The Plight of the Roma

Posted on July 30, 2011. Filed under: Gypsies, Holocaust, Modern Persecutions, Romas | Tags: , , |


The Roma and Their Plight

Who are the Roma and what is happening with them?I recently read an article in Moment magazine (their July/August 2011 issue) written by Ben Judah entitled “Invisible Roma.”  This article really caught my attention as I had never heard of the Roma so I read on and decided to do a bit of research myself into who they are and what their current plight it.

The Roma are the people we commonly call the Gypsies.  It is thought that the Roma are a band of Christian Egyptians fleeing persecution, thus the term Gypsies from the word Egyptians.  Roma are a subgroup of the Romani people, who live primarily in Central and Eastern Europe (including Italy), as well as in the Balkans and Western Anatolia, and as recent immigrants in Western Europe and the Americas.[1]

“Tied together through Romani, their mother tongue, and loosely organized in insular tribes, the Roma have traditionally served as craftsmen, musicians or seasonal hired hands, and have a reputation throughout Europe as thieves and swindlers. Believed to have left India for Persia in the 5th century, they have been part of the backdrop of Europe since at least the 14th century. Whether nomadic or settled in communities such as Barbulesti throughout southern and eastern Europe, largely in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Greece, they often go unseen or ignored by the rest of society.”[2]
While Gypsies are often romanticized in books, their reality is definitely not romantic.  They, in fact, often are the subject of persecution, prejudice and poverty…yes, the three p’s.  Add to that, they have been victim to pogroms like the Jewish people have and were facing extinction via the Nazis during World War II.  Like, the Jews, the Roma are viewed as a people without a homeland.  This seems to be one excuse for their poor behavior, albeit, one that seems ridiculous to me, especially in this day and age.

Today, they are still often found living in poverty stricken ghettos, are uneducated and unemployed.  The Roma women are seen in very traditional roles as mothers and homemakers.  They are rarely employed outside of the home.  However, in some places, such as in the Republic of Macedonia, the Municipality Šuto Orizari is the only municipality in the world with a Romani majority and the only municipality where Romani is the official language. Due to the demographics, both Romani and Macedonian are official in Šuto Orizari, the municipality being officially bilingual. The mayor of the municipality, Elvis Bajram, is an ethnic Rom, the son of Amdi Bajram, a Macedonian MP and member of the ruling coalition government.

According to Wikipedia, “The Romani are much less numerous and less controversial in Poland than in other European countries where major sociopolitical issues revolve around them. Estimates of the Romani population in Poland range from 15,000 to 50,000. Czechoslovakia’s Romani population, by contrast, numbered 500,000 in the 1980s, when Poland became a transit point on the illegal migration route to Germany. Emigration of Polish Romani to Germany in the late 1980s reduced Poland’s Romani population by as much as 75 percent. Nevertheless, negative stereotypes remain strong in Polish society, and acts of violence and discrimination against this most visible minority are common in Poland. In 1991 a mob destroyed a wealthy Romani neighborhood in central Poland (known as the The Romani are much less numerous and less controversial in Poland than in other European countries where major sociopolitical issues revolve around them. Estimates of the Romani population in Poland range from 15,000 to 50,000. Czechoslovakia’s Romani population, by contrast, numbered 500,000 in the 1980s, when Poland became a transit point on the illegal migration route to Germany. Emigration of Polish Romani to Germany in the late 1980s reduced Poland’s Romani population by as much as 75 percent. Nevertheless, negative stereotypes remain strong in Polish society, and acts of violence and discrimination against this most visible minority are common in Poland. In 1991 a mob destroyed a wealthy Romani neighborhood in central Poland (known as the Mława pogrom) after a hit and run incident involving a Roma teen. The Polish governments has adopted no comprehensive policy on Romani but instead had treated violent acts against them as isolated incidents.”[3]  It is to be noted here that similarly “The Jewish population in Poland was home to over three million Jews, the second-largest Jewish community in the world at the time [sic of the Hollacaust]. The capital Warsaw alone had a population of over 300,000 Jews. Following the German onslaught in 1939, about 85 percent of Polish Jewry was wiped out, and many Jews from other countries were deported to the Nazi death camps and murdered there. After World War II, most of the survivors refused to return to, or remain in, Poland, which was riveted by civil war and anti-Semitic outrages. Emigration accelerated after pogroms and other acts of violence against Jews, and the Jewish population continued to shrink through successive waves of emigration.”[4]   Today in Poland, things are better than they have been, but progress has been slow.  The population of Poland today is 38,115,000 with a Jewish population of only 5,000.[5]   The same story is true for the Romani people Bulgaria, Macedonia and other European countries.

In an article by George Soros, I learned that in August 2010, “… the Roma faced a form of discrimination unseen in Europe since World War II: group evictions and expulsions from several European democracies of men, women, and children on the grounds that they pose a threat to public order.

France began to carry out plans to expel all non-French Roma, implicating them as a group in criminal activity, without any legal process to determine whether individuals have committed any crime or pose a threat to public order. These French actions follow Italy’s “security package” of 2008, which described so-called “nomads” as a threat to national security and imposed emergency legislation leading to expulsions of non-Italian Roma.

Stopping criminal activity is a legitimate government concern. But the expulsion of EU citizens on the basis of ethnicity as a proxy for criminal activity is a violation of EU directives on racial discrimination and the right to move freely from one EU member-state to another.

Indeed, it is a firmly established legal principle that crime should be addressed by a determination of individual guilt before a court of law. Moreover, convicted criminals are not routinely deported if they are citizens of another EU member state. Instead, European law requires an individual determination that deportation is necessary and proportionate to the crime committed, as well as consideration of other circumstances (such as the strength of the individual’s ties to the community).

Of course, European societies should not tolerate criminality and anti-social behavior. But no ethnic group monopolizes such pathologies, and all people should be equal before the law. Since WWII, Europeans have found it unacceptable to subject any group to collective punishment or mass expulsion on the basis of ethnicity, so, in casting aside fundamental rights in the name of security, rounding up Roma sets a worrying precedent.

The greatest divide between the Roma and majority populations is not one of culture or lifestyle … but poverty and inequality. The divide is physical, not just mental. Segregated schooling is a barrier to integration and produces prejudice and failure. Segregated housing has led to huge shantytowns and settlements lacking sanitation and other basic conditions essential to a life with dignity. The plight of so many millions of Roma in the twenty-first century makes a mockery of European values and stains Europe’s conscience.

The plight of the Roma is not just a short-term security problem that can be addressed by draconian measures to move people forcibly from one member state to another. Not only does this undermine European values and legal principles, but it fails to address the root causes of the problem.”[6]

Ben Judah wrote an article in the July/August 2011 issue of Moment Magazine entitled “Invisible Roma,” which is where I first heard about the Roma people.  Before that I had no idea they existed.  I had no idea about their plight.  In this article, a Roma man told Mr. Judah, ““I do not know why it happened, but we are not in the same line as the rest of the world,” says Dorel in a hoarse voice. … I do not know what made us, where we came from or who we are—only that we are gypsies in Barbulesti,” he says.[7]
Communities such as Barbulesti throughout southern and eastern Europe, largely in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Greece, they often go unseen or ignored by the rest of society.
In a move condemned by the European Commission, the Vatican and the United Nations, French President Nicolas Sarkozy exploited a legal loophole in 2010 to begin rounding up and deporting Roma who are not French citizens to the new member states in Eastern Europe, giving deportees 300 euro (about $430) to return to their country of origin. Sarkozy is not alone. In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi clamped down on the Roma as well, demolishing shanties in Rome in an effort to push them out of the city.

They have nowhere to go but back to places like Barbulesti. There, Dorel leads me to some of the young men who have just been deported from France. We bounce along the poorly paved road to their village. “Here in the village our tribe is the Ursari,” Dorel says. “My grandparents used to be with the dancing bears.” He smiles at the distant memory of the old Roma tradition of leading bears on their hind legs and forcing them to shake or “dance.” “They would wander for a few days and come back. But the bears were stopped by the Communists in the 1960s. That was when our traditional skill was taken away.”

Europe continues to march into the future, but the Roma road seems to be veering in its own direction, neither forward nor back. I recall the words of an old Roma judge beneath his conical astrakhan cap, who wanders Romania’s Roma communities dispensing traditional Roma law as he knows it. “We came from India and we wandered until here,” he told me wistfully. “It would be good to go back…but we have forgotten the way home, we have forgotten where that was.”[8]
 


[1] “The Romani People,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_people, nd

[2] Ben Judah. “Invisible Roma,” Moment Magazine, http://www.momentmag.com/moment/issues/2011/08/Roma.html, July/August Issue

[3] “Roma (Romani subgroup),” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_(Romani_subgroup), nd

[5] Ibid

[6] George Soros, “The Plight of the Roma,” http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/soros60/English, 8/23/2011

[7] Op cit, Ben Judah

[8] Op cit, Ben Judah

Advertisements

Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: