The murders of Nikos Sambanis and Kostas Fragkoulis brought to the surface the poison of racism that deprived two young children of their future and left the enraged society looking for a drop of… justice. In a heartwarming interview, the President of the Board of Directors of the Panhellenic Confederation of Greek Roma, Vassilis Pantzos, spoke to us about the discrimination, exclusion and violence that the Roma community faces in our country, while at the same time he shared with us their demands as well as elements of their culture.
What were the decisive events that led you to join forces and found Panhellenic Confederation of Greek Roma?
Roma around the world are an outstanding issue; we need social protection in order to be integrated into society as a whole. The community itself has some shortcomings in its organization and in its collaboration with the authorities because of what we have suffered. We had been in slavery for many years until our people experienced the holocaust due to the Nazi atrocities. Up until the 1980s in France, some regional federations sterilized women. In the 1970’s there was an overwhelming effort by activists who organized a world conference in London where the groundwork was laid for us to have rights and identity. However, to this day, the rights of citizens are violated and abused; in many cases we are deprived of basic commodities.
Is it true that the Roma are famous for their culture?
Our origins are from the depths of India and through time and space we have passed through so many cultures. Since the 11th century we have been dispersed throughout the world, especially in Europe. There is nowhere we can call our own country. For us, home is the whole world.
The history of our existence has shown that we are people skillful in art, music, dance… We are a peaceful people who stand for friendship and love, we have never fought and built up fences to claim our own state.
You are experiencing an exclusion from education. What are the demands of the Panhellenic Confederation of Greek Roma?
As a Roma community we were always nomads and wandered around Greece as we were employed in seasonal jobs. Our participation in education, in Europe and worldwide, was less than 1%. In recent years, following some legislative interventions, the majority of children, almost 50%, participate in primary education, yet we have a surge of participants in secondary education and universities.
Unfortunately, there are shortages in many schools. We are proposing to the state and the relevant ministry that children from the age of 3 be provided with pre-school education and placed in a school environment. In order to have quality education and integration, you need to be in an environment with the fundamental infrastructure. It is a fourfold need: housing, employment, health, and education.
What needs to be done, for which we hope with all our heart and soul, is to facilitate integration through education so that everyone can make demands, fight for themselves and have a better life.
We would like you to comment on the tragic murders of Nikos Sabanis and Kostas Fragkoulis. Do you believe that justice has been or will be served?
I do not in any way justify the delinquent behavior of the 3 underaged children of stealing a car. However, the police officers did not obey the directions given by their chief to the relevant authorities to stop the pursuit. There is a recorded conversation that clearly states there are “3 young Roma boys in a white vehicle”. The police officers reached a dead end and shot at a car with three minor children relentlessly, firing too many bullets, resulting in the death of Nikos Sabanis. The case needs to be investigated in depth regarding the racist motive.
These officers were released after questioning and were assigned house arrest. What saddened me is that there were about 300 police officers outside the Piraeus court on the day of the testimonies and apologies, in support of them and their trade unions, and when they were released, they were shouting ‘Heroes, heroes’. And I wonder what was their heroic act?
These judgments of justice in a way encourage similar incidents to happen because the police officers violated all their protocols and duties.
Do you feel that you are getting proper media exposure?
Qualitative, objective, democratic journalism is an issue. Whether it is a big event or a small one, we should not refer to cultural identity; it is discrimination and persecution. Illegality and delinquency have no color. It is a global phenomenon.
Again, under our legal framework, the state and government themselves are breaking the law, by maintaining camps for decades, violating and abusing human rights. When we have people for 40 and 50 years in the camps without water, heating, sewage system, without basic welfare and who are civically and environmentally excluded… We should discriminate against bad deeds, not against people, cultural identity, gender, and age. It is evil deeds that should be condemned by justice, not peoples.