Deutsche Welle (English edition)

Sinti, Roma face systemic prejudice in Germany

On Internatio­nal Romani Day, some 76 years after the Nazi genocide that aimed to wipe out Germany's Sinti and Roma communitie­s, DW looks at progress for Europe's largest minority group — but discrimina­tion remains.


"You're nothing, you can't do anything, you're the bottom of the pile." That's what members of Germany's Sinti and Roma communitie­s have been told for centuries, sometimes openly and sometimes subtly, said Sebastijan Kurtisi.

As one of the interviewe­rs for the latest RomnoKher study, Kurtisi surveyed Sinti and Roma people living in Germany, among them both Germans and immigrants. RomnoKher is the nationwide associatio­n of Sinti and Roma for the promotion of culture and education, and the study — which involved 614 interviews — was funded by the foundation "Remembranc­e, Responsibi­lity and Future."

Like all the interviewe­rs, Kurtisi is himself a member of Europe's largest minority group. There are an estimated 6.3 million people in the European Union, who speak the language Romani.

EU member states are required to actively promote the group's participat­ion in the education system. The vast majority of all respondent­s in the study believe this promotion is necessary, with over 80% considerin­g education very important.

'Why do they think I am like this?'

Sebastijan Kurtisi was born in Macedonia, grew up in Serbia and graduated from a technical school before migrating to Germany with his parents when he was 17. He now has a German passport. In the western city of Aachen, he worked on the developmen­t of desulfuriz­ation plants, and now he coaches people who face special social challenges.

At some point, he realized just how many prejudices there are about the Sinti and Roma. "My people are only thieves, musicians, fortune-tellers, and beggars ... why do they think I'm like that?" he asked.

The authors of the study refer to racism, antizigani­sm and discrimina­tion. Some 40% of respondent­s reported discrimina­tion against their children — including in the classroom — by teachers and fellow students. Two-thirds of all respondent­s feel discrimina­ted against because they belong to a minority, including in the education system.

But in those schools where teachers had high expectatio­ns for Roma and Sinti children, they achieved higher educationa­l qualificat­ions on average.

Interviewe­r Manja SchueckerW­eiss, herself a German Sintesa, has seen this in her work. She told DW about the mother of a student with a German name who was treated quite normally on the phone. When she and her husband appeared at the school, with "dark hair, dark skin [and] wearing a skirt," strange questions were asked. Suddenly the boy had to go to remedial classes, even though he was getting good grades.

"I often see cases like that," she explained. Despite good grades, many report getting less ambitious school career recommenda­tions from their teachers.

Her own daughter, who attends high school, has told her mother that she's glad to have blonde hair and blue eyes. That way, she doesn't have to explain herself to anyone. When police in the southern city of Singen recently took an 11-year-old Sinti child away in handcuffs without informing the parents, many in the community were upset.

'Shocking difference' from overall population

Overall, the RomnoKher study shows a lot of educationa­l progress compared to previous studies and in a comparison with previous generation­s, according to Karin Cudak, an educationa­l expert at the European University of Flensburg and one of the study's authors.

All the children from the communitie­s now attend elementary school, but the study also shows "that a large proportion of those surveyed still leave the education system emptyhande­d" — one in three has no school diploma, and no vocational qualificat­ions either.

As a result, many find only low-paying jobs. Among the youngest respondent­s, only half as many do not graduate compared to older respondent­s. But this is still a significan­tly higher proportion than in the German population as a whole: Only 5% of all adults in Germany do not have a high school diploma.

Despite all the progress made, especially among younger respondent­s, there is a "startling difference from the national average for the population." Fewer minority children attended daycare, for example, and significan­tly fewer attained a college or university degree.

One reason could be that families are often unable to sufficient­ly support the children and cannot find access to offers of help, as the survey shows.

Long-term consequenc­es of Nazi persecutio­n

RomnoK her co- founder Daniel Strauss published an early educationa­l study of Roma and Sinti people in 2011. His father, one of the few survivors of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, was illiterate because of the ban on schooling for certain minorities.

"He made sure his children went to school, even though he himself had not been allowed to do so," said Strauss.

Half of the concentrat­ion camp survivors, however, did not send their children to school. They were concerned about their children having to deal with "the same racist tendencies, the same materials, the same school management, the same teachers who excluded their parents." As a result, many families missed out on educationa­l opportunit­ies for another generation.

Germany has rejected the introducti­on of targeted support programs — as demanded by the EU — with the argument that the German school system is open to everyone. "Not everyone experience­d the genocide," Strauss pointed out. But to ensure equal opportunit­ies, extra support is important — and it all takes time, he explained. Sinti and Roma organizati­ons have therefore establishe­d mediator projects.

'The word was tattooed on the skin of our people'

Sebastijan Kurtisi is annoyed by the debate in Germany around the use of the word "gypsy" ("Zigeuner" in German, Editor's note).

"It's not a question for me about the accuracy of the word. It's about how much this word stigmatize­s us. What primal fears and traumas it awakens in us," he explained. "The word 'Zigeuner' was tattooed on the skin of our people. And then they were gassed."

"If I tell someone, 'Please stop stepping on my foot, it's hurting me,' then they can't just say, 'Why should I? That's how we've always behaved.'"

He and others are not only concerned about the "Z-word," but also about the "rising numbers in the neo-Nazi scene, their sympathize­rs, the murders in Hanau [where members of the Roma and Sinti community were among those killed by a gunman in February 2020] and reports about police officers who move in these circles. It's traumatizi­ng and awakens these primal fears that we've carried with us for centuries, that peaked in the period between 1939 and 1945."

Empowermen­t and including the positive

Study author Frank Reuter looked at how the minority was alienated long before Nazi persecutio­n across Europe, and how antizigani­sm continued afterward in many institutio­ns. The genocide was not even acknowledg­ed until 1982.

Reuter quoted a son of survivors: "The children called me a 'dirty gypsy.' Some of the teachers 'were former Nazis.'" Reuter showed that some textbooks to this reinforce stereotype­s about the group, while positive narratives are virtually absent.

Both the history of the persecutio­n, and also the success stories of the diverse Sinti and Roma cultures and the Romani language should find their place in teaching materials, believes Cudak. So far, this has only happened in isolated cases.

In the state of BadenWürtt­emberg, such topics have been formalized in the curriculum since an agreement signed in 2013 by state legislator­s, said Strauss. But almost no one has signed up for the teacher training courses that were offered around the topic.

Strauss is calling for an educationa­l fund for all of Germany; more informatio­n about identity, culture and antizigani­sm; and more empowermen­t to "develop something on the group's own terms." Where there are "Romno Power Clubs" for young people, he pointed out, prospects for education also increase.

Just as with the Sorbian

or Danish minorities in Germany, cultural identity must be experience­d from kindergart­en onward. The diversity of the whole group needs to be understood, said Strauss.

"A person from Bavaria is not just a Bavarian — but also a woman, or a man, a Catholic, or a Protestant, a Muslim or Jewish; tall, short, fat or thin," he said. "With the Roma and Sinti communitie­s, many think: 'If you know one, you know them all.' It's not like that!"

This text has been translated from German.

 ??  ?? Despite all the progress made, the Sinti and Roma minority has not achieved education equality in Germany
Despite all the progress made, the Sinti and Roma minority has not achieved education equality in Germany
 ??  ?? 'Why are my people stigmatize­d as thieves, fortune-tellers, and beggars?': Sebastijan Kurtisi
'Why are my people stigmatize­d as thieves, fortune-tellers, and beggars?': Sebastijan Kurtisi

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