News: Nov 16, 2012
Who will give us justice, where do we go for help? Are we not human beings, are we not supposed to exist?
Bagir Kwiek addressed these questions at a seminar on the situation of Roma held during Global Week at the University of Gothenburg.
The Roma have always been persecuted, and the situation in many Europeans countries has become even worse in recent years. This became clear during Thursday’s panel debate.
Ingrid Schiöler, expert on Roma issues from the Göteborg City Museum, told the audience about a recent visit to three Romanian villages:
‘The fact that many Roma in the villages are fleeing to Serbia, which is not exactly a paradise, says a lot about how bad things are in Romania. The Roma were used as slaves as late as in the mid-1800s. People are settling by waste dumps and collect paper and scrap metal and recycle bottles to be able to buy food. Some try to flee to other countries, such as Sweden. In Sweden, however, Romanian Roma are not considered to need special protection. And since they are not considered for asylum, they are never given a chance to tell anybody about their backgrounds and what might happen if they return.
This year Gothenburg, together with Helsingborg, Linköping, Luleå and Malmö, became a pilot city for Roma inclusion. But this work really started several years ago, according to Thomas Martinsson, member of the City Council of Gothenburg representing the Green Party.
‘We decided to do something not for the Roma but rather with the Roma. We have for example started a Roma entrepreneurship programme and together with the City Museum a Roma cultural project. We are also going to build bridges to the school sector and educate Romani-speaking health workers, and will continue to work towards a Roma centre for information and knowledge. The fact that the only Roma adult education college, Agnesberg, is located in Gothenburg is of course extremely valuable.’
The European Council’s framework convention on the protection of national minorities went into effect in 1998. Yet, the practical meaning of the convention is up to each individual country.
‘In some countries, like Sweden and Norway, Roma people belong to the national minorities,’ said Peter Johansson, researcher at the School of Global Studies. ‘In other countries, such as Denmark, the Roma don't have this status and are therefore not covered by the convention. And the convention can be interpreted differently. The convention text is usually taken to refer to the right to use one’s own language or to freedom from persecution. But in Sweden we are adding a few things, for example that the minority languages and cultures also have the right to support, that schools should teach about the minority cultures also to the majority population and that the minorities have a right to participate in any decision making that concerns them.’
The moderator of the event was Eva Staxäng from the University of Gothenburg’s Jonsered Manor. She wondered what measures are the most important in order to include the Roma in society and to change the prevailing attitudes.
‘I went to the supermarket some time ago with my 7-year-old daughter,’ said Bagir Kwiek, chair of Roma for Cultural Development. ‘Suddenly a security guard started following every step we took. We Roma are usually not treated as individuals but as a group that causes a lot of trouble. We have always been a silenced people, but we need to raise our voices. Sweden used to be the world’s conscience. We have to maintain this role so that we can put pressure on the EU when Roma people are mistreated. And every Swede can decide to treat everybody with respect and compassion.’
The first Roma arrived in Sweden exactly 500 years ago. This is acknowledged not only by the national government but also by the Jonsered Manor, which arranged the seminar held in the University of Gothenburg’s Main Building.
Photo: Johan Wingborg
From the left: Eva Staxäng, Thomas Magnusson, Ingrid Schiöler, Peter Johansson samt Bagir Kwiek.
Watch the seminar here: