Hunt-ing Roma in Waterford

Sweden Democrats 2014 election poster – to the left, it says “Time to stop the organised begging on our streets.”

So the Sunday Independent makes a predictable defence of the racist mob that targeted Roma homes in Waterford last week.

I’m not going to bother picking apart Carol’s arguments here – instead, I am going to tell you about a story I’m working on which illustrates how dangerous such writing can be.

In the summer of 2014 Vasile Zamfir came to Stockholm from Romania to collect the remains of his father, who had died of a heart attack while in Sweden, to bring his coffin home to be buried.

He was one of hundreds of Roma in the city, many of whom have made their way to Sweden to beg on the streets. He had a son with Downs Syndrome in Romania, and the money he and others collected – usually around €10 a day – was saved and brought home.

Like most of the Roma currently in Sweden, Vasile lived together with a group of others in a temporary camp, made up of lean-to shacks and tents.

Despite Sweden’s liberal reputation, the Roma aren’t popular with a lot of people, and the standard accusations are levelled at them.

They only come here for the social welfare (they are not entitled to social welfare), they are criminals, they are part of an organised begging ring (neither charities nor authorities have found any evidence to support this claim) and so on.

The wilder stories tell of them being dropped off in the morning in shiny BMWs and Mercedes, pictures of handicapped children handed out to increase their takings from the gullible Swedes.

I have followed these people, and I have never seen any evidence of the above.

But that didn’t stop the Sweden Democrats – a far-right party founded by neo-Nazis in 1988 – from printing up election posters about banning “organised begging”.

The internet went one step further.

“The beggars’ camp should be torn down, burned or blown to fuck. Preferably with the beggars hanging upside down. Hypothetical thoughts, but…” was one contribution to the debate.

“Stones, knives, petrol bombs, or Kalashinikov, makes no difference when our elected representatives haven’t the guts to take the step to free us from this modern plague, I will applaud each and everyone who contributes so we avoid seeing these people, who deliberately dress in rags and try to profit from the innate goodness of us Swedes,” was another.

Everywhere, there were well-meaning columns written – surely it can’t be racist to question why they are here, or why they are unemployed? And for every column written by a well-meaning, well-to-do journalist, the stakes for the Roma went up.

At 4am on the warm summer night that was August 31, and luckily for most of his friends, one of the residents of Vasile’s camp got up to urinate.

He saw how flames quickly spread across the roofs of the shacks that housed 17 people in Högdalen.

In the beginning there was no smoke – as there would have been if a cigarette butt had smouldered and set light to timber, for example – which led many of the residents to believe that the fire was started deliberately using a flammable liquid.

Vasile Zamfir och Codrut Kalanyos were trapped in their shack. Codrut survived but was badly injured.

Police and the fire brigade came, but the scene was not secured until seven hours later, making it almost impossible to conduct a proper investigation into what caused the fire. Many witnesses were never interviewed.

Vasile died in a Swedish hospital from injuries sustained in a fire that many believe was started deliberately, with the sole purpose of driving the Roma out of the area and out of Sweden – pretty much the same goal as the marchers in Waterford last Saturday night who broke windows and terrorised women and children.

He came to Sweden to collect the remains of his father, and instead he too now lies in the ground in Romania.

In your article Carol – which, incidentally, repeats a slew of favoured modern racist tropes, from Roma criminality to the invoking of Rotherham to permit any form of wild unfounded accusation – you refer to last week’s pogrom and ask the following question:

 

All of that is disgusting, horribly, criminally wrong.

But do I really need to say that? Isn’t it self-evident? 

The answer is very simple. As long as mobs feel that they can take the law into their own hands and go smashing the windows of families because of their ethnicity – yes, you do. Loudly and clearly, and without going on to legitimise such actions in the next paragraph.

Because your questioning of the Roma, your oblique references to the “moral failure” of their culture (whatever that may be), and your failure to understand that their difficulties are caused not by their ethnicity but by their marginalisation and poverty, legitimises real racism like the marching mobs of Waterford.

And it provides the fuel for the fires of these mobs who believe that they can burn out anyone they choose.