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