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The Roma vs. the World

In: Historical Events

Submitted By sandy17
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The Roma Versus The World: The Story of the Most Resilient People in the World
When you travel to Europe, say Paris for instance, and decide to visit someplace like the Eiffel
Tower, chances are you’ll be warned of a group of strange people who may “accidently” bump into you while sneakily taking your wallet, or who may be sitting on the curb with a suspiciously peaceful sleeping dog begging for money.
(maybe use a black and white video [like in a silent movie] to depict this) These people may be darker than your average European, and may be dressed in “exotic” clothes. They may be fortune tellers, dancers, musicians, nomads. They are friendly to all they meet. They have a long history and a rich culture. They are the Roma, or gypsies.
(show videos or pictures of stereotypical Roma) These people have undoubtedly been subjected to the longest running case of systematic oppression in Europe. From their origins on the Silk Road, to the Holocaust, up until today, the
Roma have been treated as an other, as an undesirable race of thieves and vagrants, despite being a peaceful people.
(not sure if this will depict images of modern Roma or historical...nothing shocking, I think, but this might change)
Why is this? In order to understand, we must take a step back in time to northern India, circa
1000 CE.
(map feature to India)

India had become a religious battleground, as Islamic Arabs from the West clashed with the local
Hindus. These warriors were a nearly unstoppable force, effectively crushing Hindu resistance and claiming land that is now Pakistan and Punjab, northern India for Allah. They destroyed
Hindu tradition and forced assimilation into Islam.
(show old paintings/sculptures of this) Those who resisted were forced west, wandering from country to country, from culture to culture. They travelled along the silk road and peddled their own wares, played music, and danced. They lived out of covered caravans and off of nature. They mastered horses and the mystical art of storytelling. They intermingled with the local people, growing larger in size, and influence. They would absorb part of whichever culture they might be passing through, which can be best seen through their language. These people were known as the Dom, and later the
Rom.
(insert traditional Romani music in here and pictures) Their exodus had taken them through Persia, across Turkey, into Europe, and as far west as
Britain and as far north as Russia. A small number traversed the northern coastline of Africa to
Egypt, where they may have joined the Moors in the invasion of Spain.
(insert map, maybe with moving arrows). Medieval Europeans were more curious than anything about these strange people with dark skin and black hair, who sold foreign goods and sang strange songs from a far off land. They were entranced by mystique of their stories and legends, ones that were so different than their own,

and believed these wanderers possessed magical powers, such as divination and the ability to travel through astral projection. The Roma learned to play into the Europeans’ enchantment and told the people they were on a long pilgrimage or some kind of royalty, earning the reverence of peasants and the protection of Christian kings. However, such privilege was short­lived as xenophobia and racism took hold. The first ever record of Gypsies is by a monk in Ireland in the 12th century, who claimed that these vagabonds were Egyptian, and described them as “descendents of Cain”. As it turns out,
Gypsy is a variation of the Middle English word for “Egyptian”, “Egypcien”ee juh see uhn, or
“gycien” juh see un for short. Curiosity soon became contempt as this sentiment spread, as
Egyptians were Moors and Moors were Muslim and Muslims hated Christians, and so the
Christians hated Muslims, so it was only natural that they hate the gypsies. However, as we’ve covered, this is not true. The Roma are migrants from India. It was only until this past decade that the Roma’s true Indian origin was confirmed by scientists in a series of genetic tests, linking most, if not all Roma groups to the Punjab region. Additionally, linguistic anthropologists came to the same conclusion after studying the varying Romani languages as links were found with Sanskrit.
(show depictions of written languages)

Back to this growing trend of oppression, the Roma were beginning to be seen in a negative light by peasants. They set up camp just outside of towns, where the men would sell horses and silver, while the women sold fortunes in thick accents. They enjoyed the short­lived attention and curiosity, and then would be on their way to the next town. Outcasts seemingly by choice, peasants were wary of them, and probably for a just reason, as the gypsies were slowly gaining the reputation of thieves, pickpockets, and magicians. In addition, the Catholic Church decreed them as blasphemous heretics. Gypsies who wanted to become Christians upon entering Europe were rejected by the Church. The Archbishop
Petri of Sweden decreed in 1560: "The priest shall not concern himself with the Gypsies. He shall neither bury their corpses nor christen their children." Priests in Magdeburg were ordered not to baptize Gypsy children without obtaining higher authorization. (Kenrick 1972:22).
Gypsies were rejected by the Church for two major reasons. The first, which may have been accurate, was that the main motive for their conversion was an expedient to greater acceptance by the European peoples. The second, was that from their first arrival, the Gypsies began to have a strong influence over certain classes of people. These people associated a certain magic with the Gypsies and were attracted by their fortune­telling and palmistry. While the Church looked at the Gypsies as an unorthodox people, they in truth felt threatened by the palmists who were now competing with the priests for the superstitious minds of the peasant (as well as the upper class) population during this period of the Middle Ages. In France during the 16th century those who had had their palms read by Gypsies were excommunicated or forced to do penance.

Thanks to these superstitions and beliefs, Europeans developed the sentiment of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, and began using the Roma as a scapegoat in times of economic trouble, and were seen as undeserving of any benefits of the state or profits they made. Spain became the first country to issue an edict against the Gypsies in 1490, prohibiting their dress, language and customs in an effort to forcibly assimilate them. The Roma did comply to some extent, but still kept their culture and traditions and practiced them at a lower degree.
France and England enacted expulsion orders in the 1530s, and many countries in central Europe forced the Gypsies into slavery, leaving them no choice but to continue their nomadic existence, constant outsiders, and constantly hated.
(fade in and out pictures of rulers and countries) Despite the stereotype that the Roma were in fact an other, an intruder in the rhythmic European way of life, the Roma were actually quite involved in society. While they did not have a permanent home, they would return seasonally to the same town, pick up any work that had to be done, and participated in town social events. Additionally, the Roma would adopt the religion and certain aspects of the region. They were a peaceful people who followed their customs, and were hardly as malicious towards their hosts as their hosts were towards them. Still, the majority of Europeans saw Roma as outsiders, separate from the innovations of Europe, and governments continued to put an end to their ways.

However, there were rare occasions where gypsies were celebrated instead of despised. For example, in 19th century Britain, a movement appeared where scholars would study Roma societies and their culture. These “gypsyologists” argued that gypsies were in fact a pure, unadulterated people, untouched by the advances of European society, thanks to their aversion to inter­cultural marriage. One gypsyologyist, Arthur Symons, argued against the assimilation by saying, “Why ... are we setting ourselves the impossible task of spoiling the Gypsies? ... they stand for the will of freedom, for friendship with nature, for the open air, for change and the sight of many lands; for all of us that are in protest against progress ... The Gypsies represent nature before civilisation ... the last romance left in the world.”
Gypsyologists also developed a racial hierarchy that placed pure gypsies at the top, half gypsies in the middle, and regular Europeans, or “mumpers”, at the bottom. Just as the philosophes of
France romanticized the Indians of the Caribbean, painting a primitive society as an unattainable utopia, gysyologists failed to recognize that many Roma lived in poverty in the ghettos of society, and while they were different, they were no better nor worse than English peasants. They were human too. However, this idealized thought was much better than what was to come. This of course directly contrasts the German Nazi movement of the 20th century. Intoxicated by the idea of the Aryan, or master race, the Nazis set out to exterminate anyone who did not fit the bill of good health, blond hair, and blue eyes, and preferably German. The gypsies, second only to the Jews, were championed as the anti­Aryan, and were dealt with accordingly.
They were accused of many crimes that the Jews were also blamed for, including such things as child

abduction and cannibalism. During the war, besides being occasionally rounded up, they were also often simply killed on sight. When World War II was over, an estimated 500,000 to
1,500,000 Gypsies had perished at the hands of the Nazis. Sadly, the oppression didn’t end there. Even after facing the horror of the Nazi death camps, the
Gypsies continued to be marginalized in post­war Europe, and still have to deal with discrimination, exclusion and isolation to this day. European Gypsies are often forced to live in ramshackle settlements, and are denied adequate medical care and employment opportunities due to their ethnicity. Partially because of this, the average Gypsy lifespan is 10­15 years shorter than the overall European average. Robert Kushen of the European Roma Rights Centre in Hungary explains how serious the discrimination against Gypsies in Europe really is: “They suffer from forced evictions – and have been targeted recently in both France and Italy, and it seems that in some places, like Romania and Bulgaria, the laws applying to free movement within the European Union don’t quite apply to them in the same way that they apply to other people.” Such rights include the right to travel, because most gypsies technically are not citizens of a country.
It was not until the 1960s and the formation of the Gypsy Council that Gypsy Travellers as a community found a collective voice, one which tried to assert that all had a right to travel and that nomadism did have a place in modern Britain. While it scored some early successes, notably in the 1968 Caravan Sites Act, its influence both within and outside the travelling community has declined over recent years and has failed to dislodge the enduring stereotypes surrounding

Gypsies. Just recently, Romania has lobbied for the Roma to change their name because they don’t want to be associated with them.
The Roma have modernised alongside the rest of society and are not a ‘secret people’ living in the manner of their great grandparents. Crucially this change in their lifestyle has removed what settled society understands as the markers of ‘true’ Gypsies: bow­topped caravans, horses and so on. These images of Gypsies have become the rod with which their back is consistently beaten: failing to conform to romantic expectations, the stereotypes most often deployed in the popular press and by politicians are the negative ones relating to anti­social behaviour and an inability to adapt to the standards of ‘normal’ society.
According to Roma filmmaker Tony Gatlif, “The Roma people aren’t looking for a country.
They just want the right to live for a time in the areas they are passing through. The time to allow a woman to give birth to a child, to let horses or cattle rest, to wait out a winter. Everybody in this world has their place. The Gypsies want theirs, too.” While the Roma people today are not the average citizen, they in no way deserve to be oppressed in the same ways their ancestors were one thousand years ago. They are a resilient people who have managed to stay true to their culture and traditions despite the extreme pressures to assimilate.…...

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