“In tsarist Russia, Gypsies were subjected to police measures and discriminatory laws. In the mid 18th century, Empress Elizabeth issued a decree forbidding Gypsies from entering the capital of St. Petersburg and its environs. In 1783, the Senate sought to prevent Gypsies from moving from one landowner to another. Subsequently, it decreed that wandering Gypsies would be placed under surveillance and returned to their original districts. [...]
“Understanding that the capitalist ruling classes foment racism and nationalism to divide and weaken the workers of different backgrounds and thus to maintain their hold on power, the Bolsheviks irreconcilably opposed anti-Semitism and all national, religious and ethnic oppression. The ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia,’ adopted shortly after the October Revolution, proclaimed ‘the right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination’ and ‘the abolition of any and all national and national-religious privileges and disabilities.’ The declaration committed the workers state to ‘the free development of national minorities and ethnographic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.’
“Animated by the Bolshevik program of combating national chauvinism and uniting the workers of the world against the capitalist-imperialist system, the early Soviet state made a heroic effort to bring progress, modernity and freedom to the Roma peoples. As historian David M. Crowe remarked in A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia (1994):
The 1920s saw something of a Gypsy renaissance take root in Eastern Europe and Russia as Roma intellectuals struggled to carve out a niche for the Gypsies in the new nations. Though their efforts to create organizations and publish works in Romany were admirable, they were crippled by inexperience and lack of financial support as well as centuries-old prejudice and indifference. The most remarkable, lasting gains for Roma came in the new Soviet Russian state.
“While the Roma in Soviet Russia would go on to progress in ways unimaginable in the capitalist world, their advances were also circumscribed and in part reversed under the Stalinist bureaucracy that seized political control in 1923-24. While the Bolsheviks under V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky had upheld the equality of all nations and languages as part of their program for world socialist revolution, Stalin’s regime would increasingly be marked by Great Russian chauvinism as it promoted the nationalist, anti-Marxist dogma of ‘building socialism in one country.’ Even in 1922, it was Stalin’s assault on the national rights of the Georgians that prompted Lenin to argue for his removal as General Secretary of the Communist Party.
“It is necessary to understand that despite the political counterrevolution, the Soviet Union remained a workers state. Although distorted by the rule of a privileged bureaucracy and subjected to the immense pressures of the hostile imperialist powers, the collectivized, planned economy resulted in enormous social advances for the Soviet peoples, particularly the more benighted, as in Central Asia. In his groundbreaking analysis of the Soviet Union under Stalin, Trotsky observed in The Revolution Betrayed (1936):
It is true that in the sphere of national policy, as in the sphere of economy, the Soviet bureaucracy still continues to carry out a certain part of the progressive work, although with immoderate overhead expenses. This is especially true of the backward nationalities of the Union, which must of necessity pass through a more or less prolonged period of borrowing, imitation and assimilation of what exists.”
(Workers Vanguard No. 1035 (reprinting a leaflet by the French section of the ICL))
“In the presidential election last year, we called for people not to vote for Hollande. Among other things, we pointed to his vowing to wage an ‘implacable’ struggle against undocumented immigrants and to put the Roma in ‘encampments of our own choosing’ to stop them from moving around ‘over and over’ (Le Monde, 15 February 2012). His chief cop minister, Valls, was only following through on these campaign promises when on October 9 he sent the cops onto a school bus looking for Leonarda Dibrani and had her deported for good to Kosovo. She speaks neither Albanian nor Serbian—but she does speak French! Leonarda courageously denounced Hollande’s proposal to let her back into France... without her family.
“The lesson Valls draws from this incident is that the processing of asylum requests must be accelerated, for the explicit purpose of being able to deport people before they have the time to settle in the ‘country of the rights of man.’ Reactionaries and fascists of all sorts have seized the opportunity to urge revision of jus soli [the right of the soil], which under certain conditions grants citizenship to those who were born on French soil.
“Around the same time, the cops deported Khatchik Kachatryan to Armenia. He is the first Parisian high school student deported since 2006—when Sarkozy was in charge of the ministry of police. We demand the immediate return of Leonarda and all her family, as well as Khatchik, and we demand they be granted full legal status: Full citizenship rights for everyone who made it here! Down with the racist witchhunt against the Roma! [...]
“The outrageous treatment of Leonarda epitomizes the violent government campaign against the Roma, who are made scapegoats more than ever in this period of deep economic crisis in order to forestall workers struggle. In France, there are at most a few tens of thousands of Roma from the Balkans, and they are essentially excluded from the proletariat. But for the workers movement to accept attacks against the Roma would make it vulnerable to efforts to divide the working class itself along ethnic, racial and sexual lines, while reinforcing the arsenal of police repression directed against workers.
“Manuel Valls, forever in search of a new racist provocation, declared that the Roma were incapable of ‘integrating’ into a civilized society like France. During World War II, the Nazis characterized them as ‘subhuman,’ but here in France the laws invoked to lock up the Roma in camps under the Vichy government were in fact enacted by the Third Republic [1870-1940] before the Nazi occupation. Some Roma remained interned until 1946 under capitalist governments that included Gaullists, Christian Democrats, Social Democrats of the Second International and Stalinists from the French Communist Party (PCF) [see ‘France: Down With Racist Anti-Roma Campaign!’ WV No. 965, 24 September 2010].
“The Roma have been persecuted for centuries, driven from one country to another. In a precapitalist economy, the Gypsies occupied a marginal economic niche as artisans, peddlers and artists. With the development of capitalism, they were pushed to the margins of society, enduring abuses that culminated in the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Gypsies by the Nazis. The truth is that decaying capitalism is incapable of “integrating” the Roma and all the more so in periods of crisis. The French state, including its PCF mayors, chases them from one shantytown to another and then uses the pretext that they are not official residents to refuse to enroll the children in school. When, in spite of these difficulties, children like Leonarda manage to attend school, the state deports them. It refuses the Roma the right to work and then accuses them of living by their wits! Down with restrictions on the right to work imposed by the European Union on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens!
“Only socialist revolution will make possible the full integration of Roma into society with equal rights, as shown by the example of the October 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia that overthrew capitalist rule. The October Revolution destroyed the tsarist empire—that prison house of peoples—and laid the basis for freeing the oppressed nations and ethnic minorities, including the Roma, from the jackboot of Great Russian chauvinism.
“Romania, including under the grotesque Stalinist regime of Ceausescu, and Tito’s Yugoslavia (where Leonarda’s family came from) were bureaucratically deformed workers states. The capitalist ruling class had been driven from power and the resulting collectivized, nationalized economy guaranteed the Roma an improved standard of living and an unprecedented ethnic and national integration. Their level of education began to approach that of the rest of the population and they had not only jobs but also housing and health care. The Roma were recognized as a national minority with the right to be educated in their own language. They were settled and relatively integrated into the proletariat and into the military and state apparatus. When Yugoslavia existed, there were radio and TV programs in the Romany language in Kosovo.”
“For centuries across Europe, children were raised on folk tales with a disturbing message: Wander into the woods and you risk being snatched by Gypsies.
“Such a warning seems like an anachronism from medieval times. But the stereotype of the child-stealing Gypsy was reawakened in recent days when a Roma couple in Greece were jailed on accusations that they had abducted a blond, green-eyed girl called Maria — or ‘the blond angel’ in the Greek news media. This week, two blond, blue-eyed Roma children were taken from their parents in Ireland after suspicions that they had been abducted, too.
“The children in Ireland were quickly returned to their families after DNA testing confirmed that the Roma were their parents. In Greece, the police confirmed on Friday that Maria was the child of a Roma couple from Bulgaria. An investigation continues into whether Maria was sold, adopted or given to the couple as they have claimed.
“Whatever the outcome, the Roma say that it is they who now live in fear — of having their children snatched for no reason other than their cultural identity or skin color. The cases, they say, have helped fan a sometimes violent backlash against the roughly 11 million Roma scattered across Europe. In an era of budget cutbacks and high unemployment, politicians on both the left and the right have singled out the Roma as emblematic of the problems of illegal immigration and have questioned whether they can ever be integrated.[...]
“[A]nti-Roma sentiment appears to be spreading. Serbian news media reported this week that a group of skinheads in Novi Sad, Serbia, tried to abduct a Roma child in front of his house last weekend because his skin was fairer than that of his father, Stefan Nikolic.
“In Italy, the anti-immigrant Northern League responded to news of Maria’s supposed abduction this week by demanding inspections of all Roma communities to check for missing children. Gianluca Buonanno, a member of the Northern League in the Italian lower house of Parliament, said he had submitted a petition to the Interior Ministry demanding identification of camp occupants. [...]
“Even before the cases, rights groups say, violence and intimidation against the Roma were intensifying. Earlier this month, a woman threw acid at a 2-year-old Roma boy and his mother in Naples, according to the European Roma Rights Center. In Hungary, at least seven Roma were killed between 2008 and 2010, and Roma leaders have counted dozens of firebomb attacks in the past.
“In Greece, where the far-right Golden Dawn movement has been fanning anti-immigrant fervor, the head of the Greek Union of Roma, Yiannis Halilopoulos, said the sensational coverage in the Greek news media and the racial profiling that followed the removal of Maria had ‘taken us back 100 years.’ [...]
“In the Czech Republic, ultraright parties and their neo-Nazi supporters this year have organized about 30 anti-Roma marches, where some have chanted, ‘Gypsies to the gas chambers,’ rights groups said.
“In France, where the Roma issue has flared amid a debate over immigration, the far-right National Front has made the Roma a central issue ahead of municipal elections in March. Its leaders have warned that if Romanians and Bulgarians were allowed to travel in the European Union’s passport-free Schengen Area, the country could see a flood of Roma immigrants.
“This month,President François Hollande intervened after a 15-year-old Roma girl, whose family was living illegally in France for five years, was pulled off a bus by the authorities and expelled to Kosovo. After loud protests, Mr. Hollande agreed to allow the girl to return, but only if she left her family behind. [...]
“Roma advocates counter that if there is crime among some Roma, it is the byproduct of severe economic deprivation and social exclusion that allowed a minority of unscrupulous ringleaders to exploit poor people desperately eking out an existence on society’s fringes.”
“She is, we have been told repeatedly, the girl Greece is calling ‘the blonde angel’. She is certainly blonde – and she is a young child who deserves concern as all children do, particularly those facing poverty or discrimination. Whether or not she is angelic is a matter of stereotype rather than personality. She is angelic in the eyes of the media only in stark contrast to the circumstances in which she was found: in a Roma camp in Greece, with dark-skinned parents who, DNA tests have revealed, cannot be her birth parents. The pair appeared in court on Monday charged with child abduction, but are said by their lawyer to be distraught at the forcible removal of a child they were raising as their daughter.
“Whatever the truth of Maria's origins, one element of this case is not in doubt. Even before charges were brought, it was widely reported as a case of abduction. The pursuit of Gerry and Kate McCann and the mother of Ben Needham for reaction will have cemented that impression in the eyes of many; they have been ‘given hope’, apparently. Maria’s case may even, it seems, have prompted the seizure by police in Dublin today of another child from a Roma community after members of the public raised concerns that the child may not be biologically related to the couple she was living with.
“Informal adoption is commonplace, particularly in societies where children are raised collectively by extended family units, and families of eight or 10 are not unusual. Across the world, children in economically difficult circumstances are left with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or sometimes given away because the birth parents cannot provide for them. This is hardly a practice unique to Roma society, and it is a long way from deliberate abduction for the purposes of ‘child trafficking’, an assumption that the non-Roma world has been happy to make with impunity.
“This media reporting has to be seen within the context of a blood libel that has dogged Roma communities for centuries. The claim that Jewish people killed Christian children to have human blood for matzos at Passover was used to justify antisemitism throughout the middle ages; in the same way, the age-old myth that Romanies are in the habit of kidnapping white children entered popular folklore around the same time, and has persisted to the present day. [...]
“The racist reporting of the Greek case is all the more bitter to those familiar with Roma history. Renowned expert Prof Thomas Acton says, ‘I know of no documented case of Roma/Gypsies/Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.’ Far from Romanies abducting white children, the truth has been the other way around. Hundreds of Yenish Roma boys and girls were forcibly taken by the authorities in Switzerland from 1926 to 1972. The children were placed in orphanages or homes for people with learning difficulties and their families denied all contact with them.”
“French Interior Minister Manuel Valls says he stands by remarks calling for the country’s Roma (Gypsies) to be expelled.
“He said few Roma could ever integrate into French society and ‘the majority’ should be sent ‘back to the borders’.
“But Mr Valls - a dapper 51-year-old who polls suggest is a rising star in Francois Hollande's Socialist administration - said he saw no reason to correct comments that Roma lifestyles were ‘clearly in confrontation’ with French ways of life. [...]
“‘The majority [of Roma] should be delivered back to the borders. We are not here to welcome these people.‘’ [...]
“Mr Valls has encouraged local councils to systematically dismantle illegal Roma slums, and offer the expelled residents free flights back to their countries of origin. [...]
“Mr Valls is himself the Barcelona-born son of Spanish immigrants, Mr Montebourg pointed out on Wednesday.”
“Roma students in the Czech Republic are still routinely put at a disadvantage because of their placement in either segregated schools or school for children with learning disabilities, despite criticism from rights groups and a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that called the situation discriminatory.
“A disproportionate number of Roma are placed in what are called ‘practical schools,’ meaning institutions that use a simplified curriculum for children who have mild mental disabilities or who need remedial training. In a parallel problem, others are segregated into Roma-only schools that keep them isolated from the mainstream education system.
“In 2010, about one-third of Roma students in the Czech Republic were in practical schools, according to the Czech Schools Inspectorate. In 2012, that number dropped to 26 percent, though Roma children were still overrepresented, given that the Roma make up less than 3 percent of the population.”
“I am Roma, but for many years I denied my origins for fear of being called a Gypsy. I grew up in Romania, where one meaning of tigan — tzigane, Zigeuner, cigány, cigan, ‘Gypsy’ in other European languages — is ‘a person who engages in harmful or illegal activities.’ The name comes from a medieval Greek word that means ‘untouchable,’ and derivatives — like ‘gypped’ or ‘gypsy cab’ — refer to stealing and cheating.
“My parents and grandparents were well aware of the negative stereotypes of the Gypsies as rootless thieves and beggars, and they took pains to protect me. As a little girl, my mother dressed me in pale colors and cut my hair short so I would not look like a Gypsy. My father warned me never to steal, and to always associate with smart people. I can understand why my grandfather, a blacksmith, was so proud of buying a ‘corner of the village’ and building houses for his children. My grandmother was a healer — not through magical powers but by volunteering to take people to the best doctors in the capital.
“Still, all these efforts couldn’t stop my classmates’ parents from reproaching my first-grade teacher for giving the highest award to me, a Gypsy. That confirmed my grandfather’s belief that there is no use acting ‘as if I were an official from the Ministry,’ as he would put it, since there was ‘no such thing as a Gypsy teacher, priest or lawyer.’ He too wanted to be like ‘the others,’ but he was also aware of the invisible limits that kept Gypsies separate. [...]
“About 700 years ago, when the Roma first entered Europe, the locals assumed the dark-skinned people were from Egypt — hence the English ‘Gypsies.’ In fact, they originally came from northern India, and ‘Roma’ is what they called themselves. [...]
“My family didn’t speak Romani or follow the nomadic lifestyle. However, my grandfather was a blacksmith, a common Romani occupation. My mother’s light skin allowed me to conceal my roots, but my father, whose darker skin would have drawn attention, avoided coming around my school.
“Today, most Roma are settled, like my family, but they have not yet found their place in the world. A majority of the Roma cannot find jobs, decent housing or decent medical care. Many Romani children do not attend school; according to a 2011 Unicef report, only about a fifth of Romani children in Europe attend primary school. And many of those who do are bullied and do not dream of becoming professionals or earning awards.
“Many Roma continue to roam. Some do so, because settling down would mean losing their source of livelihood; others because they have no place to go. As the poorest and most stigmatized people in Europe, they have no choice but to remain on the fringes. Whatever the advantages of permanent settlement, they are dwarfed by immediate needs.”
“A new report says that many Roma people ‘continue to face discrimination and social exclusion’ across the EU.
“The situation of Roma is on average worse than the situation of non-Roma living in close proximity, it says. [...]
“The report shows that in the member states surveyed, where the overwhelming majority of Roma EU citizens live, their situation in the areas of employment, education, housing and health is on average worse than the situation of non-Roma living close by.
“Roma continue to experience discrimination and are not sufficiently aware of their rights guaranteed by EU law, it says.
“It also found that only 15 per cent of young Roma adults surveyed have completed upper-secondary general or vocational education, compared with more than 70 per cent of the majority population living nearby.
“On average, less than 30 per cent of Roma surveyed are in paid employment, while around 45 per cent of the Roma surveyed live in households lacking either an indoor kitchen, toilet, shower or bath, or electricity.
“About 40 per cent of Roma surveyed live in households where somebody went to bed hungry at least once in the last month because they could not afford to buy food.”
“Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, from the EU Agency on Fundamental Rights (FRA), which co-authored the report, says that Roma in countries like France, Italy and Spain share a common characteristic with Roma communities in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia - in that they were worse off than the majority non-Roma.
“‘That is precisely what we find most shocking. We would have expected to find significant differences, but from the responses of the Roma people themselves and their neighbours, we see few differences.
“‘One would have expected to see that their situation is far better in countries that have better conditions of life for their general population.’”
“The cultural identity of the Roma people is understood only hazily by outsiders. The so-called gypsies are widely considered shiftless, unmoored and mysterious. But a single stereotype is incapable of characterizing the Roma people all across Europe; in fact, they are as diverse as the myriad countries they inhabit.
“The Roma originated in India, but it seems the bulk of their exodus took place centuries ago. In his 2002 book East European Gypsies, author Zoltan Barany, a professor of world politics at the University of Texas, wrote that ‘linguistic evidence suggests that Gypsies originated in the Punjab. They left perhaps as early as the sixth century and probably due to repeated incursions by Islamic warriors.’ Since then, the Roma have assimilated, to varying degrees, into several European countries.
“Contrary to popular belief, many Roma do not roam. Barany writes that the majority of the 'Gypsies' in Eastern Europe are settled. Except for the necessary shifts that went hand-in-hand with poverty and homelessness, large numbers of Roma established a homestead wherever they were able.
“Today there are at least 12 million Roma living in Europe, with the bulk residing in Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria and Romania, they account for at least 10 percent of the population.
“After centuries of sprawl, separate Roma groups have adapted to their home countries so that they no longer constitute a homogenous group. Some have dark features; others have light skin and blond hair. Some speak Romani, while others speak the lingua franca of their home country. Some are Catholic, some are Muslim, and some are Orthodox Christians.
“But the Roma are still collectively identifiable as outsiders, unified by their shared marginalization. For centuries, widespread discrimination was a constant barrier to their gainful integration into society.”
And see also previous anti-caste posts on the Roma
“Last week, the French government began the roundup of more than 700 Romany immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, and ordered special flights chartered to send them back to their home countries. The deportations will begin on Thursday. Over the past month, the French government began dismantling Romany camps; at present, more than 50 camps all over France have been destroyed by the state.
“At the same time, France has announced two other policies directed at Roma, Travellers and other immigrants: the criminalisation of entire families rather than just individuals and the stripping of citizenship from immigrants with criminal convictions.
“These measures are part of a wider law-and-order push by President Nicolas Sarkozy following a weekend of rioting in two cities in July. In a poor suburb of Grenoble, southeast France, young people torched cars and fired on police following an incident in which a suspect in a casino robbery was shot dead. In Saint-Aignan, in central France, police shot dead a 22-year-old Romany man for failing to stop at a roadblock. Roma armed with hatchets and iron bars felled trees and traffic lights, torched cars and attacked a bakery and a police station.
“This is the first time France has seen protests by Roma youth taking the form of violent disturbances; the current rioting was similar in substance, though smaller in scale, to the immigrant-led 2005 riots that broke out across France’s suburbs. Rather than sympathy for the families who lost their sons, or an apology for the police killings, the protests and riots were met with immediate state violence, expulsion and criminalisation.
“The Sarkozy government's attacks on Roma are nothing more than cynical politics, state-sponsored racism and xenophobia aimed primarily at Roma citizens and, by extension, all immigrants. They have arisen as window-dressing on the unfolding corruption scandal surrounding Sarkozy.
“This happened despite the fact that the young Romany killed was French and those expelled were citizens of EU member states, who have a right to enter France without passports, staying if they find employment within three months. One wonders how closely paperwork was checked with regard to residency and employment as the camps were being dismantled and EU citizens expelled on chartered flights.
“France is not alone in its attack against its own Romany citizens and those of other EU member states. Leaders all over Europe have found it expedient to attack Roma as recessions have hit, political scandals have loomed or other kinds of threats to state power have emerged. Indeed, Sarkozy seems to have been taking lessons from his conservative counterpart in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi whose government has increasingly focused on Roma as targets of state violence and everyday xenophobia. Similar things are happening in places ranging from Slovakia to Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.”
AOL News spoke to Yaron Matras, an expert on the Roma and a linguistics professor at the University of Manchester in England, where he coordinates the Romani Project.
Where are the Roma from?
From what we’ve been able to find out, the Roma probably came from central India and moved to northern India around the fifth century. The Romani language is one of the Indo-Aryan languages, like Hindi or ancient Sanskrit. We think the Roma people moved westward around the 10th century and into what is now Turkey. From the late 14th century on, they moved into Europe.
Why is everyone so vague about the origins of the Roma and why they left India?
First of all, there are absolutely no historical records. Nobody really knows. People have come up with all sorts of theories and wild speculation. There's no evidence of a catastrophic event causing them to leave. They were part of an economically specialized caste; some of them, for example, were metal workers and continued that trade for centuries.
Do you mean they were part of a lower caste in India?
Well, there’s a generation of [Roma] activists that don’t want to talk about that now, as if that’s an insult to their ancestors. There’s a fashion among activists to say the Roma were upper-caste, proud warriors who were taken as slaves and forced to come to Europe. There’s no evidence to support that. There’s no written attestation.
Many people think the word “Roma” means Romanian, especially as the French are expelling many Roma back to Romania.
“Rom” comes from the caste name “Dom” in the Indian languages. The country of Romania has nothing to do with the Roma or the word “Romani,” which is an adjective for them. It’s a complete coincidence. There is a large population of Roma who live in Romania, but they are all over the Balkans, in Bulgaria and Slovakia and Turkey as well.
Roma are said to have been persecuted for centuries; they also have a reputation for being petty criminals and con artists. Did one lead to the other?
The Roma have a long history of persecution, of living in poverty, being marginalized, and have a high rate of illiteracy. There’s been a lot of social prejudice and isolation. It’s a vicious cycle than can lead to self-despair and a boycotting of mainstream culture. But you’re seeing the Roma who are out there begging; you aren't seeing the ones working in offices and other good jobs. There are thousands of those too.
How does the persecution of the Roma compare to that of the Jews?
To an extent, they’ve been persecuted more than the Jews. Jews had more urban integration. The Roma never had a cohesive body. They’ve never had a territory or a tradition of literacy, which is what the Jews had. Often they were allowed to work in Europe only in certain trades and on the condition they not mix with the local population. The Roma in Romania and Bulgaria were the first to lose their jobs after the fall of communism.