Sweden: State’s tight surveillance on Roma

27 September 2013 – Presseurop Dagens Nyheter
Dagens Nyheter, 27 September 2013

“Roma were registered ‘full-Z’,” annonces the front page headline of Dagens Nyheter, which reveals further details of the monitoring of Roma by Swedish authorities. According to a government white paper on Sweden’s treatment of the Roma to be published in 2014, of which the daily has seen a copy, authorities in the country, and in particular in the Stockholm area, kept records on “hundreds and perhaps thousands” of Roma between 1959 and 1996.

Considered, in the early 20th Century, to be a “social vermin” that “debased the Swedish race,” Roma were not allowed access to Swedish territory until 1954, the newspaper explains. The lifting of this ban was accompanied by a police census “of all of the country’s gypsies, both settled and nomadic, which also included persons of mixed-race,” which was conducted in line with a government directive to this effect.

In 1959, authorities in Stockholm appointed a “gypsy unit”, with a brief to “keep records and conduct evaluations of Roma. Every aspect of their lives was examined: intelligence, school performance, hygiene and behaviour. […] Records on individuals and families were stamped with a “Z-code”, in which “Z” represented the first letter of zigenare, which is Swedish for gypsy. In the system, people who were the subject of records along with their families were listed as “full-Z”, “½-Z”, “¼-Z” and “non-Z”. These codes were also used by healthcare and social services up until 1981.

Initially, explains Dagens Nyheter, the goal of the system —

… was well intentioned: the persecuted Roma who lived in poverty were to be granted the right to housing and education. But authorities were also motivated by a desire to monitor the Roma, and ethnicity was the sole criterion for inclusion in these records.