Haunting Echoes from the Past

-This week France was shocked by the brutal beating of a Roma boy by a gang in a poor suburb of Paris. Sixteen year old Darius was dragged from a Roma camp where he lived with his family, and taken to a basement where he was savagely beaten unconscious and left in a shopping cart to die. He is currently in a coma in critical condition.

Since the Middle Ages the Roma have been persecuted throughout Europe. Labeled with the disparaging term “gypsy,” they have suffered through centuries of violence, ethnic cleansing and slavery, culminating with the genocide of hundreds of thousands of them in Nazi concentration camps. More recently various EU nations have enacted draconian policies of forced displacement, and prominent politicians have openly used racist and inflammatory language to demonize the Roma.

And the troubling trend of violence and hate speech is not limited to the Roma. In Greece, the far right political party Golden Dawn has been behind violent attacks on gay people, racial minorities and immigrants which have become almost daily. In Ukraine, for the first time since WWII, fascists now hold key government positions. In Spain and Poland, antisemitic vandalism of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries appear to be on the rise. In France and in the UK, attacks on Muslims by skinheads have sharply increased. In one attack, a young Muslim woman miscarried after a brutal assault by a gang outside of Paris. And few can ever forget the horrific massacre carried out by far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in Sweden which left scores of children dead.

In this climate it is little wonder that these incidents are increasing. In Europe, the far right has used the current bleak economic outlook to resurrect the demons of old prejudices and racism. And the neoliberal economic policies of austerity have only fed the rise of extremism. An extremism which almost always finds its home in latent bigotries and scapegoats of convenience.

It is a fallacy to say that history repeats itself. Nothing is exactly as it was, nor will it be in the future. But often there are haunting echoes from the past that, when ignored, have a tendency to grow louder and stronger. We can only hope that this time more people are listening to the warnings and heeding their urgent lessons.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo is of a Roma family in a camp in Eforie Sud , Romania, and is courtesy of Agence France-Presse (AFP)

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