Racism and xenophobia destroys EU social cohesion

Written by Sarah Isal on 8 April 2014 in News

The upcoming European elections must be used as a platform for candidates to promote 'racial equality and social justice', argues Sarah Isal.

Today, on international Roma day, it is disheartening to see the lack of reaction and tangible improvement to the shocking situation the Roma people face across Europe, as they continue to be denied their basic human rights and continue to be the victims of racist attacks, encountering widespread discrimination and hate speech. 

Walls are being built in cities throughout Eastern Europe to separate Roma from the rest of society. Anti-Roma marches are often used to mobilise votes by populist and far right groups and parties in many countries of the European Union and protesters regularly try to destroy Roma houses where families and children live.

"We shouldn't underestimate the fact that the generalisation of anti-Roma discourses within some political parties and by some politicians in Europe leads to an increase in incidences of discrimination and violence against Roma"

Roma children are segregated in inferior schools and classrooms in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece and Slovakia, among others. In Italy, many Roma are forced to live in isolated and segregated camps set up by the municipalities, making it extremely difficult for them to access basic rights to education, employment and healthcare. Roma still face forced evictions in France without receiving adequate alternative housing.

We shouldn't underestimate the fact that the generalisation of anti-Roma discourses within some political parties and by some politicians in Europe leads to an increase in incidences of discrimination and violence against Roma, like those listed above.

We know that racist speech is not just words; it can very often lead to acts of violence. And comments fuelling hatred and stigmatisation against any group on the basis of their ethnic or national origin have a particularly damaging impact when they come from public figures and politicians.

In light of the prevalence of anti-Gypsyism in Europe, several anti-racist organisations representing Roma, Jewish, Muslim and black communities have decided to join forces to curb racism and hate speech ahead of the European elections.

Indeed, full equality for all the marginalised groups who struggle to have their rights respected can only be achieved through solidarity; when all groups join forces to advance racial equality and social justice.

Intercommunity solidarity is all the more important in view of the upcoming elections. Showing a united front will counter the rise and appeal of racist and xenophobic ideas and policies, and prevent these from exploiting stereotypes to polarise communities. 

In the run-up to the European elections, politicians should live up to their responsibility and not incite to discrimination, prejudice or hatred against any ethnic or religious minority. They should also commit to seriously address and recognise anti-Gypsyism as one of the root causes for the failure to bring about the necessary changes on the ground.

The fight against anti-Gypsyism, as well as other specific forms of racism such as Afrophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, should be made a priority in all political parties' programmes, because they are seriously damaging social cohesion in Europe.

International Roma day should serve as a permanent call to Roma and non-Roma to become more united in the fight for Roma rights and against racism in Europe.

It's time that solidarity becomes a value in European societies, as violation of the rights of one group affects everyone else in our society.

About the author

Sarah Isal is chair of the European network against racism (ENAR)

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