Anti-Roma racism, anti-Gypsyism, anti-Romaism, Romaphobia… – why do our neighbors bother us? Why do we have prejudices against diversity and dissimilarity? Isn’t that considered to be wealth and beauty?
The Romani people, in most countries that are members of the SLAM project, are the largest national minority, but this position and status in society have not given them any honors and privileges. Instead, the conditions in which they live are, to put it mildly, catastrophic. The latest research by the Team for Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction of the Government of the Republic of Serbia is proof of this statement: 32,000 Roma do not have access to proper water, then 24,000 of them do not have electricity, and 93,000 Roma do not have sewerage. However, this is not the end of the problems they are facing. Romani people do not have access to health and social services, employment, education… The coronavirus pandemic has further aggravated all these problems. During the mentioned pandemic, experts advise us to keep a social distance, but that distance is always and everywhere present towards the Roma, especially during the crisis. According to the research, a large number of the population shows a moderate to high level of social distance towards Roma.
We are witnessing the ghettoization of the Roma population. The media contributes greatly to this. Roma are instrumentalized in accordance with the daily political desires of the government. The government's discourse is accepted, especially when it comes to Roma and migrants. Roma asylum seekers are often considered to be “fake” by political representatives and the media. One can also hear in the media that the Roma themselves are to blame for their poverty and poor living conditions because that is their tradition.
If we compare the writing of media and their coverage of Roma and migrants, this could be summarized as follows. Since the beginning of the migrant crisis, the media have had different criteria for Roma and Migrants. While migrant camps are visited almost on a daily basis and articles about that population are written with a certain amount of empathy and understanding in order to solve this issue, reporting on Roma is quite the opposite. The Roma are interesting to the media only on exceptional occasions, when some international days related to the Roma are celebrated, but even then there are numerous stereotypes and prejudices. The social maladaptation of Roma to the environment in which they live is almost always mentioned. The executive director of the Roma Information Center “Kali Sara”, Sanela Bešić, believes that the attitude of the media towards Roma and their communities is a mirror of the politicians’ attitude, but also the attitude of the entire society and its laws.
Both migrants and Roma appear in the fake news – as separate groups, but also together. It is often the case that Roma present themselves as migrants and beg. We are also witnessing migrants being accused of criminal acts, murders and similar things, but in fact these acts are committed by Roma. Fake news and hate speech against migrants are also present on social networks, and among them the leader is Facebook group “Movement STOP settlement of migrants” that was created on March 25, 2020 and has over 300.000 members, according to Voice journalists. The most drastic examples are calls to kill and expel migrants. Disparaging and stereotyping of that population is second in frequency. Some of the headlines that link migrants to criminal activities are: “Father of a young man attacked in Sarajevo: Migrants broke his skull, the operation lasted 3 and a half hours.”, “A boy was intercepted at the train station, MIGRANTS ARE SUSPECTED.” , “THREE HOURS OPERATED IN HOSPITAL: Migrants brutally beat a minor in Sarajevo.” The media serve fake news, hate speech and generalization, and the institutions do not prevent this, nor the racist messages that can be found in the comments on the articles.
Migrants, as well as the Roma national minority, are still associated with criminal acts, violence, and security breaches. Some Kosovo media falsely reported that a Roma girl kidnapped children, which led to the girl being physically assaulted twice. Is it fair, okay, human to believe in hear-say stories and false rumors, and create prejudices? The critical consciousness of the wider masses is not sufficiently developed. We blindly trust the media, which are increasingly using clickbait and false statements, and which are categorized as a crime act, rather than accurate and verified information.
However, this is not the only example of an attack on Romani population. Protests and violence against Roma, as well as various intimidations, are present in many countries. Italian authorities intend to expel all Roma who do not have Italian citizenship. In addition, the demolition of Roma camps without the provision of replacement accommodation has become increasingly common in Italy.
When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, small steps have been taken to protect Roma rights, but this is still “not in bloom”. The phrases “I will give you to the gypsies” and “The gypsy woman will steal you” can often be heard among people. Those sentences are derogatory, discriminatory and unpleasant to hear. The report on the position of Roma in B&H showed that the state does not provide enough basic rights for Roma. Crimes committed out of hatred against Roma are not uncommon and the lack of an appropriate response from the authorities can create a climate of impunity and deepen the experience of marginalization. If we want to comment on crimes committed by Roma – there are no statistics for Roma in the registers of crimes and misdemeanors, and it is not possible to determine whether the assumption that Roma have a high degree of violation of the law is really correct and trustworthy.
Through direct normative influence, the media influence the creation of prejudices, but also their augmentation. Minority groups in the media are portrayed through negative bias both qualitatively and quantitatively. Why is it like that? The answer is simple – the media are market-oriented towards the majority, the dominant group, because of the political and economic power that the group possesses. In the last few years, Roma have been marginally present in the media space, while a significant percentage of attention has been paid to migrants. Media writing is stereotypical for both categories and depends on daily politics, which uses media to create public opinion about migrants and pushes Roma to the margins of society. We are increasingly witnessing “sensational” reporting by the media that transmit the information served without their analysis, verification, without initiative and research approach.
Every event in which the actors are members of the Roma minority points to the fact that the media have double criteria: one for the Roma and the other for the rest. It is certain that triviality, sensation and extreme superficiality in the approach to the treatment of topics in the media today, have sponsored that topics about the Roma and their lives are treated without any empathy and will to influence the much-needed changes. Emphasis is placed on peripheral details, not on the essence. This does not help anyone, and it harms the Roma community the most, about which prejudices are only further created and strengthened. And as a conclusion to all of the above, it would be the following: Roma are collateral damage to political action as a whole.
Author: Ajla Aljović