Speech address by Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the RAXI Campaign organised by the
Forum of European Roma Young People (FERYP), European Youth Centre

Strasbourg, 6 June 2005


Ladies and gentlemen,

Last January, I participated in the most heartbreaking ceremony I have ever witnessed: the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

It would be impossible for me to express the emotion of the event. I could hardly describe the many thoughts and images that crossed my mind when listening to the testimonies of survivors shivering at the doorsteps of the biggest and saddest cemetery in the world.

Speaking at the ceremony, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma Romani Rose said that the name Auschwitz was a synonym of the state-organised genocide perpetrated also on Roma minority in Nazi-occupied Europe, which claimed the lives of half a million Sinti and Roma. He remembered the words of former German President Roman Herzog, who said: “The genocide against the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial hatred, with the same intent and the same will for planned and final annihilation as that against the Jews”.

Racism is a violation of human rights, rooted in the dislike for someone who is different, or contempt for someone who is deemed inferior. When this dislike or contempt becomes hatred, it can lead people to commit unspeakable crimes as the horrors of the Second World War and the more recent wars in the Balkans and the South Caucasus showed to the whole world. Because hatred begets hatred, leading to a vicious spiral of violence, when those who hate become hated, and those who are hated begin to hate.

Racial hatred has deep roots which cannot be weeded out overnight – we need to stop them from growing at an early stage, in our young generations. We cannot allow ourselves to lessen efforts, because racism and intolerance are still very much alive and, as reports show us, are in fact on the rise in Europe.

As we gather here today to mark the Tenth Anniversary of the RAXI Campaign, let us remember all the young victims of racism throughout the world, victims of racist violence and racial discrimination in their everyday lives.

Today, the values and principles on which the Council of Europe was founded pluralist democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law are still far from being permanently entrenched. We must continually defend them and to do so, we must have a sound understanding of what threatens them.

Racism and intolerance in all forms be it anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or prejudice against Roma, or xenophobia at large strike at the heart of the idea of a democratic society based on respect for the equal dignity of all human beings.

Prejudice towards Roma is not the manifestation of a phenomenon which is sporadic, occasional, or limited both geographically and in time. On the contrary, this is a recurrent phenomenon, which exists in all European countries in varying degrees and is even on the increase both in frequency and vehemence.

That is why we must be constantly mobilised against racist attitudes and behaviour, and campaign against them not only on one day in the year, but each and every day.

At the Council of Europe, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, ECRI, leads our efforts in this field. The RAXI Campaign launched in 1995 contributed to actively involve young generations in anti-discrimination movements. Not only did it launch the work on minority youth issues at European level, but also contributed to the establishment of the first European Roma Youth organisation - the Forum of European Roma Young People, FERYP, which has succeeded in becoming an internationally recognised partner and whose President Alexandra Raykova is a founding member of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.

We hope that the voice of young Roma will be heard within this Forum, whose first meeting is planned for the autumn this year, as we believe that the younger generation, even more so within Roma communities, will bring positive change and boost integration and reconciliation between tradition and modernity.

Young Roma are already actively involved in the work carried out by both national governments and international organisations. Seminars and training sessions are well attended such as those organised in Croatia exclusively for young Roma and Beash, traineeship programmes funded by Open Society Institute, or the participation of young Roma leaders in the Decade for Roma Inclusion .

However, we can always do more. I hope that you will come up with innovative recommendations during your session on “Roma Youth: Situation and Perspectives, 10 years after the RAXI campaign”. As young Roma, you have an important role to play to serve as mediators and promoters of communication channels between your communities, institutions and the rest of the population, to develop capacity-building of future generations of young Roma, to boost their drive for higher education, and to change through your success and personal achievements the negative prejudices still existing within a large part of our societies.

We at the Council of Europe count on the support and input of young European Roma to our work on Roma issues, our work on raising awareness of the roots of discrimination against your community. You are Council of Europe partners in combating racism and discrimination, in embedding in the minds of all Europeans the “Never Again” philosophy.

We owe it to all those who perished in Auschwitz. A Europe worthy of the slogan “all different - all equal” would show that their sacrifice has not been in vain.

Thank you.