- Romaphobia: The Last Acceptable Form of Racism by Aidan McGarry
In his book, Romaphobia: The Last Acceptable form of Racism, Aidan McGarry gives a powerful analysis of anti-Roma racism in Europe. His aims in the book are to highlight the plight of European Roma and to analyse the underlying causes of their persecution. The quandary, as McGarry sees it, is that Roma persecution in Europe has persisted unabated for over six hundred years. As soon as Roma appeared in Europe in the late fourteenth century they were traded as slaves, or targeted by laws calling for assimilation or death. Roma were targeted for mass extermination during the Holocaust, and even now, they face widespread persecution across Europe. Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini, for instance, insists on compiling a “Gypsy Registry” and cleansing Italian neighbourhoods of Roma camps. The French government targets Roma settlements for demolition and, in defiance of European laws, deports around twenty thousand Roma to other countries every year. Targeted murders of Roma in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Ukraine are encouraged, and ignored. Tabloid newspapers in the UK drum up anti-Roma sentiment. Indeed, the Daily Mail even cite former UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbin’s past attempts to protect Roma from eviction in London as a reason for his unsuitability to become Prime Minister—in modern Britain, compassion [End Page 151] for Gypsies is a sign of questionable character. For McGarry, then, this persistence is central to the puzzle of Romaphobia—why does this form of racism remain unchallenged and acceptable?
Before moving on to the details of McGarry’s book, however, it’s worth clarifying my interest in the subject. I am an academic philosopher interested in race and racial identity, but I am also a British Roma (Romanichal). I recognize much of what McGarry speaks of and find myself similarly perplexed by the acceptability and persistence of Romaphobia. In that sense, then, I have a personal interest in his analysis. This means that I’ll often tread a fine line between academic analysis and personal reflection. That’s as it must be, but wherever I mention personal experience, I will try to balance this with other evidence or comment.
Returning to McGarry’s book, then, the key concept in its analysis of Romaphobia is socio-spatial belonging. On McGarry’s view, the construction of mainstream identity usually designates an outsider—someone who does not belong—as a foil. This means a social space is constructed, and those deigned not to belong are positioned outside it both physically and conceptually. This, in turn highlights the boundaries of the space, and unifies those that are deemed to belong within it. In Europe, the Roma are placed outside of Gadje1 space (physically and conceptually), and are constructed as a threat to it. McGarry explores these ideas in Chapters One and Two, before looking (chapter 3) at the effect that socio-spatial belonging has on Roma identity. He then introduces (in chapter 4) two illuminating examples from Eastern Europe: the Roma ghettoes of Lunik IX in Slovakia; and Šuto Orizari in Macedonia. These settlements are the largest in Europe, and both are blighted by what McGarry calls “socio-spatial exclusion” (79). Indeed, at Lunik IX, local Gadje districts have built large concrete walls around the settlement to keep the Roma out of sight, out of Gadje society, and in their place. For McGarry, these sites make compelling illustrations of the socio-spatial foundations of Romaphobia.
In his final two chapters, McGarry changes focus and argues that Roma visibility and socio-spatial presence could play a role in undermining Romaphobia in Europe. In chapter five he focuses on the rise of Roma Pride movements as an assertion of Roma presence in the European space. McGarry’s own examples are more recent, but since the early 1970s we have employed a Roma flag, and an anthem, “Gelem, Gelem,” to give us some symbols of shared identity.2 For McGarry, Roma pride is to be encouraged, and Roma visibility is important...