Jonathan Lee

Perspectives Writer

Jonathan is a Romani activist from Swansea. He works for the European Roma Rights Centre, a Roma-led law organisation based in Budapest which takes racists to court across Europe. He spends a lot of time talking and writing about antigypsyism, to people who don’t want to hear it. Tweets @jon_j_lee

Articles:

(23.08.19) – Keep Calm and Work Yourself to Death

New pension plans to work till you die are no cause for alarmsays arch-Tory overlord Ian Duncan Smith. A recent report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the Tory think-tank which brought us Universal Credit, has recommended the government raise the retirement age from 65 to 70 by 2028, and to 75 by 2035.

The Tories are not content to simply make workers’ lives as miserable as possible through underfunding schools, unaffordable housing, food poverty, and the greatest devaluation of wages in modern history. They now seek to steal the last golden years of life from the majority of working class people who cannot afford a private pension in order to retire early.

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(28.06.19) – Is It Finally Time For An Antigypsyism Inquiry In The Conservative Party?

Content warning: hate speech, antigypsyism, inclusion of derogatory language.

After a Hope Not Hate survey revealed the not-so-shocking discovery that two thirds of Conservative Party Members are islamophobes, pressure has been mounting for the Tories to launch a party inquiry into Islamophobia. In a time when Jeremy Corbyn’s hummus eating habits spur fresh cries of antisemitism, it is encouraging to see that the ‘Nasty Party’ are not immune from scrutiny for the widespread racism amongst their members. Though the survey results were damning, the response from the media has been somewhat subdued. Can you imagine the backlash if a survey found that two thirds of Labour Party members believed antisemitic conspiracy theories? Or if 43% said they would prefer the UK was not led by a Jew (as Conservatives members indicated at the possibility of a Muslim Prime Minister)? The next Tory leader will inherit this scandal and may not be able to brush it off so easily.

Now that the lid has been blown off the rampant islamophobia within the Conservative Party, it’s high time other widely held racist beliefs in the party ranks were examined; not least, antigypsyism.

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(14.06.19) – England Football Fans Back To Old (Homophobic) Ways In Portugal

After the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, England football fans had enjoyed a slightly improved reputation internationally for behaving themselves a bit better at away games in Europe. This illusion was shattered last week in Portugal for all the world to see, as boozy lads in shorts and polos attacked locals with bottles, wrecked cars, and clashed with police on the streets of Porto. It turns out that, without Russian ultras and law enforcement to keep them in line, England’s lads-on-tour stag party of intolerance and imperialist nostalgia is just as present in the travelling fan culture as it always has been. Embedded homophobia, a staple of the hooligan culture of old, also reared its ugly head again in Portugal with some England fans feeling unsafe among their own supporters.

I experienced more homophobia in 3 hours here than I did in 3 weeks in Russia,” said Joe White, an English football fan and co-founder of LGBT+ supporters group Three Lions Pride. “And this has all come from England fans” he added. “LGBT+ is clearly not welcome.

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(15.05.19) – How is a Gypsy Supposed to Look?

I am probably not the image most people have in their mind when they think of a Gypsy.

My mother is of mostly Irish-American stock – which gives me a few ginger wisps in my beard, and a smattering of freckles across my nose and cheeks. My hair is dark brown, not black. I don’t wear a lolo diklo (red scarf) around my neck, or a staddi kali (black trilby hat) on my head. Most of the time I wear jeans and t-shirt, I rarely ever dance on tables, and I have no piercings or tattoos. I live in an apartment in the centre of a European capital with a woman whom I am not married to, and I travel only about 20 minutes maximum by foot every day to go to work.

If I ask you to close your eyes and picture a Gypsy in your mind’s eye you probably see someone with bangles and gold hoop earrings, floral patterned clothing, long hair, and dark flashing eyes. They may or may not have a tambourine, and may or may not be wearing a turban with a little gem in the centre holding it up. Maybe you see a fortune teller, or a travelling metalsmith? Perhaps a musician? If you are European, more likely you also see a beggar, a thief, a criminal.

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(08.03.19) – Hatebook: Does this go against your community standards?

Cw: hate speech, extremism

Ever seen a comment on Facebook that really riled you up?

Probably. But I mean one that really floored you – stopped you mid-scroll, and in a red mist, made you click those three innocuous little dots on the right and Submit to Facebook for Review?

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(25.01.19) – How the Nazis Wiped Out the Romani Middle Class

CW genocide, ethnic violence

Between 1936 and 1945 the Nazis wiped out over 50% of Europe’s Romani people.

Whether they were choked to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, “exterminated through labour” climbing the stairs of death at Mauthausen, or shot in a mass grave dug by their own hands in Romania – the extermination of the Gypsies of Europe was carried out with deadly efficiency.

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(24.12.18) – Stop Christmas Day Deportation to the Congo

Immigration Minister

Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP
Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF

Dear Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP,

I am writing to you to regarding the imminent administrative removal (or forced deportation) of a Swansea resident, and Congolese National, Otis Bolamu (Home Office reference number: HO-B1980997).

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(14.12.18) – Sorry Andrew Selous Mp, But Gypsies & Travellers Will Not Be Assimilated

Meet Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire, Andrew Selous.

Andrew recently took a break from opposing gay marriage, overseeing prison cuts, calling for benefits cuts for non-english speakers, and claiming disabled people work hard because they’re grateful just to have a job, and turned his attention to Romani Gypsies and Travellers.

On 13th November, he proposed a bill in the Commons to convert existing sites for Gypsies and Travellers into settled accommodation, remove any obligation on local authorities to build more permanent sites, and make unauthorised encampments a criminal offence.

He also added a bit about making provision for the education of Gypsy & Traveller children, which is nice.

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(02.11.18) – Ethnic Killings Claimed 15 Roma in 2017/18

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.

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(30.11.18) – European Roma and Travellers Need our Own Rosa Parks

“‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ signs disappeared long ago, but ‘No Travellers’ signs […] are still widespread,” said Human Rights Barrister, Marc Willers. In fact, ‘No Gypsies’ policies are quite commonplace pretty much everywhere, and Romani and Traveller people are frequently and willfully refused access to public places all over Europe.

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(07.10.18) – Fool Britannia: Let’s All Have a Disco

Content warning: minor instances of crude language and a mention of blackface (all used for satirical effect)

Oyez! Oyez! It has been announced by our most beneficent leader, Theresa Mary May, that on this two hundred and twenty second year of our Lord, a fayre of Britannic proportions shall be held, on every pleasant village green and suburban cul-de-sac, throughout this land of the South East of England.

The Tories have pulled another joker from the pack, this time with months to go until B-Day, and announced with much bravado a post-Brexit ‘Festival of Britain’. Or to everyone north of Grantham and west of Bristol: Festival of the Home Counties. The glorified Sunday fête will aim to replicate the Labour Party’s event of 1951, which celebrated the successes of the post-war consensus, growing internationalism, and an era of rebuilding and growth through social democracy.

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(29.09.18) – Stateless Roma in Ukraine Have Nowhere to Turn To

Content warning: this article contains mentions of violence (including police brutality), and structural discrimination.

According to a new report, up to 20% of Ukraine’s Romani population are stateless – that is, they are without identity documents such as birth certificates, passports, or identity cards which prove they are citizens. The lack of evidence to prove their nationality means these Roma are denied access to basic services such as healthcare, education, housing, and welfare, as well as to regular employment or for some, even something as simple as a mobile phone contract.

After a series of organised attacks on Roma by far-right organisations in the past year, most of the country’s Roma who regularly spend the summer working in the major cities have now returned to their home region of Zakarpattiya on the South Western border. Whilst reports of fresh attacks came in over the summer, Roma living in settlements in Beregovo and Uzhgorod began to look abroad for the vital work which they needed to survive; work they were being denied by the far-right militias whom had driven them out of the cities.

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(07.09.18) – Take Back Control? Welsh Independence in an Age of Brexit

I am a reluctant Welsh Republican. By this, I mean that I believe the realisation of an independent Welsh Republic will inevitably be the only way Wales can truly prosper and develop long term. But I’m uneasy about it.

I doubt the competency of our devolved government, while I question the motives and sincerity of the British government. I’m hoping that somewhere down the line, a government in Westminster will change my mind, but looking at the way things are going, the Tories’ vision of a dystopian, post-Brexit Britain doesn’t offer me much hope.

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(28.06.18) – Why Isn’t Everyone a Socialist?

It’s a dirty word for many who don’t really understand what it means. People often broadly sweep Socialism into a single ideology, which is much maligned as an unworkable and authoritarian regime, seemingly unsuitable for the modern day, and unpopular amongst the electorate.

I’ll start out being optimistic, and assume that this ignorance of what Socialism is explains why some people discount it out of hand. Because the premise of Socialism is generally one that I have to believe most people should aspire to in some way. “Every human being should be a moderate Socialist,” Thomas Mann said.

Why? Because Socialism is a general set of social, political, and economic views that places people first. And what’s the point of having a democratic society, in which we the people place power in the hands of a select few to manage our lives, if not to make things generally better for people as a whole?

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(08.04.18) – Decolonise Wales: Part II

The Welsh National anthem was the first anthem to ever be sung at a sporting event. In 1905, when Wales played the New Zealand rugby team for the first time. Declining to sing the official “God Bless the Prince of Wales”, the crowd gave a spontaneous rendition of “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” in response to the All Blacks’ Haka. The song became a staple of Welsh sporting events from then on. Although until 1975 organisers refused to let the anthem be sung unless accompanied by “God Save the Queen”.

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(07.04.18) – Happy April 8th. Let’s Have a Protest.

Content warning: this article mentions racism, discrimination, oppression, and racial / cultural slurs. 

If the Welsh are striking over hunger, we must fill their bellies with lead” are the famous words Winston Churchill never spoke, about sending in the Lancashire Fusiliers to put a swift end to the 1910 Tonypandy miners’ strike.

Though he never advocated firing on the miners, he did send the soldiers to the picket line, and was definitely still an imperialist, eugenically-minded war criminal. The only reason the quote is mistakenly attributed to him so commonly is because it is so utterly believable. It typifies the contemptuous colonial attitudes held by the man himself, and the English parliament, for the Welsh and the working class.

Wales was England’s first colony – the template for later British imperialism. Many of its basic strategies were forged here in England’s closest and very first colonial asset, before being exported all over the world.

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(06.04.18) – Decolonise Wales: I

Content warning: this article mentions racism, discrimination, oppression, and racial / cultural slurs. 

If the Welsh are striking over hunger, we must fill their bellies with lead” are the famous words Winston Churchill never spoke, about sending in the Lancashire Fusiliers to put a swift end to the 1910 Tonypandy miners’ strike.

Though he never advocated firing on the miners, he did send the soldiers to the picket line, and was definitely still an imperialist, eugenically-minded war criminal. The only reason the quote is mistakenly attributed to him so commonly is because it is so utterly believable. It typifies the contemptuous colonial attitudes held by the man himself, and the English parliament, for the Welsh and the working class.

Wales was England’s first colony – the template for later British imperialism. Many of its basic strategies were forged here in England’s closest and very first colonial asset, before being exported all over the world.

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(09.03.18) – Journalist Shot Dead. Slovakia in Turmoil. Can Nothing Touch the Indestructible Robert Fico?

Content warning: article mentions racism, anti-Roma sentiments, and contains offensive and discriminatory language.

It’s been almost two weeks since Slovak investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak, and his partner Marina Kusnirova were found shot dead in their Velka Maca apartment. The couple were both murdered by single gunshots, with the crime bearing the hallmarks of a contract killing according to Slovak police.

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(23.02.18) – The EU is Giving Fascism its Six Months in the Sun

Content warning: articles mentions fascism, neo-Nazis, anti-Roma and anti-Gypsy sentiments. Article contains strong language, derogatory language and includes descriptions of assault.

The EU is led by gangsters, racists, and neo-Nazis.

I don’t mean that in a Ukippy way. I mean that until the 30th June 2018, the presidency of the Council of the European Union will be held by Bulgaria, and will prominently feature a colourful circus of hate mongers, criminals and outright fascists.

(08.02.18) – Liberte, Egalite, Expulsions Forcees

If you get off the metro at Porte de Clignancourt in Paris, a little over a kilometre north of the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre, and follow the line of the disused 19th century Petite Ceinture railway for a couple of minutes from the busy intersection, you will soon come across rows of makeshift shacks lining the railway.

Similar shanty towns can be found tucked away under bridges, behind fences, and on ex-industrial plots across the city and throughout France. Along with a scattering of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, these slums are inhabited almost entirely by Roma.

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(26.01.18) – Why I Want the Government to Collect Data about my Ethnicity

A new project to count the number of Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers in London was recently launched by London Gypsies & Travellers and Mapping for Change. Their goal is to provide an accurate estimate of the numbers and distribution of GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) people across the city.

Official census statistics on Romani and Traveller people in the UK are famously inaccurate (only 58,000 in the 2011 census). This is partly because neither group are traditionally very fond of official registers, particularly those which record ethnicity.

And why should we be?

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(12.01.18) – Digging for Palestine in the Age of Trump

Last week President Trump, with a push of his tiny thumb, attacked Palestinian leadership via Twitter and threatened to cut all US funding to Palestinian recipients. His angry tweets were in response to unrest across the occupied territories following his December recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, “that the Jewish people established in ancient times”. Despite the fact this came from Donald Trump, he does pose an interesting point. How accurate is this claim? How far back do the State of Israel’s ties to the land really go?

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(29.12.18) – A Beginner’s Guide to Antigypsyism

Content warning: article explores discrimination, racism, hate speech and antigypsyism and includes derogatory language.

Don’t say gypo or gypped.  Pikey or tinker. Don’t put up ‘No Travellers’ signs.

If you are not Romani, never wear Gypsy-themed costumes at Hallowe’en. And don’t call yourself Gypsy because you think you’re free spirited. Or because you’ve been to India, or believe in chakras, or live in a campervan or something. These things are racist towards Romani people and Irish Travellers. It’s called antigypsyism.

This is the specific form of racism directed against Roma, Sinti, Travellers, Manush, Balkan Egyptians, Ashkali, Yenish and others who are stigmatized as ‘gypsies’ in the public imagination.

Unfortunately, there is a lot more to it than a few nasty words and some garishly tacky costumes. In order to fight this phenomenon in our society, you need to understand how deep the rabbit hole really goes.

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(21.08.17) – Sorry, are you a Traveller?

“The Gypsy and Traveller community complain that they don’t get enough media attention, but crime watch is on TV every week.”

This was the name of a team at a pub quiz I attended in Oxford recently. When it was read aloud, half the pub laughed and jeered. The other half remained silent, either through complicity or complete indifference. No one challenged the offending team, no one called out, no one made a disapproving noise. When the woman behind the bar saw my apparent discomfort, she asked:

“Sorry, are you a Traveller?”

Unsure whether she was apologising for the hate speech coming through the pub’s speaker system, or for the actual ethnicity itself, I answered:

“Yes I am.”

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(17.01.16) – Sexy Filthy Gypsies: The Struggle for Romany Identity Through the Arts

In the post-imperialist Western world, liberal society is becoming ever more self-aware of social and cultural sensitivities, most evidently in the influence of the arts as a vehicle for perceptions of race, gender, sexuality and culture. Cultural appropriation is a topic hotly debated, and one where the divide between appropriation and appreciation can sometimes be uncertain. This ambiguity and subsequent argument is usually tied to power relationships, dichotomy in stereotypes (e.g. black hairstyles being perceived differently on white heads) and most often, the struggle for the appropriated culture to control its own identity.

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(20.10.15) – The Shame of Europe’s Forgotten Slaves

In the mid to late 19th century, Bucharest was a city typical of the reformist changes of the era. The influences of the Late Enlightenment and Romanticism in cultural arts were emerging in public administration, economics and politics. The growing call for egalitarianism across Europe had given birth to revolutionary movements and philosophies, out of which Marxism, Idealism and Existentialism, to name a few, began to take shape. Bucharest saw increasing civil mobility as anti-aristocratic sentiment spread, culminating in Prince Bibescu renouncing the throne. The increase of Liberalism across Europe was matched by feats of human endeavour and the creation of centres of intellectualism in the major cities of the continent.

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(15.02.15) – The Problem of Extremism

“The term ‘moderate Islam’ is ugly and offensive; there is no moderate Islam; Islam is Islam.”
− Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan.

Prime Minister Erdoğan was speaking in reaction to the Obama administration identifying Turkey as a moderate Islamic country. The blunt statement challenges much of the narrative coming from Western governments, and forces the West to question the validity of the term as well as another of its favourite loaded words: ‘Extremism’.

(20.10.14) – Romany Gypsies: Modern Apartheid in Western Europe.

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of anti-ziganism, and the oppression of Europe’s spectral nation is growing to staggering heights.

Numbering around ten million, Romany gypsies constitute Europe’s single largest minority ethnic group and are almost certainly the continent’s most discriminated against. The Romany people, uniquely bear both the intense scrutiny of outright persecution and the simultaneous off-hand dismissal of their very identity, allowing and even justifying racism to go unchallenged.

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