Encouraging teaching and learning about the genocide of the Roma

In October 2021 at the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance pledged to develop recommendations on teaching and learning about the genocide of the Roma.

One year on, as part of our #TogetherForImpact series tracing the development of the pledges made in Malmö, we spoke to IHRA delegate and project co-lead, Miško Stanišić, about what makes these recommendations so important and why the IHRA is the right organization to develop them.

A Forgotten History

“Roma and Sinti are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Europe. For centuries they have suffered discrimination, racism and persecution, which peaked with the murder of Roma and Sinti during the Second World War. Yet the genocide of the Roma and Sinti has long been widely ignored,” explained Miško Stanišić.

The IHRA Recommendations, which will be developed by an international group of subject-matter experts, aim to provide policymakers, teacher trainers and educators with a fact-based and educationally sound framework for increasing awareness of the history of the genocide of the Roma as well as of contemporary anti-Roma racism.

“When looking at teaching and learning about the genocide of the Roma, there are several challenging aspects. The most important is the lack of recognition for the crimes against Roma communities and the lack of interest that societies show to change this. Secondly, despite some noteworthy progress in recent years, there is a lack of research about this history. This has led to a lack of quality teaching materials and experience among teachers and education professionals in dealing with this subject matter,” continued Miško.

“By developing these Recommendations, we want educators to feel empowered and confident exploring this neglected history and its relevance to the present day.”

The IHRA and the Genocide of the Roma

From the founding of the Committee on the Genocide of the Roma in 2009, to the adoption of the working definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination in 2020, the genocide of the Roma has long formed an important part of the IHRA’s mandate.

In 2020 when the IHRA developed its Recommendations on Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust, IHRA experts knew that specific recommendations for the genocide of the Roma would be needed.

“While the genocide of the Roma took place alongside the events of the Holocaust, the distinct experiences of all victim groups explicitly targeted by Nazi Germany and its collaborators are specific in many ways,” outlined Miško. “Some aspects of persecution against different victim groups are similar. Others are singular and specific only to that group. We want to acknowledge the unique history of this genocide and pay tribute to the Roma victims and survivors.”

And as for whether learning about the past can help dismantle stereotypes and combat discrimination today?

Miško believes that a better understanding of the history of antigypsyism does have a role to play.

“Awareness of how antigypsyism manifested in the past is essential for identifying and addressing this phenomenon today. This means recognizing individual expressions of anti-Roma racism, as well as institutional policies and practices of marginalization, exclusion, violence, and hate both in the past and in contemporary societies.”

An International Approach

“There are a small number of excellent resources for educators on the topic of the genocide of the Roma already in existence,” said Miško.

“What is unique about these IHRA Recommendations is that they are backed by all 35 Member Countries within the IHRA. The genocide of the Roma unfolded in different ways in different regions or periods, or was committed by different perpetrators.  These Recommendations aim to provide a solid starting point to encourage national policymakers to develop educational concepts and teaching materials that reflect their own national history and meet the needs of their population.”

A key part of the development of the Recommendations will also involve consultations and discussions with representatives of Roma organizations and civil society.

In 2020 when the IHRA’s 35 Member Countries adopted the IHRA Ministerial Declaration, they committed themselves to remembering the genocide of the Roma and acknowledged that the neglect of this genocide had contributed to the prejudice and discrimination that many Roma communities still experience today.

With the Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Genocide of the Roma, the IHRA hopes to provide a strong foundation to support IHRA Member Countries in honoring this commitment and fulfilling their duty to introduce the history of the persecution of Roma into mainstream research, memory culture, and education. 

Miško Stanišić is a member of the Serbian Delegation to the IHRA and Director of Terraforming. The Recommendations on Teaching and Learning about the Genocide of the Roma are due to be completed in 2024.

IHRA's Committee on the Genocide of the Roma meets during the IHRA Plenary in Stockholm. Magnus Liljegren/Government of Sweden.