Sinti and Roma Civil Rights Movement

1979

Germany

Activism & Resistance Discrimination & Inequity

Approximately half a million Sinti and Roma were murdered under the Nazi regime. Without an official policy of remembrance or the recognition of their suffering as genocide on the part of the state, Sinti and Roma in Germany experience a perpetuation of stereotypes, exclusion, discrimination and criminalization. At the end of the 1970s, Sinti and Roma organizations thus organize public events in order to draw attention to these continuities.

Roma and Sinti associations and organizations had already begun forming in the 1950s. Their main objective was to assist the survivors of Nazi persecution in qualifying for state reparations while advancing the process of bringing their former persecutors to justice [see: Federal Court of Justice of Germany decision: no compensation to Roma and Sinti for their persecution under the Nazi regime, 1956]. Later, they began to fight for the civil rights and equal treatment of Sinti and Roma in Germany. The founding of the Association of German Sinti in 1971 represented a milestone in this regard. With targeted actions, provocations and demonstrations, and together with sympathizers and allies, they succeeded in bringing the unrecognized genocide and the perpetuated discrimination to wider public attention. A demonstration in front of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp Memorial site in 1979 and a huger strike held in the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site 1980 both succeeded in attracting major national and international attention.

In 1971, the first World Romani Congress was convened in London. The phrase “opreroma!” (“Roma, rise up!”) was chosen as its official motto. The selection of the terms “Roma” and “Romani” as official self-designations was furthermore intended to supersede outside labels and achieve a new sense of collective self-confidence. At the second World Romani Congress, the International Romani Union was established as a confederation of numerous national and regional organizations. The third World Congress was convened in 1981 in Göttingen, Germany. Faced with a sustained pattern of human rights violations, 300 delegates from 22 countries demanded the application of the Helsinki Declaration to Roma and Sinti. This Congress also formed the basis for the fusion of the then nine separate Sinti and Roma organizations existing in Germany into the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, with its headquarters in Heidelberg. The chief goals of the Central Council included the recognition of the Nazi genocide, an end to the unbroken pattern of criminalization, including discriminatory special registration practices, imposed by the police, and a general compensation accord for German Sinti and Roma. The chair of the Central Council since its founding has been Romani Rose.

Faced with massive public pressure, West Germany’s then Federal Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, officially recognized in March 1982 the mass-murder of Sinti and Roma as an act of genocide perpetrated “for reasons of race”. Outside the scope of existing legislation, the German Bundestag ordered an individual payment of 5,000 DM to be made to victims of the Nazi regime not yet compensated and in positions of “exceptional need”. From 1985 on, the Central Council effected a fundamental transformation of the existing discriminatory compensation practices and successfully overturned decisions made by the compensation authorities in 3,200 individual cases.

Years of legal struggle between the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and ministries of the interior at both the federal and state level brought to public light the racist methods, in some cases adopted directly from the “Third Reich” (and, after 1945, often implemented by the same former SS-personnel), of “special registration” for Sinti and Roma in Germany. In 1983, the Rom and Cinti Union was established, representing the interests and needs of all Sinti and Roma living in Germany. The Union has supported the Roma migrants who have, since the 1960s, come to Germany in growing numbers as laborers or refugees and displaced persons and who, as a rule, do not belong to the Sinti sub-group.

Since 1995, Sinti and Roma have been officially recognized in Germany as a national minority and Romanes as their official language.