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Photo Article - the Roma at the Court House in Kalamata and Greek indifference

Tom Winnifrith
Thursday 6 September 2018

This article may cause a bit of upset and I have no solutions to what is a problem for Greece and an unresolved human tragedy for an ancient people, the Roma. I merely observe and report. I remember the Mrs and I giving a lift to two elderly and rather smelly Greeks in the deep countryside a couple of years ago. Their English was more or less non existent but they pointed at her dark skin and said "Roma". They thought she was a gypsy and it is clear they were not big fans. I was glad to drop them off after a few miles.

You meet Roma families at the bus station in Athens. A young girl will come begging making it clear she needs money to eat while older women try to sell fans and tissues and other things you just don't want. Half an hour later the girl is trying to sell fans and the product lines/sob stories have been rotated. It is organised and a hard sell. They target obvious foreigners as we are likely to be softer and more sympathetic than the Greeks.

Here in Kalamata you see Roma families lounging on the odd street corner on the dge of town. They don't seem to be going anywhere as, frankly, they have nothing to do.

On the very edge of town, almost at the airport there is a sign for the "Roma Camp". Before you start thinking of camps built by the Germans in years gone by, the intention here was good. Fifty houses with power and water were built to give the Roma free accomodation. Many locals, not exactly drowning in cash themselves, resented these handouts. They resent them more as these days just a handful of houses remain, the rest have been trashed by the Roma themselves.

The pictures below are of the Courthouse which is a block away from the offices of George the Architect a thoroughly progressive, liberal decent guy. He sees the same scenes every day. A Roma stands accused and his whole family comes for a day out. And Roma are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime and so keep the Courts busy. Those are just hard facts. George, like many Greeks, resents them.

I have no idea what the solution is. The Roma appear to have no desire to integrate. But even with the handout of that free housing the Greeks were making it clear that the Roma were unloved and unwanted. The area it is in is covered in rushes and wet ground. I imagine it is buzzing with mosquitos in the summer and crawling with snakes. The other prominent building there is the licensed brothel. You get the message, you can have a free house in a bad place miles from facilities and work, with your only neighbours being other folk we'd rather pretend did not exist.

But were the Roma to be given free housing in a more central location, among Greeks, the locals would riot. No Greek politician is going to be vilified by making that suggestion. I can see no end to the marginalisation of the Roma or hope that they might be accepted as part of wider society. I just cannot see a way out.  Saying that I feel rather sorry for the Roma is not something I dared say to George but there is an issue for Greece and one that will just not get tackled, especially while the country remains an impoverished debt slave.  

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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