Tag Archives: discrimination against Roma

Artists Challenge the “True Finns”

December 9, 2011
Challenging the Finns
By Taru Elfving

Fatmir Mustafa-Carlo, Muharremi, Muharremi, Xhaferi, Bajrushi, Xhyla, Shkurija, Hava, Nurije, Halimja, Rifadija, Faiki, Bashkimi, Besijana, Fatlumja, Marigiona, Zarifja, Valbona, Shpresa, Kujtesa, Enesi, Altina, Endriti, Olsa and Lejana, 2011

Birdhouses modeled after European detention centers for asylum seekers by Otto Karvonen. A large photographic portrait of his extensive Kosovan family displayed in the busy heart of Helsinki by Fatmir Mustafa-Carlo. A refugee camp set up at the city centre as a live action game by Johanna Raekallio, JP Kaljonen and Haidi Motola.

These artists’ projects were powerful and urgently needed contributions to the public debate in Finland this Autumn following the parliamentary elections that shook the country in April 2011. The right-wing populist party The True Finns hijacked media attention. Their election programme posited culture as the first main topic, before social welfare, EU, taxation etc. They demanded an end to the public funding of “postmodern fake art”: art should be supporting national identity. Finnish intellectuals pointed out all the weaknesses in these arguments and laughed. The party then won by a landslide to become the third biggest party in the parliament with about 20% of the votes (up from 4% in the previous election).

Otto Karvonen, Birdhouse

How have the arts responded to this party, which recently changed its English name simply to The Finns, in line with their claim to represent the “people”? The election has been followed not so much by changes in arts funding but considerable toughening of the public discourse on immigration and multiculturalism. Research recently published in the main newspaper Helsingin Sanomat shows that people are aware of increasing racism, yet it seems that many do not recognize the racism underlying their own beliefs (14% admit to racist attitudes yet a whopping 29% agree at least partly that certain races do not fit into modern societies). Meanwhile Finland continues to have extremely low refugee quota and minimal immigration compared to most European nations.

Yet not many voices have been raised in the field of contemporary art here in Helsinki. In anticipation of the election, a large cross-disciplinary festival, Rappiotaide (“degenerate art”), and the Fake Finn Festival of experimental live art gathered a multitude of critical voices this spring. Since then the debate has been mainly in the hands of individual artists who have tackled issues of nationalism and multiculturalism for some time already, such as Kalle Hamm and Dzamil Kamanger, Minna Henriksson and Sezgin Boynik, Pekka Niskanen, and Ykon group, to name but a few.

Institutions may not be able to react with the same speed, yet the anti-immigration climate has been felt for some time now. The Photography Museum did act swiftly in response to the election, when it focused the profile of its project space on multiculturalism for the year 2012. The opening of the large recurring international exhibition ARS 2011 at the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum coincided with the election and thus gained unanticipated political resonance with its focus on Africa. It offered myriad perspectives on the vast continent with an emphasis on the interwoven historical and contemporary migrations. Take, for example, the intense stare of the young man in Ghana amidst the landscape of burning electronic waste from the West in Pieter Hugo’s photographs and videos: Seen in this context the work echoed a famous Finnish national romantic painting of poor peasants burn-clearing. Viewers were thrown between the unequal distribution of global wealth today and Nordic post-colonial myths.

The haunting encounter may well deepen the understanding of our own implication in global economy and mobility. Yet why did this, or the topical discussions organised alongside the exhibition, not enter a wider public debate? Why is it that art here rarely does?

Kiasma’s URB11 festival, Dublin 2
Kiasma’s URB11 festival, Dublin 2

The most visible of the recent art projects addressing the immigration debate broke out of the limitations of the museum walls. The weekend-long live game Dublin 2, part of Kiasma’s URB11 festival programme in August, staged a refugee camp at the heart of Helsinki, next to a busy shopping mall. It allowed the participants and passers-by to deal with the day-to-day struggles of asylum seekers through role-play. The unease caused by the privilege of play laid bare the problems of information and identification both in activism and in art.

The game touched some of the same raw nerves as the emergence of Romanian Roma beggars on the streets in Helsinki during the past few years. This has led to an outcry and calls for a ban on begging in the city. It has also reinforced preconceptions against the Finnish Romas. Of the minority groups the Roma are, according to the above-mentioned study, facing the most negative attitudes. In October, Helsinki International Artist Programme (HIAP) presented a project by the Serbian artist Vladan Jeremic, who has researched the topic across Europe and thus offered a wider perspective beyond the specificities of the local case. In a two-day seminar at the Ateneum Art Museum, Jeremic brought together policy makers, artists and activists to discuss not only the severe human rights issues concerning the Roma, but also innovative solutions for the problems facing all migrant workers in need of temporary social housing.

Kiasma’s URB11 festival, Dublin 2

The project by Jeremic emphasises how the question of Romas not merely concerns ethnicity but also reflects changes in contemporary global economic and political conditions. Art and its institutions are not untouched by these challenges, as was made clear by two lively public debates that coincided a couple of years ago: One had to do with the legal cases of a Russian and an Egyptian grandmother being sent back to their home countries despite the fact that their children lived in Finland and wished to take care of them here. According to Finnish law, grandparents are not part of the immediate family unit. This is in stark contrast to, for example, Mustafa-Carlo’s family portrait. The other case began to unfold, but quickly lost its poignancy, as an international applicant to the position of the museum director at Kiasma questioned the relevance of the museum in a newspaper interview. He did not stand a chance of getting a job interview since, according to the legislation, the director has to speak both of the nation’s official languages, Finnish and Swedish.

These two cases are interwoven in the paradoxical coexistence of the desire for internationalisation (in the arts and business alike) and the anxiety over multiculturalisation. This contradiction has been tangible also in the one-way model of the art export policies. Finnish artists are well supported to travel, but more in-depth and complex modes of exchange are needed, together with the recognition of the increasing multicultural presence in the arts and in the society at large. Otherwise the arts can hardly rise up to the challenge of the Finns.

Eero Järnefelt, Under the Yoke (Burning the brushwood), 1893
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery, Central Art Archives / Hannu Aaltonen

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No One Is Illegal: Support the Dale Farm Travelers!

What a bloody wretched world we live in. Apparently, for lack of a better plan and in hopes of rallying the “natives” to the neoliberal self-destruction programme (or, rather, distracting them from it), so-called western governments have begun moving in flashy fashion against various “illegals,” from the Roma in Europe to Mexicans and other Hispanics in the US.

Here is yet another dispatch from that ongoing war. Thanks, as always, to the Reclaiming Spaces mailing list for bringing this to our attention.



Traveler sites across Europe are facing eviction from their homes in a wave of mounting intolerance against traveler communities.

Traveler sites across Europe are facing eviction from their homes in a wave of mounting intolerance against traveler communities.

On Tuesday 7th September, the eviction of seven traveler families began at the Hovefields site in Essex. At 8 in the morning bailiffs Constant & Co, accompanied by police, arrived at the site and began telling families to leave their homes. The bailiffs occupied a pitch at the site, which they made a base for their operations, and then proceeded to bring in diggers to smash plots of ground, preventing later re-entry.

Many individuals attended the eviction as legal observers and monitors of human rights and health and safety. They documented the eviction, and identified numerous breaches of international human rights law, including the failure to provide alternative housing, the disruption to children’s education, and the failure to keep heavy machinery within the safety perimeter. There were no authorized government representatives present and bailiffs and police refused to facilitate legal observers’ access to the site. When these issues were brought up with the police overseeing the eviction process, they refused to respond, maintaining that they were there to prevent breaches of the peace by those resisting eviction, no matter the legality of the operation itself.

Two supporters were arrested early in the day, and a seventy-two year old man, John Lee, had his nose fractured after his face was smashed into his caravan before legal observers arrived.

At the end of the day, one pitch had been bulldozed, and three families had left the site. The other four families whose pitches are being evicted stayed, though the bailiffs had already cut off access to electricity and water for the majority of the site. The families who left the Hovefields site went to a nearby unoccupied site that had previously been earmarked by the national government as a potential resettlement area; but this move was refused by Basildon Council, eager to chase the traveler community out of Essex. Police arrived at 9 this morning with a 3 hour ultimatum for the families to move on. The eviction is likely to be ongoing through this week – people interested in coming up to provide human rights monitoring and support should contact savedalefarm[at]gmail.com.

The Hovefields site eviction is taking place in the run-up to the planned eviction of the Dale Farm traveller site, very close to Hovefields. Bailiffs Constant & Co., whose conduct is the subject of serious complaints relating to brutality and human rights breaches, were recently granted a £2 million contract by Basildon District Council to evict Dale Farm. Dale Farm is the largest traveller site in England, and is home to roughly one thousand people. The eviction, pushed through by the Conservative-controlled Council, is being monitored by the United Nations Advisory Group on Forced Evictions and the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Like the Hovefields families, the Dale Farm community is facing intolerance, racism and brutal evictions, and it is vital that people come forward to provide support in the run-up to the planned eviction.

It is essential that people mobilize to support the Dale Farm community in the coming weeks. Check out http://dalefarm.wordpress.com for information about human rights monitoring, local groups, and getting involved in the campaign to save Dale Farm. The Dale Farm Support network urges people across the UK to form groups and arrange transportation for coming up to Dale Farm when the eviction commences. Supporters will be notified of the eviction via a text message service – sign up at: https://smsalerts.tachanka.org/dalefarm.

Website: http://dalefarm.wordpress.com
Facebook Group:

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Support Roma Housing Struggle in Belgrade, Serbia

Solidarity Appeal: Support Roma Housing Struggle in Belgrade, Serbia


Today, Roma organizations and allies in Belgrade, Serbia are organizing a demonstration in response to the demolition of the Roma community’s housing units in Block 67 situated in the New Belgrade. The violent and surprising move to destroy people’s homes and an entire community was organized by the City of Belgrade authorities with the support of Belgrade City Mayor Dragan Djilas. Your solidarity is needed!

sequence-2On Friday morning (April 3rd), the forcible and violent eviction of Roma families living in the Block 67 neighborhood began. The residents of this community say that the demolitions began during a surprise invasion beginning at six in the morning led by heavy police presence and special forces. Police brutality resulted in an emergency evacuation of two women from the community. Peoples’ entire belongings were left behind in the ruins. A part of the community is now spending the night in front of the City Council. They are without warm clothes, blankets, food, and medicine (many people had to leave them behind). Residents say that during the day unidentified youth on motorcycles were provoking and instilling fear in the community.

In the meantime, no alternative housing has been secured by the city government, nor is anyone taking care of these needs. Belgrade’s Mayor Djilas announced that it is “necessary that they be removed from that area so that we can build a new boulevard necessary for the development of the city, and holding of events being planned in the future.” He also threatened to deploy police forces to remove any protesters attempting to bloc the streets. These actions were preceded by a media campaign that justified the expulsion of Roma living in New Belgrade under “security” and “city image” considerations in the lead up to the Universiade 2009. Through his statements, Mayor Dragan Djilas has contributed to the fascist relationship towards Roma citizens and justified the destruction of their homes. As an “alternative” the city officials are suggesting to remove the building of a fence around the community so that “the city’s deformities won’t be seen during the Universiade.”

Does this mean that the Universiade will be paid for with human lives if necessary?

Our fellow citizens who have been left without home are determined to fight for their rights, their right to life, freedom, housing and work.

Today (Saturday) at 1pm a protest is being organized against the brutal behavior through which the Belgrade government prefers to solve the city’s problems. Support people that have been thrown onto the streets in this violent way. We must stand in solidarity with the Roma of Belgrade, we must not allow that people’s houses are destroyed, that fascist walls are built and that people are fenced into ghettoes!

We call on international solidarity in conjunction with these actions:

PLEASE CONTACT THE FOLLOWING: (1) Mayor’s office of the City of Belgrade; (2) President’s Office of the Republic of Serbia; (3) Head Office of the International University Sports Federation (organizing the Universiade in Belgrade); (4) Your nearest Serbian embassy or consulate.

(1) Mayor’s Office

E-mail: natasa.golubovic@beogradsg.org.yu
Head of Office, tel: 3246-764, 3229-787
tel: 3247-424, tel/fax: 3344-675
Natasa Golubović
independent expert associate in international affairs

Dear Mayor Dragan Djilas:

I am writing to express my outrage at the recent racist expulsion of 50 families from the Roma community of Block 67, near Belvil in New Belgrade.

I demand that your government take all necessary measures to provide restitution to the residents of the community and prevent any further expulsion of Roma families or their further social exclusion.

Belgrade can not expect to rebrand itself in the eyes of the world by hosting Universiades or Eurovision contests while it continues to deny fundamental rights to housing, employment, life and security to its residents, particularly the most vulnerable and socially excluded.

I demand that your government respond and meet its obligations under a number of international conventions and work towards securing the rights of Roma residents instead of deploying police forces to suppress them and engaging in “social cleansing.”

Kind regards,


(2) President of the Republic of Serbia

Andricev venac 1, 11000 Beograd, Serbia
tel: +381 (0)11 3632-007, 3632-136
e-mail: kontakt.predsednik@predsednik.rs

Dear President Boris Tadic:

I am writing to express my outrage at the recent racist expulsion of 50 families from the Roma community of Block 67, near Belvil in New Belgrade.

I implore your government take all necessary measures to sanction the Belgrade City Authorities and ensure they provide restitution to the residents of this Roma community and work towards preventing any further expulsion of Roma families or their further social exclusion in Serbia.

Belgrade can not expect to rebrand itself in the eyes of the world by hosting Universiades or Eurovision contests while it continues to deny fundamental rights to housing, employment, life and security to its residents, particularly the most vulnerable and socially excluded.

I demand that your government respond and meet its obligations under a number of international conventions and work towards securing the rights of Roma residents instead of deploying police forces to suppress them and engaging in “social cleansing.”

Kind regards,


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Warning! Gypsies Are in the Station!

080415The SOVA Center reports:

On January 22, 2009, in Saint Petersburg, at the Dostoevskaya metro station, a staff member announced over the loudspeaker, “Warning! Gypsies are in the station!

At this moment, a group of [Roma] were walking through the transfer tube between the Vladimirskaya and Dostoevskaya stations.

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Filed under racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society