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Bigotry can be polite and well-mannered: An exchange with a reader about the Roma people

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Hate breeds hate, which, in turn, breeds even more hate.

Some twisted fanatics put out an outrageous pseudo-documentary denigrating Islam in a vile way and other fanatics consider it sufficient cause to engage in acts of deadly violence. 

When you start preaching hate what happened in Benghazi, Libya is the sort of result you can expect.

Here in Canada, well-rewarded professional ranter Ezra Levant used his pop stand on SUN TV to preach hate against a whole people, the Roma, whom he insists on calling by the pejorative term “Gypsy.”

Unlike the poisonous anti-Muslim filmmakers, Levant did not get a violent reaction from the targets of his venom. 

But the SUN TV "personality" did help create a climate of acceptance that gave other "Gypsy-haters" permission to take his bigotry a step further. Some of them wrote comments to his piece suggesting that it would be legitimate to shoot these "Gypsy" intruders.

Again, hatred breeds hate ...

The soil for the more virulent and violent forms of bigotry and hatred is often prepared by the more genteel and well-behaved kind. 

A case in point is the following exchange between this writer and a filmmaker and California immigration lawyer, Maria Janossy.

It went on for quite a while, last spring, and some may find it revealing.

Here is the first part, starting with an e-mail, out of the blue, from Ms. Janossy to me.

From Maria Janossy: 

Mr. Nerenberg, 

I just finished reading your article, "New film tells about the Roma ... " Given your journalist credentials, I am very surprised at the one-sided story you tell about the Roma in your article, and presumably your documentary -- which I haven't seen.

In your article you relate that the idea for the film came from Jack Jedwab who heard about Roma Holocaust victims for the first time during a visit to the Roma Museum in Brno, and that he was surprised and upset that he has not heard about this before. There are of course complex reasons why the Roma Holocaust victims are not publicized so much in the Western hemisphere, but most likely it is not because of racism or discrimination by the Eastern Europeans.

A well-known French historian and Holocaust researcher of Jewish origin, Prof. Denis Peschanski, published a book in 2002, La France des camps: L'internement, 1938-1946 (La Suite des temps) (French Edition), claiming for example that most of the Roma in Auschwitz died of typhus or tuberculosis, and therefore there was no Gypsy Holocaust.

Further, Jewish Holocaust survivors do not allow Gypsies to be included in Holocaust memorials -- see for example:

http://articles.latimes.com/1985-04-19/news/mn-14914_1_american-gypsy

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/remembering-the-holocaust-how-many-more-monuments-for-berlin-a-531865.html

http://gawker.com/5283148/no-gypsies-tramps-thieves-allowed-at-brooklyn-holocaust-memorial

"Behavioural and cultural issues"

Fast-forward to the present situation. Clearly there is prejudice against the Roma in Eastern Europe, and in fact everywhere in Europe. 

But it is one-sided to just look at the treatment Gypsies receive, without looking at certain behavioural and cultural issues. Romanian Gypsies were recently deported from France and Italy for setting up illegal camps, and committing crimes -- prostitution, child exploitation etc. 

And now Canada has deported Gypsy refugees for human trafficking

This is not to say that all Gypsies are criminals, but clearly there is an issue of political correctness and liberalism not allowing to hold their members responsible for their plight to some extent. 

When a Gypsy girl gives birth at the age of 10 and has 5 or more children by the age of 20, how do you expect her to properly educate her children when in fact she is illiterate? Or when Gypsies have numerous children solely to collect welfare -- one Gypsy man even stating that staying home collecting welfare earns him more money than going to work -- so why work. And some even intentionally causing handicap in their child to get more welfare. Or when incest is tolerated in their communities.

"Bogus claims"

And regarding asylum claims, the Canadian government is rightly concerned about bogus asylum claims. 

As an immigration lawyer in the U.S., I have come across a number of bogus claims. This is a true story -- I represented an extended Roma family from an Eastern European country --17 people total. They claimed their children were discriminated against in schools, etc. etc. After the first hearing in court, the Immigration Judge called me to ask me to bring in a Gypsy expert -- to facilitate the approval of the case. This was unheard of -- ex-parte communication from a judge! I believe the judge was very sympathetic to their case, because of his background -- I'll just leave it at that.

After they received asylum, the clients asked me to obtain refugee travel documents for them, claiming they had to go to Tzigane meetings in Canada. Every year when their travel document expired, we applied for new ones, and every year they claimed that their previous travel document had been lost or misplaced. At some point, I realized the reason they didn't want to provide their travel documents was because they were using them to travel to the country from which they claimed persecution -- clearly a reason for the immigration authorities to revoke their asylum status.

Subsequently, I assisted them with obtaining their green card. Recently, one of the family members contacted me because she was placed in removal proceedings for having abandoned her lawful permanent residence. It turns out she had been living continuously in the country of her origin/persecution for five years -- basically right after she got her green card. She then complained that many of the other family members have been living outside of the U.S. and she is the only one to be caught at the border.

My clients were musician Gypsies, and therefore thought of themselves as better than the poorer Gypsies that we met once in court -- they wouldn't talk to them. 

This is not to say that the actions of some Gypsies should paint the picture for all -- and by no means there should be racial profiling. 

However, it would be quite refreshing to see a Gypsy physicist or doctor, instead of beggars on the streets of Madrid for example...

You mention the far-right groups in your article, which I understand do intimidate. 

However, why not talk about Gypsies intimidating the elderly in the villages, stealing their crop etc... Why not talk about Gypsy beggars and pickpockets?

Why have this one-sided victim description of the Gypsies - do you really think this is helping their plight, instead of having an enabling effect?

... Bottom line, the Roma or Gypsy issue in Europe is much more complex than the way you depicted it in your article. As a journalist, you should know better.

Sincerely,
Maria Janossy

***

From: Karl Nerenberg

Thanks for your long e-mail, Ms. Janossy, 

I am a Jew and find it very disturbing to read that "Jewish Holocaust survivors do not allow Gypsies to be included in Holocaust memorials," although the article you cite does not actually attribute the Roma exclusion from that memorial event to Jewish Holocaust survivors. Whatever the case, sadly it is a fact that being a victim of racial prejudice does not make one immune from racial prejudice oneself.

As for Prof. Denis Peschanski: please explain what point you are making by citing him.

The Roma rounded up and sent to die miserably in horrible concentration camps did not, we are to believe, die in gas chambers. They died of starvation and disease. What a privilege!

If you are interested in initiating a semantic discussion of the word "Holocaust" and the means by which the members of a group must die in great number in order to qualify for the moniker of "Holocaust victims" -- well, the whole subject is too gruesome and ghastly to contemplate.

Anne Frank died of typhus, not in a gas chamber. Was she not legitimately a victim of the Holocaust?

What possible point could you be trying to make by raising this kind of hair-splitting semantic argument? 

Roma were targeted for persecution and, de facto if not de jure, elimination by the Nazis -- and hundreds of thousands of Roma died in what they call the Porraimos, full-stop. That anyone might, today in 2012, engage in a pseudo-philosophic, semantic negation of that uncontested fact is a symptom of the profound and horrifying racism that persists -- in frightening and virulent form – with regard to the Roma people.

As for your litany of anecdotes about Roma criminality, welfare dependency, incest, etc -- well, to state the completely obvious, there are criminals in every ethnic community.

Do we condemn all black Americans because of the pimps and drug dealers who infest black ghettos?

Do we condemn my people, the Jews, because of that monstrous thief of billions of dollars, Bernie Madoff -- not to mention Meyer Lanksy and Bugsy Siegel?

Do we condemn all Italian-Americans because of the well-documented Mafia criminal lifestyle?

Do we condemn Native Americans (First Nations or aboriginal people in Canada) because of the rampant unemployment, social dislocation and alcoholism in their communities?

Have you done any research on the real human rights situation in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other similar post-Communist European countries? 

Have you read the detailed and extensive reporting on Roma human rights by, for instance, Thomas Hammerberg, recently retired Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe? 

Have you checked out any of the information available from the European Roma Rights Centre? And that is just to name two sources of information. There are also Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, the U.S. State Department and many other sources of solid documentation. 

In making our film, “Never Come Back,” my colleague and I traveled to the region in Central Europe from which Roma asylum seekers have come to Canada.

We have extensive video footage in the film of extreme-right, openly neo-Nazi, threatening activity aimed at the Roma. This is a very frightening, real and grave situation, which human rights advocates in that region say is getting much worse, almost by the day. Quite a few Roma have been murdered, in fact, and very few perpetrators of those murders have been brought to justice.

I am very aware of the human trafficking case in Canada, involving Roma, which you mention. Our Conservative government used that case, as you do, to condemn the entire Roma population.

Some Canadians who share your deep prejudice toward the Roma, watched our film -- which depicts Roma working for a living in various jobs including community worker and cook, and engaged in wholesome activities such as going happily to school and playing soccer -- and then said: "Those of course are exceptional Roma ... most Gypsies are, in reality, welfare cheats and criminals ... and worse!"

In other words, a Roma who does bad things represents the entire community -- indeed,  the entire cultural/ethnic group -- while a Roma who does good things is some kind of freakish exception whom naive, dewy-eyed socialists and "liberals" trot out to whitewash this "criminal race!"

To be quite blunt, it is people who hold bigoted attitudes such as yours who have made history's genocides possible.

Some 70 years ago, it was because the majority of Germans, Hungarians, etc. had profound prejudices toward the Jews (and the Gypsies), that the Nazis were able to carry out their nasty work of extermination.

I hope you can look into your heart and learn to see the world, and all of its diverse peoples, in a more balanced, fair, reasonable, humane and less hateful way. 

As a lawyer -- and as an American and educated and supposedly learned person -- you should definitely know better! 

 

Karl Nerenberg covers news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Donate to support his efforts todayKarl has been a journalist for over 25 years including eight years as the producer of the CBC show The House. 

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