The history of Romani communities in Europe is dramatically marked by episodes of mass persecution, violence and discrimination perpetuated by both institutional and non-institutional agents.1 The Baro Mudaripe (the ‘large murder’) or the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Roma systematically carried out by the Nazi regime before and during World War II was the tragic culmination of a series of events, rather than an isolated episode.2 The construction of the Romani communities as a ‘race of criminals’ genetically inclined to crime, was a central component of the ideological apparatus that provided a ‘justification’ for the genocide of European Roma. However, the racial criminalization of Romani communities started far earlier, with the Enlightenment, and found in positivism and social Darwinism a great expansion. In particular, the work of the Italian doctor criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso contributed to the creation of a strong link between features generally associated to social deviance and racial belonging (Gibson, 2002). For Lombroso and his scientific contemporaries, Gypsies were by nature predisposed to crime, as suggested in this extract from Lombroso’s book, L’uomo delinquente:
Moreover, idleness and vagrancy were for centuries two defining features of the ‘Gypsy lifestyle’ and continuous sources of concern for public order and safety3. In 1852, the Italian Minister of Home Affairs in his introduction to a bill on public security stated:
This chapter addresses the contemporary spread of anti-Gypsyism in a neoliberal Europe and explores the link between the racial criminalization of the Roma and discriminatory policy and practice. Anti-Gypsyism is not a new phenomenon, we will argue; nonetheless, in its current configuration, it is strongly intertwined to the transformations that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union, the consolidation of liberal democracies and neoliberal economic principles in the European Union, and linked to the process of pauperization that many Romani communities are undergoing. This chapter is divided into three parts. In the first part, we discuss the impact of neoliberal policies on the socio-economic situation of Roma in Europe, the growing impoverishment of Romani communities and the virulent rise and spread of anti-Gypsyism in the context of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, along with the concomitant crisis of European socialism. The second part outlines the institutional responses to these phenomena and their rationale – in particular the fear of Romani westward migration – and the emergence and salience of minority and human rights frameworks, as well as their limitations. In the final section, we look at the spaces of political participation for Romani communities in the context of the critique of the racialization of political spaces and the (re)criminalization of Roma presently occurring in Europe.