Protest march to the Parliament of hundreds of Roma in central Athens. Roma from various regions of Greece marched demanding better living conditions, free access to health care system to be and treated as equal members of society. On February 21, 2014 Photo: Angeliki Panagiotou /FOS PHOTOS

Roma In Greece: Another Story Of Invisibility

While online hate speech in Greece is growing we take a look at this minority of Greeks.

In the first days of summer 2018, a 9 year old Roma girl was shot in the head in front of her parents and the rest of her community. The offender, a Greek butcher, aged 34, had allegedly come to the Roma’s camp in the city of Amfissa, Greece, to find the burglars that had some days ago invaded his butchery. He carried a gun with him and shot: the young girl died in her mother’s arms within minutes.

The man, who was caught some days later and put in detention till his trial, said he had no intentions of killing the girl, that her death was accidental. A few days after the murder, people from Amfissa could be seen outside their city’s Courthouse applauding the accused man and show him their honest support. Suddenly, the number of complicit perpetrators increased.

There are, of course the applauders and there are also those who have the sensitivity to look further than the usual cliches that accompany minorities, like the Roma. In an attempt to start shedding light to Greek Roma’s reality, AthensLive had a discussion with Dimitris Bourikos, a social worker and political scientist, coordinator of the Forum of Western Attica for Social Integration of the Roma people.

AthensLive: What is Greek society’s general awareness about Roma? How has it changed over the years? Are the Roma more visible in Greece now than what they were 10 or 20 years ago?

Dimitris Bourikos: I think that visibility has been increased significantly in recent years, but in a negative sense, based on stereotypes and stigma. This visibility relates Roma community with the “identity” of the offending and criminal elements of society, while is lubricated by a variety of blogs and prints and political forces.

The stereotypical image of the Greek Gypsy before 1990 was clearly more positive than today. The 2006 and 2015 Eurobarometer stats on discrimination are indicative of the situation faced by Roma in Greece and generally in the EU. Both in 2006 and 2015, 80% of the general population perceives Roma status as a disadvantage, while about the same percentage of the general population states that they have no friends or know any person of Roma origin. When asked how they would feel if one of their colleagues in their work belonged to the Roma group, 34% of Greeks answered “not comfortable” versus 20% in the EU.

But even more disturbing are the findings we have in Greece on a local scale. For example, in Western Attica, a recent study by the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, Department of Social Work, about the attitudes of professionals (municipal services, health and education) showed that almost one in three acts with hostility, contempt or even hatred towards the Roma, while the media have their part on the shaping of the (negative) Roma image.

The Roma status has now been established in the public sphere as a synonym for criminal marginality. This makes the various and varied issues and problems that the Roma face invisible, facilitating verbal violence and hatred. It also makes the most vulnerable members of the Roma, like women and children, “invisible” and indirectly shapes a situation of “objectification of the Roma”, ie subjugation to “things” rather than human beings. All in all, I would say that there is a terrible spread of the negative visibility of the Roma community.

Protest march to the Parliament of hundreds of Roma in central Athens. Roma from various regions of Greece marched demanding better living conditions, free access to health care system to be and treated as equal members of society. On February 21, 2014 Photo: Angeliki Panagiotou /FOS PHOTOS

AL: What are the main problems Greek Roma face? What are their main claims? And how they pursue them collectively?

D.B: The social group of our Roma fellow citizens is certainly not homogeneous and compact. There are cultural, historical and social variations. Social variations are extremely obvious. We have Roma living in the urban environment as an organic part of the cities, we have Roma who are in an intermediate situation on the outskirts of some cities with significant problems of social inclusion, coexistence and acceptance, and we also have Roma living in a state of social exclusion, usually in camps outside urban fabrics.

In the first case, the Roma participate in the political, economic and social development of local communities, and face the horizontal problems of the entire Greek society. It is important that in that scale, the Roma civil society is organised and participates in local political systems, namely getting elected as municipal councilors or deputy mayors.

In the second case, there is a strong struggle between the forces of cohabitation and integration and the forces of exclusion. A key feature of this case is their concentration on substandard segments of some cities and the occasional conflict relationship with the rest of the population, while rarely there is participation in local political systems.

In the third case, we are basically talking about the “invisible” and “unknown” Roma of the pure camps that constitute “the ultimate evil” in the public sphere. Because of their geographical distance from all networks (transport, social), they may be the most vulnerable group. Their living conditions are a disgrace to human dignity and human rights with women and children in an extremely vulnerable position for all kinds of exploitation and abuse. It is no coincidence that a recent study by the University of Athens argues that housing conditions are the most important factor in predicting the educational integration and development of Roma children, and that the Ministry of Labor / Special Secretariat for Social Integration of Roma has given priority to direct intervention (residential, sanitary, educational, social) in these areas.

The fundamental problem of a significant part of our Roma fellow citizens is the lack of access to the citizen’s status and the enjoyment of similar rights and obligations. Some of them continue to live in conditions of territorial, social and economic exclusion while illiteracy reaches tragic levels.

The socio-economic transition of Greece since the early 1990s and the economic crisis since 2009/2010 have had a number of negative consequences for the Roma, even retrograde in sectors where some remarkable steps had been made.

Archive picture from Zefyri a western suburb of Athens. October 20, 2013. Photo: Panayiotis Tzamaros /FOS PHOTOS

The collective efforts of the Roma in Greece, despite the footsteps recorded lately, are extremely anemic. Among the positive examples are the Union of Μediators and Partners of Greek Roma, which promotes the institution of community mediation, the establishment of NGOs by Roma scientists (HEROMACT), NGO Without Borders in Thessaly and the cultural association of Roma women in Droseros, Xanthi. Noteworthy is also the creation of the new trade union organization of the Pan-Hellenic Confederation of Greek Roma “Ellan Passe”.

AL: Are you aware of the number of attacks that the Roma have received? If so, is there differentiation over the years? Do you think that Greek Roma is in better “fate” than in other Balkan countries?

The only available source for recording the phenomena of racist violence in Greece is the homonymous Network [Racist Violence Recording Network —]. According to the Network’s annual reports since 2002, only one case (2017) of recorded racist violence refers to a fellow citizen, self-identified as Roma.

But beyond this official record and its limitations, we cannot but remember the raid of Roma groups in the area of ​​Menidi after the tragic death of a little boy named Marios, from a stray bullet that was associated with a Romani feast in the wider region. Organized teams of people attacked and burned houses that seemed to belong to Roma.

A few days before the demolition of the Roma camp in Halandri, Athens on October 1st, 2014 Photo: Panayiotis Tzamaros /FOS PHOTOS

The vast majority of Roma in our country are Greek citizens, which provides some minimum protection against racist attacks and this is a significant differentiation with other countries in the Balkans, where the Roma are either a minority or there is a significant proportion of people without citizenship [stateless persons].

But what has changed for the worst in our country is the horrific spread of rhetorical hatred against the Roma through blogs, various pamphlets which unfortunately has penetrated political parties, deputies, mayors and politicians.

However, we must not ignore that Greece has a much more democratic institutional framework of justice and social protection than other states in our wider region, and this alone is a useful tool for the Greek Roma and for every person belonging to vulnerable social groups.

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