Yesterday I stumbled upon an article on Infoshop.org that discusses the 40 year-long genocidal campaign against Roma women in the Czech Republic. It also talks a little about the historical experience of the Roma, those commonly referred to as Gypsies…
I have been aware of “Gypsies” for years now but I never spent any time to learn about them—and up until yesterday I had never even heard of the Roma. I’m betting most people haven’t either, so in addition to posting the article I wanted to talk a bit about their history and give you an image of the Roma People today.
The European experience of the Roma, as mentioned in this article, goes back to the 14th Century. It was then that the Roma first arrived in Europe, and when a 500-year legacy began where the Roma People became chattel for Europeans—personal property.
But even before their arrival in Europe, the Roma had already been struggling for centuries. In fact, the whole reason they originally left their homeland of India was to escape the Colonial Empire of Mahmoud of Ghazna, himself the son of a Turkish slave.
Mahmoud arrived to conquer and exploit India at the beginning of the 10th century. He invaded the land 17 different times—on each occasion taking masses of people for his slave economy and to increase his slave army.
Servitude was (and continues to be) unacceptable to the Roma. So, the largely non-violent People, who were then called the Dom, decided to leave their homes and travel North-West. And so began the 1000 year suffering of the Roma…
Everywhere they’ve traveled since then they’ve been been subjugated, made into slaves and property, forced to convert to either Islam or Christianity, and left no choice but to either assimilate into the dominant culture or suffer the consequences—which is, I assume, why they’ve remained so nomadic.
Today, in the so-called modern world, it would seem that little has changed. In fact, in some ways the collective experiences of the Roma throughout Europe has been worse than anything they went through previously.
Ever hear the term “what a Gyp?” (as in “what a rip-off”) Well it’s racist. So is the term “Gypsy”, and all the silly assumptions that the Roma are little more than a bunch of rootless people; an aimless group of Belly dancers, fortune tellers, shoeless beggar kids and men with funny mustaches.
Fact is, the Roma are a dilligent, strong people. They’ve always had to depend on themselves to live and survive—that is, their continuation has not been because of the kindness of strangers, or because various Empires and individuals have been able to respect or cope with the diversity of humanity. It’s because of the Roma and the Roma alone.
One thing of note, and to further dispel some discrimination, is that they created their own trades and economy. That’s the fortune teller trade, and so on. Sure, most people sluff it off as a bunch of silly games and whatnot, but it no less enabled the Roma to meet their needs for generations.
Even though their trades no longer provide for them as they once did, the Roma are not simply fading away. They still practice their own customs and traditions; struggle to reclaim their identities and to ensure Roma life can continue; and they increasingly work to solidify as a separate and distinct, extremely diverse Nation. One that is safe from Colonial Society.
Further Reading and Information
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