The Persecution of the Roma

The European Union must be held accountable if European states continue to expel Roma from member countries. The expulsions are taking place because Roma have created settlements not only in designated campgrounds but also within urban boundaries. This is not new. However, the scale and density of such settlements disturbs the sensibilities of Europeans. This is not only a West European phenomenon. Events of intolerable discrimination are also taking place in East Central Europe and the Balkans from which many of these Roma originate. The history of anti-Roma sentiments in both East and West Europe is torturous and long-standing.

A rather unusual situation emerged in Romania where Roma have lived for hundreds of years, where to this day they appear in abundant variation, from people who have resumed migratory lives to people who have been settled at the margins of villages, towns, and cities for as long as anyone can remember. In Romania, Roma were enslaved and indentured for centuries. They played important roles as musicians, miners, and in producing objects necessary for an agrarian society, crafting metals and wood objects. Today, those that we call Roma, were involved in all sorts of labor, agricultural workers and house servants.

Some may no longer speak their Sanskrit based language, or if they do they speak it with lexical-items borrowed from Turkish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Russian, and so on. In Romania, many no longer speak Romani. In Romania, Roma may identify themselves with this “national” identity, or they may identify as “tsigani,” how others have named them. This is a term of derision. Some Roma have integrated themselves into the mainstream of Romanian society and melted into the Romanian ethnic identity. Some Roma sustain their identity and have experienced upward mobility in many different fields.

Roma were persecuted in the Nazi era, large numbers of whom lost their lives; their population decimated in great proportions to their total numbers, referred to as Prajmos. Oddly enough, when mentioned at all as a persecuted population in Germany’s ethnic cleansing effort they are lumped in with Jews, rather than being mentioned outright as a population. No museums exist for them and if there are memorials for them, I do not know of them. They have no homeland with which they can identify. There is no Israel that was created for them as it was for Jews. Their identities are claimed as citizens of their countries of origin.

Since the 1990s, the people who are being displaced and resettled are the ones who are poor. These are not the migratory Roma. Much like low-income migrants from all over the world, Roma are looking to gain a better life for themselves and their children. While Roma are increasingly being organized into a mass movement within their respective countries of origins and in the European Union, local events cause them to be persecuted as a maligned, racialized, and stereotyped minority if they are lucky or as unwanted outsiders and criminals. Roma from Eastern Europe and the Balkans are leaving their countries as a result of the persecution that is so virulent there that it has caused death and destruction of settlements not unlike pogroms of centuries past. For example, in Cluj, a university city in Romania’s multi- ethnic Transylvania region, a large Roma settlement is being displaced and moved into a more remote and environmentally marginal area. The Roma have not been given any recourse. They appear not to have any civil rights. Roma have been attacked in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic. These attacks include fire bombings, shootings, stabbings, beatings and murders.

The world over, the stigma associated with migratory populations ranges from the relationship between nomadic and transhumant pastoralists and sedentary agriculturalists to immigrants of various sorts displaying religions and customs not present and appreciated in the host country or region. Tax collecting and census taking States are normally uncomfortable with highly mobile populations. Moreover fear of the “stranger” has a long history in European countries. Roma are often considered “internal foreigners.” In the past they had the reputation of stealing children because it explained why Gypsies had blond children, while Jews were said to steal children to eat them in cannibalistic rituals. Fears of the stranger persist in Europe.

National identities embedded in the idea of racial purity linger in modern Europe, a Europe whose nations have seen their diversity swell well beyond what the populace believes to be acceptable levels. Switzerland had to curtail the height of mosque minarets to retain their built environment identity as Swiss. France passed laws to prevent Muslim female school children from wearing clothes that covered their heads and faces believing that this was an attack on France’s “secular” system that has a Roman Catholic overlay.

Very much like blacks in the United States, the Roma still receive improper and poor education, have limited access to resources for development, whose cultures are disrespected and even loathed. They find it difficult to gain access to housing acceptable to the authorities and often enough do not know how to live in such housing when obtained. This situation is recognizable enough to anyone who is familiar with how difficult it is for long-term US homeless to adequately care for themselves in housing provided to them. People have to be taught how to live in apartments, if what you are used to is living in homes made up of found objects. It is not as if people like to live in filth and misery. They do not! Roma are either pushed into the most misery infested areas of a city or find themselves having to choose these, because they are denied access to anything better.

The European Union must do a much better job at caring for this population and seek out realistic strategies for integrating them into their national societies and the EU in general. It is ironic that a Europe, facing a population decline of large proportions that potential contributors to its economy would be cast out. European countries are facing demographic downturns that will have massive effects on their economies. Roma could be a helpful infusion into the labor force should respective countries assume the responsibilities they have for the rest of their population.

The total population number for Roma remains unclear; perhaps as many as 10 million Roma exist in Europe. Deportations of Roma, mostly from Eastern Europe and the Balkans have taken place since the 1990s. France deported over 10,000 since 2009. Germany deported 60,000 Roma in the 1990s as illegal immigrants. Holland, Sweden, and Italy have also deported Roma. Italy’s Prime Minister Berlusconi wanted to fingerprint Roma men women and children, declaring them a national security issue.

In the United States, discriminatory attention is now placed on Muslims. In present-day Europe, the economic downturn of events has placed the Roma in jeopardy. Lessons that should have been learned from the events of the 1920s-1945 seem to have been forgotten. Government sponsored discrimination inevitably leads to right wing led racism and xenophobia, bestowing the populace permission to scapegoat the Roma and doing some God-awful things to them.

SAM BECK was a child in post-World War II Vienna. He studied in Yugoslavia as an undergraduate, carried out research in Iran among nomadic pastoralists, and completed doctoral and post-doctoral research in Romania before and after the execution of the Ceausescus. Throughout this time, he had contact with Roma in Vienna, Yugoslavia, Romania, Turkey, and Iran. During a post-doctoral research project funded by IREX, Beck collaborated with Nicolae Gheorghe, a Roma Sociologist political activist and found himself covering a wide range of Roma groups, especially in Transylvania. Most of his publications on his Roma research can be found in the first iteration of Dialectical Anthropology. He now carries out research in New York City and is publishing work on Public Anthropology.

This article was originally published by AnthropologyWorks.

More articles by:

February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzick
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
Jon Rynn
What a Green New Deal Should Look Like: Filling in the Details
David Swanson
Will the U.S. Senate Let the People of Yemen Live?
Dana E. Abizaid
On Candace Owens’s Praise of Hitler
Raouf Halaby
‘Tiz Kosher for Elected Jewish U.S. Officials to Malign
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Deceitful God-Talk at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
W. T. Whitney
Caribbean Crosswinds: Revolutionary Turmoil and Social Change 
Avoiding Authoritarian Socialism
Howard Lisnoff
Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate
Ralph Nader
The Realized Temptations of NPR and PBS
Cindy Garcia
Trump Pledged to Protect Families, Then He Deported My Husband