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Berlin's unwanted Roma

Exberliner · 14 Oct 2010, 13:57

Published: 14 Oct 2010 13:57 GMT+02:00

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Like no other thoroughfare in Berlin, Flughafenstraße in the Neukölln district is a street marked by a new influx of Bulgarian and Romanian Roma families who have come to Berlin since their countries' accession to the EU in 2007.

Up and down the street, which stretches from Karl-Marx-Straße to Hermannstraße, you can find tacky new nightclubs with names like “Sofia” advertising well-known Bulgarian Gypsy chalga singers. Intermingled with Turkish bistros, Arab shops, African hair salons and second-hand furniture stores are brand-new bordellos with flashing red lights operated by the Bulgarian mafia.

No one knows exactly how many recent arrivals there are, but everyone has stories about Gypsies in this part of Neukölln. Zoran Markovic, owner of a Serbian music and grocery store called “Kod Zoran – Balkan Spezialitäten,” has been running his Flughafenstraße shop for more than two decades.

“The Gypsies are the worst,” says Zoran. “Especially the Bosnian Gypsies. They come in here and steal everything. I had a Gypsy woman come in here the other day with a baby in her arms. I watched her steal a CD and stick it under her baby. I said, ‘Give me the CD.' She said, ‘What CD?' I took the CD from out under her baby and hit her over the head with it and told her, ‘Get out of here! Before I call the police'.”

“There's no doubt about it, the Gypsies steal the most,” says Metin, who works in a family-run Späti nearby. “They come in with their babies, don't speak any German. It's clear they are Gypsies.”

“Of course they steal,” says Hamze Bytyci, an activist from a Roma advocacy group called Amaro Drom, which this past September organized a “Roma Action Day” aimed at drawing attention to the problems faced by Balkan Roma families in Neukölln.

“They have no choice. But let's not forget that these Roma from Bulgaria and Romania have been driven here by the EU. For years now, the EU has been dismantling the traditional jobs of the Roma in Bulgaria. These people have no other choice but to come to the rich West. And some of them do steal.”

For centuries, Roma have lived in large numbers in eastern Europe and the Balkans, sometimes in harmony with their neighbours and sometimes suffering overt persecution.

But one thing is clear: in countries like Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, the Roma belong to the cultural and physical landscape. They intermarry, play music at gajo weddings and funerals, and live in Roma mahallas (ghettos) or else side-by side with their Slavic neighbours, making money and prospering like everyone else. They are nothing new.

Now western Europe has a ‘Roma problem'. Since Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, countries like France, Italy and Germany have been finally making contact with the Roma people, who number about 10 million, constitute Europe's biggest minority, and are testing its alleged principles of tolerance and multiculturalism.

In Italy, on the outskirts of Rome, Roma camps were cleared out by the police last year. Now Sarkozy's France is at the center of a scandal over the systematic and accelerating deportation of Roma back to their home countries. Germany does not have large Roma encampments to speak of, but when some 50 Roma from Romania set up camp in Kreuzberg's Görlitzer Park last summer, police were quick to disperse them; they were hunted from site to site until finally the families were flown back to Romania.

The first Roma to come to Germany were from the Balkans and arrived with the Gastarbeiter of the 1970s and 1980s. According to Südost Europa Kultur, an organization that promotes Balkan culture in Berlin, these Roma are now fairly integrated and spread out throughout the city. The next wave came with the war in Bosnia. Many Roma – particularly from the town of Bijeljina – came to Berlin as refugees, then forced to leave when the conflict ended.

However, many returned to Berlin by hook or by crook, and many of these Gypsies from the 1990s now live in Neukölln and Wedding. The most recent wave consists of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, who live predominantly in the “Schillerkiez” area of Neukölln.

According to the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, there are 120,000 Roma in Germany. Up to 20,000 are estimated to live in Berlin.

A burning issue is the fate of the more than 130,000 Roma who fled Kosovo in the wake of intense persecution, including arson attacks and expulsions. Many of these came to Germany. Under a deal signed in April, 14,000 refugees are to be returned to Kosovo – 10,000 of whom are Roma.

“Now, 10 years on, Germany is trying to deport the Roma living here. Most don't want to go; 4,000 have already been deported,” says Hamze Bytyci of Amaro Drom.

According to Unicef, half of the Roma to be deported are children, most of whom were born and raised in Germany. But unlike France's Roma (who mostly originate from, and have been expelled back to, Romania and Bulgaria), they do not have the right to return because they are not EU citizens.

Bytyci is himself a Kosovan Roma. He came to Berlin as a refugee during the war and married a German. “Seventy years ago, Roma were killed by Nazis in this country,” he says. “And Germany was massively involved in supporting the nationalist forces in Kosovo and the UÇK [Kosovo Liberation Army], which resulted in the expulsion and persecution of Roma. We think that Germany has a responsibility towards these people.”

But it seems no one wants the Roma. The media in Berlin, be it B.Z. or Bild, focuses on Gypsy squeegee gangs and Gypsy petty crime, presenting a stereotypical and overwhelmingly negative picture of the city's Balkan Roma. And then there is Heinz Buschkowsky, the controversial mayor of Neukölln, who – while never explicitly singling out the Roma – spoke at length about his so-called “problem families”.

His threats to cut Kindergeld in half has succeeded in riling up many Neukölln Roma, who tend to have a lot of children and often live off of the state.

“And the latest thing is that he wants to make all our children go to kindergarten. Children should stay with their parents. It just means that people with children will leave Neukölln… It's like fascism,” says Slavisa Markovic, a Neukölln Roma from Niš, Serbia, who runs Rroma Aether Klub Theater with his brother. “Heinz Buschkowsky can go to hell. You can tell him a Zigeuner said that.”

While Roma might have a hard time ‘integrating' into Germany's society and school system, Germans are not making the process any easier: Markovic recalls that finding a space for his café/theater wasn't easy. “We said we were Roma. ‘Roma?' they said. ‘You mean you come from Rome?' ‘No, like Gypsies,' we said. ‘Zigeuner'. ‘Oh, no, please – we have enough problems as it is.'”

It is a Saturday night in Neukölln in mid-September. The day has been marked by rallies and demonstrations: an anti-nuclear power demo at Hauptbahnhof, a neo-Nazi rally in Schöneweide and an open-air anti-police hip-hop concert in Neukölln organized by Autonomen and immigrant groups.

And today, September 18 – although not many people know it – is Roma Action Day and Neukölln Roma have been meeting to discuss issues amongst themselves or with journalists and town-hall officials. Now it's party time.

Niko, a Romanian Roma with long sideburns and tattoos, takes the stage in the cellar of Shangl Hangl Musikcafé, a popular hangout for Gypsy musicians. He treats the mostly Roma crowd to some fierce Balkan accordion riffs and emotive singing, before ceding his spot to a four-piece Gypsy-style jazz outfit. The dancing continues late into the morning.

People puff on joints and sip shots of slivovitz. Niko takes a breath of fresh air outside. He doesn't want to talk to journalists about the Roma. “Are you going to say something positive or negative?” he asks skeptically. The only thing he will say is that “Sarkozy is an asshole.”

Samir Biberovic – a Roma from the former Yugoslavia who lived in Berlin for a stint during the Yugoslav Wars and was then deported, only to come back again – is more open. He speaks of lively Gypsy parties in Roma nightclubs in Kreuzberg and Neukölln, scandals and fights and well-known Roma personalities (like Refik Petrovic, the owner of Hollywood, a popular Yugo disco on Potsdamer Straße that's popular among Bosnian expats. Petrovic came here in 1990s from Bijeljina as a refugee, and made money selling cars before buying a club).

“What bothers me,” says Biberovic, “is that all we see in the media are pictures of poor Gypsies. We never see any pictures of the rich ones. And there are successful Gypsies, both down in the Balkans and here in Berlin.”

Exberliner (editor@exberliner.com)

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Your comments about this article

18:04 October 14, 2010 by DCM
"The first Roma to come to Germany were from the Balkans and arrived with the Gastarbeiter of the 1970s and 1980s"...

Actually, Roma and Sinti have been in Germany since the 15th century... this article also completely forgets to mention what the Nazis did to the Roma (including the ones living in Berlin)...

One of the agency's first decisions after the Nazis came to power was to subject Roma to race laws. After 1936, Roma became subject to the Nuremberg Laws, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny, and the Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals. Many Roma were sterilized against their will...

Shortly before the opening of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the police ordered the arrest and forcible relocation of all Roma in Greater Berlin to Marzahn, an open field located near a cemetery and sewage dump in eastern Berlin. Police surrounded all Romani encampments and transported the inhabitants and their wagons to Marzahn. The arrests began at 4 a.m. on July 16, 1936.... and most ended up murdered.

Up to half a million Roma and Sinti were killed by the Nazis and their allies during World War II.

Not worth mentioning?!
21:38 October 14, 2010 by _scythe_
¦quot;Of course they steal,¦quot; says Hamze Bytyci, an activist from a Roma advocacy group, "They have no choice."

I hear this statement over and over again. Europe gives millions to those so called "Roma advocacy groups" in almost every European country, and still, every time, the same old song.

I beg to disagree. They have choice. We live in such times, that people really have choice, and if not for them, at least for their children. The so called "traditional gypsy jobs" are long made obsolete by the industrial revolution, just let your kids go to school, instead of teaching them how to beg and steal from an early age.

The real problem, at least for Bulgaria, is the explosive growth of the gypsy population. By some references, they have already surpassed the Turkish minority, i.e. they are over 10%, or more than 750000, while 20 year ago, their numbers were between 100000 and 200000. All those advocacy groups and local politicians are milking EU, and are blind for the social disarray, the gypsies are causing.
23:41 October 14, 2010 by ww77ww
Germany can take them all in, and pay for it all. Plenty of money, plenty of room, plenty of jobs
11:00 October 15, 2010 by Deutschguy
I am approached by Gypsies all the time, always with a baby or children tagging along. When they ask me, "Do you speak English," I always respond: "Why isn't he/she in school?"

This idea that Gypsies' kids shouldn't go to kindergarten or be in school is ridiculous. They are cheating their kids out of a future. Life isn't clubbing, partying, playing music, and begging or stealing.

If they are not forced to send their kids to kindergarten, then they should be penalized. Kindergeld should be graduated down after the first two children, and if kids are not enrolled and showing up for kindergarten, kindergeld should be stopped.
15:46 October 15, 2010 by tallady
Deutschguy, Thats a good come back ,I think I will use it..I would assume sending their children to school would be stressful to the parents as they would most likely expose some truths that they would not want known.
17:23 October 15, 2010 by The Colonel
The point about the Romas and other travelling people is that they can only maintain their alternative lifestyles by living alongside 'ordinary' sections of society who actually go out and work for a living. As such these guys are nothing other than parasites and is it any wonder that they cause such resentment? Take away the hard-working host and these people could not survive. Anyone not contributing to society should be excluded from all of its benefits. At least Sarkozy (himself descended from Eastern Europe immigrants) had the balls to take decisive action.
16:48 October 16, 2010 by LavrBerlin
O please! Spare me the details about the ¦quot;successful Roma¦quot; families. I live around ¦quot;successful¦quot; Roma families...a nightmare.

Last year we moved into a very nice flat in downtown Berlin, which we found ideal in terms of location and rental price.

Soon after moving we found out that the Bosnian neighbors we had been told about were in fact a Bosnian Roma family who keeps the neighborhood in a constant state of terror (partying all night, loud music, stealing, threatening the neighbors who complain etc etc...).

9 people live -on welfare- in a 130 m2 flat, mind you. Paid by whom, I ask you?

During the day, all kinds of odd business is going on, the flat seems to be a first destination for new arrivals of beggars and thieves coming to Berlin. Trucks come and leave at night with loads of junks (metal, iron…and even gully covers…If these are missing in Berlin right now, I know who¦#39;s got them!)

The Roma lady, officially ¦quot;married to a German¦quot; and who actually officially rented the flat does not even live there, neither does her German ¦quot;invisible¦quot; husband. Instead her Roma family and a gang of young pimps moved in and transformed this nice Berlin style house of the beginning of the century into a stinky garbage dump.

None of the people staying in this flat actually works. The very young girls are pregnant (13 and 14) and of course they do not go to school. You will not be surprised to find that these people do not speak a word of German.

I often see the boys in the underground, trying to steal or sell fake tickets.

So please, give me a break.
20:48 October 16, 2010 by AmiMannheim
The term "Roma" refers to an ethnic group; it's not a synonym for beggar or thief. I'm curious: does anyone know what percentage of the Roma in Germany are doing these negative things--living off welfare, begging, stealing, and not sending their kids to school? Surely it's not 100%, so let's not lose sight of the fact that racism is racism, no matter what percentage of the people in that race (in truth or in perception) conform to the stereotypes. I don't care if that's true for 95% of Roma; let's talk about the problem behavior rather than the entire ethnic group. WHO these people are or where they came from doesn't matter; that behavior would be unacceptable from anyone.

Buschkowsky's ideas about Kindergeld and requiring kids to go to Kindergarten might be a step in the right direction. (I'd need more details to form a more certain opinion.) I wonder if those rules would apply to everyone living in Newkoelln...I hope they would.
10:53 October 17, 2010 by The Colonel
AmiMannheim, I think you will find that Roma has in fact become a synonym for beggar and thief due entirely to the fact that, as you intimated in your post, 95% of them conform to this stereotype. Please go and live next door to some for a week and see how long it takes you to abandon your utopian ideals.
12:42 October 18, 2010 by tallady
"Roma" amiMannheim , what contributions have they made anywhere they have been?? answer me this and i will try to answer your question...
23:04 October 18, 2010 by DCM
There is a lot of ignorance on this thread. Did you know that across Europe Romani children do not have equal access to education owing to a combination of racism, discrimination and the failure on the part of states to ensure that education is accessible to those living in poverty? Why don't you educate yourselves a bit?

The most egregious form of discrimination manifests itself in the segregation of Roma in schools and classes offering inferior education. This violation of the right to education of Roma continues to be widespread in central and eastern Europe such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovenia and Macedonia.

Often, Roma are placed in ¦quot;special¦quot; or ¦quot;practical¦quot; schools for children with ¦quot;mild mental disabilities¦quot; despite the children not having any mental disabilities. These schools, which are still common throughout central and eastern Europe, follow severely reduced curricula and offer pupils only the slenderest of chances of continuing into secondary education .... getting a job after finishing this kind of education is pretty damn hard ....

Amnesty International has documented not just their discrimination in education but housing, access to work etc etc ... www.amnesty.org - Why don't you have a look before putting a lot of nonsense on here?
15:17 October 19, 2010 by Deutschguy
@DCM: They put the nonsense on here to reinforce the idea that don't have to feel guilt or responsibility for children who suffer from discrimination.

They will post more nonsense that will keep these kids on the bottom of the economic ladder, thereby perpetuating the problem.

Kids of all kinds belong in school, even if a culture or the parents resist it. And, most of all, they deserve an education that will lift them above the poverty level and allow them to pursue higher educational and professional goals. If teachers or school administrators are shuttling them into 'mental disability' sections or away from gymnasium, those teachers should be fired.
15:22 October 19, 2010 by LavrBerlin
@DCM: Before calling people ignorant, and playing Mr or Mrs I know everything, you should do your homework, first. I LIVE with such people and I am telling you what I have been told by experts after doing a great deal of investigation on the issue myself:

First of all, you address the issue of Roma kids being sent to schools for retarded children in Central and Eastern Europe.

You will find that a high percentage of the Roma population actually IS suffering from all types of diseases, mental and phisical ones, due to the (above average) rate of consanguinity among Roma clans. There is also a high percentage of Roma children in treatment in our hospitals in Western Europe. There are also typical Roma pathologies due to the issue of first cousin marriages. Like it or not, THIS is A FACT which any honest pediatrician for instance will be able to confirm. Both the Romanian and Bulgarian governments but also the authorities in the Balkans have a hard time getting the message across that interclan consanguinous marriages are not good. And some officials also go as far as saying that disabled children are viewed by the Romas as supplementary source of income (for begging) and that they cannot do anything about it.

In other Western European regions where the Romas have massively settled, like in Spain and in Southern France, same problem with schooling. The families are granted free school board and fees for the children. Only a minority sends the kids to school. I am sure you know the reason, just as well as we all do. The kids are needed: to beg and steal! They are the weakest link of a vast Roma mafia which enslaves them. And YOU find that okay, don't you?

I also invite you to see this short documentary made by a Romanian journalist and broadcasted on the Swiss Television, explaining, among other things why and how the families marry their underage children and the amount of money their networks make. It is in French. If you do not understand French, at least please scroll, just to see the "Roma villas":

19:09 October 20, 2010 by DCM
@ LavrBerlin

Interesting how you assume that a) I don't know any Roma and b) I haven't done my homework ... because I don't agree with the racist stuff posted on here. Well, I do live in a neighbourhood with Roma and I have done my homework.

Anyway, this is an interesting brief film clip by Amnesty International about Roma children in Slovakia being segregated in schools - interviews with children and parents... addressing some points raise ....
21:11 October 20, 2010 by LavrBerlin
@DCM ;

Thank you for the link. It is interesting indeed but it tells only ONE side of the story.

You have not answered any of my objections:

Why, when given the opportunity to send their kids to French/Spanish/Italian schools for free, Roma parents do not do it?

Why do we have a high percentage of first cousin marriages - even though the damages are clear to anyone (By the way confirmed by the teacher in the AI clip-and as previously stated confirmed by numerous genetic studies)?

Why do we have an above average / high percentage of criminality among this population when they settle in Western Europe?

What you are doing is completely ignoring the political reality. Why are you doing this? Is this okay with you when you see child prostitution networks and professional beggars (disabled children only!) networks in Great Britain and France? Are all these police agencies blind? racist? ignorant?

Do you realize that we need a zero toleration of this modern form of slavery?

Is this okay for you to see what is going on in Switzerland with Roma prostitution and even female pimps?


and I could go on and on…We have a problem here, face it!
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