|traditional romani wagon|
the term "gypsy" itself is a misnomer, given by people who believed these darker-skinned neighbours originated in egypt. in fact, linguistic and dna analysis has determined that they came from northern india, beginning their migration between 500 and 100a.d. and arriving in europe [specifically the balkans] as early as the twelfth century. the romani language [also the proper name for the people who speak it, although you'll hear rom, roma and local variants of the term used as well], which is spoken today by between five and six million people is related most closely to hindi, punjabi and bengali. generally, it is those located in eastern europe who have retained the language; the further north you go, the more romani have combined their original language with that of the country in which they've settled. [side note: most romani speak the language of their home countries as well as that of their ethnic group, however many further north don't know a pure form of the ethnic language at all. there are significant romani communities all over europe, however, as far north as finland and all the way west to portugal.]
|flag of the romani people, adopted 1933|
the history of romani persecution is absolutely horrific in both its practices and the length of time it has endured. notice that i'm using the present tense there? that's because there are still outbursts of xenophobia against the romani in modern europe. while you hear mention of the romani being targeted by the nazis for extermination, discussion of their modern persecution usually ends there. and even the extent of their persecution during the holocaust hasn't been sorted out: while original estimates put the number of romani killed during the holocaust at between 100,000 and 500,000, it has more recently been postulated that the number might be closer to 2,000,000. [note: one of the stories concocted by the catholic church to ensure that their flock stayed well and truly pissed at the romani was that they had been responsible for forging the nails that were used to crucify christ. this is patently ridiculous, because the romani weren't anywhere near the holy lands at that time, but why should the facts get in the way of some good old fashioned religious hatred? it seems that labeling insular, marginal communities within europe as complicit in the murder of christ was a successful strategy for bigots.]
|map of present-day romani populations within europe|
to this day, many romani face discrimination across europe and live in dire poverty. often, they have been left worse off than they were under communist rule, since they have lost the jobs that the government provided and no longer have access to free education. although at least no one is subjecting them to forced surgery anymore. as their status in europe has become more precarious, the romani have responded in much the same way that they always have, by moving to an area where their prospects seem better. when canada lifted its requirement that potential czech immigrants and refugees acquire a visa, in 1996, they received a shocking ten-fold increase in refugee claims, almost all of them from romani desperate to escape. canada blinked slowly and reacted by slamming the visa requirement back on in 1997. [side note: this was not the first case of romani fleeing europe for the west. there are significant communities in several areas of the united states.]
|modern romani in lviv, ukraine|
the situation of europe's romani should be a continental embarrassment and yet we seem to hear little of it. and when you do read press on the issue, much of it reinforces the dominant narrative that the romani are criminal by nature. aside from the characterization as an empire of thieves, much lurid press has been given to the romanian tradition of child marriage, without clarifying how widespread the custom actually is among modern romani groups. in societies that like to consider themselves progressive, hatred and distrust of the romani remain acceptable, even the norm. the group has truly been gypped.