They were called Gypsies

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A Polish Romani woman
A Polish Romani woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Europe has a long and diverse history so far as the Roma or Gypsy are concerned. The Roma population is not homogeneous in nature, it is divided through the events of history and the passage of time.

The Roma populations right across Europe share common parts of their language and expressions but the stories they tell are very different indeed.

In France the first record of Roma is from the Bohemian populace and dates from the Middle Ages. In Romania, Moldovia and Wallachia there could be found a very high concentration of Roma peoples linked to the often found enslavement of these people. Slavery was abolished in the 1850’s and it was recorded that in Romania they had over 200,000 Roma in a total population of 4.4 million people.

Today there is presently around 10 million Roma right across the European Diaspora and notably about 14 million world-wide, so a European issue really. Roma peoples in Central and Eastern Europe account for anything up to 10% of the populace. In Western Europe the story is very different. In France for example there are 250,000 Roma derived from the group formally known as the ‘nomads’; these were people engaged in itinerant occupations recorded in ‘The Plan of the Nomads’.

Spain and Portugal also have very defined groups with a very strong sense of identity. After the Great Plague of 1347 in the Middle Ages people migrated from Graeci, Albanasi and Cingari to Southern Italy, Spain & Portugal. In Spain the Roman Catholic Monarchs practiced against the Roma in the same way they practiced against the Jews; conversion or death. This policy led to a concentration around Andalucia where the Flamenco culture comes from. Back in France Roma collected in the Catalan towns of Marseille and Montpellier living a sedentary lifestyle.

Today the reason for Roma movement is driven by the factors of economic activity and a place to live freely.

Roma populations are broadly speaking right across Western Europe rejected, but this is nothing new. In France there have been many notable attempts to purge the Kingdom of the Roma. Into the 19th century the Roma had a much better time of it and were tolerated in France. This changed in 1907 when things turned very violent, the policing of the wandering risk , the abject race as they became known. By 1930 most Western States had made legal arrangements to control the Roma, to record who they were, where they were and what they were doing.

In 1940 the French State went further in requiring full assimilation of the Roma. They were no-longer allowed to just drift and to have an independent identity. They were either French of not French. But things relaxed some in 1969 when the Roma with no fixed place of residence were given the name of traveler.

In the modern era life for the Roma is once again becoming difficult through social and cultural mistrust. The political climate is again moving against the Roma. But there is confusion; the Roma from Southern France, Spain, Italy as well as Central Europe share a common identity. The Roma from the UK, Northern France, Switzerland and the Scandinavian Countries are not joined by a common heritage.  The status of these Roma is still and shall remain subject to national identities. The proposed French administrative system of travelers permits is perhaps a way of dealing with the activities, movements and work arrangements but will rely on some level of European integration or assimilation.

One of the central European dreams is freedom of movement of people and the Roma typify freedom of movement, its just that the national administrative systems cannot hope at present to keep up with the movements of the Roma. Non-the-less the total movement of people is near to 15,000 across Europe so nothing like the 250,000 people who made their way into France in the Middle Ages.

Protection of the rights of the Roma is important but the stateless sense of the Roma people has got to be addressed. The Roma bring mistrust among local populations, crime and localized environmental issues to be addressed. The Roma cannot be allowed to become stateless and therefore free from tax liability, free from social accountability and free from cultural inclusion but they must be allowed to maintain their very essence.

Of course the effects of the travelers from Northern Europe are all together a different matter. These Roma are not ethnically identified, they are people who have chosen to adopt a life-style, something short of homeless. They have a home, they have a national identity, they do not need assimilation, they do not form part of a Diaspora, they bring social, cultural and legal difficulties and they contribute little in the way of economic or societal contribution.

To understand the Roma is to understand their history and who they actually are.

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3 thoughts on “They were called Gypsies

    vickie1 said:
    September 26, 2013 at 14:54

    I am in a somehwat musical mood this week, so speaking of Gypsies, here is a link to wonderful Balkan-gypsy music. Enjoy:

    […] They were called Gypsies […]

    […] September 26, 2013 by Philip Dawson of the PD-Inspire  blog […]

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