Human beings

The European Churches and Institutions on the side of a travelling people

In Europe the spotlight continues to be fixed on the question of the ethnic minority of the Roma, which was also one of the issues discussed during the 40th general assembly of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), held at Zagreb, in Croatia from 30 September to 3 October. The European Churches have already been working through their pastoral agencies to support this minority that is spread throughout the continent. “Conscious of the gravity of the problem – says the final communiqué of the CCEE – the Presidents agree on the fact that governments should define their own immigration policy” but they also “pose questions about what the Church can and should so to improve dialogue between pastoral requirements, community rights and political needs”. To tackle these aspects, the CCEE intends to promote a meeting. Meanwhile an emergency debate on “Recent controversies in Europe on security at the national level: the case of the Roma” was held in Strasbourg on 7 October, during the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which ends today. A conference to raise the visibility of Roma culture was also held on the fringes of the plenary. This number of SIR Europe opens with a reflection on the question by Piotr Mazurkiewicz, general secretary of COMECE (Commission of the Episcopates of the European Union).Human beings like everyone else. European political leaders and opinion makers must stop expressing “negative generalizations” on the conduct of the Roma, urged Thomas Hammerberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, intervening during the debate. “Such declarations”, he said, “reinforce and aggravate prejudices” and “are exploited by extremist groups”. “Why – he asked – is it important for politicians and other opinion makers to be careful about the language they use when they speak of the Roma? Why is it important that they should avoid making generalizations? Why, when we speak of criminality, do we need to draw a distinction between the few who have committed crimes and the rest who haven’t?”. In the first place, he explained, “because the Roma are human beings just like everyone else. We don’t blame groups of people for something that only some individuals have committed. This is a fundamental principle of ethics and human rights”. In the second place “prejudices against the Roma are widespread in much of Europe”, as recent episodes demonstrate, “and negative speeches made by high level personalities tend to reinforce them”.Social inclusion and human rights. The challenge of the integration of Roma in Europe can be won through “economic and social inclusion” and the “full protection of human rights”, insisted Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, deputy general secretary of the Council of Europe, in her intervention during the debate. Speaking of the high level meeting that the Council of Europe is promoting in Strasbourg on 20 October to define priorities for action in support of the Roma minority with representatives of the governments of member states, of the EU and of international organizations, de Boer-Buquicchi said that the challenges posed by the integration of the Roma have “frontier implications and thus require a pan-European response”. She also tackled the “delicate question” of rights and responsibilities: “On the one hand, human rights are absolute; on the other, all of us, Roma and non-Roma alike, have responsibilities” which are “integral parts of being citizens”. However the conditions in which these responsibilities can be exercised in a constructive way “are often non-existent or insufficient”, she insisted, recalling the frequent acts of discrimination against Roma children. She expressed the hope that the meeting on 20 October would be able to “reconcile these two aspects”.Dialogue in culture. Formulating good practices to make Roma culture more visible throughout Europe was the aim of the conference “Visibility and recognition of Roma culture” promoted by the Council of Europe with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union. Representatives of Roma communities from the UK, Greece, Romania and Slovenia participated in it; together they studied ways of raising awareness of the culture of this ethnic minority throughout the continent and increasing appreciation for it. The meeting marks the official launch of the “Roma itineraries” project supported by the Council of Europe in partnership with various cultural organizations, including some museums that have established firm relations with Roma groups. “The commitment linked to the cultural heritage – explain the promoters – is a method for communication that is able to avoid conflict and at the same time cultivate attractive aspects through which Roma culture can be discovered and understood, undisturbed by the tensions created by the questions of security and housing, for instance through songs, dance, arts and crafts, family histories, gastronomy, traditions and customs”. Various initiatives are being planned in Slovenia, Germania, Romania and Greece over the next two years.

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