Ray of hope for the Yenish, Sinti and Roma

Are social attitudes changing? A law discriminating against the itinerant way of life has been rescinded. Voters have approved a controversial camping site for itinerant people. And a survey shows that the majority of Swiss are accepting of the itinerant lifestyle.

Switzerland is a cosmopolitan country full of minority languages and cultures. Yet the country’s majorities and minorities do not always coexist happily. The Yenish and Sinti minorities have first-hand experience of this. In particular, those who live an itinerant way of life suffer from prejudice. Whenever groups of non-Swiss Roma arrive in Switzerland, the mood turns sour very quickly.

However, according to a representative survey published in March by the Federal Statistical Office and the Service for Combating Racism, the Swiss seem to be more accepting of the itinerant minorities than was generally thought. Some 67 per cent of those questioned consider the itinerant lifestyle of Switzerland’s native Yenish and Sinti communities to be part of Swiss diversity, while 56 per cent believe that Switzerland should do more for persons with an itinerant way of life. Irrespective of these positive attitudes, the concerns of the itinerant Yenish and Sinti communities are no less significant than they were before. For example, the number of camping sites available to them is not increasing but declining, while proposals for new sites often fall victim to local opposition.

Feelings run especially high when authorities try to create new sites for non-Swiss Roma. Many Swiss Yenish and Sinti are in favour of such sites, because they have sensed how the vitriol directed against their non-Swiss counterparts is also meant for them. In their view, everyone therefore needs to have their own space for peaceful coexistence to work.

A debacle was looming in February, shortly before the aforementioned survey was due to be published. In the canton of Berne, all the signs were that voters would emphatically reject a proposed caravan site for non-Swiss members of the itinerant community. However, a 53.5 per cent majority of Bernese voters approved the loan needed to create the site, which is situated near the farming village of Wileroltigen.

First this unexpected verdict at the ballot box, then the eyebrow-raising findings of the survey. Next came a landmark ruling at the end of April, when the Swiss Federal Supreme Court rescinded articles of the Police Act of the canton of Berne that discriminated against itinerant people. The passages in question made it possible to evict itinerant groups from private land very quickly and under threat of punishment without affording these parties the legal recourse to which they would normally be entitled in Switzerland. The Federal Supreme Court said that the clauses were unconstitutional. The Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse, the umbrella organisation for Yenish and Sinti in Switzerland, called the ruling an “important step towards ensuring the protection of minorities in Switzerland”, while the Society for Threatened Peoples said that the ruling had “set a precedent in combating discriminatory legal clauses”.

Representatives of the Yenish, Sinti and Roma communities told “Swiss Review” that the Berne vote, the survey and the court ruling are small rays of hope – albeit with the emphasis on small. Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse president Daniel Huber believes that there is still a long way to go before itinerant people are truly accepted. Such developments are pleasing, he says. “Nevertheless, the overall situation is far from ideal. Nothing has happened to solve the fundamental problem – not least the shortage of sites.” And things became much worse once COVID-19 arrived. “Even fewer sites were available than normal. The Yenish and Sinti have been completely overlooked since the pandemic.” Although the survey indicates that a majority are accepting of the itinerant minorities, the general public are still far from ready to welcome them with open arms. “The acceptance is grudging rather than genuine.” Indeed, any goodwill quickly evaporates once push comes to shove. For example, the Bernese electorate gave a clear thumbs up to the Wileroltigen caravan site while 91 per cent of voters in the village rejected it.

Results of the survey on attitudes towards people with an itinerant way of life: ogy.de/swiss-diversity

Yenish, Sinti and Roma left struggling amid the pandemic

Work dried up for many self-employed Yenish, Sinti and Roma in the wake of COVID-19, depriving them of the income they need to cover their daily living expenses. Such financial circumstances are very challenging. An aid project has now been launched with the aim of offering advice, support and financial assistance to those affected. In this broad-based venture, the “Stiftung Naschet Jenische” foundation are providing consultation and mentoring, while Caritas Zurich are distributing bridging loans to people who need them most. The Federal Office of Culture also have a hand in the project, as have one of the project initiators – the “Future for Swiss Itinerant Communities” foundation. The project is sponsored by the Swiss Solidarity foundation, who are currently raising money to help people in Switzerland hit by the pandemic. Account for donations: ogy.de/my-donation

Yenish, Sinti and Roma affected by the crisis can contact: info@naschet-jenische.ch

Comments (6)
  • Petros Krähenbühler/Naxos GR
    Petros Krähenbühler/Naxos GR at 24.07.2020
    Erst mal recht herzlichen Dank für den sehr informativen Artikel, inklusive Anhänge.
    Daraus, speziell aus den Statistiken, bestätigt sich im Endeffekt dasselbe wie bei all den ähnlichen Thematiken. Ob es sich um Farbige, Schwarze, Natives (Ureinwohner), Flüchtlinge, Behinderte oder eben Fahrende handelt, das Verhalten der"Bürger"ist seit jeher ähnlich.
    "Ich, wir habe/n nichts gegen die, ABER, je weiter weg desto besser.
    Gemäss dem Spruch,"Was der Bauer nicht kennt frisst er nicht"...und probieren...heute nicht.
    Jedes Land versteckt sich hinter Ruhm und Heldengeschichten, welche sich zumeist auf irgendwelche zeitgenössische Sagen beziehen.
    Den Schweizer Erziehungsdepartements würde es Mal gut anstehen, die neuzeitlichere Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert in den Schulstoff zu integrieren.
    Darunter gehört auch das bis heute lieber totgeschwiegene Thema "Kinder der Landstrasse".
    Dazu gibt's genügend informative Literatur.
    ZB.den Bericht Huonker
    Die Freunde der Schwing- und Jodlerfeste sollten sich Mal informieren, woher "ihre" Volksmusik und vorallem deren Instrumentalisierung stammt.
    Wünsche allen einen schönen und gesunden Sommer.

    NB: Falls "Sie" als "Fahrende" zu uns nach Griechenland und vorallem auf die Inseln reisen, denken sie bitte daran: Sie campieren was in Griechenland zumeist verboten ist...
    Fahrende campieren nicht, sie wohnen...
    Show Translation
  • Ramón Putscher , Mexiko city
    Ramón Putscher , Mexiko city at 24.07.2020
    In der Vergangenheit waren wir alle einmal Fahrende und können es wiedereinmal werden. Erinnere dich an deine Jugend! Lustig ist das Zigeunerleben. Sei ein Mensch und lass auch die anderen leben.
    Show Translation
  • Patrick NIEDEROEST/ France/Marseille
    Patrick NIEDEROEST/ France/Marseille at 25.07.2020
    Comme de nombreux pays européens, attention de ne pas trop élargir les aides financières et les droits des minorités ( c'est un combat permanent des ONG et associations pro minoritaires ) qui ont une politique d'asséner sans cesse de nouvelles demandes d'aides financières et de lois "non discriminantes" mais liberticides pour la majorité et l'intégrité de la démocratie.
    D'ailleurs, le constat est sans appel quand on voit ce qui se passe en France où les minorités de toutes sortes ont les faveurs des politiques à la recherche de voix électorales pour garder le pouvoir ! L'impunité, le communautarisme, les crimes et incivilités permanentes sont subit par l'ensemble des citoyens aujourd'hui, résultat de 40 ans d'une politique de pêche aux voix !
    Show Translation
  • Daisy Luscher-Gruaz, 67 ans, Canada, quebec
    Daisy Luscher-Gruaz, 67 ans, Canada, quebec at 25.07.2020
    Woh ! Vraiment contente pour eux. Bravo pour votre beau et BON vote les suisses.
    Show Translation
  • Brigitte Kauffmann Portugal olhão
    Brigitte Kauffmann Portugal olhão at 25.07.2020
    Show Translation
  • Anna Frotier de Bagneux,  France
    Anna Frotier de Bagneux, France at 30.09.2020
    L’article ‘Lueurs d’espoir pour les Yéniches, les Sinti et les Roms’, indiquait qu’une aire de voyage était prévue pour les gens du voyage étrangers, près du petit village de Wileroltigen dans le canton de Berne.
    J’habite plusieurs mois par an dans le département de l’Essonne 91 ou de nombreuses aires réservées aux gens du voyage ont été installées, cela n’empêche pas que les gens du voyage soient la hantise des municipalités possédant un terrain de sport agréable et un peu isolé ou des sites touristiques possédant un grand parking. L’on voit souvent aussi des dizaines de caravanes installées chez des particuliers, à l’orée d’un bois ou dans un champ ; ces caravaniers sont bien organisés, ils s’installent ensemble, rapidement, mettant autorités et particuliers devant le fait accompli, ils sont équipés de câbles électriques et de tuyaux d’eau long de centaines de mètres afin de se brancher sur un transformateur ou sur une borne incendie. Si l’on proteste leur leitmotiv est ‘La terre est à tout le monde’ et lorsqu’ils daignent partir, ils laissent sur place des dizaines de sacs poubelles.
    Si j’avais un conseil à donner aux autorités Suisse ce serait de demander une caution aux gens du voyage, lorsqu’ils passent la frontière et de la leur rendre à leur sortie du territoire si il n’y a pas eu d’incidents.
    Je tiens à souligner que je ne parles pas ici des Yéniches, Sinti et Roms Suisse, dont je ne connais pas les problèmes, mais bien des gens du voyage dans l’Essonne dont je connais parfaitement les habitudes.
    Show Translation

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