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'Virtual' Romanistan the way forward

The commemoration of the murder of Romani prisoners by the Nazis in the Auschwitz concentration camp in August 1944 is a chance to reflect on the future of the Romani people in the UK and around the world. But instead of being overwhelmed, Roma campaigners see their history as offering a way forward not only for themselves, but for the world community.
For the first time, the Nazi genocide of their people, the Porajmos (destruction), is being linked to a ceremony in Hiroshima to remember victims of the atomic bomb dropped on the city. The event is timely. It comes just as the European Roma Rights Centre has detailed attacks against Romas in Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech and Slovak Republics.

In these and other EU countries, including Italy, a wholesale suppression is “operated from behind a smokescreen of rules over documentation, planning law and even people trafficking,” says campaigner Grattan Puxon.

Amongst the acts of violence are firebombings, shooting, stabbings and beatings, which have left eight people dead and many others injured. The report says there is an increasingly racist climate and that offenders are not being successfully prosecuted.

And lest we think the UK is exempt from anti-Roma attitudes, prejudice is being fuelled by Channel 4’s “observational documentary” Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, now being marketed around Europe. UK Romani campaigners are rightly enraged by the humiliating depiction of Irish and English Travellers and Romany Gypsies in this crass portrayal of their culture. 

Mike Doherty, of the Irish Travellers Movement, in a penetrating deconstruction of BFGW, describes it as “car-crash television that feeds into – and inflames – the extremely visible political and social conflict around Gypsy and Traveller site provision in the UK and nods towards… the death of the idea of multiculturalism in Europe”. He adds:

It uses sleight of hand to allow the viewer to laugh at cartoonish and seemingly racist representations of some of the most marginalised and persecuted ethnic minorities... the prejudiced tropes fly thick and fast.   

Romas see the 1971 World Romani Congress, held in Orpington near London, as a key historical moment, which placed their culture on the map. It established April 8 as Roma Nation Day. Then in 2000, the Fifth Romani World Congress put forward a ground-breaking claim: non-territorial nationhood.

An extraordinary statement in 2001 rejected the “consubstantiation” of concepts of state and nation, which, it said “is still leading to tragedies, wars, disasters and massacres”.

The history of the nomadic Roma cuts through the merging of state and nation. The Roma dream could offer the world community and individuals belonging to other nations a vision for the “new world” of the 21st century, it added.

Granting the Roma’s request for nationhood, the statement proposes, could enable all of humanity to make a substantial step forward. “We offer our culture, our tradition, the resource which is in our historic refusal to search for a state: the most appropriate awareness of the contemporary world.”

Puxon, spokesperson for the April 8 movement, is calling for co-ordinated mass action, voter power and an “upgrade in self-representation”. He notes that anti-Roma injustice and abuse is being confronted by activists in Germany, Paris, Prague and Skopje.

Roma numbers within the European Union are set to double by 2050. Puxon believes this will make their demands irresistible. But, alongside other people’s movements, Roma writer Ronald Lee’s dream of a Romanistan – a nation with or without a token state – is gaining momentum.

As Puxon notes, “long-term survival has been the single greatest achievement of the scattered Romani communities” but now they can come together to create a virtual Romanistan.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
16 July 2013

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Your Say

Fiona says:

The 'Romanistan' idea is wonderfully creative and exciting, the nation-state has had its day let's face it so the notion of a type of non-territorial, autonomous form of belonging that is borderless and stateless but still has social, political and legal force is tremendously powerful and inspiring. Its establishment would break wide open the whole question of what constitutes 'the state' and how it could be overturned or dramatically transformed. Would it need to be named something other than 'Romanistan' however since there are non-Roma gypsies - the Sinti for example as well as Irish Travellers and others to whom this form of nationhood would also be appealing and applicable?

Ruth Barnett says:

The idea of Romanistan appeals to me too. But why can't Sinti and Irish Travellers as well as Roma identify with its culture and principles?

Europe is becoming increasingly multicultural; many groups do not want to assimilate but to be integrated in the main culture while retaining their own specific culture. As long as each integrated but not assimilated group keeps within the law of the land, this can work well. I agree that the era of 'pure' nation states is outmoded. Cultural groups spread over country boundaries and it now makes more sense to have nation-states that cross boundaries.

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