The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Eviction turned dance party for Roma in Belgium

A Belgian village hired a DJ to blast music in a last-ditch attempt to force out a group of Roma, but instead funded an impromptu disco.

“You get a shiver in the dark/It’s raining in the park but meantime” — the opening lyric of Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” — belted out over loudspeakers at 9 a.m. on Wednesday in an attempt to eject the group from the industrial site where they had parked.

Just 30 miles from the political seat of the European Union in Brussels, the Roma set up camp with up to 30 caravans on a plot of land outside the small town of Landen, Reuters reported.

The mayor of the village, Gino Debroux, said there was an agreement the Roma would leave by Tuesday, but by Wednesday the group showed no signs of shifting.

“Since then, they’ve said they won’t leave and they’re there with 30 caravans,” the frustrated mayor told Reuters. 

Reluctant to use force, Debroux came up with the novel plan to pay a DJ to dish out a rude, musical wake-up call in the hopes it would encourage the Roma to leave.

“This is a way of putting pressure on them. It was very difficult to negotiate with the gypsy king, as he called himself,” Reuters quoted Debroux. “It’s a nonviolent method to ask them to come to an agreement.”

The volume was capped at 95 decibels, the same volume as a jack hammer 50 feet away.

Oblivious to the mayor’s intentions, the Roma children began to dance. Some of the camp residents even heaped praise on the mayor for the entertainment, telling him thanks for the party.

The festivities continued until midday, after which local police settled an agreement that the Roma would leave by Thursday.

“It’s pretty ironic that gypsies, musicians par excellence, are being set to flight using music,” Jos Vander Velpen, chair of Belgium’s Human Rights League, told a Belgian news outlet, Agence France-Presse reported. But he warned the incident reflected a growing attitude of intolerance for minorities in Belgium. 

In April, the mayor of Ghent, Daniel Termont, spoke out about the increasing Roma population in the Belgian city of 250,000 people — of which up to 8,000 are thought to be Roma, many of whom came over the border from Slovakia.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of freedom of movement, but that’s for working or studying, or visiting a country. It is not to escape a poor country, where you are sent away or mistreated,” he told EUobserver.

The Roma are a nomadic people who originally came to Europe from the Indian subcontinent. Amnesty International reported that with a population of 10 to 12 million, including 6 million inside the E.U., “the Roma are one of the largest and most disadvantaged minorities in Europe.” Hundreds of thousands are forced to live in camps and temporary settlements and tens of thousands are evicted from their homes every year or live under the threat of eviction, police harassment and violent, racially motivated attacks.

They are often denied jobs and access to quality health care, and are victims of racially motivated violence, often with no protection from police or access to justice.

“Governments across the region are failing to protect their rights,” reported Amnesty.