On Roma in Europe and Norway{0}

This photo taken in Berlin and depicts a 23 year old woman by the name Erna Lauenburger. Erna was a skilled writer. She was executed in 1943, for no other reason but having been born a 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, that’s the domain of the authorities and the politicians (and I would make a horrible politician).  I observe and write notes because I have nothing better to do. That said, get to it guys!! That’s why you got in to politics right? Cause you know how to fix problems/find solutions?

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 are frequently referred to as “Gypsies” (Gypsy is considered an offensive term in some circles) 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 (and are) 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, right? I am not suggesting that Roma are exposed to Holocaust-like conditions these days, but they are certainly marginalized and treated like garbage. They are frequently beggars and live on the street. Some steal (I probably would too if that was my only option). The great majority are illiterate, and in European society at large, they are not considered equal to the rest of us. 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 and I completely understand why; I would never let my (non-existent) children suffer a fate like that of the Roma. 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 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 (this is not entirely unreasonable, camping is forbidden within Oslo’s limits unless it is done in costly camping-lots, so there’s that). 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 minuscule.  It was also alleged that they defecate outside, and that without properly wiping! (I would love to hear how Jan Hauger, the person claiming this, would know anything about how the Roma wipe. I do 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 (*very angry-face*).

An added problem is that of “helpful people” (in other, non-minced words; ‘well-meaning idiots’). We have a guy here 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 (of sorts) 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 (alcohol, narcotics, you name it). I will always buy =Oslo, and I will never buy “Folk er folk’s” magazine. Not because I don’t empathize with the Roma, but because it is a dirty concept. First, I am not too fond of his stealing the idea of a street-magazine (could it be considered intellectual property theft? I think so). Secondly, it has (naturally) created a conflict between two marginalized groups whom both deserve better. Bjønnulv Evenrud (the founder of “folk er folk”) should have known better.  (Am I being particularly judgy today? Yes. Yes I am.)

It should be said that the Norwegian government has tried to help in some ways. They have set up showers (which have not been used) and porta-potties (which were quickly trashed, by whom is uncertain). It might be so that the Roma lead their lives in a way that focuses less on showering and indoor-toilets and more on everyday survival. 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. 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. We dehumanize, we create ‘An Other’, and in the process, we ignore our humanity, compassion and empathy. 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 your reaction to young girls dying is that of nonchalance and indifference, you certainly do not see the girls as real human beings, as someone’s daughters and someone’s sisters. You have lost your ability to feel compassion, and that’s a serious flaw in your character.

Or so I think.