Tell me about the Roma

I read recently the news story about the Italian sunbathers who acted indifferently to two girls who had drowned on the beach, were covered with sheets, and layed(lied) there until authorities came to pick them up.
It was said that the girls were “Roma” and are typically treated as second class citizens there.
I had never heard the term and immediately thought they were either 1) From Rome (or Roma), or 2) from Romania.
I was wrong on both accounts.
Apparently they are a people who seem to have origins from India but have groups around the world. In the US they are known as gypsies.
The only time we seem to hear about them here is through organized shoplifters and scammers/short change artists.
Seems they are seen as a larger problem throughout Europe.

How do Europeans view them, are they as big of a problem as it seems, what are other countries doing to fix the problem, etc?

In French they are called Romanichels*, or Tziganes, or Gitans-- all close in meaning to Gypsies.

*Italian being a Latin language, I thought this might be relevant.

Nitpick: “Gypsies,” which has become a disfavoured term, is actually a broader term than “Roma.” “Roma” refers to the ethnic group one sterotypically thinks of as Gypsy – with the headscarves, earrings, violins, and curses – but “Gypsy” can also mean groups like the Irish Travelers.

They’re an ethnic group that, like you said, fled Muslim armies from India into Europe somewhere around 1000 AD. They’ve been pretty consistantly discriminted against in Europe ever since…in places like Rumania, for instance, they were enslaved until the 19th century. The Nazis tried to exterminate them. Even now they suffer pretty brutal discrimination and prejudice, especially in Eastern Europe. What specifically do you want to know?

Gee…you think somebody would have done a Staff Report on this.

It’s not, really. Nor is it ‘close to Gypsy in meaning’ - it just means Gypsy, which, incidentally is derived from Egyptian, which is where people back in the day thought Roma were from. Roma (plural, singular is Rom) is what the Roma call themselves. Most of them live in Central and Eastern Europe nowadays, but with those countries having joined the EU, they’re free to wander out to the more affluent parts of Europe. Which, by the way, they haven’t done in great numbers - they’re too poor to get under way. Because that is the predominant circumstance under which the Roma live: dire, dire poverty. The main cause for this is the fact that the Roma way of life hardly agrees with that of western society. At the risk of being overly general, I’ll still argue that it’s safe to say the following things:

  • there’s a habit among the Roma to ‘marry’ at a very young age - something like 13.
  • education is not valued highly in Roma society - many, many young Roma drop out of school at about the age they get married.
  • children are encouraged to engage in shoplifting, pickpocketing and busking.
  • the Roma don’t place a high value on cosy living and indoor decoration.

Now remember that many of these people live in countries formerly part of the communist block. Say what you will about soviet-style communism, but the education system was excellent and when people needed a place to live they got a place to live. Other than that, the communist system was pretty good at making people toe the line. Yet in spite of this, the Roma succeeded to elude the grasp of the state. For instance, in some cases, they were offered housing and managed to have removed and sold all that was sellable from it, and be living in tents in front of the housing complex in a matter of months.

This resulted in two things, neither of which did much to help the situation of the Roma. For one thing, the non-Roma part of the population started resenting the Roma for being offered better conditions then they themselves were in - and then throwing them to the wind. The second result is that the state reached for more and more draconian measures to deal with the problem. Thus, in the Czech Republic, Roma kids were sent to schools for kids with mental and psychological handicaps (I forget the pc term). Also, some cases are known in which Roma women, coming in for their third abortion or their fifth kid at the ripe young age of twenty-something, or for something else even, were sterilized without them knowing in addition to the treatment they came in for.

Of course, with the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, such things are no longer possible, although there still is a sizable level of systemic as well as popular discrimination against the Roma. However, the Roma’s are hardly better of after the fall of communism, because the advent of democracy and capitalism has seen the decline of the comprehensive communist welfare state, the one thing still in place to support the Roma. Bottom line is: the Roma, by and large, with notable exceptions, etc. etc., are intent on leading a life that is at odds with the dominant Western culture, and they suffer for it.

I was in London once, and a Roma lady tried to pickpocket a man. He caught her doing it so she gets down on her knees and starts begging him to take her baby as compensation.

Was weird as hell. I’m glad that the Roma/Gypsy stigma doesn’t exist* in the US, as that seems to be most of what makes them end up that way to begin with. Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that: They are known to be beggars and thieves and so they become beggars and thieves.

  • Yes, yes, I’m sure that there are people in the US who have a problem with them, but in general…

This is from Ian Hancock’s paper “The Schooling of Romani Americans; an Overview”, talking about problems that traditional Vlax Romani have with the American educational system (bracketing mine):

I remember back in about 1980, they were hitting some of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis) area retailers pretty hard. I was working at one of the larger department store chains but was not at work the day they hit.

The women created a distraction in front of the store and got most of the employees to respond. They pulled their dresses up over their heads and began urinating on the female employees who by this time, were wrestling with them. Tearing clothing off the racks, screaming their heads off.

Meanwhile, the male Gypsies ran to the back of the store and attempted to invade the office. Unfortunately for them, we had already gotten a memo about this tactic and all male management, and larger male employees, had already converged on the office.

And I missed it. Dang. :smiley:

Haven’t really heard of anything of the sort happening in the intervening 28 years.

I’m not sure what the situation is in Italy, but I would assume it’s not very different from France. So, about the situation in France :
There are several sub-groups of Roma (I’m writing Roma here because I know it’s the PC word in the USA, but actually, contrarily to what a previous poster say, they don’t necessarily want to be called “Roma”). For instance, in France, most are Sintis or Manouches, or in the south, Gitanos. They have been here for centuries, and have always been viewed with at the very least suspicion and contempt. Nowadays, many have settled, but not all of them (finding reliable figures is pretty difficult). They are still viewed with suspicion, and there are frequently issues when they decide to camp somewhere. They’re rarely welcomed with open arms. Part of those (people working in entertainment, like musicians, owners of rides , circus artists, etc…) have more or less found a place in society, but it’s not the majority.
Now, since the fall of the Iron Curtain (and even before that in the case of Yugoslavian) a significant number of Roma from central Europe entered in western Europe. I assume that everybody knows that being an illegal immigrant is no fun to begin with. But here, there’s a lot of aggravating factors. Most illegal aliens are young adults intending to more or less fit in and send money back home to their family. In the case of Romas, they generally came with the whole family. They often aren’t interested in fitting in, but rather want to keep their independent way of life. Most illegal aliens also have a network. They rely on people from the same country, relatives,etc… already living in the country to help them find a house, a job, and so on. There’s no such network for Roma. Non-Roma Romanians, (for instance) couldn’t care less about them, at the contrary. French Roma (like the Sintis I mentioned above), as far as I understand, aren’t very fond of these newcomers, either.
So, what generally happened? They ended up in slums, the kind of you normally only see in third-world countries, at the outskirts of towns. And they lived out, for a significant part, of begging and petty crime. This was exacerbated by the fact that actually there was some sort of “network”. But this network was gangs, some with very unsavoury practice like “importing” children in order to use them as beggars or thieves. This is depicted, by the way, in Kusturica’s movie “Time of the Gypsies”, that, while I’m at it, I highly recommend (not as a reference, because it’s not at all realistic, but it’s an excellent movie nevertheless). Eventually, the local authorities would round up everybody, manage to sent them back home with the reluctant agreement of the country they came from (when said country wasn’t at war, like the former Yugoslavia), until a new group would show up.
That’s this latter group that you’re seeing in western cities (Not always, though. For instance I understand that currently, this kind of children exploitation is, in Paris, in the hands of Romanian, but not Roma, gangs). It’s also these Roma that people have a big problem with. The “local Roma” are, most of the time, essentially invisible (though once again, those aren’t well perceived, either when they do show up). And it’s becoming a big issue in Italy because this country is sort of on the front line, and because borders were opened when central European countries joined the EU, so, it’s not as easy to just round them up and send them back home. And whatever “home” has to offer to them anyway isn’t any better than what they find in Italy, France, etc… They’re outcast everywhere.

I’m not sure what is the future of these people. They’re foreigners, extremely poor, not only are segregated but also self-segregating, the level of education is low or even abysmal, at the risk of being seen as a racist, crime is quite rampant amongst them, and finally there’s no much place for people who won’t settle in a modern society, and the little room that could exist is already taken by the local Romas. I assume that they will eventually assimilate and become for the most part regular Italian, French, etc…, citizens, but this could take a couple generations, and I’m not sure what they’re going to do meanwhile.

In Spain, and remember this comes from a paya (non-Roma) who has spent a lot of time out of the country:

Roma are linked to specific music (many flamenco and rumba artists are Roma), there is a specific church whose followers are mostly roma (Iglesia Evangélica), they are a lot more integrated now than, say, 40 years ago. Part of this integration was brought by music; Isabel Pantoja, a foremost flamenco singer who is Roma, doesn’t look it; Lola Flores, called La Faraona (yes, it’s the female for Pharaoh) and in many people’s minds the greatest female flamenco singer, looked Roma but wasn’t (her husband was Roma); Azúcar Moreno are two sisters, Roma, in their 40s and unmarried (and as traditional as they come in other aspects of their life). Many “half-breed” children (Roma or not) were brought up multicultural starting in the late 60s; I met one of those who used to be heavily involved in La Romaní (that’s what Spanish Roma call themselves, Romaní), the local Gypsies Association. This was in the early 80s; she told us about convincing City Hall to charge a nominal fee for Adult Education because that way the students would value it, whereas if it was for free they wouldn’t value it and would drop out as soon as the schooling got hard; the trick worked.

I’ve never specifically asked my Roma friends and coworkers whether they’ve seen any discrimination. It would be quite invasive to meet with a friend I met at a “Self Employment Course” and start asking for her political views without it coming up for some specific reason, just because “gee, you’re so exotic!” :stuck_out_tongue: She and her husband both used to be traveling merchants (they had a weekly circuit of street markets) and she’d thought it might be a good idea to get a store in town and simply sell at street market prices there, as this way she’d be less tired at the end of the day and their daughter would be able to go to the store after school and do her homework there, rather than have to go to one of her grandma’s (both of which are all for education but don’t quite understand that it involves homework). This was about 10 years ago, the daughter is in college now and the store is doing fine, thank you.

There’s many Spanish gypsies who still live in slums; many of the slum gypsies are involved in the drug trade, many aren’t; among those who don’t there is a sort of ongoing debate as to what is it that makes you a gypsy. In the end, I’m guessing it will be like the question of what makes you Hispanic (answer: self-identification). There is also strong rejection of the Roma who come from Romania, partly because they’re seen as “what many of us don’t want to be any more”; nowadays if you see a beggar woman with twenty-five layers of black cloth and a baby in her arms, you can bet money she’ll be an immigrant and not a local.

About four years ago, I saw an interview on the newspaper with a gypsy who was among the graduating students in law school; one of the things he said was that he expected to see a time when a gypsy graduating college isn’t news, same as it isn’t news any more to see one graduating high school or vocational school. Same as with payos, girls are more interested in formal education than boys.

The reason Spanish law considers 13 as the legal age of consent is gypsy marriages. They often don’t go through the usual paperwork, getting married through their traditional rites and/or in the Evangelic Church (which as of two years ago still hadn’t gone through the paperwork needed to have their marriages legally recognized). By making age of consent 13, this means that it’s legal for two teens to be married - so long as both of them really do want to be.

You really really really should read this article Europe’s Roma: Bottom of the heap to get an idea of the scale and complexity of the challenge.

I can’t resist linking to the most famous scene of the movie (and my preferred). Too bad the image (and more importantly the sound) isn’t that good.

There was a poster here by the name of Kal, wise and learned and worked hard to educate us all about the Romani people. He appears to have left around 2003.

A search under his name will turn up a handful of the threads he started about issues facing the Rom of today (especially in Eastern Europe).

I wish he (and so many others) were still posting!

Oddly enough, the Staff Report didn’t cover this, but…

If they started out as Hindus fleeing the Muslim invasions, and they don’t mix with outsiders, how and when did they convert to Christianity?