Roma, like members of other visible minorities, routinely suffer assaults in city streets and other public places as they travel to and from homes, workplaces, and markets. In a number of serious cases of violence against Roma, attackers have also sought out whole families in their homes, or whole communities in settlements predominantly housing Roma. These widespread patterns of violence are sometimes directed both at causing immediate harm to Roma—without distinction between adults, the elderly, and small children—and physically eradicating the presence of Roma in towns and cities in several European countries.
This report documents violence and other forms of intolerance against Roma in eleven countries during 2007 and 2008. The most widely reported incidents occurred in Italy, where efforts to vilify Roma involved high-ranking government officials. Thousands of Roma were driven from their homes in 2007 when mobs attacked, beating residents and burning Roma settlements to the ground, as police reportedly did not intervene in several cases to protect the victims. Some Italian political leaders encouraged a national clamor for Roma to be expelled from cities and deported. Violent incidents have also been reported in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Russian Federation, Serbia, and Slovakia.
The bias-motivated violence against Roma often occurs in an environment in which local political leaders speak openly of their desire to expel Roma minorities. Even as police and local public authorities are in some cases complicit in driving Roma from their homes and seeking their relocation to other towns or cities—or even their deportation—others holding national public office, too, characterize Roma as outsiders who are less than citizens and are unwanted. The presence of Roma in new places of residence, including as a result of migration within the newly expanded European Union, is often particularly precarious when anti-immigrant bias turns Roma into a scapegoat for broader societal ills, as is the case in several of the countries profiled in this report.
The discriminatory violence of private citizens and the inadequate responses of governments are manifestations of a broader framework of anti-Roma discrimination. This extends to the full range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Even as public policy and private violence conspire to drive Roma from the shelter they can find in camps and abandoned buildings, pervasive discrimination denies them access to legal remedies for the loss of homes and property and the access to public housing or rental properties that would provide an alternative.
Indeed, the intensity of the recent anti-Roma violence in Italy should serve as a wake-up call to all of Europe. The multiple factors at work: the negative popular attitudes against Roma; the abuses that they experience at the hands of the police; the official and unofficial discrimination in employment, housing, health care, and other aspects of public life; the violent rhetoric of exclusion and expulsion used by public officials; the failure of many states to address the challenges of the marginalization of Roma—all combine to create a potentially explosive situation, with dire human consequences. As this report shows, this combustible mix of factors exists in several European countries. Yet, official monitoring of hate crimes that includes disaggregated public data on violence against Roma is practically non-existent even among countries that have developed adequate monitoring systems on racist violence. Addressing hate violence against Roma, in the context of their unique situation, should be a matter of priority concern for policymakers and law enforcement officials.