Fire attack On Roma camp sparks “8 April” protest

b576f8e1-ca24-441b-e840-a1be82d608bfThe outrage of yet another flagrant fire attack on a Roma camp in Italy is sparking widespread protest this week.

The Romani flag was raised over the Italian Consulate in London on Sunday as demonstrators marking Roma Nation Day took to the streets to demand an end to the increasing instances of of anti-Roma violence across Europe.

Human rights activist Paul Polansky, living at the camp, saw the fire starting at the side of the road and is convinced it was a deliberate act.

“Two attempts were made previously,” Polansky says. “Firemen arrived but it was obvious they only wanted to save the nearby railroad and not the barrack-huts.”

A call-out is being made on behalf of the twenty families left homeless at Via Sacile-Bonfadini, Milan, to inundate the Italian Embassy with requests for provision of alternate accommodation and an immediate investigation.

The number to call is +44(0)20731222000

Meanwhile, during flower-laying to remember the half million Romani victims of Nazi genocide, Toma Nikolaev told London demonstrators that EU promises to combat discrimination and improve the lives Europe’s 12-million marginalized Roma had not been fulfilled.

“The EU has failed us,” said Nikolaev. “And worst than that because it is my country Bulgaria has completely failed to stop the violence and end apartheid.”

As well as photos of Nazi-period Sinti victims, a list of 21 Roma who have met violent deaths in Bulgaria was displayed alongside the Hyde Park Holocaust Memorial during the commemoration in central London.

Afterwards Roma from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and the Czech Republic, together with student and trade union activists, and representatives of Hindu and Jewish groups, brought together by the Traveller Soldarity Network, marched also to the embassies of France, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The demonstration ended outside the offices of the UK Department of Communities, which helped to fund the violent, police-led eviction at Dale Farm on 19 October last year.

“Back in l971 delegates came together at the lst World Roma Congress that gave birth to the present-day Romani movement,”
Grattan Puxon told protestors. “Forty years later that movement has to gear up to meet the challenge of a worsening situation as anti-Roma racism grows.”

He said many among the younger generation now felt the movement needed to become more militant. This was reflected in the increased protest action during this year’s 8 April events. Some had been coordinated, notably by Florin Cioaba in Romania, and an 8 April organizing committee in Budapest.

Nikolaev said in an interview that those keen to assert the rights of the Romani people should strive hard to further link up the communities spread over sixty countries. Well-coordinated, joined-up protests would enhance the political leverage of Roma organizations working with European and state institutions.

He said it must be possible to build-up something similar to the successful anti-apartheid movement which did so much to end the suppression of Black civil rights in South Africa.

“After all we are the Blacks of Europe,” Nikolaev remarked. “They did it and we can to it too if we just act together.”

In another timely appeal to Roma NGOs and political parties, Bajram Hailiti is urging all to join in signing a common declaration
of basic rights and demands. He says while a few may be better off, the majority of Roma continue to live as pariahs.

The first clause of the draft declaration requests fulfilment everywhere of the right to protection from violent assault and eviction – whether perpetuated by illegal, neo-fascist groups or governments.

Haliti is swift to point out that little or no recognition is being given to the emergence of collective national feeling, manifested in so many places on 8 April. This is more emphatic, one must say, where events are held under the banner of Roma Nation Day, as the First Congress intended, rather than as a less defined international celebration, which here and there attracts the lip-service of officialdom.

It is significant that the next World Roma Congress is scheduled to take place in Belgrade, capital of the former Yugoslavia. For it was
in Yugoslavia that Roma campaigned hardest to upgrade their status from that of a mere ethnic group to a constitutionally enshrined nationality.

The Belgrade Congress could provide a platform for those who want to see fuller and more effective common front between the representative organisations, including the IRU, the ERTF, the ERU and others. At the same time, it is an opportunity set up an all-inclusive co-ordinating committee capable of planning future mass mobilizations on Roma Nation Day, and other significant dates such as the 2 August genocide commemoration.

“We’re already united under one flag,” notes Nikolaev. “The next step is to realize our potential as a mass movement and demonstrate this on the streets Europe’s capitals. We in London are ready to play our part in this.”

For the moment eyes are on Milan, and the fate of families cleared from their land at Dale Farm. The Belgrade Congress will draw attention to the 1,500 Roma under threat of eviction at Belvil. What Zarko Jovanovic Jagdino labelled the Black Legion stalks us today as the bogey of anti-Roma racism and has everywhere to be defeated.

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