In the imagination of the Roma, the 20th century is "the time of crying", "the time of camps, gas chambers, shootings, persecution, unpunished crimes and criminals", the time of unemployment and muddy shoes. We trusted people, states and foreign politicians, we believed in humanity, solidarity and the international legal order. And nothing came of it!
On 8 April 1971, Roma representatives from many countries met in London for the First World Roma Congress. This congress was the result of more than ten years of organising by Roma, mainly from Yugoslavia, Romania and other European countries and is still the most important event of the Roma civil rights movement. It was about the recognition of the genocide, as many representatives were themselves survivors of the Holocaust against Roma, about equal rights and the preservation of language and culture as well as the fight against discrimination. This also included the rejection of all foreign names. An own flag, an own anthem and 8th April as the day of the Roma nation were the results of the congress.
In 51 years since the Congress, there has been much change, there have been many struggles. However, over time, the spirit of the equal rights movement has been lost. Instead of equal rights, the focus was only on "integration" into society, even though we have been living in these societies for centuries. Critical voices were not heard, discrimination continued to increase.
With the Congress we want to bring a new way of thinking and create a platform where the real problems are to be solved. A general reform of Roma policy is necessary.
The democratic process ensures political legitimacy and empowers the Roma nation on the path to full emancipation. Therefore, at the Berlin Congress, we want to introduce an election system that includes voters throughout our global diaspora.
The transformation processes after the end of the Cold War have strongly pushed the exclusion of Roma in many countries. The wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s displaced many Roma and deprived them of their livelihoods.
Roma were never accepted as equals in society, but remained second-class people. To this day, the problem of discrimination is not systematically addressed. To this day, certain forms of discrimination are ignored or not recognised:
Structural discrimination in the education system robs Roma children of their future. They need equal opportunities. School segregation and special schools must be a thing of the past.
In many countries, child removal is a common method of institutional discrimination against poor Roma families. Instead of supporting the families, the children are taken away from them when the parents lose their housing. Or for other economic reasons. The best interests of the child are used as an excuse to impose state paternalism.
The media have traditionally produced and reproduced stereotypes against Roma since the beginning; the majority society is negatively influenced by this. We can no longer accept this. We need anti-discrimination laws and laws against racist agitation against Roma.
There is hardly any reporting on racist attacks against Roma. We need statistics on racist violence so that we can take action against it at the political level.
Instead of punishing police violence, violent police officers are praised by politicians, as we saw in the case of Stanislav Tomáš.
Right-wing and far-right politicians sit in many national parliaments and in the EU Parliament. Especially before elections, they run hate campaigns against Roma and use them as scapegoats to divert attention from the fact that they have no solutions to real problems. Roma settlements are regularly illegally destroyed and the inhabitants deprived of their livelihoods. In some countries, politicians work with far-right "vigilantes" (paramilitary groups) or hooligans to terrorise, intimidate and expel Roma. There are hardly any reports of these groups being punished. This behaviour is unacceptable in a democracy.
The expulsion of the Roma after the Kosovo war, the crimes committed against them - torture, rape, murder, the destruction and occupation of their homes and property - are still ignored today. There is hardly any documentation about the ethnic cleansing. The people have been living in the diaspora for more than 20 years, some of them without secure residence status, often severely traumatised, with permanent fear of deportation and no right to their property. There is no political will and no representatives who can solve the problem. 13th June must be recognised as a day of remembrance for the expelled Roma from Kosovo, so that it is never forgotten that Roma were expelled from Kosovo after more than 600 years.
Many of us left our homes, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers. We left our Roma settlements, our caravans, our mahallahs, our homelands, in search of a safe country, work and a better future for our children. The time of false equality. The winds of destruction and evil blew across our planet. For 80 years we believed in democracy, and again nothing came of it! We still believe in it, even today! Freedom and democracy without the joy of life. Dishonest politicians, silent intellectuals and an international legal order deprived of any responsibility.
Roma women have been forcibly sterilized; collective punishment occurs; Roma settlements in many countries have no or limited access to electricity and drinking water; settlements are regularly evicted or attacked. This list can be continued endlessly. Structural, institutional and everyday discrimination is a commonplace for Roma. The Roma political representatives are not able to solve these problems.
If everything has its own time, then the time has come for this crying time to be over and for our mahallahs to start developing, for our children to find employment, the time when the Roma will take our fate into our own hands. That time has arrived. It is now or never!
At this point in time, none of us Roma and no Roma organisation has ready-made solutions or proposals. Through the congress we want to discuss these problems and find solutions. We want to reach as many Roma organisations as possible to work together on these solutions. So that we can create a better, a fairer future for our children and the generations to come.
We are an alliance of many Roma organisations and invite other organisations to join us.
It is necessary that the majority societies develop a self-critical awareness and actively promote equal rights for all.
We want to come together on 16 May 2023, Roma Resistance Day, to unite and create a future for all.
It is time for us to unite in these difficult times.