solved,  I merely observe and write notes because I have nothing better to do.

Anyway..

I’m certain that whoever reads this knows of the Roma, but just in case you don’t, I’ll give a brief introduction. Roma were/are frequently referred to as “Gypsies” (Gypsy is considered an offensive term) and they are wanderers. They originated in the Indian subcontinent and are currently dispersed throughout Europe and parts of the Americas. Throughout time, the Roma have been persecuted (almost?) on par with the Jewish people, but there are considerable differences between the two groups. Where the Jewish people persevered (despite incredible hardships) and have managed to spread the word of their ill-treatment, the Roma have not. Literacy and education has made all the difference. Both groups have been denied entry to several countries (among them, Norway) and forced sterilizations carried out by the majority-population were commonplace in the case of the Roma.

The Roma were also persecuted during the Holocaust, and the only group treated worse were the Jewish people. We are (of course) aware that it did happen to Roma too, but there is not a whole lot of discussion of the Roma’s fate these days.

Now, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I am not suggesting that Roma are exposed to Holocaust-like conditions these days, but they are certainly marginalized and are treated inhumanely. They are frequently panhandlers and live on the streets. A number are virtually  illiterate, and in European society at large, they are not considered equals. Their kids are sent to schools for intellectually disabled or segregated into ‘all-Roma’ classes. They do not have access to the same healthcare as you and I, and their life-expectancy is considerably lower than ours. They frequently refuse to disclose their ethnicity to the authorities. Their ‘paranoia’ is very well-founded, but in withdrawing from the rest of society they create an even greater problem for themselves. Progress is (usually) achieved through interaction, and without it, they’ll likely remain where they currently are.

Back to Norway (and Europe, but my first-hand experience is naturally from the country in which I live). The trend is not changing. Roma are still persecuted, but in a ‘kinder, gentler way’. They are chased away by the cops when they set up camp. They have been attacked with fireworks.  A smallish Norwegian newspaper (fairly) recently printed an article in which it was claimed that the Roma eat pigeons (!), rats (!!) and dogs (!!!) (feel free to contact me if you want any of the articles translated). This claim about Roma eating rats was supported by a picture of a bone which appears to be from a chicken wing (check it out, there’s a cigarette-butt that serves as a size-indicator. Rat-bones are much much smaller so if that bone is from a rat, it would be a Monster!) I would call the article `weirdly-phrased and almost propaganda-y’.
These are people who do not eat shellfish, as they consider scavengers not edible, so the likelihood of these allegations being true are miniscule.

It was also alleged that they defecate outside, and that without properly wiping! (I would love to hear how Rusken-leader Jan Hauger, the person claiming this, would know anything about how the Roma wipe. I can not contest that they might ‘go’ outside, but how do you know about their wiping-habits Jan?).  I am not usually in the business of judging others, but I’ll make an exception for Mr. Hauger. What he said harkens back to 1930′s Germany.

An added problem is that of “helpful people” (in other, non-minced words; ‘well-meaning idiots’). We have a guy here, Bjønnulv Evenrud, who started an organization called “Folk er folk” (“people are people”… Yup, not a particularly clever name…) He decided that the smart thing to do was to print a magazine that the Roma could sell as a means to get some money. There is already an organization doing that;  =Oslo, a long established institution where the sellers are  addicts. I will always buy =Oslo, and I will never buy “Folk er folk’s” magazine. And it is not because I don’t empathize with the Roma. First, I am not too fond of Evenrud copying the idea of a street-magazine for people down on their luck. Secondly, it has (naturally) created a conflict between two marginalized groups whom both deserve better.

It should be said that the Norwegian government has tried to help in some ways. They have set up showers and porta-potties.  I must also commend many members of the Norwegian clergy; they have demonstrated on the Roma’s behalf, and I can honestly say that my respect rose considerably. It was a true act of compassion.

Anyway, To the psychology-part of this post; what does ‘information’ like what was printed in the newspaper article mentioned above do to our psyches? If we are gullible enough to believe it, it makes us consider the “vastly different” as not quite human. We are led to believe that they do things we would never do; they eat things we would never eat; they act in ways we (from our privileged positions) find to be awful. We do not acknowledge that they are living, breathing humans with the exact same emotional range as ourselves. When we dehumanize, it becomes much easier to treat people in ways that we would never dream of treating those we consider our equals.  These were the mechanism at work in the Holocaust, in former Yugoslavia/Bosnia, in Rwanda, Abu Ghraib and in countless other cases. By dehumanizing, we create ‘An Other’, and in the process,  our humanity, compassion and empathy evaporates.
A case in Italy illustrates my point; two Roma girls drowned during the summer of 08. Normally, those around would react with shock and horror, but instead they chose to continue sunbathing, just meters away from the dead girls.. If the reaction to young girls dying is that of nonchalance and indifference, it bears witness of a serious character flaw, both on a societal and on an individual level.

 

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