On 6 September, the Federal Foreign Office held a conference at the Federal Foreign Office in conjunction with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma. Under the title “Confronting Anti-Gypsyism. The Role of Political Leaders in Countering Discrimination, Racism, Hate Crimes and Violence Against Roma and Sinti Communities”, parliamentarians, experts, as well as representatives of government and civil society from around Europe discussed the challenge of the continuing discrimination against Sinti and Roma and ways of tackling it together. The German OSCE Chairmanship has made tolerance and anti-discrimination issues one of the main focuses of its work this year.
A place in the midst of our society
In his opening speech, Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth outlined the role and activities of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union in the fight against anti-Gypsyism. He stated that despite this commitment, Sinti and Roma continued to come up against deep-seated stereotypes and prejudices throughout Europe. “It is therefore all the more important that all democratic forces take a firm stand against this overt discrimination and stigmatisation”, said the Minister of State. He stressed that Sinti and Roma had enriched our continent for centuries and that their place was in the midst of our society, not on its margins. He said he was pleased that the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC), established on the initiative of the Council of Europe, is to be based in Berlin.
Joint efforts to bring about recognition and equality
Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, emphasised the necessity of better legal provisions and better enforcement of these provisions in order to end discrimination. Moreover, he pointed to the importance of examining the injustices committed against Sinti and Roma in the past in all European countries, as well as of common places and dates for commemoration. In this connection, numerous speakers called for the term Holocaust to also be used for the extermination of Sinti and Roma during the National Socialist era.
ODIHR Director Michael Link explained that his institution: monitors hate speech and crime in the OSCE participating States and highlights the frequent discrepancy between legal commitments on the protection of Sinti and Roma and day-to-day reality. Romani Rose, the Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, stressed that no-one was looking for special rights. What Sinti and Roma were demanding was simply recognition and equal treatment as full citizens of the states whose nationality they had often possessed for centuries.
Key role for political leaders
In her closing speech, Claudia Roth, Vice-President of the German Bundestag, summed up the findings of the various panel discussions involving parliamentarians at national, EU, OSCE and Council of Europe level on the special role of political leaders in the fight against Gypsyism: hate speech and stereotyping should be combated immediately and resolutely, a legal framework for equality should be created by adopting plans of action and national laws and the issue should be kept on the agenda in political discourse.
Furthermore, there was agreement that tangible changes in the lives of those concerned can only be brought about by cooperation between the European, national right down to the municipal level and engaging in a close exchange with civil society. Learning from successful activities in other countries and joint efforts with groups tackling other forms of discrimination would increase the chances of success. Ombudsman models and the importance of the media were also discussed. Finally, all participants expressed the hope that more successful Sinti and Roma would state their pride in being members of this community and serve as role models to encourage young people to actively campaign in parties, parliaments, government institutions and civil society for the rights of their people and for recognition in society.