Prize

 

The European Civil Rights Prize of the Sinti and Roma, which was endowed by the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation and brought into being on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma in November 2007, has been awarded for the first time in December 2008. Against the background of the extremely alarming human rights situation of the Sinti and Roma in many European states – especially in eastern and southeastern Europe – this prize will contribute towards the protection and assertion of the civil rights and the equality of opportunity of the members of the Sinti and Roma minorities in their respective countries of nationality. At the same time, the prize should be regarded as a signal to politicians, media and social groups in Europe to take action against deeply rooted clichés and structures of prejudice, in order to gradually overcome the everyday marginalization of the minority. We wish to use the European Civil Rights Prize of the Sinti and Roma to strengthen social engagement and prompt politicians and citizens to actively call for the effective equality of treatment of Sinti and Roma and their self-evident integration into all areas of public life.

 

Last but not least, the prize will support political and social efforts for the lasting protection of people affected by discrimination, in order to enable them to live an independent life. The prize honours individuals, groups or institutions primarily from the majority, who face up to the historical responsibility and have been exemplary in calling for an improvement in the human rights situation of the Sinti and Roma.

 

With the award of the European Civil Rights Prize of the Sinti and Roma, we also wish to remember the hunger strike by twelve Sinti at the memorial of the former concentration camp of Dachau at Easter 1980. This concerned the recognition of the genocide against the Sinti and Roma murdered by the National Socialists in occupied Europe. Furthermore, the hunger strikers protested against the methods of racist special registration of Sinti and Roma at judicial and police authorities based upon old files from the Nazi period and also carried out by former SS personnel in some cases. This event, which also attracted worldwide attention, marked the beginning of the civil rights work of the Sinti and Roma in Germany and Europe and has made a substantial contribution to encouraging members of the minority of the postwar generation to stand up self-confidently for their rights as German citizens today.

 

Roma and Sinti, who now make up the largest minority in Europe with a total of ten to twelve million members, share with the Jews the terrible experience of disfranchisement, persecution and systematic extermination in Nazi-occupied Europe. Half a million members of our minority fell victim to the Holocaust, an experience which is burned deep into our collective memory. After the Holocaust against the Jews, the European community of states rightly reacts very sensitively to all forms of anti-Semitism and intervenes at an early stage. With the award of the European Civil Rights Prize of the Sinti and Roma, we express the hope that the European community will at last combat the racistly motivated violence and neo-Nazi diatribes against Sinti and Roma and their public defamation – especially in the media – with the same resoluteness.

 

Since the end of the Cold War and the opening-up of the countries of eastern and southeastern Europe, the living conditions of the minority have drastically deteriorated as a result of the economic upheaval and nascent racism. However, we also find a similar situation in a large number of countries in western Europe. According to studies made by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2008, Sinti and Roma experience more discrimination in the education system and housing and labour market than any other group, something which has led to the virtual ghettoisation of our people in many places. As the New York Times correctly observed in a commentary, the members of the minority are nowadays subjected to marginalization and racism with an extent which corresponds to the situation of the Afro-Americans in the US up to the middle of the 1950s.

 

The European Civil Rights Prize of the Sinti and Roma stands for the particular historical responsibility towards our minority, and it also symbolizes the hope of overcoming racism and marginalization and the vision of the realization of a European House founded on human and civil rights. The first prize winner, Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, was an outstanding personification of this idea because of his tireless advocacy for the recognition of the Holocaust against the Sinti and Roma and the protection of the minority in Europe today.

 

Simone Veil, who won the prize in 2010, received this award as an outstanding and committed person who still campaigns for the equality of the Sinti and Roma minority in Europe and the recognition of the victims of the National Socialist genocide of the Sinti and Roma in an exemplary fashion. As the incumbent President of the European Parliament, Simone Veil demonstrated her close bond and solidarity with the Sinti and Roma minority in 1979, when she gave a speech at the remembrance ceremony of the Sinti and Roma at the memorial site of Bergen-Belsen before her first official visit to Germany. In this she explicitly emphasized the similarity of the National Socialist genocide of the Sinti and Roma with the genocide of the Jews and also used her official position and political influence to contribute to the success of the civil rights work.

 

My special thanks goes to the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation as the donor of the European Civil Rights Prize of the Sinti and Roma, which carries 15,000 euros. Dr. Manfred Lautenschläger has been a member of the board of trustees of the Documentary and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma since 2002 and since then has stood up for the concerns of our centre and the political objectives of our minority in an exemplary manner. The award of this prize would not be possible without his very personal engagement.

 

My thanks also goes to all the members of our international jury, who make an active contribution to the work of our prize jury in spite of their many professional commitments, and whose many years of experience in human rights questions is an important asset for us.

 

 

Romani Rose