Roma: The Gypsies

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David M. Crowe

The Roma, or as they are more commonly known in the English-speaking world, the Gypsies, entered Europe in the late Middle Ages from India. Many early chronicles referred to the Roma as "Egyptians," which is the basis for the term "Gypsy." In the non-English-speaking parts of Europe, the Roma are known as cigán, cigány, tsiganes, Zigeuner, and similar terms. These words come from the Byzantine Greek word Atsínganoi, which means itinerant wanderers and soothsayers. The Roma prefer a name of their own choosing, since "Gypsy" and derivatives of cigán are riddled with negative stereotypical meanings. In the Roma language, Romani (Romany) or Romanes, rom means man or husband and is singular; romni is singular for a female. Roma is plural and is used to refer to the group as a whole. The term "Romani" can also be used as an adjective to refer to someone who is a Rom or Romni.


Three different phenomena have dramatically affected the Roma since they entered Europe from India: nomadism; non-Roma (gadźé or gadje ; singular, gadźo) mistreatment and prejudice; and enslavement in Romania's historic provinces, Walachia and Moldavia. The Roma entered Europe in the late Middle Ages after a long, slow journey from India that began several centuries earlier. Ian Hancock uses linguistic evidence to argue that the Roma are descendants of India's Rajput warrior caste. Other Roma specialists are skeptical of these roots, though most agree that the Roma originally came from India. Regardless of their origin, the Roma picked up characteristics of a number of peoples as they migrated from India to the Balkans, which gave them the unique cultural and social traits that remain a very important aspect of Roma ethnic identity.

Nomadism has probably had the greatest impact on the Roma. Nomadism was a very common practice among peoples in the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans. What made Roma nomadism unique was its link to Roma skills and crafts. From the time that the Roma entered the Balkans, they traveled seasonally, plying their skills as metalsmiths, gunsmiths, equine specialists, and musicians. Roma women and children also played an important role in Roma economic life. Children were taught food-gathering skills, which meant occasional begging, while Roma women practiced fortune telling and small trade. Given the tenuous nature of this nomadic lifestyle, particularly after post-Reformation European states began severely to restrict Roma movement and settlement patterns, Roma women and children came to play an important role in any family's basic survival.

The Balkans were the first area in Europe that the Roma entered; they soon moved into central and eastern Europe. Most of Europe's Roma still live in these regions. Initially, the Roma were highly valued for their skills. Towns and villages looked forward to the seasonal arrival of Roma craftsmen and women fortune tellers. However, with the gradual Turkish move into the Balkans and parts of central Europe in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, attitudes toward the Roma began to change. In the early sixteenth century, local and regional officials in the non-Ottoman parts of the Balkans and central Europe implemented laws that placed severe restrictions on Roma movement and settlement patterns. Increasingly, the dark-skinned, impoverished, nomadic Roma came to be viewed as something of a Turkish fifth column. And while it was true that some Roma did work for the hated Muslims and even converted to Islam, most Roma in the Balkans were Christians. Roma tradition was to adopt the religion and language of the majority ethnic group in the region where they lived while remaining close to their own ethnic traditions within the Roma family and clan. In Bulgaria, for example, Turkish census and tax records indicate that many Roma converted to Islam because it meant they would be taxed at a lower rate than Bulgarian Christians. In multiethnic areas such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Serbia, there were Muslim and Christian Roma.

The increasing linkage of the Roma to the Turks, particularly when combined with the upheavals triggered by the Protestant Reformation, saw the Roma pushed to the edge of Balkan and central European society. The new legal restrictions locked the Roma into a nomadic way of life that kept them marginalized and deeply impoverished. Because the nomadic Roma were almost completely illiterate, there is little information about their life and social customs from the Roma themselves at this time. The first written evidence of Romani surfaced in England in 1547. These early writings were little more than scraps of spoken Romani. It would not be until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that serious efforts were made by non-Roma linguists to transcribe the rich, diverse Romani dialects scattered across Europe. Since there was no body of Roma writings to detail their almost seven centuries in Europe, much of what we know about Roma life in Europe during most of this period is drawn from non-Roma sources.

Unfortunately, some of these sources are riddled with many of the negative stereotypes that have haunted the Roma. They do, though, give us a glimpse into Roma life and society. The Hungarian Slovak Book of the Execution of the Lords of Rozmberk (1399) notes that one Rom worked as a groom for a nobleman, Andrew. Travel documents given to Roma nomads by King Sigismud of Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire several decades later indicate that the monarch awarded these privileges to the Roma voivode (Romanian; prince or lord) Ladislaus because he felt the Roma had important military information on the Turks and could work as metalsmiths and musicians. Hungarian rulers so valued the Roma that in the sixteenth century the Hungarian Crown appointed a chief of the Roma to oversee a number of Roma voivodes in counties throughout Hungary. The Roma voivodes served as judges for their respective clans.

Habsburg rulers continued this tradition of appointing a Roma chief, known as a chief provisor, well into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Polish kings followed similar practices, though by the eighteenth century non-Roma assumed these roles. Zoltán Zsupos describes a similar arrangement for eighteenth-century Hungarian Aurári or "gold-washing" Roma in Transylvania:

Many of our rivers and brooks carry smaller or greater amounts of gold, which are usually a grain of sand in size.... The collection of this gold dust has always been a concern of our country: the closer we come to the childhood of mining, the more prosperous this branch of mining seems to be. In our old books, all the Gypsy folks are described as people making a living by washing gold. It is unambiguously proven by the data on the gold-washing Gypsies living legally in a separate voivodeship between 1747 and 1832, without any overlord.

Not only single Gypsy families, but also whole villages or settlements depended on this thankless job. . . . By the way, gold-washing does not need much expertise. The gold-washer goes to the riverbank especially after floods, placing his long table so that one end is high above ground, the other almost lying on it. He places a blanket on this table, takes his hoe, puts sand in his basket, pours it on the tables, then pours water on it until all sand is washed away. He goes on with this Sisyphian work all day. When he feels like checking on his luck, he washes his blanket, which gives him sand with iron, copper and gold dust. This he puts in a separating bowl with an opening in front. He keeps shaking it until first the sand, then the iron and the copper get out, leaving a few gold dust grains behind. These he unites with aqua fortis and takes to his exchanger, because they must deliver it officially. (Zsupos, p. 25)

Records from the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Republic of Ragusa in what is now Croatia provide us with another view of Roma life. In 1362 a local judge ordered a jeweler in Dubrovnik to return a number of silver coins to two "Egyptians," Vlachus and Vitanus. Most of the Roma referred to in this Venetian-controlled kingdom over the next century had Slavic surnames, indicating that they came to Ragusa from other parts of the Balkans. Ragusan records also show that though the Roma were free, they rested at the lowest rung of the republic's socioeconomic ladder. Most Roma lived on the outskirts of towns and cities and worked as servants, musicians, and craftsmen.

Deep impoverishment became the hallmark of Roma existence throughout Europe. In an early seventeenth-century account, Gyorgy Thurzó, the royal governor of Hungary, described the desperate lifestyle of a Roma clan that passed through his kingdom. According to Reimer Gilsenbach, Thurzó, who had granted the Roma chieftain Franciscus and his clan a travel permit in 1616, was less driven by sympathy toward the Roma than the desire to exploit their considerable skills as arms craftsmen.

While the birds of the sky have their nests, foxes their earths, wolves their lairs, and lions and bears their dens, and all animals have their own place of habitation, the truly wretched Egyptian race, which we call Czingaros, is assuredly to be pitied, although it is not known whether this was caused by the tyranny of the cruel Pharaoh or the dictate of fate. In accordance with their ancient custom they are used to leading a very hard life, in fields and meadows outside the towns, under ragged tents. Thus have old and young, boys and children of this race learned, unprotected by walls, to bear with rain, cold and intense heat; they have no inherited goods on this earth, they do not seek cities, strong-holds, towns or princely dwellings, but wander constantly with no sure resting place, knowing no riches or ambitions, but, day by day and hour by hour, looking in the open air only for food and clothing by the labour of their hands, using anvils, bellows, hammers and tongs. (Crowe, p. 72)

These observations, particularly when combined with the practice of Roma slavery in Walachia and Moldavia, underscore the desperate plight of the Roma throughout much of their history in Europe. The first concrete evidence of Roma slavery dates from 1385, when the voivode Dan I confirmed an earlier gift of forty Roma families to the Monastery of St. Anthony at Vodita. Most of the early Roma slaves or robi were captives of war. Over time, their skills became so valuable to Romania's nobility that the institution became widespread. Roma slaves provided the nobility or boyars and monasteries with skilled labor that the serfs and free peasants could not provide. In most instances, the Romanian nobility treated their Roma slaves like cattle. In fact, it was growing embarrassment in Walachia and Moldavia over their harsh treatment that led to the emancipation of Romania's robi in 1864.


Since Romania remains the home to the world's largest Roma population, it should come as no surprise that the names of many Roma slave occupations became the names of Roma clans throughout Europe. Among the groups who trace their origins to these occupations are the Aurári (gold washers), the Rudari (miners), the Ursari (bear leaders), and the Lingurari (spoon makers). Roma Lăieśi (members of a horde) were multitalented and gave their names to a number of modern Roma clans such as the Vlach or Vlax (Walachian or Danubian), the Kirpac̆i (basket makers), the Kovac̆i (blacksmiths), the Čurari (sieve makers), and others. These occupations of enslavement became valued professions to the Roma that were passed from family to family and modernized over time.

These groups or tribes, which the Lovara (horse dealers) call a rása (race) and the Kalderása (English Kalderash, coppersmiths) a natsia (nation), are subdivided into vítsi (clans; singular, vitsa) or tsérba (Lovara for tent). Very often clan names come from the name of an ancestor, an animal, or another object of respect. Relations within the vitsa are familial, and marriages are encouraged as a way to strengthen these relationships. Ideally, a male should marry a cousin from within the vitsa, though there are occasional marriages outside of the clan. Marriages are arranged by the two fathers, and traditionally the father of the groom had to pay a significant bride-price to secure the marriage.

Below the clan is the familia or extended family. Individual family units are known as tséra. Separate from these categories is the kumpánia (company), which can be made up of Roma from a number of clans and families who have joined together for a common economic or other purpose. The kumpánia is led by a rom báro (big man) who deals with the gadźé. Disputes within the kumpánia are usually resolved by the kris, a Roma court made up of male leaders from various clans. The kris is headed by one or more judges, and its decision is binding on all involved in the dispute.

Although many Roma social, linguistic, and cultural traditions would remain rooted in their Romanian and Balkan past, the adaptive Roma took on new social and cultural traditions as they migrated westward and northward to other parts of Europe. There were Roma in France by the early fifteenth century, and over the next hundred years Roma groups appeared in England, Scotland, Wales, the German states, and Scandinavia. The bulk of European Roma, though, remained in the Balkans and central Europe. Some of the most important migratory groups were the Vlach Roma, who were known through the end of the twentieth century for their close adherence to traditional Roma practices such as the kris; the Kalderása; the Lovara; and the C̆urari. The Kalderása moved to Russia, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Over time, other Roma groups settled across western Europe: the self-styled Romanichaals settled in Britain, where they are called Travellers; the Calé in southern France and Spain, where they are known as Gitanos; the Kaale in Finland; and the Sinti and Lalleri in Germany and Austria.


As the Roma moved out of the Balkans to escape persecution, enslavement, war, and hunger, they faced prejudice and official abuse that deeply affected Roma social values and culture. To the Roma, the gadźé became an object of defilement and disgust. In discussing Roma fear of pollution and contamination, it is important to emphasize that the Roma are not a monolithic group. What is a common practice for one Roma group is not necessarily true for another. Many Roma groups, though, do have strong practices concerning pollution and contamination. According to Angus Fraser, these codes tend to define and set boundaries for the Roma in their relations with non-Roma. Many Balkan Roma use the term marimé or marimo (unclean), while those in western and central Europe have similar terms that define relations between males and females and between Roma and gadźé. According to Fraser, the worst fate to befall a Roma male is to be declared polluted. This means "social death" for the Roma male and his family. Such codes apply not only to individuals but to language, parts of the body, inanimate objects, and food. Marimé codes automatically make gadźé unclean because of their ignorance of such codes and enforce Roma distrust of the gadźé.

The ongoing discrimination and mistreatment of the Roma tended to fortify such practices. From the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the Roma became so despised that their very survival was in question. In some of the German states and the Habsburg empire, officials threatened the Roma with branding, torture, and death for moving through their kingdoms.

Official policies toward the Roma began to change during the Enlightenment. The Habsburg rulers Maria Theresa (1740–1780) and her son Joseph II (1780–1790) tried to halt Roma nomadism and forced the Roma in their vast domains to adopt the lifestyle of sedentary Catholic peasants. Maria Theresa, who worked hand-in-hand with the future Joseph II during the second half of her reign, also tried to destroy the traditional Roma family by forcing Roma children into foster Catholic homes. Other decrees struck out against traditional Roma professions such as metalworking and music. A detailed series of censuses were taken on the Habsburg Roma in Hungary and Croatia-Slavonia from 1780 to 1783, which provided the Crown with a unique glimpse of Roma life. The censuses indicated that though a growing number of Roma fit into the new category of Neubauern (new peasants) or settled Roma, they did not accept their new status very well. Many Roma found ways around Habsburg policies. Some left their settlements to avoid paying taxes, while most of the Roma children in foster homes soon ran away and returned to their families. Moreover, many Hungarian noblemen resented the high costs of trying to assimilate the Roma into their local communities. Consequently, by the time that Joseph II died in 1790, many Roma were already beginning to return to their nomadic way of life. Yet Roma censuses in Hungary and Transylvania a century later indicate a much higher degree of Roma assimilation and settlement than in any other part of Europe.


At the very time that Maria Theresa and Joseph II were trying to force the Roma to assimilate, in some parts of Europe a new appreciation of Roma contributions to European society began to develop, particularly in the field of music. In Russia, for example, a court favorite of Catherine the Great (1762–1796), Count Aleksei Orlov, organized a Roma chapel choir on his estate that became the rave of St. Petersburg, the Russian capital. Soon no respectable nobleman of any consequence was without his private Roma choir. Over the next century, Roma themes became a constant fixture in Russian literature, drama, and music.

Aleksandr Pushkin, Russia's Shakespeare, did the most to promote the romantic image of the Roma in his lyric poem and play "The Gypsies." In certain sections of his poem, Pushkin captures the romantic image that many Russians had of the nomadic Roma.

The Gypsies Bessarabia roam
 In noisy crowds . . . Above a river
 In tattered tents they make their home,
 From night's cool breeze seeking cover.
 In open air calm is their sleep;
 Like freedom glad their rest is . . . Under
 The rug-hung caravans there leap
 A fire's bright flames whose shadows wander
 And lick the wheels; close to the blaze,
 A family for supper gathered,
 Prepare their meal; a tame bear lies
 Behind the tent; nearby, untethered,
 The horses graze . . . The steppe all round
 Is full of life . . .
"Go, proud one, leave us! We are led
 By different laws and want among us
 No murderer . . . Go where you will!
 By your black deeds and foul you wrong us
 Who do not like to wound or kill.
 Your love of freedom—how you flaunt it!
 Yet for yourself alone you want it,
 This freedom, and a stranger dwell
 Here in our midst. We're kind and humble;
 You're hard; where you dare tread, we stumble—
 So go in peace and fare you well."
 (Pushkin, "The Gypsies," pp. 65, 82)

The great Russian writer, Lev Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, was fascinated by Roma music and women. His brother, Sergei, was married to a former member of a Roma chorus. Three distinct types of Roma Russian music emerged during the nineteenth century. The first was the polevuiye tsiganskiye peisny (Gypsy songs of the fields), which were quite simple and could be performed by a group or an individual. Another type of Roma music, the "Road House" music, was only for choral groups. The third type, the "Gypsy romances," was not Roma music at all, but music composed by Russians who copied Roma musical traditions. This type of Russian "Gypsy" music was commonly found in the home of most educated Russians.

The influence of Roma music extended beyond the confines of tsarist Russia. Franz Liszt, who once delayed a concert at the famed Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow because he was visiting with some local Roma, laid the soul of Hungarian music at the feet of the Roma. Two other Hungarian musical giants, Béla Bartók and Zoltan Kodály, strongly disagreed with Liszt's claim. In his 1924 study of Hungarian peasant music, Magyar népdal (The Hungarian folk song), Bartók concluded that Roma music was shallow and had a limited repertoire; in his view Roma music was not innovative and simply adapted to the musical currents of a particular period.

Yet what Bartók and other non-Roma musicologists have missed in their analysis of Roma music are the private songs and tunes of the non-gadźé world. As Michael Stewart and Isabel Fonseca have both pointed out, music is the traditional form of expression of the Roma, and embedded in that music, whether it be instrumental or choral, are all of the deeper Roma traditions of a traditionally nomadic people. The "Gypsy" music heard in a Russian café, in a Budapest restaurant, or in the Flamenco cafés cantantes in Seville was quite different from that performed by Vlach Roma in their mulats̆ago (celebration) or by other Roma groups. According to Stewart, Roma music performed at the mulats̆ago was the principle vehicle for the expression of Roma feelings and personal associations. Strong traditions of gender segregation, hospitality, and respect for one another were the central themes of the music performed at the Vlach mulats̆ago. Most important, this music was sung in Romani, the purest means of Roma self-expression.


Unfortunately, the fact that Roma music fascinated European gadźé did little to temper the prejudice that haunted the Roma. Deep hatred toward the Roma thrived not only in the Balkans throughout the nineteenth century but also in other parts of Europe. A new wave of Roma migrations westward began in the second half of the nineteenth century as Balkan Roma fled the region to escape upheavals caused by war, revolution, and the emancipation of Romania's Roma slaves in 1864. In 1868, for example, officials in the Netherlands initiated policies designed to stop Roma from settling there. Soon after the creation of Germany three years later, the state's first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, encouraged local officials to do everything possible to force non-German Roma out of his new Second Reich. Those allowed to remain in Germany were forced to give up their nomadic way of life.

In 1899 the Bavarian police formed a special anti-Roma squad, headed by Alfred Dillman. Six years later, Dillman published the infamous Zigeuner Buch (Gypsy book), which centered around the investigation of five thousand Roma, who Dillman felt were innately criminals and a societal disease. In 1906 the Prussian minister of the interior issued a directive, Bekämpfung des Zigeunerunwesens (Combating the Gypsy nuisance), that linked anti-Roma agreements with a number of countries throughout Europe with domestic Prussian efforts to stop Roma from continuing their nomadic way of life. In 1911 the Bavarian police sponsored a conference in Munich with delegates from other German states that discussed the "Gypsy problem." The conferees agreed to work more closely together on this matter and to add information to the Zigeuner Buch.

In 1922 the German state of Baden ordered that all Roma be photographed, fingerprinted, and required to carry travel permits at all times. Four years later a Bavarian law required that all Roma adopt a sedentary way of life. Those who refused could spend up to two years in a state work camp. Other German states passed similar legislation, and in 1928 a new German law placed all Roma under police surveillance. The following year the German government transformed Bavaria's special Roma bureau into the Zentralstelle zur Bekämpfung des Zigeunerunwesens (Central office for the fighting of the Gypsy nuisance), headquartered in Munich. This bureau established ties with an international police organization in Vienna to share information on the Roma throughout Europe. In 1938 the Nazis moved this office to Berlin and renamed it the Reichszentrale zur Bekämpfung des Zigeunerunwesens (Reich central office for combating the Gypsy nuisance).

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in early 1933, they considered the anti-Roma legislation and the Zentralstelle sufficient to deal with the Third Reich's thirty to thirty-five thousand Roma. The Germans also used other laws that were not Roma-specific to force foreign Roma out of the country or to sterilize those that remained in the Third Reich. However, by 1935 local pressure prompted German officials to begin to force Roma into special camps known as Zigeunerlager (Gypsy concentration camps). They also did a special roundup of Roma before the 1936 Berlin Olympics to hide them from international visitors.

Nazi officials also strengthened the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which outlawed sexual relations and marriages between German Aryans and Jews, to include Roma, who they felt had artfremdes Blut (alien blood). The Roma were seen as a threat to German society, an asocial criminal element. Yet the Germans were not satisfied with such general designations. Robert Ritter, a German child psychologist, became the Third Reich's principle Roma expert. Ritter headed several Nazi research institutes and spent much of his time doing genealogical surveys of thirty thousand German and Austrian Roma. He and his assistant, Eva Justin, developed categories for Roma based on ancestry. These five categories ranged from Vollzigeuner (full-blooded Gypsy) to four different categories of Zigeunermischling and finally a non-Gypsy category for someone who exhibited stereotypical Gypsy "traits."

Though German officials struggled with efforts legally to deal with the Third Reich's "Gypsy problem," their solution came not through any specific law but through their dealings with the Jewish population of the countries they conquered from 1938 onward. Once the General Government was created out of what remained of the Polish state in 1939, this area became a dumping ground not only for Jews but also for Roma. Yet as late as 1941, the German failure legally to come to grips with the "Gypsy problem" meant that there were still some German and Austrian Roma (the Sinti and the Lalleri) registered for the draft, married to non-Roma, or attending public schools. As German forces swept into the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Nazi leaders began to lay the foundations for the Final Solution, the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. New anti-Roma restrictions were also put in place. At the end of 1942, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the architect of the Final Solution, ordered that all Roma in the Greater Reich (Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and parts of western Poland) be deported to Auschwitz. Himmler tried to protect pure Sinti and Lalleri Roma, whom he felt were original Aryans, though Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary, tried to stop this. Although Himmler convinced Hitler to side with him, few German Roma survived the Holocaust. Estimates vary, but it is reasonable to assume that between 250,000 and 500,000 European Roma were killed during the Holocaust.


Like many other people in Europe, the Roma were devastated by the horrors and dislocations of World

 Prewar Roma Population Roma Deaths/Persecuted Roma
The Greater Reich
Bohemia & Moravia13,0006,500/6,500
SloveniaNo figures available 
German or German Satellite Occupation
AlbaniaNo figures available 
Bosnia & HerzegovinaFigures included in Croatian deaths and persecutions
DenmarkNo figures available 
GreeceNo figures available50/
MacedoniaIncluded in Serbian figures 
MoldovaIncluded in Romanian figures 
The Netherlands500500/
USSR (Russia)200,00030,000/170,000
Belarus & Ukraine42,00030,000/12,000
German Satellite States
FinlandNo figures available 

War II. In central and eastern Europe, they seemed to disappear. In the regions' first postwar communist censuses, few Roma identified themselves as such. But by the mid-1950s, leaders throughout the Soviet bloc began to see dramatic increases in Roma population statistics. As usual, the Roma rested at the lowest rung of central and eastern Europe's socioeconomic ladder. Many still lived a life of nomadism, poverty, and illiteracy. Over the next three decades, states across both regions mounted major campaigns designed to improve Roma literacy, job skills, and living conditions. Governments from Prague to Moscow outlawed Roma nomadism and began to force Roma children into the public schools without any concern about their ability to speak the language of instruction. Administrators usually regarded Roma children without such skills as retarded and put them into special schools for the mentally challenged. Roma settlements were often destroyed without any regard for replacement housing. When Roma were given precious housing, little was done to help them adjust to a new, urbanized lifestyle away from the traditional Roma nomadic camps.

Over time, people in central and eastern Europe came to view the Roma as a privileged group that lived off special funds not available to the average citizen. These new stereotypes blended with the traditional prejudices toward the Roma and help explain the tremendous outpouring of anti-Roma sentiment in the region after communism collapsed in 1989. With democratization came a proliferation of anti-Roma prejudice that saw gangs of miners in Romania and skinheads in Hungary, Czechoslovakia (after 1 January 1993, the separate Czech and Slovak republics), Bulgaria, and elsewhere devastate Roma settlements and beat or murder individual Rom. The Roma became scapegoats in both central and eastern Europe for all societal problems. Efforts by groups such as the International Romani Union, Human Rights Watch, Helsinki Watch, Amnesty International, the Gypsy Research Centre, the European Community, the United Nations, and other organizations to publicize the mistreatment of the Roma helped ease their plight. The Roma themselves also began to take advantage of the new democratic rights in some of the countries in both regions to form political, cultural, and other organizations to help enhance the quality of Roma life and draw national and international attention to their problems.

The Roma in post-1948 noncommunist Europe suffered from some of the same economic and social problems, though government efforts to deal with them have been a little more enlightened and humane. The largest Roma populations outside the former Soviet bloc were in Spain, France, Greece, Italy,

Country Population
Romania1.35 million–2.5 million
Rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)400,000–600,000
Czech Republic150,000–300,000
United Kingdom90,000–120,000
Bosnia and Herzegovina35,000–80,000
The Netherlands35,000–40,000

and the United Kingdom. Nomadism was the biggest issue for officials in these countries. Most of Europe's non-Soviet states put laws in place that made Roma nomadism difficult, though never specifically illegal. In Great Britain the government created special campsites for the officially designated Travellers, though the number of sites, which were the responsibility of local officials, was never adequate for the thousands of Roma caravans that traveled throughout the country. Many of Germany's states fell back on legislation from the 1920s to deal with the Roma. French officials used an old system created in 1912 that required all nomads to carry a carnet anthropométrique, an identity card with personal information and fingerprints. Local French communities also put up signs that read interdit aux nomades (nomads prohibited) that were specifically aimed at Roma nomads. These regulations remained in force until 1969, when officials replaced the 1912 carnet with a carnet de circulation, which police review monthly. France has created some sites for nomadic Roma, though they do not meet Roma needs. The same is true in Italy.

Most governments in western Europe have given significant lip service to educating Roma children, though the implementation of such programs, which often falls on the shoulders of local officials, has been far from successful. There have been few centralized national efforts to enhance the educational opportunities for Roma children, which vary from region to region and country to country. According to Jean-Pierre Liégeois, who used 1988 statistics, only 30 to 40 percent of the children in the ten European Community nations attended school regularly. Another 50 percent never went to school. Very few of the Roma children who did attend school got beyond the primary level. According to Liégeois, over half of the European Community's Roma were illiterate, and in some places Roma illiteracy was as high as 80 to 100 percent. When combined with similar figures from central and eastern Europe, the resulting picture is of a large, growing, impoverished, illiterate people that remains at the edge of European society.

The fact that over half of Europe's Roma became sedentary does not seem to have dramatically improved their quality of life. What Roma leaders throughout Europe call for are opportunities for integration that open doors for the Roma while respecting their unique history and culture. Many oppose assimilation, which some Roma leaders feel forces the Roma to give up these age-old traditions.

See alsoRacism (in this volume);Migration (volume 2).


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