Alliance to fight anti-Gypsy racism

July 20, 2004

Written by Arun Kundnani

Two weeks after the CPS announced that it would not prosecute a Sussex bonfire society for burning a caravan bearing effigies of a Gypsy family and the number plate ‘P1KEY’, activists have decided to form their own Gypsy Bonfire Society to inform people about anti-Gypsy racism.

Twelve members of the Firle Bonfire Society were arrested last October, but the CPS decided that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred. Many in Britain’s 300,000-strong Gypsy community believe that the decision will send the message that racism against Gypsies is acceptable. Barrie Taylor, chairman of the National Romani Gypsy and Traveller Alliance (NRGTA), said: ‘The burning of Gypsy effigies is just one step removed from burning us for real and there’s a real danger that, by not prosecuting, people could be encouraged to put their fantasy into practice.’

The NRGTA has now established its own Gypsy Bonfire Society to actively participate in this year’s Sussex bonfire season. The Society hopes to attend every major bonfire celebration in the region and use the events to inform the public about why last year’s effigy-burning at Firle was so offensive. It will also hold a major celebration of its own, at an as yet unspecificed location.

The NRGTA is calling on supporters and other anti-racist organisations to come forward to assist in reversing the undercurrent of racism at Sussex’s bonfire celebrations. The bonfire tradition has an obvious association with hostility to Catholics, due to its historical origins. But the NRGTA says that if blatant anti-Gypsy sentiment can become acceptable, then other groups of perceived outsiders could easily be targeted.

‘We won’t be aiming to spoil the party’, said Basil Burton of the NRGTA. ‘The supporters of bonfire claim that it is not a racist movement and that it does not stoke up religious hatred against Catholics or racial hatred against Gypsies. This year, as we attempt to visibly join them in celebrations, we will be attempting to test that.’

The Firle Bonfire Society has denied that there was any racial intent behind its actions at last year’s celebrations.

Related links

Pressure grows on Gypsy site after BNP elected – IRR report

To contact the Gypsy Bonfire Society, telephone 07966 786242.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

July 29, 2004
Romany Rye:

My Email Address is cushdibok@yahoo.co.uk (lots of ways to spell Kushtibok). I am head of a small group set up to promote Romany Arts & Crafts. My Ancestors on my Mothers side were Romany Fairground people called Deacon. I am disabled and retired, have skills related to Arts and Crafts, being a former Fine Arts Restorer. Ref: the Fireworks Society you have formed – can I take part in any way? I protested to the Race Relations Board about what had happened and was told that the police were investigating, which made me a little downcast to say the least, but they said after I formally requested, that they would keep me informed – NIL to date! Unless you stand up to be counted, nothing will ever change, much like land being set aside in areas throughout the country for ‘Travellers’ sites, it’s not going to happen, unless those interested in seeing justice being done, doing more, not just holding meetings with those that carry on ‘doing nothing but talk about doing something’! Your views are welcome and I will do something if given the chance – no more burning caravans, unless someone has died, who lived in it. No effigies, unless of ‘Hitler’, who murdered so many, Jews, Freemasons and Gypsies, no ones effigy should ever be burned in a caravan, as for Hitler, he wasn’t good enough to live in one in the first place! I am proud to have Romany Blood AND to be a Freemason and stand up to be counted as such! Neither groups of people to my knowledge have received War Crimes money yet? Both groups lost very many people in the Nazi death camps, very little is heard about that fact is it. What of Firle in Sussex – how do you judge those that do such things, and those that in effect now clearly sanction it happening? What if other racial groups were depicted in this way – would the result be the same? I very much doubt it! Are ‘they’ the new Nazis to be, thats how it all starts, how else? Cushdibok (Kushtibok).

January 26, 2005
John Beeching:

I am the vice president of Hastings Borough Bonfire Society and I was horrified by the events at Firle in 2003. I have been actively anti racist since I was a teenager. To attack any group using the actions of individuals [real or imagined] is clearly racist and cannot be justified. In defence of the bonfire societies I would like to piont out that no society that I know of in any way discriminates against any group,the so called anti-catholicism is in fact due to fact that most of the big land owners[and therefore employers] in the area were catholic and so bonfire was a good excuse to have a go at the boss. The blowing up of effigies is faily new in my part of the county and is not neccessarily a negative act.We have had effigies of Ian Botham, the year he virtually won the ashes single handed. The purpose of an effigy is to call attention to an event that has occured during the year. The main piont about bonfire however is that it celebrates the failure of an attempt to impose by force the wishes of one group on another.Sureley something that any Roma would understand

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