At the level of EU governance, modern Europe has demonstrated an extraordinary consensus and pluralism in regards to policies against the Roma. It’s possibly the single case in the history of foreign relations that all political systems, in spite of their fundamental differences, have found common grounds of extreme political, cultural and economic discrimination against the Roma communities.
Today, nearly 8.5 million Roma live in Europe. According to the European Roma Rights Centre (Consensus 2008), the largest Roma populations in the Central and Eastern European countries and the Balkans reside in Romania (2.5 million), Bulgaria (800,000), Hungary (600,000), Slovakia (520,000), Turkey (500,000), Serbia (450,000), Russia (400,000), Czech Republic (300,000), Fyrom (260,000), Greece (200,000) and Albania (100,000). In Western Europe, the largest Roma populations reside mainly in Spain (800,000), France (340,000), Germany (130,000), United Kingdom (120,000) and Italy (110,000).
With the Eastern enlargement of the European Union in 2004, Spain and Italy have received the greatest amount of Roma immigrants, mainly from Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria. However, in the broader region of the European Union and the Balkans, prejudice and racial stereotyping has often led to serious attacks on Roma by ethnic nationalist groups, as well as gun assaults, riots and armed robberies blamed on Roma. Besides, controversial government policies to fingerprint Roma immigrants have been launched in Italy. In Hungary, turmoil between Roma and non-Roma citizens has been documented after a Hungarian non-Roma teacher was fatally beaten by a Roma gang.
The Roma remain a greatly marginalized and disadvantaged minority. In most of the Central and Eastern European countries as well as in the Balkans, dire poverty and various deprivations are highly concentrated among the Roma population. Their poor quality of life is multifaceted and becomes apparent in various dimensions of deprivation. The Roma practically live in physical danger as their ‘homes’/settlements are built on old mine workings that can collapse any time or on contaminated ground that is high on chemicals. Some of them live into rusty metal boxes or old freight containers, which make up for a type of house, but not for a home. Besides, social exclusion is the result of chronic non-registration in administrative and social services. The Roma are, in effect, a shadow population.
The Roma are Europe’s stateless and nomadic ethnic group. Any dream for real housing, education, and healthcare seems to be buried under ruins as they are deprived from their access to fundamental human rights. They are banned from restaurants, coffee shops, and swimming pools because they are dirty and noisy. They are not allowed to shop at the supermarkets because they are turned away for possible stealing. Filthy conditions are an unfortunate reality in Roma settlements, particularly in Eastern Europe. Besides, for a very long time, Roma identity has been in the hands of non-Roma politicians and academics, whose ideas about the Roma have contributed to racial stereotyping to the Roma image. Non-Roma anthropologists selected those aspects that seemed convenient to manipulate the Roma identity for a number of reasons.
What the Roma are looking for is recognition of their fundamental existence and right to be equal among equals. Being nomadic per nature and free-spirited, the Roma do not seek for a firm territory, but they look for firm acknowledgment of their contribution to Europe’s cultural heritage. The fact that they lack any sort of territorial, political, economic or military power makes them the perfect scapegoats because they cannot really retaliate except from one-off incidents. The Roma need to be integrated in the societies they live in, so that their interests are better promoted and they, ultimately, see the light at the end of the tunnel.