Valeriu Nicolae in Eurozine:
On 24 September this year, over 30,000 people in the Romanian National Arena, joined by millions more on TV, watched the football match between Steaua and Rapid Bucharest. During the game, over 20,000 people repeatedly chanted, “We have always hated and will always hate the Gypsies.” Calls of “die Gypsies” could also be heard throughout the game.
Before the game, the owner of Steaua, Gigi Becali, a member of the European Parliament, had stated that he was not afraid the other team would win since it was a well-known fact that “they drown just before reaching the shore”.
The phrase derives from a punishment visited on Roma/Gypsies during the many hundreds of years Roma were slaves of the Romanian aristocrats and the Romanian Orthodox Church. Roma were covered in tar, rolled in feathers and then thrown into a river. Romanian aristocrats would watch them drown while trying to reach the shore. It may also relate to incidents during the Holocaust when Romanian officers shot at boats transporting Roma over the river to Transnistria – many Roma drowned before reaching the shore. Many more died of starvation.
The justification for the lack of official response to these racist chants in past years is that the fans of Rapid are nicknamed “the Gypsies”.
However, on this occasion, among the racist banners displayed was one with the text “Respect Eugen Grigore”. Grigore was a mass murderer who killed 24 Roma in 1970. In addition, during and at the end of the game, Steaua officials incited the fans to racism and even joined them in their chants.
Throughout September, a number of incidents across Europe demonstrated yet again the appalling levels of anti-Gypsyism prevalent within the European Union. The Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities in Bucharest reported the Romanian incident to the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the Fundamental Rights Agency, the OSCE and all intergovernmental bodies that have significant budgets dedicated to addressing Roma issues. We have reported similar or worst incidents in the past.
We also reported it to UEFA, the governing body of European football, and to the Romanian Football Federation (RFF), where we talked to people at the highest level. As soon as they received our report they called us to discuss the next steps. Two days later, the President of the RFF condemned anti-Roma racism in Romanian football in the strongest declaration of its kind ever issued by an influential institution in Romania.