People fear the unknown. Psychologically and in evolution this phenomenon helped us to survive, but it also promotes discrimination and mistrust. Something Romani people experienced all throughout history, something they experience to this day.
According to linguistic investigations, the Romani roots can be found in Northern India. A common misconception is that they loved to travel, never wanting to settle down – unfortunately that’s not the reality. A string of being chased or not welcomed led them to their final settlement. Europe, the save haven, where they were never really accepted – even after more than 600 years of living here. Generally speaking the Roma split into three ethnic groups upon their arrival in Europe: Sinti, mostly found in Central Europe, Calé (or Gitanos) in Spain and Roma in Eastern Europe.
Almost as soon as they arrived on the continent, stereotypes and prejudices started spreading. They were considered thieves and untrustworthy. Their profession as merchants and musicians looked down on. Harmful statements that promoted further discrimination and hatred.
Upon arrival in Europe
These strong feelings led to centuries of further horrific persecution. In 1498 they were declared outlaws in today’s Germany, making it legal to be killed by the population without consequences. At the same time in Eastern Europe Romani people suffered from enslavement, which was only lifted in the 19th century.
During the Second World War they were pursued even more severely. The Porajmos, Romani Holocaust, was responsible for the loss of countless Romani people. To this day this persecution is called the “forgotten” holocaust since it wasn’t mentioned in the Nuremberg Trials in 1945/46.
Even in recent history, the discrimination is evident and shocking. For example the “ethnic cleansing” during the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995, where 30,000 Romani people were expelled or the Kosovo War, three years later that forced even more Roma out of the country.
Protecting the culture
Finally, nearly 30 years after the Second World War ended, during the first International Romani Congress, they achieved some recognition. A flag was decided on, an anthem (“Gelem, Gelem”) chosen and most attendees agreed on “Roma” as the correct name for themselves. To this day the 8th of April is the International Romani day, commemorating this first Congress in 1971.
Today, the biggest population can be found in Central and Eastern Europe. Often times they are still living in inhumane conditions and are being discriminated – as recent cases of severe Police Brutality against Roma prove. Whilst they reached the status of an official ethnic minority in some European countries, unfortunately those associated rights (protection of language, against discrimination,…) are not put into practice.
Shouldn’t it be our responsibility to help them integrate, if they wish to? Because as usual it’s not their unwillingness that’s preventing the integration, but the resistance of the privileged. Resistance that can only be rooted in racism and rarely questioned, deeply ingrained stereotypes.