EU Citizenship, Roma Mobility and Anti-Gypsyism: Time for Reframing the Debate?

By Nando Sigona

[Sigona, N. (2014) ‘EU Citizenship, Roma Mobility and Anti-Gypsyism: Time for Reframing the Debate?’, Migration: The COMPAS Anthology, B. Anderson and Keith, M. (eds), Oxford: COMPAS]

Given the limited results achieved to date by the EU and EU member states in addressing the multiple exclusion of the Romani people in Europe, it is time to rethink some of the assumptions on which past initiatives have been built. Here I would like to suggest, very briefly, some ways to reframe the current debate on the Roma in Europe.

In a recent article, trying to answer the question ‘Why have the Roma become a target and a scapegoat in France today?’ the French sociologist Éric Fassin reminded us that the ‘object of phobia is not to be mistaken for its source’ and that the ‘explanation of politics is of political nature’ (Fassin, 2010). These remarks suggest that, in order to understand what is happening in the EU today in relation to Romani communities, we must turn our gaze away from the Roma. Instead, we need to examine the broader picture: more particularly, the EU, an institutional and political construction that has undergone two decades of transition, enlargement, and institutional, economic and social restructuring, and that is currently under incredible pressure as a result of the financial crisis and rampant nationalism. We can then try to locate the Roma within these processes.

The Roma are a testing ground and an opportunity for the EU political project. Attempts to portrait them as exotic and other to the imagined EU community hide a centuries long history of bans, forced migration and expulsion, but also cohabitation and conviviality. The Roma are one of the peoples that makes the European Union, much like the Swedes or the Danes (including numerically), and not some kind of alien body from a remote elsewhere; yet they are nonetheless a people without adequate institutional representation. The current attempt to curb their mobility (as well as their right to establish themselves in another member state) challenges one of the key pillars of the European Union and, at a time of major structural tensions, calls into question the capacity of the EU to fully embrace its mandate vis-à-vis the mounting nationalist demands of member states. The Roma ‘threat’ is manipulated and used by Eurosceptic political actors to score points against the overall EU project.

As I have shown in Romani Politics in Contemporary Europe (Sigona and Trehan, 2009) apart from structural tensions resulting from rapid economic transformation, the transition of formerly socialist states towards capitalism has been characterised by a search for foundational myths to redefine the relationship between state and nation. In such a context, nationalist movements have grown stronger, and so have numerous far-right racist and xenophobic groups that have marked out for themselves increasingly large spaces in the political life of most European countries. This overall shift to the right, exacerbated by the existing confusion in the social-democratic camp, has turned the Roma, a minority without significant political representation, into an easy target for racist campaigns that at times culminate in violence.

In contemporary Europe, racism against Roma is not just confined to a few extremist fringe elements. Successive Eurobarometer surveys1 underline just how widespread prejudice and stereotypes about this minority are. Interestingly, despite this widespread intolerance towards the Roma, terms such as anti-Gypsyism and Romaphobia only entered EU’s political vocabulary in the mid-2000s. To be effective, any solution has to acknowledge the ‘mainstream’ nature of anti-Romani sentiments; this is not the case for example in the EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies.2

The history of Romani communities in Europe is marked by episodes of mass persecution, violence and discrimination perpetrated by both institutional and non-institutional agents. The mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Roma systematically carried out by the Nazi regime before and during World War II was the culmination of a process, not an isolated episode. 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.

To understand the contemporary spread of anti-Gypsyism in neoliberal Europe and the link between the racial criminalization of the Roma and discriminatory policy and practice, we should bear in mind that anti-Gypsyism is not a new phenomenon; nonetheless, in its current configuration, it is inextricably intertwined with the transformations that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union, the consolidation of liberal democracies and neoliberal economic principles in the European Union, and processes of pauperisation experienced by many Romani communities.

A new critical approach addressing the root causes of Roma exclusion is urgently needed. This must include an understanding of the Roma history of exclusion within the history of Europe, and place the successful participation of the Roma in European polity at the core of the EU project. This is where the Roma belong.


1 For more information:

2 For more information:


Fassin, E. (2010) ‘Why the Roma?’, Theory, Culture & Society blog (7 October),

Sigona, N. and Trehan, N. (2009) ‘Introduction: Romani Politics in Neoliberal Europe’, in N. Sigona, and N. Trehan (eds.) Romani Politics in Contemporary Europe: Poverty, Ethnic Mobilization and the Neoliberal Order, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Campzenship: Rethinking the camp as a political space

nando OXCHI

Oxford, 11-12 April 2013

The podcast of the keynote address I gave at the international symposium Within and beyond citizenship: Lived experiences of contemporary membership held in Oxford in April 2013 is now available on line. In the paper, I discussed the relevance of the concept of space  and spatiality to discussions of citizenship and political membership, expounding the concept of ‘campzenship’ and articulating the importance of the camp to discussions of belonging. The camp, I argued, is a manifestation of the complexity of membership rather than the exception as which it has often been theorised. Drawing on research in Roma camps in Italy, the paper explored how the camp can be theorised as a space of autonomy; it can allow those who are in some way ‘rejected’ to position themselves within society, signifying a fragmentation of the traditional idea of citizenship. Yet similarly I explained how camps may operate a logic of public assistance and control. Occupying this paradoxical position, Roma refugee camps in Italy are not outside the normal but much more part of the ordinary that we would like to think. When conceptualising citizenship, Sigona thus stressed that we should consider not just the border, but experiences of spatiality and confinement.

Sigona, N. (2013) ‘Campzenship: Rethinking the camp as a political space’, International Symposium Within and beyond citizenship. Lived experiences of contemporary membership, Oxford, 11-12 April 2013.

Within and Beyond Citizenship: Lived Experiences of Contemporary Membership

CALL FOR PAPERS. Deadline for abstracts: 17 December 2012

The analysis of the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging is the central theme of two international symposia jointly organised by the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, the Refugee Studies Centre and the Oxford Institute of Social Policy at the University of Oxford.

For the symposium in Oxford (11-12 April 2013), proposals are invited for papers which investigate aspects related to proliferation and precarisation of legal statuses in contemporary Europe and beyond. We welcome proposals that explore the position of the non-citizen in contemporary immigration and emigration states; the nexus between migration, immigration enforcement, rights and belonging; the ways coexisting traditions and regimes of rights are negotiated in policy and practice; and the intersection of ‘race’ and other social cleavages and legal status. In particular, we encourage submissions that focus on one or more of the following areas:

  • Everyday experiences of ‘illegality’ among children and young people
  • Intergenerational impacts of status precariousness
  • Physical mobility and legal status
  • Forms and modalities of political mobilisation around precarious membership
  • Spatial practices and geographies of non-citizenship
  • The impact of precarious status on transnational practices and diasporic consciousness

Gender perspectives and methodological issues of research sensitivity and ethics are significant cross-cutting themes throughout these topics.

If you wish to present a paper at the symposium in Oxford, please submit an abstract (max 250 words) and a brief CV (1 page) through our online system ( by Monday 17 December 2012 at 5pm (UK time). Participants will be notified if their paper has been selected by Friday 21 January 2012. Full written papers should be submitted to the organisers by 15 March 2013 and will be circulated to discussants and participants before the conference. Presentations are expected to be about 30 minutes.

NB: Please note that by submitting an abstract you commit to producing an original paper of about 6-7,000 words in length by 15 March 2013; also note that we can only accommodate a limited number of papers.

It is anticipated to turn conference proceedings into one or two journal special issues or edited volumes. Papers should therefore be based on original research and should not have been published already or be under consideration for publication elsewhere. Please note that inclusion in any publications arising from the conference will be subject to peer review. For further information about the Oxford symposium, please visit or email

The joint symposia are convened by Dr Roberto G. Gonzales (University of Chicago) and Dr Nando Sigona (University of Oxford). The Oxford symposium is organised by Dr Nando Sigona (RSC), Dr Elaine Chase (OISP) and Vanessa Hughes (COMPAS).

Does Hungary trully protect Roma from neo-Nazi attacks?

A Roma political activist and his family, long targets of reported neo-Nazi  attacks in Hungary, have been denied refugee status in Canada after an  Immigration and Refugee Board member ruled they have no legitimate fear of  persecution in their homeland – read the full story on Ottawa Citizen.

This is a surprising decion for everyone who is familiar to the deteriorating human rights situation in Hungary. The EU is well aware of the dangerous turn in Hungarian politics, and several independent observers have noted the lack of adequate protection afforded to Roma who are victims of racism and hate crimes. This is despite the existence on paper of an anti-discrimination law in line with the EU framework and directives.