Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gwendolyn Albert on Anti-Roma Violence in Europe

[image of three Roma young women is from here]

This is a cross post. Please click on the title below to link back.

Anti-Roma Violence in Europe: A Q&A With Gwendolyn Albert

Posted in Anti-Roma, Europe by Alexander Zaitchik on July 6, 2010

On Friday, 26 June, CNN International broadcast a documentary called “Scars of Racism” (videos here, here and here). It told the story of a young Czech Roma (commonly known in the U.S. as a “gypsy”) named Natálka Kudriková and the neo-Nazis who almost burned her to death in an arson attack committed last year in the Czech town of Vitkov. It was a rare look by the international media into the anti-Roma violence that has plagued Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of communism two decades ago.

Violence against Roma has emerged as a leading human rights issue not just in the former Soviet bloc, but also across Europe. The perpetrators are often ideologically driven neo-Nazis, sometimes with ties to established political parties. Other times, they are local vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. In the past five years fatal attacks have been reported from Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia and Turkey. In Italy, six arsons over the last three years have resulted in multiple fatalities, including children.

Gwendolyn Albert is an American living in Prague who consulted with CNN on “Scars of Racism.” A resident of the Czech Republic since 1990, Albert has been reporting on the human rights situation of the Roma minority in Central and Eastern Europe for the past 15 years. She is currently consulting on research in this area for the Council of Europe’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner and the European Roma Rights Centre. Hatewatch recently spoke with Albert about the rise in far-right violence against Roma, and whether international media attention like CNN’s recent documentary is making a difference.

Anti-Roma violence and racism has been a defining feature of post-communist societies since the early 1990s. Are governments finally getting more serious about tackling it?

No government is doing enough, not in Central and Eastern Europe, and certainly not in Western Europe. This violence is not limited to the former communist bloc. France and Italy are probably the worst places in Western Europe to be Roma right now. Italy has been the most publicized and most discussed case, but France has a number of discriminatory institutions in place that disproportionately impact Roma.

What are the most obnoxious elements of Italian policy?

Starting in 2006, cities across Italy have been adopting “Security Pacts” which give local officials the legal powers to target Roma for removal. These forced evictions of Roma have increased during 2010. The Italian police have been using disproportionate force during their evictions of Roma camps for at least five years. This has all been in response to Bulgaria and Romania acceding to the EU [European Union] in 2007 and the large outflow of Roma from both those countries to the West [migration within the EU is unrestricted].

In 2008, the Italian government declared a “state of emergency with regard to nomad community settlements”—this was a legal action unprecedented in post-WWII Europe, the declaration of a state of emergency with respect to a particular ethnic group. Their presence alone is defined as constituting the emergency and local authorities are empowered to fingerprint and photograph all residents of any “nomad community settlement,” including minors, to expel whom they choose, and to open up new camps and order people to live in them. Freedom of movement — of citizens, human beings, not just money and goods — between EU member states is one of the founding principles of the EU, but not where the Roma are concerned, at least not in Italy or France.

Are there societal shifts occurring with regards to anti-Roma sentiment?

It depends. Here in the Czech Republic, for example, there has been a shift in society recently. The fact that an infant almost died a horrible death in the Vitkov attack generated unprecedented empathy for her and her family. This doesn’t mean the Molotov cocktails have stopped flying, quite the contrary. In one of those attacks, a full-scale criminal investigation apprehended several suspects relatively quickly and there will be a trial. Again, this is an advance; usually law enforcement takes a “no harm, no foul” approach when these attempts are unsuccessful (no larger fire, no injuries) and classifies them as misdemeanors, which means homicide investigators never get involved — and they are the ones with the resources to really track perpetrators down.

Historically, how ingrained is the tolerance for anti-Roma violence?

Anti-Gypsyism is a deeply engrained European cultural touchstone, from Ireland to Russia, from Greece to Norway. It has persisted for centuries. It comes from the same place all prejudice comes from, and that is fear. For those who understand how to perpetuate and exploit fear, the Roma have always been the scapegoats par excellence in Europe.

Tolerance of violence per se in Europe is quite high — you have only to look at domestic violence statistics for any country there to see the degree to which violence remains culturally sanctioned in Europe (irrespective of strict handgun laws). As for racist skinheads and neo-Nazis, some people consider them super-patriots and openly cheer them on, but most people probably consider them a pathetic, irrelevant counter-culture group. Much of Europe has pretty strict laws (which are under-enforced) regarding defamation and racism. Because of these laws, many European neo-Nazis actually house their organizations’ websites on U.S.-based servers. That’s something I wish would change.

How does anti-Roma violence track with the rise in anti-Semitic violence?

Anti-Semitic violence has been on the rise all across Europe as well, specifically violence against Holocaust sites and memorials and against synagogues and [Jewish] cemeteries. Holocaust denial websites have mushroomed on the Web — Facebook had to deal with it last year. This violence has nothing to do with the size of the Jewish population in any country. It’s part of the ideology of Holocaust denial, which becomes more and more open and prevalent the further east you go. You would be surprised how little is actually taught about the Holocaust in most of the former Soviet satellites.

What needs to be done?

Generally speaking, Europe first needs to take all forms of violence very seriously and devote resources to reducing its incidence. As for the perpetrators of neo-Nazi violence, the media have a huge role to play. They should investigate and report on who these people are and why they make the choices they do. They should investigate the ties between the various groups and who funds them, and they should investigate whether they are linked to established political parties.

What is up with the White Dudes-in-Denial about being SEXIST and RACIST. Case # 1,635,758: John Madriarczyk, the libertarian leftist


[image of libertarian "leftist", "anti-racist" 
blogger John Madriarczyk is from here]

[There is an update here, which may be taking a more constructive turn. I've posted the latest batch of comments, exchanged between John and me, below. This was updated on 12 July 2010.]

I wish that the few libertarians who aren't sexist-racist jerks would hold accountable those who are.

I remain convinced that libertarianism is in service to the PPP and WHM supremacy. And I've seen so many examples of it reinforcing white and male supremacy, and ignoring Indigenist philosophies and politics, that I've got the same reaction now to someone saying "that isn't what libertarianism really stands for" that I do to hearing about someone proclaiming there is such a thing as feminist pornography. Which is: nothing about your version of libertarianism/pornography, in the context of WHM supremacist libertarianism/pornography, convinces me that what you stand for isn't in alliance with the WHM supremacist libertarians/pornographers.

And, if you oppose them, why do you use the same terms they use to describe what you do, when what they do has academic and industrial strength and power--when what you stand for, according to you, does not? Reclaiming libertarianism and pornography as possibly radical or even liberatory in social contexts in which, even if it were progressive or radical, will only be a drop in the toxic ocean of oppressive libertarian and pornographic gross hostility to women of all races. So isn't detoxifying the ocean more important that adding drops of something that merges with that ocean as soon as it makes contact? And isn't "libertarianism" and "pornography", because of the alliances you make by using the same terms, a form of irresponsible ideological assault against the Global South by the Global North? That makes no emotional or political sense to me. But call me "fucking insane". Oh, wait: the MRArsenals already have, so check that off the "to do" list.

And the same holds true for white het men on the Left. [<--Warning: that link goes to a site with some very triggering bigoted imagery.] U.S. Leftist white men, based on their political objectives and acted out values, are intellectually thugtastic gang of anti-Indigenist misogynist-racists, with a couple of notable exceptions. But even the exceptions don't centralise women of color from the Global South, or Indigenous women globally, in their analysis of "what's wrong" and "what the solutions are". Here's one part of the solution, whiteboys: CAREFULLY LISTENING TO RADICAL ACTIVIST WOMEN OF COLOR!!

So a couple of days ago I post to my blog the video and transcript from Democracy Now--the exchange between Dr. Vandana Shiva and some white dude with the last name Dyer who is all about geoengineering as the solution to our problem of running out of time--it is his solution to "buy time". HIS time, mind you. White men's time. Because women--particularly poor women of color--ran out of time a long goddamned time ago! And their dead bodies are proof of it. So when white dudes get nervous about THEIR lives, then it's an emergency. And this is partly what I hear Dr. Shiva addressing, but white dudes can't fucking listen their way out of a paper bag. What isn't evident, is that Democracy Now ALREADY gave him a whole segment of their hour to speak his mind and argue his views. And then they invite her on to debate him, or leave him there to debate her. Because, even in progressive and alternative media, the woman of color, especially if she is Indigenous or from the Global South, is rarely allowed to speak without some white fool cutting in. Seriously. Why isn't Dr. Vandana Shiva the primary guest? SHE'S the expert, not Gwynne Dyer. (See this for more proof.)

I heard the tension in the debate, with the white dude doing his condescending and patronising best to appear cool, calm, and collected. He's got to come off as the more "rational" one, the more "objective" one, the more "logical" one, after all, because we can't have things like passion and emotional investment--because we know who is dying and where, get in the way of our "objectively stated views". No. We can't have that. Truth is, white dudes get emotional and "irrational" all the damned time. It's called being condescending. It's called rape. It's called battery. And it's called using women and girls as "sexual service stations". What do men call those behaviors? "Logical"??? I'd argue that in the discussion/debate on Democracy Now, there's nothing more irrational that what this dude is proposing as a solution to buy white men more time.

I wondered how this debate would get framed up by fellow bloggers. And I checked. And below is what I found. I offer to the court this piece of sexist-racist "political analysis". It was recently written, two days ago, by a white dude named:

John Madziarczyk

About [John]

From the Michigan to the Northwest via Florida. Contact me at J dot Madziarczyk at gmail dot com.

[John's blog is called:]

Hi. My name is Julian Real and I'm Intergender. Now, what the hell does THAT mean?

[image is from here]

(For part one of this discussion, please see *here*.)

I SOOOO feel like I didn't get the memo that there was such a thing as being intergender. Did you get that memo? (And, if so, why didn't you forward it to me??) I'm utterly amazed there was this graphic in the internet, above! And there's something else later on in this post that I found out about just a little while ago.

The whole of this post was written assuming I'd invented the term myself--that's how out of the loop I am!! (And I do like coming up with new terms but usually I DO check, to make sure anything I come up with hasn't already been invented!) I'm feeling kind of silly right now. Like seeing snow for the first time and calling everyone out of their houses and apartments to see it, and all of them saying to me, "Yes. That happens every year." Anyway, here's the post:

My problem with identifying as a "man" is that I just don't feel like one. I barely felt like a boy. Or, mostly I didn't. I didn't see boys as the same group as me. I felt more kinship with girls. But what I felt was something else, not like being a girl and not like being a woman, or a boy or a man, exactly. I didn't want my genitals to show and longed to have genitals that were different, but not explainably different. The best I can do now it to say that I've wanted to have intersex genitals. In my twenties I wanted to have breasts and to not have facial hair. I wanted very much to breastfeed, if I had children with someone. I didn't and still don't want facial hair and if I could magically make it go away, it would have been long gone years and years ago, with me never missing it one bit.

I'd also get rid of most of my body hair--and I'm not an especially hairy-bodied person. It would help if society didn't make women remove so much of theirs, I suppose, because then body hair wouldn't be so associated for me with "being a man". Many women are hairy, including facially hairy, but the codes on what is acceptable are very strict in this regard, and few women I know, including lesbian feminist women, escape the mandate to shave or tweeze some hair somewhere, usually and most often on the face.

In general, I think what testosterone seems to do to males is kind of unattractive, although I don't think it's unattractive if women have higher levels of testosterone. I don't like the effects it has on men but that's partly because of associations I have with other dimensions of being a man--political ones, not physical ones. I notice this as males grow from high school through to their forties and fifties, how much their bodies and psyches change. I'm assuming that's due to testosterone, and also diet and lifestyle of course, as well as increasing years of living with certain privileges and entitlements.

Physically, more or less, across the board, men seem to get more massive with age, and I'm not speaking here of getting fatter, which is a U.S. phenomenon more than anywhere else. I mean "beefy" or "muscular" but it includes how men's skeletons change shape too. Like rib cages seeming to getting larger or broader. I am not attracted to bulky men, and I don't desire to be bulky in those ways, because it is associated for me with being like a man.

Not too long ago, I got myself down to my lowest weight ever, as an adult. I have since gained some weight back, but I am trying to get back to that lower weight. I have eating "issues" which some might call an eating disorder, but as I know people with very serious eating disorders, I don't really feel like my struggles are similar enough to their own. For one thing, I can't die from mine. They can. I am capable of getting into an anorexic-like frame of thinking and behaving, for sure. When my weight drops to a certain point, that thinking moves in. And I have to be careful then, to not let that "anorexic mind" take over.

I know that for many people with class privilege, in the West, where there is plenty of food available to be eaten, some of us limit what we eat in order to take up less room, or to not appear as adult-like. I don't want the body I had when seventeen, or fourteen, or ten. I just want the secondary sex characteristics to go away, permanently, because they don't seem or feel like me. I can barely REALLY look at myself in a mirror, because I'm confronted with this fact: that how I look isn't how I feel and that has primarily to do with secondary male sex characteristics. With matters that having different levels of various hormones would have possibly taken care of. Maybe just less testosterone. If getting "fixed" would help me achieve the body I want, I'd do it. And this isn't about cosmetic changes to suit the public. I don't imagine showing off my body no matter what it looks like.

I just would like a body that fits with my sense of who I am. Right now, and for as long as I can remember, mine isn't it, but it's not so far off that I can't tolerate it. If it were, I might be more motivated to do something about it. But I really am frightened by taking hormones and even more so by surgery. I don't trust the dominant medical establishment, including around matters of gender re-assignment, in part because they really do try and make everyone look "male" or "female" and some of us would be just fine being intersex. And, I say that as someone who didn't grow up intersex and I don't know the struggles and hardships that can come with that journey from childhood into adulthood.

On the matter of degrees of inner distress or dissonance: I object to "being transgender" being determined by non-transgender people. I object to non-transgender people telling me, "You're not like what I understand transgender people to be, and so you're not transgender." I'm willing and eager to discuss my experiences with other transgender or intergender people, to compare notes, to discuss the stresses and the ways of coping.

Some might call me genderqueer, and for a time, for a few years, I called myself that. But now, for me, that term is too class, race, and era-specific. I associate it with a very particular white, middle or upper middle class, academically trained sub-culture, and I'm not actively part of that sub-culture. Maybe if I were, I'd be okay with that term.

I suspect I'm under the umbrella of being "transgender" but am not what dominant society tells me that means. "Transgender", according to dominant media, implies or assumes the desire in someone to move from one point to another along a supposedly linear spectrum of gendered being. This might go from being female-assigned at birth, raised as a girl and then being a woman. Or being male-assigned at birth, raised as a boy, then being a man, to becoming a woman. That's how it is presented, and the more the "finished" person appears to be their new gender, the more successful the process is understood to be, by talk show hosts, for example. Most people I know who are transgender who have had lots of hormone injections and many surgeries, do not really pass, to me. They appear "transgender" and I wish society were okay with people not fitting into what "men" and "women" are supposed to look like. I know some non-transgender people whose gender presentation--physically, not in terms of adornment or attire--is not what dominant society most welcomes and wants of its citizens. And that is a particular struggle that is not mine.

Once, though, a four year old girl looked up a me, as she stood near her mother who was selecting items off a shelf. She stared and then tugged on her mother's clothes and said, "Mommy, is he a boy or a girl?" The woman was embarrassed and seemed to want to apologise, or maybe she did. But it made my day. I felt like that little girl was the only one who has seen me as I want to be seen. Curiously, she used the term "he"--"Is HE a boy or a girl", so I think she registered my maleness on some level. But she also saw something else.

Most transgender-ignorant people assume that being transgender means one goes from being man to being a woman, or from being a woman to being a man. That's not true of most transgender people I know, and I question "transgender" as the term for what they are, but of course they are entitled to name themselves, and I am not entitled to name anyone else's subjective experience of genderedness and selfhood.

One female-bodied person I know, who is not intersex, identifies as transgender and prefers to go by male pronouns. Is it the fact of using male pronouns that makes them transgender? Because, basically, they are genderqueer, and may well be intergender, not transgender. But "intergender" hasn't been an option, and my experience is we make due with the categories that are available to us, that are enforced or generated against the weight of dominant society. This person has not been transitioning at all over the years I've known them. Not at all. Nor do they speak about "transitioning". To me, if there's no "transition", you're not transgender. You're possibly intergender or genderqueer, but I think there is currently a kind of internal peer pressure within some queer communities to identify as either queer or transgender, or both.

I see transgender reality as existing against the force of dominant society. I know some non-trans people believe transgender people are choosing to reinforce gender stereotypes, but I don't think this is the central matter in being transgender. I think the central matter is "feeling like oneself" both subjectively and when looking in the mirror, and possibly also when interacting socially. It's achieving a kind of internal-external, psychic-social harmony in basic being where before there was greater dissonance and dissociation. The degrees to which transgender folks assimilate is both a function of the pressures of dominant society to do so, and the desire to avoid a kind of scrutiny that is especially painful, as one has already invested a lot of energy in trying to pass relatively unnoticed in a world where one feels like one doesn't fit, psychologically and physically, and in other ways. So blaming transgender people for trying to pass is, to me, an expression of transphobia or, a term I prefer, transgender bigotry.

Another transgender person I know who is has lived life up until recently as a girl then a woman, is taking hormones, is experiencing voice changes and looks forward to the time when their voice isn't registered by others as "gender-nonspecific". And they are looking forward passing as a man. We have had some discussion about this: about this matter of wanting to be able to pass as one socially mandated and enforced gender or the other, in the gender hierarchy/binary that exists in the West. This should not be dismissed as insignificant to the decision to transition in ways media stereotypes transgender people transitioning. Without an enforced gender binary, someone might feel "done" transitioning" with less effort or procedures done, or they might not feel the same need to transition in the same ways.

Another myth about being transgender is that it is ONLY a subjective thing. That it is ONLY how one feels inside. Every transgender person I know is negotiating how they will be and be perceived in social spaces. This cannot "not matter" and it is influential as one deals with so many other issues that can accompany being transgender. And there are tons of issues to deal with, so many more than non-transgender people realise, in my experience. So many, in fact, that I've pushed away the whole matter away, on and off, for all of my adult life. I've reconciled being in the body I have, and then I notice that it's not the body I want.

Coming out as gay, for me, was not primarily a matter of figuring out how I felt, as a male-bodied person, about other males. I grew up knowing I was attracted to other male people. But I didn't exactly feel like I was attracted to "the same gender as me". I also didn't feel heterosexual at all. I've never understood heterosexuality. And, on some level, I've never understood anyone--male, female, intersex, or transgender, being attracted to men as a group. To individuals, yes. But not to men generally. Because so many men are so inhumane in fundamental ways. So I don't gets what's all that attractive about men.

I've always been more attracted to "androgynous" men or men who don't have lots of muscles, who are slight or thin, who are not terribly athletic, and who aren't "into" dominant male activities. Acceptable dominant male activities, such as working on cars, working out at the gym, homosocially bonding over putting down women, and being into comic books, sci-fi, or men's team sports, bore me.And, I know women can be into some or all of those things too. I once knew a lesbian-feminist who was into watching football. I didn't get it at all. I know het men who are into it: I don't get it. But I like the Olympics and I do like some sports, like beach volleyball and diving. And I like chess.

Does the degree to which my interests match up with some dominant standard of what men are supposed to enjoy help determine my own sense of myself? Of course. I am intergender because, in part, a lot of my interests, values, behaviors, and attitudes are NOT shared among men I know but they are shared among a whole lot of women I know. I find women infinitely more intelligent than men. The kind of intelligence I see men valuing is one that is dissociated from social reality or any understanding that the personal is political. And the intelligence I see in men, when it is there, is also terribly influenced by the many things Dr. Marimba Ani writes about in Yurugu. Things like "objectivity" and "rationality" and "logic". OMFG: the men that want to argue in those terms!!! I just want to give a copy of Yurugu to them and say, "Let's talk after you understand THIS book." Because if they can't understand that book, they aren't very intelligent. And if they can't understand what feminists are writing about, they aren't very intelligent. And if they are white but don't know what it means to be white, then they aren't very intelligent. That's how I see it.

Social, interpersonal, and emotional intelligence is very valued by me, but not so much by most men I know. So that's part of me feeling intergender. Residing somewhere between what society offers as the two genders is where I live, with a fair amount of male privilege and plenty of male entitlements. But the entitlements and privileges alone do not a gender make. That's something it has taken me a few years to work through, because my non-biological understanding of gender used to go like this: if you were raised with and maintain male privileges, you're a boy or a man. If you weren't, you're a girl or a woman. Or, if you were stigmatised negatively and seen as inferior and socially subordinated due to your gender, you were a girl or a woman. If not, you were a boy or a man.

I was seen and treated by many in my family of origin as an intergender child. I know they didn't have language for it, and it has taken me until last night for ME to have language for what I am that feels truest to my experiences, physical and emotional, internal and social, personal and political.

Wouldn't you know... I just Googled "intergender" to see if anything came up, and most of it had to do with being intersex, or with language issues. But, kind of excitingly, there was this:

What Is Intergendered?

By: Donna Lynn Matthews, October 1998

So I'll leave you, and me, with that to read. (Click on the title just above to link to the website with the whole discussion.)