Czech Helsinki Committee for Human Rightshttp://www.helcom.cz/index_en.htm
At the present stage of history Romanies are a people without a territory of their own. Their original homeland had been India which they left some thousand years ago under circumstances so far undisclosed. Nowadays Romanies form specific minority groups which inhabit many countries of the world.
Ethnic Romanies are bound together by a common historical experience. Throughout the history of their nation, they have managed to preserve their specific culture and language, the latter to a large extent actively. From the eighteenth century, scientists and linguists considered India to be the country of the Romany nation's origin, but only later research, undertaken by more linguists, historians, and ethnographers, fully confirmed this hypothesis. The ancient history of the Romanies' stay in India, for reasons of objectivity (see Origins), has not so far been satisfactorily described.
It is important that we distinguish the various Romany sub-groups. Romanies have a strong sense of hierarchy based on the cultural, professional, and linguistic heritage of individual groups. Because of a lack of evidence, scientists have been unable to decide whether such class distinction had already been a part of their social stratification in India, or whether they adopted this social model some time on their way to Europe.
There are many reasons why Romanies deny their ethnic origin. Because of this unwillingness to admit their nationality, the results of censuses in countries all over the world cannot be totally relied upon. Scientific data in reference literature provides some basic demographic information about their numbers, but these are mostly statistic approximations and differ largely from one source to another.
From their Indian homeland, Romanies have brought a specific way of life, which sharply distinguishes them from other ethnic groups of the world, and Europe especially. This is often a source of tension between Romanies and their neighbours. Since the early Middle Ages, the Romany people have been the target of pursuit, persecution, and torture. During World War II, several hundred thousand Romanies fell victim to the Romany Holocaust (porrajimo), no less brutal than the Jewish Holocaust. Even today substantial prejudice against Romanies exists all over the world, and in many countries their presence is on sufferance. However, there has been some improvement in their situation worldwide. In Europe especially, representatives of various political parties have taken it up as their cause to make Romanies their partners, and not mere objects of manipulation, in the process of integration. This general change of attitude has partly been occasioned by the efforts of Romany organizations and their representatives.
The specific appearance and way of life of Romany groups attracted attention as far back as the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, for centuries scholars had had the wrong answer to the question of their origin. Searching through fourteenth-century and later sources, the most common references to Romanies (or Gypsies as they were then called) state that they originally come from Egypt. This, incidentally, is where the English expression 'gypsy' and the Spanish gitano come from. (Other European languages have mostly drawn their names for Romanies from the Greek term Athinganoi, which originally designated a non-Romany religious sect in the Byzantine Empire. Examples of related words may be the German Zigeuneror the Slovak Cigán.)
However, linguistic research of the eighteenth century has proved beyond doubt that Middle Age legends have nothing factual to say about the origin of Romanies. The very first man who openly spoke about India as their homeland was Heinrich Moritz Gottlieb Grellmann (1753-1804). His research confirmed what Samuel Augustini ab Hortis had hinted at as early as 1775. The affinity of the Romany language to other Indian languages was proven by August Friedrich Pott.
Thanks to linguistic studies, scholars ever since have known where to look for more evidence of Romany ancient history. Sadly, there are very few literary pieces of evidence to speak of. What can be found in India gives little information about this specific ethnic group, and most references to Romanies in Arabic and Persian sources are generally considered unreliable. One thing that is certain is that the Romany people left India some thousand years ago. This was not one sudden wave of migration, but rather a series of successive waves heading west. Unfortunately, scientists have been unable to agree upon the circumstances under which the Romanies left India.
The closest relatives of Romanies as we know them now are the Doms, an ethnic group of Dravidian origin still living in India today. The ancestors of today's Doms lived in India before the first Aryan tribes arrived. As their caste profession, Doms most often perform music or do metalwork.
Apart from the Romany language, traces of Indian origin have also been discovered in Romany culture and spiritual heritage.
Romany groups in the world
There are a number of ways in which the Romany nation differentiates itself. One of them is diffbased on traditional sources of income or livelihood. This is especially true about the Balkans (e.g., Rickari- The Bear Leaders; Meckari- The Farmers). Another way of self-identification is based on historical and geographical context. Examples include Vlachika Roma- Vlah Romanies, migrants from the Valachian principality of the second half of the nineteenth century (today's Romania); or Servika Roma- Serbian Romanies also called Slovak Romanies who came to Slovakia in the sixteenth century from Serbia. Some groups of Romanies draw their names from the religious beliefs with which they identify: for example, Chorachane Roma- Muslim Romanies. Yet another source of naming is Romany words which designate a male or a husband ( Romor Manuš) or someone dark ( Kalo).
In some cases, Romany groups identify with the names they have been called by the majority surrounding them. We are not always able to trace back the etymology of individual group names.
Most groups have further internal differentiations. This largely depends on the traditionally perpetuated model of social stratification a specific group adheres to.
Experts and the educated public have generally accepted the original names that individual groups give themselves. They have also settled on the expression Romas an umbrella term covering all ethnic Romanies, regardless of their internal differentiation. Other forms of classification are based on linguistics, history, and geography. However, a universally accepted system of internal classification of the Romany nation has not yet been determined.
Number of Romanies in the world
There is no official data giving us the number of Romanies throughout the world or within specific countries. For a complex mixture of reasons, mostly historical and social, Romanies frequently deny their ethnic origin, thus making it impossible for any census to produce accurate numbers. All the statisticians have are rough estimates which Romanies tend to overestimate and non-Romanies tend to underestimate. Some of these estimates can be seen at http://www.errc.org/index.shtml
The position of Romanies in national states
For a long time Romanies had formed a marginalized ethnic minority in states all over the world. Governments of the individual countries in question had paid little or no attention to their specific social needs. This lack of interest had deepened the crisis of the Romany minority, resulting in often extreme living conditions, no standard of education, and no prospect of bettering their position within society. There is no way governments could continue ignoring the demands for the change which Romanies have been voicing. Many countries have now adopted politics of dialogue between the governing party and Romany representatives. This should initiate a gradual improvement in the Romanies' situation. Unfortunately, the results of this new approach to the minorities' policy have been slow to come. The process of integration and equality is slow and painful.
The beginnings of political representation for Romanies may be traced back to the end of the nineteenth century. At this time, Romanies in Europe had started to feel the need for their own political bodies to represent their people and tend to their needs. We have evidence that in 1919 an all-Romany organization was founded in Bulgaria called Egipt. In 1925 Russian Romanies set up a Romany Union, in 1926 A Romany Association was founded in the Romanian town of Clabor, and in 1927 Belorussian Romanies founded their own Gypsy Union. Since the 1930s Romanies have worked towards their own representation on an international level. In Bucharest in 1933 there was an international meeting of Romany representatives, but it came to nothing, partly because the representatives found it hard to agree upon a common plan. Then World War II intervened and for a while such attempts at unity lost impetus.
The new political map of Europe which came into existence at the end of World War II made it almost impossible for the Romanies in Eastern Europe to organize. This was mainly because communist regimes denied Romanies their ethnic identification and labelled them as a social group instead. In Western Europe, Romanies were able to pick up their efforts where they had left off before the war. During the 1950s Romanies began to organize themselves in Western Germany in connection with war compensation. During the 1960s organizations aiming at ethnic emancipation began to be established in France and Great Britain. With the increasing number of national Romany organizations, the need for an international Romany body which would represent Romany interests on an international level came up again. After several failures, an international meeting of Romany representatives eventually took place in Orpington, near London, in 1971. This congress is considered the first truly international meeting of Romanies. A common plan of political demands was agreed upon. One of the demands was that the term 'Romany' be accepted as an umbrella term for all Romanies in the world. Among the other outcomes of the Orpington Congress were the need for territorial and economic independence, freedom of movement, the right to use their own language, and the demand that the Romany culture be made a part of the educational systems in their respective countries.
The Orpington Congress was at the same time a founding meeting of the International Romany Union (IRU), which has since become recognized as a respected political body representing Romanies on an international level. Representatives of IRU were made a part of the UN in 1979.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the IRU began to represent the Romanies from the former Eastern European states. This has added to its importance and influence. Some of the IRU's original political demands have since been reviewed and re-evaluated. The IRU is currently trying to have countries recognize Romanies as an independent non-territorial nation with corresponding rights not only within the boundaries of their host countries but also on an international level, at the UN or in the EU.
Aside from international political representation, there are also local Romany political bodies which aim primarily at the bettering of the social and economic status of Romanies in their respective countries.
- Central European countries ERRC facts sheets http://errc.org/publications/factsheets/index.shtml
- Centre for International Development http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/
- European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) (English and Romani) http://www.errc.org/index.shtml
- ERRC Country reports http://errc.org/publications/reports/index.shtml
- ERRC Position Papers http://errc.org/publications/position/index.shtml
- International Romani Union (Czech - English - Romani) http://www.romaniunion.org/
- Minority Electronic Resources/Minelres(Country information on: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Serbia-Montenegro, Slovenia, Ukraine.) http://www.riga.lv/minelres/ci.htm
- Racism in Central and Eastern Europe and Beyond: Origins, Responses, Strategies /OSI downloadable publication: http://www.osi.hu/resources/racism.htm
- Nationalism/Ethnic Conflict / OSI thematic links page http://www.osi.hu/resources/nationalism.htm
- Roma in Kosovo, ERRC http://errc.org/publications/indices/kosovo.shtml
- Roma in Sweden http://www.chgs.umn.edu/Educational_Resources/Curriculum/Stockholm_International_Forum/Sweden_s_Roma_Gypsies/sweden_s_roma_gypsies.html
- The Situation of Gypsies (Roma and Sinti) in Europe http://www.social.coe.int/en/cohesion/action/publi/roma/overview.htm
- The World Wide Web Virtual Library: Roma / Gypsies Rights http://www.geocities.com/Paris/5121/vlib/rights.htm
- Centre for International Development, Country Population Reports: Bulgaria
- Croatia http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Cro1.htm
- Czech Republic http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Czr1.htm
- France http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Frn1.htm
- Greece http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Grc1.htm
- Hungary http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Hun1.htm
- Italy http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Ita1.htm
- Macedonia http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Mac1.htm
- Russia http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Rus1.htm
- Slovakia http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Slo1.htm
- Spain http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Spn1.htm
- Romania http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Rum1.htm
- Yugoslavia http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/Ygs1.htm
Exodus from India We have no evidence of the beginnings of ancient Romany history. Based on the comparison of Romany with other New Indian languages, we may roughly locate their exodus to some centuries prior to the year AD 1000. Historians have looked for evidence of large migration waves in Persian and Arabic historiography. Several hypotheses of who the ancestors of Romanies may have been have been created (e.g., that it may have been the Jats or the Rajputs), but none seem convincing. Scholars seem to have the least objection to the hypothesis of some Dom castes leaving India whilst preserving the ethnic name Dom. The influence of a different language environment may have changed the sound 'd' into 'l' or 'r'.
What caused the exodus in the first place also remains a mystery. There is some evidence to the effect that it may have been caused by an unfavourable social and economic situation brought about by a natural disaster, or by the invasion of a foreign (possibly Arabic) army. However, it is quite certain that the exodus took place in several waves.
Migration: the process of sedentarization
The first reliable source of information about the Romanies' migration comes from the Byzantine Empire. In 1068 a monk at Athos monastery mentions a group of the so-called Adsincani who came to Constantinople in 1050. In later documents they are often called Athinganoi or Aiguptoi, and they are referred to as acrobats, sorcerers, snake-charmers, bear-leaders, musicians, sieve-makers, cauldron-makers, etc. These means of livelihood were invariably connected with an itinerant way of life.
Historians assume that by 1300 at least some groups must have settled. A reliable source mentions a village of blacksmiths in Modon on the western coast of the Peloponnese. The description of the way these blacksmiths worked (sat down on the ground using open fire) is identical to what we know about the work of Indian blacksmiths today.
We get more information about the migrants from fourteenth-century documents, as they were moving towards the Balkans and, in the fifteenth-century, to Central Europe. The first reference to Gypsies in the British Isles comes in the sixteenth century.
In Western Europe, Romany craftsmen and musicians started to settle down at the beginning of the modern age, mainly at noblemen's manors and monastery farms.
In the Balkans, Romanies became a part of the local economic and warfare systems of the Ottoman Empire. They mostly lived itinerantly. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they started settling down as farmer's hands; later they formed farming settlements in the country and typical mahali-style quarters in towns and cities.
In Moldavia, Valachia, and Transylvania (Romania), Romanies were enslaved and therefore forced to accept a sedentary way of life. Some slaveholders allowed their slaves some freedom to move within the boundaries of particular territories. Slaveholding in Romania was abolished as late as the mid-nineteenth century. This was followed by a large wave of migration of Romanies to Western Europe and to North and South America.
Anti-Romany laws and the Romany
Holocaust Historical documents bear evidence of strong suspicion and animosity which the Romanies' appearance and way of life induced in the majority of European inhabitants. This negative attitude was repeatedly voiced in accusations of serving the Turks as spies. Orders to pursue Turkish spies spread quickly. Many Romanies were found guilty and executed. Another way of persecuting the Romanies was to make them the object of Catholic witch-hunts.
Eighteenth-century persecution took on a different form, which did not involve direct killing. The rulers of the Hapsburg Empire introduced radical assimilation which was aimed at the complete destruction of specific Romany practices.
At the end of the eighteenth century, whole families of British Romanichels were deported to Australia. More migration took place during the following century.
The foundation of national states towards the end of nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries was marked by a sharp decrease in interest in the Romanies' destiny. In France, Bavaria, and Czechoslovakia, however, they were effectively segregated by specifically allocated Gypsy ID cards.
In 1930s Germany Romanies were made the objects of pseudo-scientific racial research alongside Jews Any possible genetic interference with the pure Nordic race was found undesirable. One of the suggested solutions was deportation to a designated area and subsequent sterilization. In 1935 Gypsies were regarded as second-class citizens, and in 1939 they were forced to settle down; a register was set up. On Himmler's oders, thousands of Romanies were deported to the occupied territories of Poland, and later, from 1942, to Auschwitz concentration camp.
The Nazis had a direct influence on the destiny of Romanies in territories annexed to Germany, defeated territories, and other territories under Nazi rule. During World War II, Romanies were subjected to massive deportations and annihilation. In countries ruled by fascist forces but retaining a certain degree of independence, Romanies were ostracized from society or directly deported to uninhabited areas. They were also used as a labour force, or became direct victims of torture and massacre. Whole Romany sub-groups were literally erased from the Earth (e.g., of the so-called Czech Romanies only several hundred survived). Sober estimates speak of 500,000 victims of the Romany Holocaust.
After the war had ended, the surviving Romanies underwent a period of spontaneous migration back to the countries from which they had once been deported.
The process of post-war reconstruction was slow and tedious throughout all the countries of Europe. Discriminatory laws were gradually abolished, and itinerary groups of Roma were once again free to go back to their traditional way of life. However, some economic bonds with society were impaired for ever. Traditional means of livelihood, such as traditional crafts, were no longer needed and were substituted with various other kinds of trade. Fewer Romanies were able to perform their traditional craftsmanship, and more became seasonal work-hands and unqualified workers. Collecting of scrap and waste materials started to become an additional source of income. Social benefits became one of the crucial sources of income in Romany families.
Political imbalance in the countries of post-war Europe forced many Romanies to migrate to Western Europe, America, and Australia.
State policies towards Romanies differed a great deal in post-war European countries. Roughly speaking, policies were divided between the Western and the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain.
In Eastern Europe, the itinerary way of life was forcefully suppressed in 1950s. Each country, with the exception of the former Yugoslavia, introduced radical measures to stop Romanies from travelling. Confiscation of carriages and horses was one of the typical steps taken by local authorities. In the majority of countries, again with the exception of Yugoslavia, Romanies were denied the status of nationhood. Language and cultural differences started to be systematically wiped out. This radical form of assimilation resulted in the general sense of uprootedness which is so typical of present generations of Romanies. One the one hand, the officially non-existent minority was supported by state social policy (social benefits, housing); on the other hand, its human rights were constantly being violated (eviction from houses, forced settlement of itinerary families, sterilization of women after childbirth).
In the countries of the Western world, with the exception of Spain, Romanies were allowed to travel freely. The traditional way of life was to be secured by the existence of camper-van sites. Problems arose when local authorities were unwilling to provide such sites. Camper-van sites were often largely unpopular with the locals; therefore their number in some areas remains extremely low.
Systematic education of Romany children, in order to improve their subsequent position in the job market, remains an ongoing problem.
Genealogy of the Romany nation as viewed by linguists
Since their exodus from India, Romanies have managed to preserve their own language. Romany belongs to the new Indian branch of Indo-European languages. The original grammar structure and oldest layer of vocabulary is close to other present-day new Indian languages such as Hindi, Bengali, and others. Until as late as the twentieth century, Romany was a non-literary, spoken language. The affinity of Romany to other Indian languages provided a clue for nineteenth-century linguists. A.F. Pott, in his work Zigeuner in Europa und Asien, proved beyond doubt that Romany is a new Indian dialect. He managed to abstract from the vocabulary words of Persian and other European origin. A more detailed analysis of grammatical and lexical structures was provided by F. Miklosich.
- Basic Information on some of Romany Dialects http://www.ethnologue.com/site_search_results.asp?field1=L.NAME!Language+name&Operator1=.LIKE.&value1=Gypsy&connector1=&field2=&Operator2=&value2=&connector2=&field3=&Operator3=&value3=&search=Ethno&Button=Search+Ethnologue
- Romanes-English Online Dictionary http://www-gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/romlex/
The oldest records of Romany
Romany, being a language so unlike other European languages, has always attracted the attention of linguists. In the sixteenth century, two scholars recorded several words and phrases in Romany: Andrew Borde, an English traveller, in his The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (1547) and Vulcanius Bonaventura, a Dutch scholar (1597). Samuel Augustiny ab Hortis also briefly comments upon spoken Romany in Hungary in 1775. These records, together with the analysis of the current spoken language, have contributed to the reconstruction of Romany history.
The development of Romany studies in the twentieth century: written Romany
The first journal of Romany studies, Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (established 1888), paid close and systematic attention to the Romany language. During the twentieth century, which was marked by the considerable emancipation of Romanies, many cultural organizations were founded which have made it their mission to protect Romany cultural heritage. Romany studies have found their way to some of the most distinguished European universities.
All over the world, Romanies speak various Romany dialects. Speakers of different dialects are generally able to understand each other. Some dialects went through essential changes as centuries went by (e.g., the dialects of the British Romanichels or the Spanish Kale), and some disappeared altogether (e.g., Czech Romany). None of these dialects existed in a written form until the twentieth century, and their classification in some areas remains yet unfinished. This is one of the reasons why many Romany writers write in the language of their respective majorities.
Both Romany and non-Romany scholars of the IRU have worked on a universally acceptable form of transcription of Romany.
For many centuries, Romany existed only as a spoken language. The greatest treasures of Romany folklore were preserved in oral form only. (These are fairy-tales, songs, proverbs, riddles, etc.)
Nowadays, this form of preserving the cultural heritage is rare. Mass media has replaced more traditional pastimes. Fortunately, Romany heritage is being preserved in literature and other arts. Romany culture is celebrated at numerous local and international festivals.
Although musical notation is not a traditional way of recording the music of Romanies, their songs are famous, and so is their dancing, which usually incorporates adopted forms of dance from the majority cultures into a traditional style.
Numerous theatre groups have been founded and become famous in the course of the twentieth century (e.g., Phralipe from the former Yugoslavia, Romen from Russia, Romathan from Slovakia). Their ensembles have successfully performed both Romany as well as adopted plays all over the world.
The world-famous film director Tony Gatlif is of Romany origin. Some films by Emir Kusturica have been shot almost entirely with Romany actors speaking in Romany. The animated film director Katarina Lillquist is currently making films based on traditional Romany folk-tales.
Romany blacksmiths, woodcarvers, and other craftsmen are internationally recognized for their fine artistic work.
- Amico Rom (International"Gypsy Friend" Arts Competition) http://web.tiscali.it/concorsoamicorom/index.htm
- Gypsy Culture http://perso.wanadoo.fr/cultures.tsiganes/cultures_tsiganes/index.htm
- Gypsy Music (General overview) http://www.rootsworld.com/rw/feature/gypsy1.html
- Gypsy Music Overview http://www.geocities.com/Paris/5121/culture.htm
There is no generally accepted religious belief for all Romanies. The oldest beliefs and rituals spring from the Hindu tradition, and we can still observe these in a modified form in various rites of passage. Nowadays, Romanies follow religious beliefs according to their own spiritual needs, most commonly Christianity or Islam. In the past, Romanies were often accused of atheism, which served as another excuse for their persecution.
According to historical sources, Gypsies took part in Christian religious pilgrimages as far back as the fifteenth century. Pilgrimages are nowadays the most visible mark of Romany religious activity. World famous are the pilgrimages to St Sara of Saint-Marie-de-la-Mer in Provence, France, and to Romeria del rocio in Andalusia. Romany followers of Christianity ascribe special importance to the christening of infants, marriages in church, and church-managed funerals. These are important even for families which otherwise pay little attention to religious adherence. Christenings, weddings, and funerals are traditional gatherings of the extended family.
- Facta Universitatis: Philosophy and Sociology http://facta.junis.ni.ac.yu/facta/pas/pas99/pas99-09.pdf
- Religious Tolerance http://www.religioustolerance.org/roma.htm
- Open Directory Project (DMOZ) http://dmoz.org/Society/Ethnicity/Romani/Religion/
The level of consideration given minority rights varies in different countries (they may or may not be considered a specific part of the population; they may be considered as a national or an ethnic minority; etc.)
As the Council of Europe states, Roma are defined as a minority by the constitution in some countries (e.g., Slovenia, Macedonia, Finland) or by a special act (e.g., Hungary). In some countries, they are defined as a minority by a constitutional act as well as by some other act (e.g., Romania, the Czech Republic, Finland). Some countries do not define national minorities at all (e.g., France, Spain, Bulgaria).
The situation is different in the USA. In view of the fact that this is not a national state but an immigrant state, it does not use the term 'national minority' (all inhabitants are members of national minorities to a certain degree). Thus, only the original population has a special status. As the Minority Rights Group states:'The USA is a very diverse society, but its minority groups have been pressured to “melt” into mainstream culture and to uphold US patriotism and global ambitions.' The rights of minorities are laid down within the meaning of a right to non-discrimination.
However, in spite of legislative definition, policies vary. For example, in the Czech Republic, the Roma minority has all the features designated by a special act for recognition as a national minority. Neverthelesss, the government uses the term 'Roma community' rather than 'Roma minority' in official documents and tries to solve the problem of their segregation by using instruments of social policy rather than a nationality-oriented policy.
There is a problem surrounding the participation of Roma in public matters in most European countries. The Roma of the Czech Republic, like other national minorities, can participate in public matters which directly concern them through their representatives in the Council for Nationalities and in the Council for Issues of the Roma Community - both Councils are advisory bodies of the Czech government. At the level of local self-government, national minorities are represented by members of the Minority Committees, which are established by municipalities and regions when the members of national minorities reaches a certain number (10 per cent in a municipality and 5 per cent in a region). This model is essentially a copy of the Hungarian model, where there is an Office for Ethnic and National Minorities, a consultative body between the government and the minorities; a Coordinating Council for Gypsy Affairs at the central level; and minority self-government at the local level. Similarly, a National Consultative Committee has been established in Spain; there is a Roma Advisory Board in Finland, a Council for National Minorities in Rumania, an Ethic Advisory Council in Austria, a Council of Representatives of Minority Organisations in Ukraine, and so on. The consultative nature of these various bodies raises the question as to whether this is really an avenue to power for Roma.
The issue of Roma access to power, as well as the issue of Roma's recognition as a national or ethnic minority are closely related to the issue of the implementation of the relevant international conventions by the individual states. The situation of Roma in individual countries was recognized as being important and was included in the agenda of many international organizations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, CSCE, etc. These institutions usually include Roma, Sinti, and Travellers in the same category. However, Travellers do not belong to the Roma nation.
The relevant international conventions are primarily the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities, the Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages, the UN International Pact on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The documents of the Council of Europe
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was ratified by all forty-four members of the Council of Europe. The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was ratified by thrity-five members; seven signed it. The European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages was ratified by seventeen members; twelve signed it.
In Strasbourg, a court for human rights has been established, which examines individual complaints about breaches of the provisions of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Information on individual judgements can be found on the relevant website.
Reports on observance of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which are also available on its website, can be an important source of information on the situation of Roma in the individual members' countries.
Similarly, the states which are parties to the above UN conventions submit reports on observance of the conventions.
In 1967 the International Gypsy Committee was founded. It represented Roma organizations in the form of an international federation (it represented twenty-three organizations from twenty-two countries in 1972), and was recognized, among others, by the Council of Europe and UNESCO.
At the Second World Congress organized by the International Gypsy Committee, a new international organization was founded - the International Romany Union (IRU). In 1979 the IRU received the status of observer with the UN; it obtained the status of consultant in 1993.
The IRU attended the CSCE meeting on the Human Dimension in Copenhagen (1990), Geneva and Moscow (1991), and in Helsinki (1992), and also participated in events organized by the Council of Europe and the European Union. Roma are also associated with organizations at national levels.
Even though Roma regard themselves as a nation and are also regarded by international organizations as such, many countries approach them as a social group, and not as a national or ethnic minority, despite the fact that they officially declare Roma as a national minority. The reason for such an approach might be their social exclusion.
Roma, regardless of the geographical location in which they live, exist on the periphery of society. They rarely have jobs, and if they do, the work is usually for unskilled labourers and is poorly paid. They live in worse conditions than the social majority, and tend to have a low level of education. This exclusion is also reflected in their health care.
If we wanted to map the situation of Roma thoroughly, we would encounter the problem that very few surveys have been carried out, and that, of those that have been carried out, most are only partial. The fact remains that even the population of Roma remains an open question; their number can only be estimated because given their historical experience, they often do not declare themselves officially. Another factor which adds to the uncertainty is the forced assimilation which has taken place in the post-Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Despite the low number of studies, it is estimated that the life expectancy of Roma is shorter on average by ten years than that of the surrounding population, and that the child death rate is up to four times higher. A study carried out in Spain proved that hepatitis antibodies were nine times higher among Roma than Spanish children, and that Roma children were more likely to suffer from lead poisoning. Genetic malformations are more frequent among Roma.
Unfortunately, there is no survey information on the access of Roma to medical care, and there are no analyses based on such surveys that would deal with whether the medical policies of individual countries take into account the specific needs of Roma. However, it can be stated almost certainly that the countries of Central and East Europe have not set up any special medical policies which take into account the needs of minorities. Central medical policies are historically created according to the needs of the majority.
Nevertheless, the need for special policies is indicated, for example, by a survey carried out in Slovakia in 1996: Roma distinguish themselves from the rest of the population (apart from Roma, the respondents also included Slovaks and Hungarians) through the high consumption of alcohol and beer, and through the minimal consumption of milk, fruit, and vegetables, the irregularity of sleep, a worse general state of health, and a high birth rate.
In the United Kingdom, the chance that children born to Travellers will die during the first year of their lives is 1.5 to 2 times higher than for the children born to the rest of the population.
Anne Sutherland deals with the issue of the health of the Roma population in the USA, which she estimates to consist of 200,000 to 500,000 individuals. She also emphasizes the need for knowledge of the specifics of the Roma population as a condition for the provision of medical care. She refers to a study carried out in Boston, which proved that 73 per cent of the examined population (this amounted to 58 persons) had hypertension, 46 per cent had diabetes (diabetes mellitus), 80 per cent suffered from hypertriglyceridemia, 67 per cent suffered from hypercholestrolemia, 39 per cent suffered from occlusive vascular disease, and 20 per cent suffered from chronic renal insufficiency. Of the sample, 86 per cent smoked cigarettes and 84 per cent were obese. Sutherland also mentions the estimate that the average life expectancy of the Roma in the USA is 48 to 55 years.
Similar findings have been obtained in various places in the world, suggesting that the health of Roma is worse than that of the majority population. The evidence suggests that there is an urgent need for comprehensive studies Roma health.
The main problem with Roma access to education is that the education systems of most countries relate to the fact the education system is organized on the basis of the needs and ideas of the majority. They are not designed to satisfy the special needs of Roma children: the teaching process is rarely applicable to Roma children, and teachers rarely have information on their culture and and traditions. Roma children are evaluated by the standards of the majority, by which they are often labelled as naughty or incapable of being educated.
Jean-Pierre Liégeois states that a 1985 survey of the ten EU states proved that:
30-40 per cent of all Gypsy and Traveller children attend school with a degree of regularity
50 per cent never go to school at all
a very small percentage enter secondary education
results, particularly as regards the attainment of functional literacy, are not in keeping with the amount of time spent in school, i.e. schools are not doing their jobs
even at the most basic level, adult illiteracy is generally above 50 per cent and in some places is as high as 80 or even 100 per cent.
These trends appear to persist into the present.
There is a similar inability of the education system to take into account the dissimilarity of Roma children in non-member countries of the EU, that is in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The established practice used to be (and still persists to some degree) to send Roma children to schools for mentally handicapped children. This influenced their opportunities for continuing their studies at secondary schools and then at universities. For example, it followed from a census carried out in the Czech Republic in 1991 that 80 per cent of Roma had only elementary education, including incomplete elementary education; 10 per cent of Roma were without any education or did not state having had any education, and a mere 1 per cent of Roma achieved secondary or university education.
According to Balabánová, it is estimated that more than 80 per cent of Roma children in the Czech Republic attend schools known as 'special schools' (for mentally handicapped children) to which Roma children are moved from normal primary schools twenty-eight times more frequently than Czech children. Roma children also fail to advance to the next grade in school fourteen times more frequently than Czech children.
The situation in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe is more complicated than in the West because education is not multicultural. Teachers often do not know how to handle racism against Roma children; they do not have any special training in working with Roma children and their families. Another factos inhibiting the education of Roma is poverty - in many Balkan countries, for example, Roma families do not have electricity and preparation of children for schools is thus at risk. In Romania, it is necessary to have a permanent place of residence when a child starts to attend school; a child cannot be enrolled without one. Many Roma are not able to meet this condition and so their children do not attend any school at all.
In Italy, school attendance is conditional on the financial situation of parents - Roma parents often do not have enough money to provide their children with the clothes and school equipment, or to pay for transport to school. This is especially relevant to Roma living in camps. Those Roma children who attend school in spite of this are targets of racist attacks launched by Italian classmates, their parents, or even teachers.
In the United Kingdom, approximately 5,000 Roma and Travellers still lead a nomadic life; it is estimated that approximately one-third of their children attend school regularly. Children living in houses or permanent caravan sites attend school more regularly than children who lead a nomadic life.
School education is not problem-free for Roma children in the USA either. Despite the civil rights movement for ethnic minorities, the majority school education system is not ready to provide Roma children with education according to their needs - trained teachers, textbooks, etc. are in short supply.
The issue of employment is closely related to the issue of education. It is not possible to get a 'good' job without the appropriate education. Roma traditionally earned their living by carrying out traditional trades (boilermaker, blacksmith, basket-maker, brick-maker) which have proved less useful in modern times. Many Roma abandoned them as a result of the pressures of assimilation, but education systems failed them and did not allow them to find new forms of self-fulfilment at work.
At present, besides a general lack of qualification, the employment of Roma is complicated by the widespread stereotype of Roma held by employers: unreliable discipline, inadequate hygiene, stealing, etc. are expected of them. This situation is made worse by insufficient protection against discrimination in the labour market, especially in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In 2000, the EU approved Directive No. 43/2000/EC, which was to improve protection against discrimination.
As a result, the unemployment of Roma is very high. For example, government sources estimate that the unemployment of Roma in the Czech Republic reaches 70 to 90 per cent; the ERRC estimates that the figure in Hungary is 60 to 80 per cent. The situation is similar in Poland, where Romany unemployment reaches 90 to 100 per cent in certain locations, and the figure for the Ukraine is around 90 per cent. In Macedonia and Bulgaria, the estimated figure is 80 per cent and 80 to 90 per cent respectively. This is long-term unemployment, which, of course, has a social impact on the unemployed individuals as well as on their families. Unemployment, which automatically means lower living standards for a family, is often solved by colleting of wastepaper or metal scrap; this is a common practice in the Czech Republic and Spain.
The unemployment figures given above relate to settled Roma. For Roma who lead a nomadic life and Travellers, the situation is less transparent - women traditionally do 'chores', though they also show a tendency to work for other entities outside the community. Men from these communities declare themselves to be 'self-employed'.
The housing of Roma needs to be differentiated according to the degree of assimilation: part of the Roma population (especially the Roma living in Central and Eastearn Europe) live in houses like those of the non-Roma population, and some Roma live in a more traditional manner, leading a nomadic life, or residing in caravans at camp sites.
Generally, the Roma living in a settled manner have worse housing than the majority population - typically, large numbers live in small apartments, with shortages of water and electricity. Roma families are often segregated into certain districts or streets. Public and private apartment owners are unwilling to conclude lease contracts with the. Roma often live illegally in the apartments of relatives or acquaintances.
In the Czech Republic, municipalities build special buildings containing 'low-category apartments', small rooms without sanitary facilities, off a corridor, and designed for common use. People from municipal apartments who do not pay rent are usually moved into such houses and 90 per cent of such people are Roma. These buildings are usually located outside towns and they form new Roma ghettos. Similar tendencies are apparent in other countries, which move Roma to locations outside towns, without making any special arrangements.
Roma slums also need to be included in the category of settled housing. These slums usually come into being outside towns on municipal or private plots of land, often without official permission, for example in Romania or in Macedonia. The dwellings in these slums have no water or electricity. They are also often demolished should, for example, the town decides to carry out development on a plot of land illegally occupied by Roma. According to the Jean Pierre Liégeois, in Bulgaria a 1980 survey proved that '68% of Gypsy dwellings had no toilets, only 31% had piped water, 67% had access to an outside tap in the courtyard, 15%t to a communal tap for the neighbourhood, and 83% had no drainage'.
The situation is similar in the camps where Roma live. For example, in Italy, a high percentage of Roma live in these camps, both legal and illegal ones. These camps are situated outside of towns as well as in towns. According to the ERRC, Roma live there in makeshift barracks, containers and old trailers. ERRC found out that there was piped water and electricity in approximately one third of the camps. They also state that it is authorities, which often do not allow the Roma living in authorised camps to build houses. According to their findings, these camps are also often inspected by the police, who violate the human rights of the inhabitants of these camps with their approach.
Centres of Roma studies
Centre de Recherches Tsiganes (The Gypsy Research Centre), France http://www.isn.ethz.ch/osce/links/docs_related_to_links/gypsy_center_E.htm
Katedra rómskej kultury, Slovakia http://www.fsv.ukf.sk/FSV/krk.htm
Seminár romistiky, Czech Republic http://www.cuni.cz/ffiu/romistika/prijimacky.htm
Das Romani-Projekt, Austria http://www-gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/romani/index.en.html
Romani Studies at the University of Greenwich http://www.gre.ac.uk/~at02/
Roma newspapers and magazines
Amaro Drom http://www.amarodrom.hu/
Amaro Gendalos http://www.dzeno.cz/Amarogendalos/index.html
Overview of some periodicals which regularly publish articles about Roma http://www.osi.hu/rpp/biblio/roma2_2.html
Parin Web Journal http://www.geocities.com/Paris/5121/patrin.htm
Romano Centro http://www-gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/romani/index.html
Romano Hangos http://www.volny.cz/rhangos/index.htm
Romani Patrin http://www-gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/romani/index.html
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Kenrick, D. and Puxon, G., Gypsies under the Swastika, 1995.
Lacková, E. and Hübschmannová, M., A False Dawn, 2000.
Liégeois, J.-P., Roma, Gypsies, Travellers, 1986.
Maximoff, M., The Ursitory, 1949.
Mode, H. and Hübschmannová, M., Zigeunermärchen aus aller Welt , 1983-1985
Sutherland, A., Gypsies: The Hidden Americans, 1986.
Tong, D., Gypsy Folk Tales , 1989.