Roma Civil Rights movement


The Roma civil rights movement as a counter-weight for religious assimilation in Finland

Marko Stenroos


Minority rights began to be formally recognized in Finland, during the 1960’s. The Roma civil rights movement followed the international movement for human rights.The United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1965,1 partly due to the impact of the African-American civil rights movement. Although the Roma civil rights movement built upon this momentum, simultaneously with the positive commitment of international organizations, Roma activism has its foundations in the resistance to religious assimilation policies and practices from 1900.

During the 1940’s criticisms were directed towards the state-sponsored, religious Gypsy Mission organisation, established in 1906 at Tampere. Roma agency and activism emerged as a counterweight to assimilation policies applied by the majority Finnish government.

The first Roma association, Romanien Liitto Romanengo Staggos was established by Ferdinand Nikkinen in 1953, as a response to and criticism of these ongoing policies. This Roma association didn’t achieve the influence and political position to improve the lives of Finnish Kaale Roma, but it was a basis for the work of the next Roma association, Mustalaisyhdistys, established in 1967, which reached an influential position and had an impact upon Roma policy and politics, some ten years after Romanengo Staggos. This second initiative made it possible for Roma to stand up for their equal rights. As a result, there are two characteristics of the Roma civil rights movement in 1960’s that can be distinguished; an action-based model, drawing inspiration from Swedish Roma activism and one that sought co-operation with the influential and skilled non-Roma, working together with Roma, for mutual goals.

Simultaneously with international Roma issues after Finland joined the EU, Roma identity in Finland was emphasized and strengthened when, in 2003, a monument dedicated to Roma who died in the war between 1939-1945, was unveiled. The Finnish Roma inclusion strategy (2010-2017), states that, ‘The vision of the programme is that Finland will in 2017 be a forerunner in Europe, in promoting the equal treatment and the inclusion of the Roma population’. Although the first Roma strategy did little to recognise or address the dimension of migration, the next iteration of the policy aims to tackle the problems of migrant Roma from the EU. Today, the situation of the Roma from eastern, south-eastern and central Europe in Finland, resembles the situation of Finnish Roma in Sweden, in the past.