By New Worker correspondent
ROMA people throughout Europe commemorate the Porajmos – the mass killing of Roma people by the Nazis – on 2nd August and in London this memorial event is traditionally is held at Hyde Park’s Holocaust memorial garden, near the Albert Gate.
Last Saturday a large group of Roma people, along with many Jewish supporters, met there to remember the Roma victims of the Nazi death camps – estimates vary from 250,000 to 1,500,000.
They included Ladislav Balaz, who chairs the European Roma Network and cannot return to his home country, the Czech Republic, Petr Jano, also a Czech Roma, Toma Mladenov from Bulgaria, Valdemar Kalinin, a former Red Army officer and poet from Belarus and Grattan Puxon, who heads the Roma network in Britain.
Also present were David Landau of the Jewish Socialist Group, Ruth Barnett a 79-year-old author and campaigner against discrimination who came to Britain in 1939 with the Kinder transport and Thomas Acton, emeritus Professor of Romani studies at Greenwich University.
They brought the Roma flag – top half blue to represent the sky that Roma travel under, bottom half green to represent the earth and with a big red wagon wheel in the middle – making it look a bit like the flag of India, which is where the Roma people are believed to originate.
The fate of the Roma under the Nazis is often spoken of as the forgotten holocaust and whereas now anti-Semitism is socially unacceptable, Roma people still face widespread irrational prejudice and hostility making their lives difficult and leaving them vulnerable to abuse and attacks.
This is very much the case in the former socialist republics where Roma communities have become victims again of extremist nationalists and fascists and now many go in fear of their lives.
Toma Mladenov is one such refugee – an activist for Roma rights he was imprisoned for his political activities for six months and fled to Britain on his release. He then had to fight the British Home Office to avoid extradition.
Valdemar Kalinin brought along a collection of medals awarded by the Soviet Union to Roma people who had served in the Red Army or in Soviet industry during the Second World War.
They warned of the real dangers of rising racism and Nazism in Eastern Europe and especially Ukraine.
But Roma in Britain also have real problems. Grattan Puxon spoke of a recent meeting with Communities Minister Eric Pickles and reported that our current government is definitely “Roma hostile”.
This is the government that supported Basildon council in evicting travellers from land they had bought and converted from a junkyard into living space because of technicalities over planning permission.
Grattan called for a national strategy for Roma and other Travellers that will allow them places to live together legally and to access the same health, social and educational services as anyone else.
Pickles recently issued a guidance paper: Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments – A Summary of Power. This document brings together an armoury of legislation and legal processes, old and new, which can be used against Travellers.
Pickles makes no attempt to hide his purpose – its opening salvo is “This guide sets out the robust powers councils and landowners now have to clamp down quickly on illegal and unauthorised encampments.”
“This is nothing less than a declaration of war against Travellers and Roma, to batter those who try to carry on, intimidate people from continuing to live a Traveller’s life and to clear Roma encampments,” said Grattan.
“The Government and the media present Travellers as a problem. The real problem is the woeful lack of site provision. At best no more than 150 pitches out of an officially recognised need of 3,000 individual family yards will be provided this year and next.
“Travellers have been encouraged by successive governments to buy their own land only to find, that having struggled to raise the money, they are refused planning permission to live on their land. Squeezed by the lack of sites on the one hand and Pickles’ ‘robust powers’ on other, where are Travellers supposed to go? Nowhere. The intention is clear; to destroy Traveller identity and way of life.”
Last year’s Porajmos commemoration was interrupted by a police raid and attempt to arrest Romanian refugee Travellers at the ceremony who had been sleeping in the park because they had nowhere else to go.