By Jonathan Lee
Fifteen Romani men, women and children were murdered in 2017 and 2018 because of their ethnicity. From Bulgaria to France, Roma as young as 13 and as old as 64 were shot, stabbed or beaten to death by racist murderers from across Europe.
Family members bear the coffin of Jusinov Erdal after he died of mistreatment at Shtip Prison on 22nd March 2017
Half of those killed, died at the hands of police or prison officers who were trusted with a duty to protect them. In ten of the cases, no charges whatsoever were brought against those responsible for the death, and none of the killings were investigated as hate crimes by the authorities.
The number of hate crimes committed in the European Union has been increasing over the last ten years. According to the 2016 EU MIDIS II survey: “On average, one out of three Roma surveyed had experienced some form of harassment – either offensive or threatening comments in person, threats of violence in person, offensive gestures or inappropriate staring, offensive or threatening e-mails or text messages, or offensive comments about them online.”
The rising level of intolerance towards minorities in member states has not gone unnoticed by the European Commission. In 2016, Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová created a high-level group to combat racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.
Whilst this is an important recognition of what the Commissioner describes as “the unprecedented societal challenge Europe is facing”, it has an air of too little – too late, in light of the fractures and shifts in European politics in recent years. The number of Roma who lie dead as a result of ethnic violence in the years since her announcement cannot be said to represent failings in a European Commission high level group. However, the circumstances of their deaths show that the implementation of EU laws to protect the rights of victims of hate crimes is weak in countries where Roma die and justice is rarely served. Most of these fourteen deaths were not random acts of violence from racist members of the public, but state killings by officers of the law, often in countries where far-right populist rhetoric has poisoned public discourse on minority issues. These killings cannot be divorced from the hate speech spewed from the mouths of fascist politicians across Europe which create an enabling environment for hate crime.
Mitko Boyanov’s killer is arrested and charged with premeditated murder in May 2018 in Bulgaria.
[…] Valeri Simeonov [,] has publicly called for the creation of Roma concentration camps and in 2016 described Roma as “brazen, feral, human-like creatures that demand pay without work, and collect sickness benefits without being sick. They receive child benefits for children that play with pigs on the street, and for women that have the instincts of stray dogs.”
In Bulgaria, where 4 of the killings occurred, the rise of the far-right ‘United Patriots’ coalition has led to a number of fascist politicians rising to positions which they can use as a platform for anti-Roma hate speech. Their Deputy Prime Minister, Valeri Simeonov, has publicly called for the creation of Roma concentration camps and in 2016 described Roma as “brazen, feral, human-like creatures that demand pay without work, and collect sickness benefits without being sick. They receive child benefits for children that play with pigs on the street, and for women that have the instincts of stray dogs.”
Czech President Milos Zeman has often referred to Roma as “inadaptables”, has stated that 90% of Roma in the Czech Republic refuse to work, and reminisced about the communist era when work-shy Roma would be forced into labour or face a beating. The Czech Republic has seen some of the worst cases of far-right attacks on Romani individuals in recent years, with the European Roma Rights Centre documenting 48 attacks between 2008 and 2012.
Protesters marching outside the courthouse in Blois, France on the 6 month anniversary of the day Angelo Garand was shot dead by Gendarmerie in a raid on his father’s home (2017).
In 2017 Franck Sinisi, a Front National City Councillor, proposed at a Council meeting to “remove the gold teeth of Roma” so they could provide “self-funding” for their accommodation in Fontaine.
In France, a 2016 report from the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) warned of hate speech becoming routine in the country. Then Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, had previously declared in 2013 that “the majority [of Roma] should be delivered back to the borders. We are not here to welcome these people.” French Mayor, lawmaker and MP, Gilles Bourdouleix, is on record saying “Hitler didn’t kill enough” when referring to Romani Travellers in his commune of Cholet. In 2017 Franck Sinisi, a Front National City Councillor, proposed at a Council meeting to “remove the gold teeth of Roma” so they could provide “self-funding” for their accommodation in Fontaine.
These people, their associated political parties, and their apologists in the media are partly responsible for creating the climate of hate which allowed these fourteen Roma to be killed. In addition to demanding justice for the victims of ethnic violence, we must take preventative measures and hold those to account who use anti-Roma hate speech as a tool for political gain.
There are most certainly many more Romani people whose names are not on this list. Many of these deaths went almost entirely unreported at the time, so it is highly likely that many more died and went quietly under the media radar. The names of the fourteen Roma whose lives we know were taken are listed here. Some of their names are not recorded out of respect for their families’ privacy. But their deaths, displayed in their entirety, may hopefully act as a wakeup call to Europe on the dangers of mainstreaming far-right extremism, on institutional violence, and on the ultimate, deadly expression of antigypsyism.
The list is as follows:
Goszko, 17-years-old, killed in Montana, Bulgaria on 9th October 2018
30-year-old woman, killed in Beregovo, Ukraine on 2nd July 2018
David Popp, 23-years-old, killed in Lviv, Ukraine on 23rd June 2018
13-year-old girl, killed in Amfissa,Greece on 4th June 2018
Mitko Boyanov, 28-years-old, killed in Shumen, Bulgaria on 12th May 2018
Bekim Demir, 39-years-old, died in Idrizovo Prison, Macedonia on 25th December 2017
24-year-old man, killed in Breaza, Mures County, Romania on 22nd October 2017
Manuel Fernández, 28-years-old, died in Albocásser Prison, Spain on 22nd October 2017
Sutkija Mustafova, 46-years-old, died in Idrizovo Prison, Macedonia on 7th June 2017
37-year-old man, killed in Chomutov, Czech Republic on 27th May 2017
Asparuh Dobrushev, killed in Bohot, Pleven, Bulgaria on 13th April 2017
Andrias Redjepov, 21-years-old, died in Shtip Prison, Macedonia on 5th April 2017
Angelo Garand, 37-years-old, killed in Seur, France on 30th March 2017
Jusinov Erdal, 25-years-old, died in Shtip Prison, Macedonia on 22nd March 2017
64-year-old man, killed in Ihtiman, Bulgaria on 8th February 2017
Featured image credit: ERRC/Jonathan Lee
Image of protest for Angelo Garand: la Nouvelle République.fr
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