This content was published in the period between

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Alice Bah Kuhnke is no longer a government minister, Minister for Culture and Democracy

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Speech by Alice Bah Kuhnke at a hearing on anti-Gypsyism

Published

Stockholm, 18 May 2016.
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Ladies and gentlemen, Members of parliament,

It is an honour for me to be here today and to introduce the subject for discussion during the hearing this morning.

Let me start with the words of Rosa Taikon, the famous silversmith, Roma activist and sister of the Swedish human rights icon, Katarina Taikon. She describes the ban on Roma entering Sweden from 1914 to 1954 like this:

"We were considered a despicable and inferior race. Roma who survived persecution by the Nazis weren't permitted to enter the country following the end of the Second World War. Roma received no help or support as survivors. The entry ban also tells us something about how undesirable we Roma who were already within Sweden's borders were. It is outrageous that nothing much has actually changed in terms of the antiziganistic and negative notions about Roma since the time when we were banned from entering the country. How is it possible that Roma are, even today, so undesirable?"

This quote can be read in the White Paper on Abuses and Rights Violations Against Roma in the 20th Century called the "The Dark Unknown History". This and other policies against Roma during the last century, described in the White Paper, are indeed a dark part of my country's history.

The White Paper, published by the Government two year ago, is intended to give recognition to victims and their relatives, help raise awareness of anti-Gypsyism and increase understanding of the situation of the Roma minority.

Fortunately, The White Paper has been very well received. Roma people, authorities and majority population have shown great interest in it. This is very encouraging – broad support means that we are well placed to increase knowledge about our history, of which anti-Gypsyism is a part.

Therefore, the White Paper plays an important role in Sweden's efforts to fully include Roma in society and to fight the racism and discrimination faced by Roma today. A greater understanding of our history will enable an effective development of long-term initiatives for Roma inclusion.

And let me be clear about one thing: anti-Gypsyism is a form of racism and therefore incompatible with the values that a democratic Europe stands for. Sweden is concerned that the precarious situation of Roma has worsened within Europe. And that anti-Gypsyism is not something that Sweden is free from. Not at all.

It is important that political leaders in Europe recognize and condemn acts of discrimination and hatred against Roma with the same clarity as other types of racism are condemned.

The Swedish Government has an integrated approach in its work against anti-Gypsyism and for Roma inclusion. Measures are carried out in several areas, such as employment, education, health and housing.

The fundamental starting point for the implementation is a strong human rights perspective.

In line with this we are implementing a targeted long term strategy for Roma inclusion since 2012 with an ambitious and proactive goal: a Roma who turns 20 years of age in 2032 will have the same opportunities in life as a non-Roma.

Some progress can be seen after the first four years of work. For instance, Roma mediators have been trained and employed within the areas of education, work, social services and health. They have contributed to Roma pupils attending school to a greater extent, to Roma enrolling at local public employment offices and getting jobs and to bridging the trust gap between Roma and the public sector.

In this context, it is important to stress the significance of participation and influence of Roma civil society at all levels. Their experience, knowledge and skills are crucial if we want to succeed in this endeavour.

But we are very aware of the challenges that remain. Therefore, during this spring we are upgrading the strategy with new funding and measures to expand the activities to new areas of work.

At the same time we are awaiting the final report of the Commission against anti-Gypsyism that very soon will be presented to the Government.

The Commission, chaired by Mr Thomas Hammarberg and comprised by a majority of Roma representatives, has spent two years fighting anti-Gypsyism in society through various efforts. The Commission has contributed to highlight the widespread prejudices against Roma and the increased discrimination experienced by the group.

One of the Commission's achievements is the publication of education material based on the White Paper, which they have disseminated widely to all schools in Sweden and other relevant places of work.

Furthermore, the Government is currently preparing a national plan against racism and hate crime. We believe that it is important to make visible the different forms of racism, their nature and particularities, so our fight against racism and hate crime can be more effective.

For that reason, the plan includes measures against afrophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, islamophobia, racism against Sami people, homophobia and transphobia.

The element of recognition and participation is important in this process. During the past autumn I had several dialogue meetings with representatives of groups that are victims of different sorts of racism. Their experiences and proposals have been a very important contribution to the preparation of the plan.

Around forty years ago Katarina Taikon told leading politicians in Sweden the following words:

"You KNOW! And nobody will tell me that you do not know these people are persecuted because of their heritage. It is your duty to understand it! "

We're all in this room in powerful positions in our respective countries. My message to us today is to listen to the words of Katarina Taikon, do our duty and keep working for full respect for the Roma people's human rights.

I would like to end wishing you fruitful discussion today. My hope is that this hearing will increase the knowledge about the situation of Roma today, the anti-Gypsyism that still exists in Europe, to speed up action on Roma rights and inspire change.

Thank you!