Rudolf Sarközi: The Situation of the Roma in France Is a Disgrace

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Rudolf Sarközi : La situation faite en France aux Roms est une honte

Translated Monday 4 October 2010, by David Preece and reviewed by Bill Scoble

The spokesman for the Roma of Austria is a municipal councillor in Vienna. He fears that the campaign launched by the president of the French Republic “may be the starting point for a new wave of anti-Roma violence in Europe”. Professor Rudolf Sarközi is the spokesman for the Roma of Austria.

The fact that he shares his surname with the president of France, who recently drew attention to himself by launching an offensive against the Roma and other travelers living in France — of which the Roma (or Gypsies) are a part — is without doubt coincidental, but this fact symbolizes the absurdity of wishing to divide the population and to throw an entire social group at the mercy of the mob. In Central Europe, particularly in Hungary, the surname Sarközy or Sarközi is quite common among Roma families.

“In Austria, the Roma are completely integrated into society,” explains the Vienna councillor and representative of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ). Since 1993, they have been one of the national minorities (along with Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, Roma, Slovenes, Hungarians…) who are constitutionally guaranteed their rights as citizens. This concept of national minorities, which is not currently accepted in France, was adopted by Austria based on the lessons of the former Hapsburg Empire and from a more recent period – that of the Nazi persecutions. It works as a safeguard in a country where the racist and xenophobic far right is still very active. The weight of history is oppressive: the spokesman himself was born on 11 November 1944 in the Lakerbach concentration camp in the Burgenland, where his family was imprisoned. Some nine thousand Roma were massacred by the Nazis out of the 12,000 living in Austria before World War II. Currently, there are around 30,000 Roma, largely settled, in a country of 8.5 million people.

Rudolf Sarközi insists: “The Roma are fully-fledged citizens of the member states of the European Union… Each of these countries should ensure that the totality of their rights is respected, and the European Union should supervise this. Therefore, this is not strictly a European question, or even a ‘problem’ that a population that is nomadic and presented as external would pose to Europe and to which Europe should respond. The extremely precarious situation which the Roma in France have been put in, the policy of expulsion either by force or on a ‘voluntary’ basis with the payment of pocket money is, strictly speaking, a disgrace, said the professor with indignation. This type of action has also been used in other European countries— Italy, for example, where a succession of repressive and discriminatory laws has been passed.

The overall picture drawn up by he spokesman for the Austrian Roma gives a reserved assessment of the current situation in his own country. Nevertheless, thanks to the mobilisation of social organisations, results have been achieved of which Rudolf Sarközi is very protective: education for children whose parents are in need of assistance. The state should carry out its responsibilities so that young Roma can follow their studies, insists the son of a family of deportees, who began his working life in Vienna as a waste collector. The press has described the deplorable conditions in other European countries such as Hungary and Romania, but warns against certain simplifications put forward by the French authorities. If respect for rights and the struggle against insecurity and misery is the responsibility of nation states which are reliant on the European institutions, Professor Rudolf Sarkösi believes that the EU should exercise more strict control over the distribution of European funds to the countries concerned.

Rudolf Sarközi fears that the campaign launched by Nicolas Sarkozy in France “may be the starting point for a new wave of anti-Roma violence in Central Europe. Last week, six of them were beaten to death in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, very close to Vienna”. It is a matter of urgency that the European Union ensure that the governments of all of its member states respect the right to full citizenship. It is impossible not to notice, observes this militant SPÖ member, that conservative governments everywhere are employing racist and xenophobic tactics. The Roma are not the only onces having the finger pointed at them. “In the Netherlands, for example, the political compromise of the majority on the right is achieved through the stigmatisation of Muslims. In other words, the forces of the left in Europe should put the matter of citizenship rights at the centre of all political projects”.