Finally before going on to the summary reports on a number of countries it is important to avoid a chauvinistic Eurocentric approach, which can itself be another form of racism. It is frequently pointed out that racism is something which goes against the very core principles underlying all EU policies. Nevertheless it must be remembered that European expansionism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the so-called ‘discovery’ of various ‘new’ countries was the beginning of a pattern of white domination and an ideology of superiority. This was compounded by the subsequent development of nation-states and the control of borders. Fascism and Nazism emerged from the notion of ethnic superiority legitimated by the ideology of racism.
After the destruction of the so-called Second ‘World War’ the major reconstruction and economic recovery that took place involved immigrants from former colonies. Many people believed that racism was a thing of the past, especially with the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989), symbolising the end of the Cold War, there was great optimism and a sense of euphoria. Unfortunately, the eruption of ‘ethnic cleansing’ with the break-up of Yugoslavia showed that genocide could happen once again despite world-wide media coverage.
One should not conclude from this that ethnic identity is something which is atavistic or intrinsically negative. But, as Miroslav Wolf states: “Group identities are profoundly ambivalent: they are havens of belonging as well as repositories of aggression, suffocating enclosures as well as bases of liberating power.”
The response of many governments to this ambivalence is to try to assimilate ethnic minorities and this has been the widespread approach to Roma/Gypsies/Travellers, as can be seen in the individual country reports. But the paradox of ethnic identification requires a more sophisticated response: “Ethnicity typically becomes most destructive when it is threatened, therefore in order to reduce ethnic tensions it is necessary to protect people’s rights to form ethnic loyalties, and not to repress ethnic identification (Dharam Ghai, UNRISD, 1995). Once ethnic identity is recognised it becomes possible for other markers of identity to emerge and more civic-based forms of identity may transcend ethnicity.
While some people point to the development of the European Union, with the removal of internal borders, and the promotion of European citizenship as a positive antidote to the excesses of extreme nationalism, others warn of the dangers of ‘Fortress Europe’. This warning points to the increased policing of the external border to exclude people, especially black people, from entering the European Union. Such exclusion is also accompanied by a Eurocentrism which involves viewing the standards and practices of the dominant ethnic groups as superior. The challenge therefore is to create a multi-cultural Europe based on equality, where individuals can retain their group identities while respecting the identities of others.
A focus on Roma/Gypsies/Travellers in the context of a multi-cultural Europe should avoid any tendency to exoticise minorities. It is important, therefore, to bear in mind that the situation of Roma/Gypsies/Travellers is by no means an exception in the European structure and that there are many common features between mobile peoples, non-territorial peoples, dispersed national minorities and diaspora from various countries. Therefore, appropriate non-territorial solutions to the challenges of Roma/Gypsies/Travellers could constitute a valuable contribution to the solutions of problems experienced by or associated with other peoples.