Tuesday, August 05, 2008



We are in the grips of control by 'shock'. For which see Naomi Klein: http://books.guardian.co.uk/video/2007/sep/07/naomiklein.

We are returning to the partnered tactics of Hitler and Mussolini. The use of a scapegoat.

I speak for the Human - and the European - Rights of the Roma. And in particular for the European Rights of the Roma from Romania.

The Roma from Romania are Christian, Romanian Orthodox. They were the slaves of the monasteries from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.

For seven years, 2001-2008, I have worked with families of Romanian Roma who attend the Mass for the Poor established by Giorgio La Pira, the saintly Mayor of Florence, and continued by his saintly friend Fioretta Mazzei in the Badia of Florence. I visited these families I have come to know and love in Romania at the end of July 2008. I met there also with Gruia Bumbu, President, and his Roma associates, of the Romanian Government's National Agency for the Roma in Bucharest. They spoke of the need for housing, education, medical care for their people.

I believe our fear of the Roma, and especially of those of Romania, is because we have not understood their culture. And that we are afraid that their poverty might be our own future.

The Roma are matriarchal, based on the family. They have no country, no army. Their criminality is the same as for other groups, but they are at the margins of society, their children starving. They are not allowed an official address. A baracca they build in an open field outside the city limits of Florence from scrap no one else wants and which costs nothing is bulldozed over and over again. It does not count as an official address. Without an official address they are not allowed to work. Without work, though they are European Citizens, they are considered criminal. To survive, they can only beg. Or worse, steal.

The Romanian Roma leave their children with their grandparents while trying to seek work in Italy. From which they are blocked and forced into the undesired begging. But I have found that the women tell of what they most need, roofs over their houses that are not leaking letting in the snow and rain, education for their children, medical care, and that they then organize their families into work groups, men and women together, their sons and their daughters, their husbands, their in-laws, even their friends and acquaintances. And that they work together admirably as families. Our laws do not allow this.

The Romanian Roma have saved the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence. First by rebuilding the dry walls that had collapsed in the rains of 1966. They built these walls expertly, the women holding their babies sitting at the iron railing, telling their husbands and brothers where to place the stones, the men first cleaning out the earth, then throwing and catching the stones and putting them in place, in two hours building many metres of wall expertly. That was seven years ago and I next was told it was illegal for them to work to finish the job and had to send them away. In return for it though I bought that family a house in Romania. Since their work no tomb has slid downhill. Then, last year, a young Roma woman organized her mother, her brothers, her sister, her sister-in-law into restoring the garden the Cemetery had once had. Everything had been put to weed killer for many years and the Cemetery was grey and ugly and dead. We forbade the weed-killer. They weeded, planted bulbs, separated irisis and the Cemetery became again the dream landscape it had been. This year Vandana returned with her husband, asking that he work in the Cemetery. They are both 23. She became pregnant with their third child. They were living in a baracca they had built outside of Florence. They had already bought land in Romania on which they hope to build their house. They came every day at 8:00 a.m., even on May 1st when they walked for four hours to be here on time and returned to their baracca on my bicycle, there being no bus service that holiday. Later, Vandana was taken by the Carabinieri in their car and threatened with expulsion if she did not leave their baracca. That night she lost her waters and Daniel had to call the ambulance. Their baby Gabriela was born after a week, premature by two months, weighing 1 kilo 200 grammes. We took them in under our roof, denounced them to the police as living with us as required by Italian law. With that legal address (they already had their 'codice fiscale' numbers) we were able to write a work contract for Daniel and pay his contributions to the state. Daniel in these two months, waking at dawn each day, conserved the iron, brass and copper of 87 tombs in the English Cemetery. The difference is tremendous and appreciated by all, by experts in restoration, by international visitors, by our neighbours. I hired Daniel as my domestic, but he worked as a volunteer member of our Aureo Anello Association through the writing, together with Vandana, of a book he also illustrated, a vocabulary, a dictionary, in four languages, Romany, Romanian, Italian and English: http://www.umilta.net/Romany.html, and in return we donated to them the funds for them to build their house on their land in Romania. In Romania, if the Roma have a registered decent house and a diploma they can legally work, not otherwise.

Both Romanian Roma families who stayed under our roof were the cleanest house guests we have ever had, conscientious, courteous, with dignity, and grateful. They observe strict ancestral hygienic precepts (which go back beyond their arrival in Europe in the Middle Ages, for they are from north India and are Aryan, their Romany language Indo-European), seeing us as unclean. In seven years nothing has ever been stolen by them from us. We give them and other Roma families used clothing and share meals. We invite them to our library. We build wooden rocking cradles together: http://www.umilta.net/cradle.html. We have taught parents who cannot read or write to write their names to get their baby back from the hospital where it was born, instead of being placed for adoption by an Italian family. (I quoted in this case to the judge Roman Polanski's statement that it was worse to be an orphan than to be poor). When I have visited Muslim Roma families in Poderaccio I have observed the same cleanliness, the same courtesy. Outside there is rubbish. But, inside, the houses are spotless and beautiful. Often I have seen the only piece of furniture is the ancestral wooden rocking cradle, with colourful carpets and hangings, the family sleeping and sitting on the floor, after taking their shoes off on entering. The carpets are constantly washed.

It is crucial in dealings with the Roma to centre on the women, on the family, remembering they are a matriarchy. At the same time taking away from the men that despair that commonly drives oppressed males in minorities to selfish anodynes like cigarettes and drink (Native Americans, Blacks, Aborigine, Irish, etc.). The Roma want to work. But are forbidden by law to have work unless they have a legal address and sufficient literacy. The Roma marry very young in arranged marriages and are faithful to their spouses. That faithfulness is enforced by internal tribunals among their people. I have seen excellent, loving marriages among them and the joint caring for their babies who never cry, being always held and nursed, rocked in their cradles and swaddled, therefore beginning their lives with a sense of great security and of being loved. Our first Roma mother's ninna nana, her lullaby to her baby, was 'Alleluia'. I recorded it and it was played during the RAI 1 2008 Easter Sunday broadcast on hermits as background to the Mass for the Poor at the Florentine Badia this mother attended. Our own children no longer receive that child-rearing. We can learn from them and they can teach us.

In the midst of Daniel's work in our 'English' Cemetery I visited the Roma families that we know in Florence in Romania. I discovered that Vandana and Daniel sleep with other members of their family in one small room, twelve people all told, children and grown ups together next to a stall with a horse in it. This is why this couple works so hard here to build their own house there for their three daughters. Another family is headed by a widow with her four children, one adopted, their three spouses, and her four grandchildren, their house having a leaking roof with holes in it. We are helping them repair their roof and the adopted eighteen-year-old is studying in a six-month programme for his diploma. He had been first in his class the one year he had in school, his family being too poor to continue his schooling. The family that restored the dry walls seven years ago is now prosperous from having earned the house to replace their baracca where twelve had been sleeping. Schooling is said by the government to be free but the parents are billed for heating, books, and must buy clothing which they cannot afford. Medical care must be paid for after 18 by those who do not have work, particularly the grandparents caring for grandchildren. Relatives visiting hospitals must pay to enter. Water even from a tap a distance down the road is billed highly, failure to pay carrying a prison sentence. The families go hungry and lack clothing. I saw our family cook in a pot on an open fire outdoors their lunch of just potatoes. We have found that when we pay money it is immediately sent back to Romania to feed the children. I found in these families that despite their great poverty they generously adopt orphaned Roma babies or unwanted Romanian babies.

My first Romanian Roma mother, who is illiterate, one day told the story of 'Cristos who was so poor he was born in a baracca with the animals, the horses. And the people were hungry so he gave them bread and fish and potatoes. And then the envious killed him'. I came to understood her telling more truly when I saw the animals' rooms beside the humans' room and the cooking of a pot of potatoes over an open fire outdoors in Romania. Families cannot afford to send their daughters to school when everyone is hungry. They can barely send the boys and for a few years only, not to the level of the diploma which is needed for work.

We suggest to our families that they work together in solidarity, helping each other rebuild their roofs. When they help each other in Romania we are more willing to reward them with seasonal work in Florence. We suggest these families come together as a building and learning association, the families together thus strengthening each family within it. The name in Romany for the Association, 'Agrustic Somnacuni', is the same as ours, 'Golden Ring', 'Aureo Anello'. This is a part of our project to be submitted to the European Union called 'From Graves to Cradles'.

The answer to the problem of the poverty of the Roma is to permit them a legal address so they can have legal work. Italian Roma, Romanian Roma all should have this right to exist. The Romanian Roma only ask for seasonal work here in Italy, for labour-intensive work Italians no longer want. Then the poverty, the begging, the stealing, and our fear of them would be alleviated. The Romanian Roma want to return to their own most beautiful country. Its agriculture is splendid, the land fertile, no petroleum fertilizers or pesticides being used. They are skilled workers in metal, agriculture, gardening, dry-walling, carpentry, sewing and their poverty has them be resourceful and not wasteful. They are the florists in the streets of Bucharest. They make the farm tools of wood and iron used by the Romanians. They often work for Romanians and then often are not paid. They are intelligent and love beauty. Victims of the Holocaust, they received no reparations. The least we can do in reparation is allow them and their families to survive. They are not nomads. They are not dirty. They are no more criminal than are others. They are under greater provocation to resort to illegal behaviour because they are illegally treated as being outside the laws of the land. Instead, they are most truly Citizens of Europe, gifted in its many languages as well as their own. They are not rubbish. They are a great treasure we are rubbishing.