One day before International Roma Day 2021, the Council of Ministers in Austria sent an important signal by adopting the working definition of antigypsyism/anti‑Roma discrimination developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Hannah Lessing, Co-Head of Austria’s delegation to the IHRA and Secretary General of the National Fund, whose central task since 1995 has been to provide recognition for all victim groups, emphasizes that, “Discrimination against people and ethnic groups is an alarm bell that reflects the state of a society. The potential consequences became all too evident under the Nazis. That’s why decisive action must be taken so urgently, not only against antisemitism, but against exclusion of any kind.”
To this day, antigypsyism/anti‑Roma discrimination as a phenomenon has received insufficient attention, including in Austria. The working definition developed by IHRA with the significant involvement of Austria is a means of identifying and naming it. The definition, which uses the term “Sinti and Roma” as an “umbrella term which includes different related groups, whether sedentary or not,” states (in part):
“Antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination is a manifestation of individual expressions and acts as well as institutional policies and practices of marginalization, exclusion, physical violence, devaluation of Roma cultures and lifestyles, and hate speech directed at Roma as well as other individuals and groups perceived, stigmatized, or persecuted during the Nazi era, and still today, as ‘Gypsies’. This leads to the treatment of Roma as an alleged alien group and associates them with a series of pejorative stereotypes and distorted images that represent a specific form of racism.”
In the address to the Ministerial Council the adoption of the working definition of antigypsyism/anti‑Roma discrimination was described as “an important step for the international recognition of the genocide of Roma and Sinti,” and “a strong commitment by IHRA Member States to emphatically confront discrimination, violence and hate speech against Roma and Sinti.” The adoption of the working definition of antigypsyism/anti‑Roma discrimination will now be forwarded to the National Council and Federal Council for their information and possible further action.
“The acknowledgment of IHRA’s working definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination by the Austrian Councils of Ministers is an important milestone in fighting antigypsyism within the member states of IHRA and beyond, it emphasises Austria’s strong commitment to protect Roma communities in Austria and worldwide. Austria is the second country to acknowledge the working definition. Government institutions, law enforcement and the educational sector are now supported by an internationally accepted tool available to identify and to counter antigypsyism. The definition is particularly helpful for schools and education administration as a guideline to identify antigypsyism and to talk about this form of racism in class,” states Martina Maschke, head of department at Austria’s Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research and former Chair of the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma (CGR).
The Austrian delegation wants to thank the German Chairmanship and the PO for their support in the adoption of the working definition. The working definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination was developed in an outstanding commitment of the members of the Committee under the former Chair Martina Maschke and her succesors Oliver von Mengersen and Martin Korcok. We would particularly like to thank the German IHRA-Chair Ambassador Küchler as well as Secretary General Kathrin Meyer and the PO staff for their strong and successful support of the process.