„Zigeuner“, so nennt man sie für gewöhnlich – und auch wenn man weiß, dass das Wort heute verpönt ist, so sind damit doch viele Bilder verknüpft: Wohnwagenkolonien, Musik und verführerische Frauen, die ums Feuer tanzen und ihre schwarzen langen Locken hin und her werfen. Na, habt ihr auch schon Carmen oder Esmeralda im Kopf?
Das ist eines der populären Bilder von Romani*) – ein anderes kennen wir gerade als Reisende aus eigener Anschauung: armselige, zerlumpte Bettler, die entweder den ganzen Tag flehentlich kniend um Geld bitten oder durchaus schon einmal aggressiv werden können, wenn man es ihnen nicht gibt. Und obendrein muss man sich natürlich vor Taschendieben unter ihnen in Acht nehmen.
Aber wer sind sie denn nun wirklich, diese Romani*)? Sie gehören zu der Volksgruppe, der gegenüber ich sehr lange selbst sehr starke Vorbehalte hatte, denn wann immer sie für mich als Romani*) erkennbar waren, fielen sie mir negativ auf. Es gab einfach keinen einzigen Fall, in dem Roma oder Sinti positiv als solche aufgefallen und erkennbar gewesen wären. Warum war das so?
Ich wollte diese Vorurteile angehen und kam so mit Martina in Kontakt, einer in Slowenien lebenden Italienerin, deren Forschungsschwerpunkt die vielfältigen Diskriminierungen sind, mit denen Roma täglich konfrontiert werden und die sich schon seit Jahren für die soziale Integration dieser Minderheit einsetzt.
Ich bat sie, einen Artikel über die Romani*) für unser Blogprojekt „Blogger gegen Rassismus“ zu schreiben – was sie mit Freuden getan hat. Ein weiterer Beitrag zu Roma Museen, Restaurants und B&Bs soll folgen.
*) Martina verwendet das Wort Romani für die Ethnie, während das Wort im Deutschen eher für die Sprache gebräuchlich ist. Ich habe hier das von Martina verwendete Wort gebraucht, da es im Deutschen lediglich Bezeichnungen wie „Sinti und Roma“ etc. gibt (die andere Gruppen wohl wiederum außen vor lassen), während Sammelbezeichnungen wie „Zigeuner“ oder „Fahrendes Volk“ als abwertend oder pauschalisierend empfunden werden – und leider existiert auch kein deutsches Adjektiv. Falls ihr die korrekte deutsche Entsprechung zu Romani kennt, lasst es mich bitte wissen.
Who are the Romani people and where do they come from?
The Romani people are the most discriminated and marginalized people of Europe. During time, they were persecuted, arrested, deported and killed and, even nowadays, their story is far from having a happy ending. Prejudices and exclusion are a common reality for many Romani women and men.
But who are the Romani people? They are a population that originated in North-Western India and travelled all its way to Europe. The time of the Romani diaspora is believed to be around the 11th Century, when the Muslims conquered India. From that time, the Romani people, in origin probably called Dom, travelled to new lands. Some groups get settled in the Middle-East and took the name of Dom, in the Arab Countries, and Lom, in Armenia. They are still living in these countries and working as musicians, street performers and blacksmiths. They do not live a nomadic lifestyle, but are usually marginalized in particular villages or settlements. They are often addressed as Nawar by the majority population. Nawar means “lights” in Arabic, but it takes a negative connotation when addressed to the Dom.
Other Romani communities arrived in Europe around the 13th and the 14th centuries. The extended families used to travel inside a specific Country of region, performing traditional crafts. Among them, we would have found blacksmiths, horse dealers, basket weavers, carpenters, copper smiths and many more. Especially in Eastern Europe, many Romani communities took their name from the traditional handicraft performed by their extended family.
Through centuries of life in Europe, the Romani culture was re-shaped. While some aspects of the ancient Indian culture remained, more or less strong, in some Romani groups, many communities adopted the uses of the local population, fused them with their own costumes and created a unique pattern of different Romani cultures and traditions. Still nowadays, many Romani communities follow a pattern of solidarity among the family members, respect for the elderly and education called Romanipen. This is a pattern of values that can go from simple solidarity to peculiar way to dress and behave, according to the Romani group that is using it.
The Romani culture is so far to be unique and homogeneous, that we can actually speak of Romani cultures, in a plural form.
However, since their arrival in Europe, their bizarre appearance, with their dark skin, colourful clothes and different lifestyle, made the Romani people to be an easy target for prejudices and legends. Especially Roma women were often accused to be witches and to be able to perform witchcrafts. This was the starting point of centuries of persecutions that are still nowadays leaving their traces. The darker chapter of this persecution was the Porrajmos (or Samudaripen), the Romani Holocaust performed by the Nazi and their allies. In many European countries, the Romani people were persecuted, killed, sterilized and became the object of scientific experiments. It is estimated that from 500.000 to a million and a half of Roma died during the Porrajmos, at that time the 2/3 of the Romani population.
Unfortunately, the effects of centuries of discrimination cannot be cancelled in a few years. Still nowadays, many people believe that the Romani people are connected to witchcrafts, are thieves, lazy and beggars. Other would have positive stereotypes connected to freedom, wandering and music. Personally, these “positive stereotypes” make me cringe a little less than the negative ones, yet they make me cringe.
I’ve met many Romani people, during my work and activism with them, for their rights and social inclusion. I’ve met Roma, Sinti, Manouches, Kalé and Romanichaels and every individual had her/his own characteristics. Some were poor, some were wealthy, some were excluded and unemployed, other had an academicals education and were successful. Some do not even liked music nor traveling!
When I talk with the majority population, I notice that they never or rarely encountered a Roma person, if they did it’s often because they were either not able to recognize the individual as a Roma or because she/he responded to the common image of the “gypsy”.
With the first statement, I want to describe the situation when the individual does not present any of the stereotypical “gypsy” characteristic. Maybe you have met a kind, professional, well-dressed person with a university diploma who was Roma but did not introduced herself as so. On the other hand, you have maybe encountered a poor, bad dressed beggar, maybe a mother with a few children, that perfectly fit in the common image given to the Roma. In that case, you would be able to recognize the person ethnicity. This could lead you in thinking that, as you recognized only the poor beggar Roma as such, then all the Roma would be actually poor and beggar.
While it is normal for our brain to try to categorize anyone and anything external to our social sphere in the simplest way as possible (through stereotypes), it is our due as individuals to go above these categories and to know the person as she/he really is.
This is even more important for travellers and for ones who are willing to discover new cultures. Let me give you an example, I’m an Italian woman, and the stereotype would see me as deeply Catholic, submitted and unable to speak any foreign language, oh and probably even as a member of a mafia clan (not one of the given examples is the case). Now, I doubt that you wold apply these stereotypes to me, as they would be seen as unacceptable.
Yet, the stereotypes towards the Romani people are still widespread and rarely criticized. Personally, I think that we need to question ourselves on that.
I’m an Italian woman living in Slovenia and a PhD student on Ethnic and migration studies at the University of Ljubljana. I’m researching on multiple discrimination towards the Roma people and its effect on youth’s identity. I’ve been working in the field of Romani people social inclusion, identity and anti-discrimination policies and actions for five years so far.
„Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves“ was a No 1 hitsingle by Cher in 1971 – despite the wrong spelling („Gypsies“ would be the right one) – I kept it in the title the way Cher wrote it on her single cover.