For many years I thought I knew the answer to the problems faced by the Romani Gypsies: education. If we could just make school more appealing to this population their situation of marginalisation would gradually end, and they would learn the skills needed to challenge the discrimination they are faced with all over Europe.
A new book I am reading has made me realise that I was totally wrong about this – there is no simple answer to their poverty – and that I know a lot less than I assumed about the Romani Gypsy population. And our patronising, know-it-all attitudes doesn’t help.
Someone recently sent me a book called “I Met Lucky People. The Story of the Romani Gypsies” by Yaron Matras and it is incredible. I agree with the quotes on the cover: the Financial Times says it is “required reading” (ideal for government officials and teachers across Europe) and the Sunday Times is quoted as saying “almost everything we imagine we know about Gypsies is wrong.”
I’ve been looking at this issue from a Romanian perspective as that is where I am currently based, and this is the country with the largest number of Romani Gypsies living in it. There are many things that infuriate the Romanians about their Roma minority, such as the fact that the words Roma and Romani look similar to the word Romania and some people in the west assume that they originate in Romania. The origins of these words are interesting (the gypsies refer to themselves as “Roma” while the country is named after “Rome” as it was made up of former Roman Empire colonists) but I doubt a western news editor would bother with this explanation.
The Romanians are also infuriated by the fact that certain members of their Roma minority can be seen begging in city centres across Europe, bringing their country into disrepute. Many blame their poor international image on the Roma. Other complaints are that the Roma don’t follow the basic rules of society, starting with obligatory school attendance through to their apparent reluctance to do “normal” jobs. Many Romanians have told me that the Roma don’t want to go to school, they can’t work and they all steal – and from what I have heard in other European countries I think these views are shared across the continent. In the UK, the tabloids can print insults about the Roma that they would never say about blacks, Arabs or Asians.
What is now clear to me is that the Romani Gypsies are just misunderstood and this new book gives us the opportunity to gain insight into their culture and eventually find a way to accommodate them better.
Let’s start with education. I had assumed the problem was with the majority population not wanting Roma kids in their schools and discriminating against them if they do get in. This is certainly part of the problem and, in Romania at least, the state itself discriminates against Roma kids by allocating the least resources to the schools where there is a Roma majority.
But I wasn’t fully aware of the Roma perspective and this is where my new book helps. This is what the author, Yaron Matras, writes about education:
“Traditional Romani families educate their children by allowing them to participate in all family activities. Children observe, join in and gradually assume a share of responsibility for the extended household. There is no initiation ceremony and no formal testing of acquired skills or knowledge.
“School is seen as a Gadje (non-Romani) institution. It represents everything that outsiders stand for and everything that separates Roma from outsiders: rigid rules; obedience towards a person in authority who is not part of the family; oppression of children’s own initiative and spontaneous and open expression of emotion; withholding of responsibility from children; imposition of arbitrary schedules; and, perhaps the most difficult of all, separation of children from the rest of the family for long hours.”
Matras builds a portrait of Roma family life and several things seem impressive: their ancient system of holding families together, sharing responsibility among an extended family, the key role of old people as leaders and also child minders; their complex rules of washing and hygiene; their freelance work ethic; the fact that they involve children in everything. Their history is fascinating and the fact that their language has remained active after 1,000 years on the road is miraculous.
I particularly like their approach to education which is to keep their children close at all times and teach them everything they know; the boys learn traditional trades from the men and the girls learn domestic skills as well as the mother’s profession (such as selling stuff at a market). Even though begging is frowned on by most gypsy families, those who do it consider it work and they don’t try and hide it from their children. Among themselves they are scrupulously honest and they have their own system of conflict resolution, in the form of consensus-based Romani courts (known as Kris).
I personally hated every minute of school and for many years I really couldn’t understand what the hell I was doing there. Even now I struggle to relate to the logic of the institution and the big organisation and have always worked freelance. I would have been much happier just hanging around with my parents, learning from them. I think it’s unnatural to separate kids from their parents for the best years of our lives. The most valuable things I learned as a youngster were from my parents, their friends and visitors.
Although I was wrong about the Romani Gypsies when it comes to education and I was woefully ignorant of their culture, despite much exposure to it in Romania, I do have an open mind about them and am keen to learn more and understand them better. I try not to be judgemental or make generalisations as these are almost always wrong; but this is so hard as making generalisations is fun and interesting and it makes me feel clever.
All I can say about the Romani gypsies and their educational needs is “I don’t know”. As a society I think we need to approach them with an open mind, talk to them, understand them better, respect their culture and try and accommodate their requests. We should ask them what they need for their children’s education and take their replies seriously. Surely it is wrong to impose our values on them and then condemn them for not complying?
Photo credit: Manuela Boghian
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i read and study a lot about diffrent countrys and i saw how the gypsies live in romaina and it is pittyful to me .thease people are compleatly seperated outcast there in a place were thay cant blend in and live a normal live because thay cant get a brake. from other people. and there is so much pregades . and the gypsies are so lost and so much stuck in a pattern true there life and treatment for so long that thay dont no any outher way thay cant get out of there trapness . its because people keep them in that trap. the romainas thay are a crule people .no simpothy thay made them like thay are and keep them like thay are .and then degrede and make fun of them .i would like to see the romains live like the gypsies and see just what kind of theifs thay would become .its not right to make fun of people that is poor . i no there is no trust on both sides and this is the whole problom and some times its hard to change a pattern. for the gypsies because for one is the gypsies dont no how to change .and the outher is thay dont trust outsiders . thay are stuck. and the outsiders cant stand them there allways degrated and looked down on by these people the gypsies has it hard to even go to school thay dont have the right means even for that and thay get inbaresed because thay dont have the right things to were and thay get put down that is not right then thay dont want to go to school .then if the young people needs to help out at home . then thay cant find the time for school because food and outher things needs pervided for that day and all has to help to get what thay need for there survival.as a whole .so school is hard for them. thay dont have the right life styail to go to school so this makes it hard for the young people to make a change in there life and many older gypsies are a frade that if there young people get to mixed up with diffrent races thay would wonder off and become separated from them compleatly.gypsies are a close famaly and dont want to lose there children to a people of a diffren race and customs that beleve to do what ever you want and live alone or live with a man or a women not being maried having sex with any one .just to free of a life styail. thay beleve no matter how ever old you are you are to live home with your mother or father or famaly untile you are maried and be around famaly not alone some were .thay dont want there kids sleeping around thay have famaly morals and famaly repect for one another this is inportent to them and thay dont want to lose that. thay want to stick together. allways as a famaly. thay would perfer a famaly bussness .thay want a good life financhaly. but at the same time not wanting there kids to lose there famaly values true the influnce of other races . and so this is a path that life time of school could leed into. for there kids. there are serten ways of life that other races beleve in that thay find not good. for instance leting there kids 18 or over sleeping with other people not being maried going to strange parties and being with strange people alone not noing them well drinking and drugs not having a good frend or a famaly member there to look out for them just being a lone. with school frends that dont look out for each other. there kids geting in vovled in there own life and lossing contact with there famaly or marring some one thay no nothing about .the gypsies dont want this way of life for there kids and other races are ok with this .the kids can go to school but not leaving home and not living that way .now if finances is the problom then it takes the whole famaly to help out just for every one to get true that day because there is no study money coming in so all of them need to sell or trade or beg to ern money to eat and supliy there needs as a famaly and this is a reson for many not being able to go true school.now if people could give them a desent job to ern enouth mony to take care of there famalys then thay could get on there feet and kids could go to school and people would stop down casting them and then thay could ern trust between each other . and start to get along and like one another but the people would need to understand that the gypsies are stuck in a pattern and be pachant with them. thay for many years have been going true this mental abussive way of life wy cant people see this i do i understand this. i want to here from people on this thank you
Thanks for your comment but I don’t agree that it’s only the Romanians to blame. I’m currently in Washington State (USA) where they have a large Native American population. I’ve been reading about how we (British, German, European immigrants) killed off their culture, stole their land, signed treaties they then broke and committed genocide. We did the same in Australia and who knows where. And look what the Spanish did in Latin America. It’s a question of superiority of technology over traditional cultures which we don’t respect.
The problem is it still goes on today in British, American and so-called modern cultures — but it’s much better disguised nowadays. This is racism and it’s based on the idea that everyone must conform to our way of life and the latest technologies. Romanians are as caught up in this as much as anyone else.
hello every one im a roma i was born in america i am 57 years old i went to 5th grade i loved school even so i would get beat up every day because i was a gypsy from the black kids when people no your a gypsy thay just are crule thay dont like you and you wont get any thing or get any were in your life. no mater how smart or educated you are .you wont get a good job .thats the way it is. thats the reason gypsies have there own trade. and thats the reason gypsy dont want to become like outsiders. because outsiders cant be trusted. and there is a lot of people thats in jails and presons and dishonest in a leagle way . and onleagle way. theres blacks whites every race of people there is educated people thats dishonest .well you get the pitcher so on. but the gypsies are all the same. to much pregatest amoungst people . the gypsies was treated vary bad. and still are .so what do you exspect them to do to make a living its people that pushed them into the life thay have. so we all have to live along each other wether we like it or not. i had a lot of dishonest people allso componies and workers we hired and realtors that sold me a house. and put me in a mess i cant keep a bike in frount of my house or any thing it gets stollen and i live in a suburb were there is famaly people every thing we get .are hired workers still all are eqipment tools we have to keep buying over and over again and there white people nice people so we get cheated and coned lie to and we dont call the law on them or take them to cort .many diffrent people do dishonest thing not just gy psies. i dont still or cheat no one there is many gypsies are good people and there are many that are no good people same with whites blacks and so on were all youman beings
Dear Bessie, thank you very much for your honest and fascinating comment. It’s great to hear from a Roma person; and not just endless comments from non-Roma. I respect your comment very much. Rupert WM
You are very mistaken if you believe you are actually expected to learn something useful other than basics at school, that is reading, writing, counting, and basic critical thinking (in better schools anyway). Here in the Czech Republic, the Roma children often never learn to read or write, let alone open up their minds to try things outside their community. Do you believe just because they spent more time with their family that they are better off somehow?
School is there to expose you to ideas your parents aren’t able to expose you to. Even if you go to school, you have plenty of time to spend with your parents if they care. Will Roma children learn basics of chemistry from their parents? I somehow very doubt that. Yet it’s an idea that can very drastically alter the way you view the world, as it did for me. Do they learn the laws of physics that were discovered now 300 years ago? You get a better intuition if you learn that, doesn’t matter that you forget most of it.
Being exposed to a multitude of personalities from people your own age has also been clearly shown to improve your ability to deal with common issues. You learn to accept and treat new people in your circle. If you spend your first 10 years in your extended family, what does that hold for your future life? You will never want to transcend that boundary.
I don’t care that they have close to 80% unemployment rate or that they are loud within their communities, you do you, but holy sh*t, do you think they gained the reputation of thieves by accident? They are literally stripping railroads bare for scrap here.
I found this blog while doing some research on Roma gypsies after my brother was targeted by a group in California. He suffers from several medical issues and they physically assaulted him after gaining access to his money. I will leave out the details but it was a savage crime perpetrated by a family of gypsies well known to law enforcement. They have no remorse and they will continue to commit these crimes. They are training their children to do the same.
I am aware that a personal experience of this kind biases my thoughts. I am having a very hard time seeing anything good about them after spending time with law enforcement and hearing about their long history of crime here. They have several aliases and also lie to receive welfare.
Those who attacked my brother will be prosecuted for their crimes, and I know we are among a minority who will see justice done.
You stated you understood the Roma gypsy in a different way after reading the book. I see them in a different way too after our experience. They fly under the radar and don’t often get caught but don’t be fooled, they are in all major cities and have no plans to change anytime soon.
Hi Mary, thanks for sharing your experience and I’m really sorry about what happened to your brother. I don’t want to justify what they did, but I don’t think it’s fair to generalise about a whole population based upon the (appalling) behaviour of this one gang.
In the U.S. many roma do attend school and learn to read and write but are often pulled out before completing high school. Sure I agree not everyone needs to complete high school…some countries give kids a choice of high school or learning a trade and many American roma are tradespeople, but there is a fear among many American roma that if they leave their children in school they will lose their romanipen….or romaness, and fear of fear, become a gadje. This is unfounded because other groups, for exanple, jews, value education very highly and complete college and get goid jobs, but still maintain their customs and cultural identity. Modern orthodox and the Syrian jews of Brooklyn…an extremely insular community that even excludes other jews if they are converts or not of Syrian heritage, are a good example of this, but most American roma would never know this due to the literacy barrier that makes it difficult to access information.
Not all illiterate American roma wanted to be illiterate. The family I lived next to had a son in his 20s who was extremely embarrassed by the fact he couldn’t read, but feared he would be transgressing his culture if tried to learn, and fear is what kept him from learning. It wasca perpetuation of a mental prison.
Most roma, by and large, struggle in the world, partially as a result of ways and mentalities that are no longer beneficial to them, and like all people, do not exist in a vacuum. When roma have problems they become society’s problem even though they perceive themselves as apart from it.
How to fix these problems and tear down the walls that keep them imprisoned in impoverishing old way mentalities? Other roma will have to do that. They need to see proof that someone can be educated and modern and have a regular, stable income and still be roma with their romanipen intact.
I highly doubt every roma child wants to be a laborer, or scrapper, or beggar, or work in auto body, or married and pregnant at 15 destine to be a house wife for the rest of their life. But a lot of these kids have been given the impression by their culture that they don’t have a choice. They have this notion of destiny, not unlike that of their ancestors from India, that one has no control over their life, everything is a matter of luck, and one must accept their place. It is called discrimination when gadje block roma from education and good jobs, what is it called when roma block their children from education and good jobs?
1. Lack of value of education, which keeps them ignorant and serves to marginalize them.
2. Sexism and oppression towards women.
3. Racism against non Roma.
These are the things you are being an apologist for.
I lived next to a traditional roma family in the U.S. for 10 years. They were illiterate as they were never sent to school and did not send their children to school and they got evicted because the rent was late, the landlord sent them a pay or quit notice and they couldn’t read it so didn’t respond to it. They lost their home due to their lack of basic literacy.
It’s very difficult to earn an honest, gainful living in the modern world when a person lacks basic literacy.
Concerning their views of non roma, a pass to victimize a group of people should never be a cultural institution but among the roma it is. I have seen American rom try to justify their victimization of gadje by saying “I didn’t hurt anyone” when they did, or “I didn’t steal from anyone,” because the money was handed to them willingly by someone who hasn’t yet realized they have been scammed, or remark that they are just giving the horrible gadje what they deserve….but rom don’t often face discrimination in the U.S. because most Americans don’t know they exists.
I have some sympathy for European rom because they do face a lot of discrimination but in the U.S. where that isn’t a factor we see much of the same behaviors and derogatory mentalities towards gadje and I think the roma should be called on it
Living in Romania, I’ve seen different kinds of gypsies.
1) Traditional gypsies, they keep to themselves, they dress by tradition and they don’t cause problems.
You see a swarthy man in Romania wearing a black wide-brim hat, black vest, dress pants and a long sleeved shirt, most likely with a thick moustache, that’s probably a traditional gypsy. They’re fine in my book.
2) Psychopath gypsies, these are the dangerous ones, they try to trick you into giving them something, like your place in a line at the supermarket and if you don’t give it to them they throw a fit, start cursing and getting violent. Happened to me today, that’s why I’m researching the problem now.
They may dress normally but have a savage look in their eyes, keep your distance!
They beg and steal whatever they can, wallets, jewelry – from stores or not, they run prostitution rings in Europe, they rape their own family members and have gang fights with knives, hatchets and japanese-style swords. No wonder nobody wants them in their country.
The only solution is life in prison.
3) Integrated gypsies, I see them from time to time, they’re indistinguishable from Romanians and they work.
4) Dirt-poor gypsies, specialized in scraping by, usually scrounging in garbage bins, dressed in cast-off, damaged clothing, living at the edges of towns.
The problem remains “what do you do with those gypsies who are savage”? The poor, you can support, the integrated ones do OK, while they traditional ones live by their own rules.
But for the psychopath gypsies, there is only prison, legislation must be made as such that they’re easy to incarcerate and over time the problem will dissapear. Meanwhile, if you have more than the occasional run-in with these unhinged people, better to find another place to live, some place with strict rules.
You nailed it!
Their poverty? Sorry but I can’t agree with that. They’re wealthier than most of people that work 8h/day. Why would they work 8h/day to win less than they win staying at home doing nothing?
Most Roma are extremely poor but there are a few (a tiny percentage of the total) who are wealthy.
This is a sad and poorly researched blog. The author needs to learn some basic history. First, most Russians wre also slaves until 150 years ago. So wre Chinese and black Americans. Any country that had feudalism had slaves.
None of them had access to education.
You fail to realize that the world moves forward. Most cultures have moved forward with it . To do this they needed education.
The gypsy roma are the ONLY group who has failed to keep up. This was their choice. What makes them suvh special snowflakes that you coddle them and make excuses for their bad behaviour?
Your blog is an example of multiculturalism and political correctNess taken to an extreme. That attitude will only do harm
I am d2b from CR, can I use you article ?
Certain opinions in these comments section perfectly exemplifies the Romanian thought process when it comes to gypsies – that the fault of the broken system lies not with those who designed it, but with those who are unable to succeed within said broken system.
Gabriel even said “You try to accommodate them in your country” – there is no desire of the vast majority of Romanians to change anything about the current status of gypsies, because it benefits them in the long run – less competition for jobs or university education. Unlike most US citizens who are able to feel shame for the enslavement of blacks, Romanians are unable to feel the same, and hence they do not feel the need to act on it in order to try to make up for over 500 years of enslavement.
But perhaps the fault does not lie with every individual, despite their racism, but rather with a system that allows for such racism to build up by creating greater imaginary divides between the majority of Romanians and minority Gypsies.
I think the issue is ignorance, perhaps intentional ignorance, and you can see it with some of the comments here such as Theo and Harap Alb, who seem blissful unaware of any discrimination gypsies have to face. The educational system doesn’t mentions gypsies at all in Romanian history throughout the 12 years of compulsory years of schooling. No mention of enslavement, of gypsy contributions to Romanian society, of Romanians willingly participating in the Holocaust along with the Nazis by targeting jews and gypsies. So in truth, most Romanians simply are unaware of the actions of their ancestors that created the ‘gypsy problem’, and if you add to that the highly nationalistic mono-racial history that Romanians are taught in schools, of them being descendants of grand Roman emperors and brave and just warriors, you have a very self-important, punitive stance towards gypsies.
In fact, some will even go as far as seeing the persecuted gypsy minority, both by their ancestors and their current system, as the evil wrong doers that are the only ones that steal, rape, kill or traffic drugs or prostitutes in Romania, when in fact it is mostly ethnic Romanians who are persecuted of such crimes in their legal courts.
All this ignorance and vilification of gypsies enables the one thing Romanians love most when it comes to gypsises: to portray themselves as a victim. History, statistics and reality is hence discarded.
“What is now clear to me is that the Romani Gypsies are just misunderstood and this new book gives us the opportunity to gain insight into their culture and eventually find a way to accommodate them better.” – that’s multiculturalism speaking.
Multiculturalism is failing even in the most developed countries in the world and you’re preaching it to Romanians. You accomodate them better in your country if you wish. Here they need to integrate and some of them are doing just that.
Accomodating bad habits – even if they are part of “their culture” – doesn’t help anybody.
It’s not true that they are being discriminated in school. On average they don’t do so well in school because they are not supported by their families. The state can’t compensate for that. You get a few kids that don’t do well, you can’t hold back the entire class until those few can manage. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the children. Nobody will assign the best teachers to teach children with low performance.
Also, the quality of education for all has been declining in Romania since 1989, mostly because of reforms trying to replicate western systems that were inadequate to Romania.
My favorite farmres’ market in the States is definitely the one in Des Moines. So far no other farmres’ market can compare. It has become an event in and of itself!!! I used to bike there nearly every Saturday and stuff my backpack with fresh veggies.I only visited the farmres’ market in Tours once, but I loved it. Fresh berries from the forest, amazing cheeses. A different experience all around and definitely spoke to the food culture in France!
Very thought provoking.
I am perplexed at your praise of Roma families’ circling the wagons against outsiders. In today’s globalized world where you have to have a lot of different skills and interact with lots of different people, retreating into the family and rejecting education is the way to instant marginalization, particularly for women. We all have to deal with folks we don’t instinctively gravitate to in this life. The Roma should be no different.
There is no question that the Roma have been mistreated. But for Romanians and Roma to coexist, Roma need to open up and reconsider their adherence to customs that are by now very old and unwieldy. Accommodations are needed on both sides.
The problem in the system of education is much complex.
I would like to ignore for a moment the fact that this article is about a minority.
Some children, regardless of ethnicity, do not hold birth certificates, so in the eyes of the state they do not exists.
One story which I know is that one parent who lost the right to be a parent takes the child from a school located in another region to his village, where he can receive the child’s allowance. If the father lost his parental rights how is it possible for him to get the money?
If you are a class master, maybe you have the duty to make a visit to encourage students that have absences, but what then… if the parent or the child says he is not going to school and the school is viewed as useless.
This is an aspect, but I should also question how do the state institutions, private organizations do colaborate. Thee gipsies also have some organizations where there are opportunists who claim to be gipsy in order to get some benefits. Is the skin colour and your affiliation to an organization self-sufficient to call yourself a gipsy?
Thanks for your comment.
I find this part of your statement really scary: “Some children, regardless of ethnicity, do not hold birth certificates, so in the eyes of the state they do not exists”
What if you lost it? This tells me the state considers papers more important than people.
Harap Alb, how are we the victims when most Roma live below the poverty line, have no representation in government and were in fact slaves up until the mid 19th century?
That’s right SLAVES. Very much in the American Civil War sense of the word.
Marriage at the age at the age of 12 is a consequence of that. It was initially a kind of fake marriage to protect young girls from being raped by the boyars.
The issue raised by many Romanians here is not the idea of Romas undergoing an education system catered tot heir system but rather how dare they stir away from Romanian cultural homogeneity.
And this has to do with the system of denial we have built for ourselves. Denial that we had a slave system, that we are educated to hate the poor and denial that we took part in the Holocaust.
I don;t consider that i was born in a tolerant system.
Romanian culture is not a tolerant culture, it is a passive-aggressive one.
Let me tell you a short story. Recently I’ve conducted some interviews with people from the government as part of my research. At one point, they were “interested” if I’ve ever been discriminated against, but they didn’t really ask me the question, but rather answered instead of me. Of course, their answer was “no”. So, basically, they wanted to tell me that I’ve never been discriminated against since I am a highly educated Roma who is raised to fit into the societal norms (or I would say normalized structures), of course set up by the “majority”. I think there is no need for my further biased interpretation (neither there is a need to try to convince people that I’ve been discriminated against :)).
And, dear Rupert, thank you for your empathy and solidarity. The way you answer to all these not-to-name comments is truly and rarely great, although your text and the debate is filled by generalizations in both directions. 🙂 However, I understand why the generalization as well as essentialism is a good strategic tool, and I use it too, from time to time.
Dear Jelena, I am so glad that a Roma person has joined in this discussion as your voice was missing. I can just imagine the scene you describe as I’ve seen it myself so many times — government officials as well as ordinary people telling me what to think about the Roma. When I first started working with the Roma in 1990 I took an approach that has done me well which is simply to admit that I don’t know much, don’t have any answers and am open to hearing from both sides. I accept your point that I make generalisations but I try and do it in a way that it’s clearly my opinion and not the gospel truth.
Yeah, Gypsies are Hyppies avant la lettre…
1. “For many years I thought I knew the answer to the problems faced by the Romani Gypsies: education.”
Yeah, but are they able to graduate it…?
For many years myself wanted to learn French. I bought self-teaching courses, grammar books, CDs, etc. Until a guy opened my mind with his sly remark: “But can you do it…?”. Yeah… No, he was wrong. I will leant it some day!
2. “I’ve been looking at this issue from a Romanian perspective as that is where I am currently based,”
Just residing in Romania doesn’t make you a “Romanian”. That would give you a truly Romanian perspective. Romania, Romanians… 😉 Do you get it?
3. “some people in the west assume that they originate in Romania”
Yeah, no country is free of idiots.
4. “In the UK, the tabloids can print insults about the Roma that they would never say about blacks, Arabs or Asians.”
Not true. When the British press uses the word “gypsies” they usually refer to the Irish Travellers who racially are Whites. (The Irish Travellers are an interesting population though because while sociologically they resemble very much the Romani they have no genetic connection with them.)
5. “This is certainly part of the problem and, in Romania at least, the state itself discriminates against Roma kids by allocating the least resources to the schools where there is a Roma majority.”
Any evidence for this anti-Romanian generalisation?
6. “Among themselves they are scrupulously honest”
Double standards? I’ve heard that other ethnic minorities practice it…
7. “I would have been much happier just hanging around with my parents”
8. “Although I was wrong about the Romani Gypsies when it comes to education”
Not at all, because the education they need is FORMAL education!
9. “Surely it is wrong to impose our values on them and then condemn them for not complying?”
To conclude, don’t you see that the aforementioned book just gives credence to the pan-European prejudices against Roma people?
“I personally hated every minute of school and for many years I really couldn’t understand what the hell I was doing there”
Ah, that explains a lot…
Of course, but if they didn’t break the law nobody would have any qualms with them… Remember, we are their victims and not the other way round!
And of course, it is very difficult not to break the law when one is hungry and has only “home education” and operating with a “insider/outsider” type of moral code…
I accept this point: “Just residing in Romania doesn’t make you a “Romanian”. That would give you a truly Romanian perspective. Romania, Romanians…” You are probably also right about the UK tabloids as I try to avoid them and am not up to date. I like the idea of being a Mammie’s boy and you’re right, the fact that I hated school does explain a lot about my attitude. I covered point 5 in another reply but I was involved in a documentary film about a Roma school and the discrimination at the village level is disgraceful.
While I appreciate the tone of your comment, and your attention to detail, I really don’t understand this point: “Remember, we are their victims and not the other way round!”
sorry for not being able to elicit pertinent answers from you
thanks anyway for being so kind to reply
1. “this is the country with the largest number of Romani Gypsies living in it”
2. “the majority population not wanting Roma kids in their schools and discriminating against them if they do get in. This is certainly part of the problem”
3. “In Romania they …try their chances at a mainstream school where they will be verbally abused from day one.”
could you please provide some proof, some evidence to these allegations ?
First of all these are not “allegations” as in a court of law, they are just my opinion based on many years of observation of Roma villages, visits to schools, working with Roma leaders and discussions with Roma and Romanian individuals. Secondly, there is plenty of evidence out there to support these points but the trouble is that whenever it is used those people who are embedded in denial (“we don’t discriminate”) find many ways of dismissing it. As you know from the legal and journalistic professions, evidence can be easily dismissed.
If you want to look for facts and figures backing up the horrendous discrimination faced by the Roma all over the continent you only need to look at the Council of Europe website. The NGO Romani Cris have done a lot of sociological research into this, as has the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, but many people reject their findings as they don’t fit with their own view of things.
If you want to read about real theft click here: http://www.monbiot.com/2015/04/28/a-hole-in-the-system/
That was meant to be “your very own BBC” not “our very own BBC”
Rupert and Edward, if the intention was to have a constructive debate on the Roma situation, starting by offending the vast majority of Romanians and deciding it is their fault doesn’t really leave much room for debate … Oh … and on the hatred against the Roma, have you had the chance to open the Daily Mail lately? It is far from being a Romanian monopoly …
Now to actually try to add something other than sarcasm, I haven’t read the book though the example on how the education system is at odds with the Roma cultural heritage gets to what I think is the core of the problem – the difficulty in reconciling what is essentially a culture which hasn’t changed much in close to a thousand years with the environment around it which has. And while it is very PC to put all the burden of solving the problem on the majority, I think the way to do it is by trying to reach a middle ground. I think that not only the majority has to make an effort to adapt but also the minority – perhaps their community leaders should be involved and influence their own and find acceptable compromises with the goal of finding a framework under which valuable cultural aspects are preserved and also compliance with the rest of society is reached. To make the point on why I think it is important for both sides to adjust I’ll leave you with an example from a few years back which no matter how much tolerance we have I don’t think should be accepted on cultural grounds. The self declared king of the Roma a few years back forced his under 14? daughter to marry – needless to say that the marriage is illegal and an adult coercing a minor to something that will probably lead to statutory rape makes me think that some sort of criminal prosecution is in order (certainly not cultural acceptance) – the link from our very own BBC reporting is below.
Dear Remus, you raise a lot of important issues that need a reply. I appreciate the tone of your comment but fail to see how my article is an offence to the vast majority of Romanians. I wrote about Romania as that’s where I’m based and this is where I hear constant prejudice about Romania and also a rejection of any attempt to consider their perspective. But I also realise that Romanians are very tolerant in the sense that they tolerate the presence of a minority which they generally despise, and they generally don’t persecute them as badly as in places like Hungary where the police are (apparently) allowed to treat them extremely harshly. So I appreciate Romanians in this regard.
I also point out that these attitudes are shared across Europe and I pick out the UK tabloids as being particularly guilty of prejudice. I also don’t mean to “put all the burden of the problem onto the majority”. Any real solution has to start with both sides being open to discussion and solutions and that means BOTH parties have to listen and be flexible — and that it a helluva lot to expect from Romanian and Roma leaders (as well as politicians everywhere for that matter). You are quite right to say there is a need to find a “middle ground” but that can only happen if we all drop our prejudices and stereotypes before negotiating. If I was the negotiator on behalf of the Romanian state I would say “we are obliged to educate your kids and we have some resources for this. How would you suggest we spend them?” They might suggest that tutors come into their community and teach them in an environment where they don’t feel persecuted. I would make a particular effort to listen to as many opinions as I could and then try out all sorts of solutions until something actually worked. Again, we need flexibility.
But things have improved a lot over the last decade, at least in Romania: the school system is making some efforts to include them; freedom of movement in the EU has alleviated their poverty; there is none of the violence and house burning that was common in the 1990s; there is a new generation of Roma leaders who are engaging with the political authorities. As Romanians become more aware that prejudice and racism are no longer acceptable within the EU culture some people are dropping their hostility to the Roma and trying to see it from their perspective (one of the comments under this article, by Claudiu Revnic, proves that). It’s a start. And like I said, it’s no better in the west where the majority are just as racist about the Roma (although there is this funny attitude that you can despise the Roma and not be racist as racism is supposedly about blacks, Jews and Muslims).
As for that example of the Roma wedding in 2003, I just called a western journalist who was there and she gave me a different perspective: she said that the daughter was overwhelmed by the huge wedding and all the press attention. But she confirmed what I had heard at the time which is that the two were formally married but did not live together, so your suggestion of “statutory rape” doesn’t stand up.
Thank-you for the recommendation of the book. I think the self righteousness know it all attitude is very common… And à good warning for those who think they have all the answers.
I am working with a group of Roma in France near the Swiss border. We are creating an association to help support the Roma here in Annemasse. I am trying to get these children and mothers social services. But am met with resistance and suspicion. The communication breakdown doesn’t help. They speak Romanian and French while I just speak English. I would do anything for a Romanian translator. Google translate is too slow.
Raising a family of my own it is heartbreaking to see these children live in such dirty, unsanitary places with no toilet or water. They lack food often. However I would say that they are often with family. So it seems good.
However I can’t agree about the education. As I studies early childhood development and teach young children exposing children to many things… Including books enhances development. Many children are illiterate in their mother tongue as well as in French. There is a 17 year old who has lived here for 5 years. He cannot read or write. What is his future?
Most children here see trash and broken things. As they live in an abandoned building. The children while with their mom sees her beg and wait for people to give to her. The child witnesses people not stopping or caring to help all his early life… And the tired grim face of the mom. Men usually are not begging. They stand outside in all weather. Rain, snow etc. The children are rarely dressed enough. Rather than being in school they witness a lack of humanity and that they don’t matter even though they are hungry or sick.
I helped a mother who walked 3 hours to go to the hospital because she did not know what bus to take not speaking or writing the language.
Thanks for this comment. I do agree with your points and appreciate your sympathy. I’m not against education but I’m against the way that it’s forced onto people and the whole system, at least in the UK and Romania, has become so regimented and prescriptive. Everyone should not only have the right to an education but governments should actively look at ways of investing in it in creative ways — especially for those who don’t fit in and who are marginalised. With some investment and sympathy they could help the Roma educate themselves and become an active part of society.
200 years ago most Romanian children – and probably most European children – did not go to school. They learnt things from their parents. Will that work nowadays? There are great craftsmen around, but not all Roma children would want to be craftsmen and not all Roma girls would want to be housewives or sell things at the market. It is about giving them the chance to explore, the chance to decide for themselves. The education system may be flawed, but education is the best tool we have – we could improve it, not denounce it as useless.
I appreciate your comment but beg to differ. In theory school is indeed “about giving them the chance to explore, the chance to decide for themselves” and it may be that way in the UK. But in Romania and many other countries the education system is about enforcement and none of that theory applies.
I agree with this comment from Claudiu: “Being Romanian I was educated to fear them and objectify them as a glitch in the perfect construct called Romanian Culture being taught in school. The Romanian educational system simply perpetuates a nationalist myth where the past hundreds of years happened in a formidable ethnic vacuum without any mention of the Romani or Jewish people that have shaped our culture.”
On the one hand I do know that the education system does work well for some people in Romania, but you have to agree that it does not work for the Romani minority. I’m not sure about your comment “education is the best tool we have”. I agree with your statement “we could improve it” but is there any will to do so? Every government, in both UK and Romania, fiddles with the educational system and their reforms just seem to make it more complex, cumbersome and stressful for teachers. The only place where it seems to work well is Finland for the simple reason that the teachers are allowed to run their own schools without interference from central government.
And finally, I didn’t mean to denounce education as useless (I know it can be wonderful for some) but I stand by what I said about the Romani minority for whom education has been more of a curse than a blessing. In Romania they either go to a Roma school that is basically starved of resources and sinking into the mud or they try their chances at a mainstream school where they will be verbally abused from day one. What I particularly hate about schools in Romania is that almost everyone who comes out the other end has a serious lack of self esteem, suggesting a culture of coercion and psychological bullying by the teachers.
First of all, great article. Mitras’ book is really great and serves as a great eye opener.
Secondly, for me, an eye opening experience was meeting campaigners from the Roma community but furthermore actually going to Roma neighborhoods. I found a lot of kindness and respect and really began to understand the blockages that Romanian society institutes on the Roma. Romanian society does not enable integration of Romas but instead expects full allegiance to Romanian Identity.
Being Romanian I was educated to fear them and objectify them as a glitch in the perfect construct called Romanian Culture being taught in school. The Romanian educational system simply perpetuates a nationalist myth where the past hundreds of years happened in a formidable ethnic vacuum without any mention of the Romani or Jewish people that have shaped our culture.
I do feel that there is a shift in attitude though. A big step this year was a film called Aferim, which won the Silver Bear at Cannes. It’s a historical film which talks about a historical fact most Romanians chose to deny: that the Romania were legally slaves bound the property of Boyars till the late 19th Century. For many people it was shocking to realise how the Roma were being sold in fairs and markets just like cattle.
We were taught in school that were always ‘victims’ of the various empires we intersected with. And that ‘myth’ of victim-hood created the strong sense of cultural denial. Denial that Romani were slaves. Denial that were involved in the Holocaust. Denial that the Cultural Construct of Romanian Identity could leads us to sad mistakes, that we deny staunchly and indulge in denying.
Thanks a lot for this enlightening comment Claudiu. It’s really good to hear this sort of analysis from a Romanian, and your analysis of the education system seems particularly apt. This enriches the article and debate.
You see… youngsters and educated people have no quarrel with gipsyes… until they are abused / robbed / insulted. It’s not like “we hate you because you’re gipsy”, but “you’re a gipsy, you have no respect for me, as a human and fellow citizen”. They do not attend school, indeed. They do not submit to an outside authority, as you’ve stated in the article. But this, later in their life, translates in no obedience to law enforcement authorities, no moral, ethical or civic guidelines and so forth. During the Comunist era, gipsyes were, indeed, opressed by the system, secluded from society, but in Democracy, when they have equal rights and opportunities, instead of chosing to access the same resources as everyone, they choose to use these freedoms to create more havoc. I do not give a rat’s ass on International POV. This is the fault of our Foreign Ministery, but I do care about how they behave in society, right here, in Romania. You’ll never hear about a Romanian killing a gipsy, or a Romanian trafficking girls or drugs, as often as you’ll hear about gipsyes. And it’s not because media favors the majority and blames the minority. The situation is really like this.
It also cannot help when they are forced into an education system that actively discriminates against them. Why make the effort when you are held back or placed in “special ed” groups simply because you are Roma? And then, when they leave school, they cannot get a job because of the “who would employ a thief?” attitude that seems to prevail in Romania.
I am constantly shocked at how socially acceptable hatred and distrust of Roma is here, in Romania. I have yet to meet a Romanian, from the lowest educated nationalist to the highest educated socialist, who would trust a Roma as far as they could throw them. No-one seems to consider that it is *their* attitude that is contributing to the problem.
It is no real surprise that, even without the cultural differences, the Roma are forced to live outside society and scrabble for existance on the outskirts.
I think that many young Romanians, especially those exposed to western cultures, are a lot more open to the Roma than they were ten years ago. Things are changing for the better, but way too slowly. Thanks for your comment.
I am from Romania and now I am studying abroad. Honestly, I can’t hold anything against a human being just because she/he was born in the “wrong” place. But when I have to put up with the discrimination I personally endure just because I am from Romania, I can’t help but think that is actually because of the Western culture Romania tends to develop a hate against Romas. What are we being told is” be nice to them, cause they have to stay there, where they belong. We don’t want them around”.
Edward, your comment typically illustrates the self-sufficient, haughty and tutoring attitude of Westerners in Romania, who know all better and, more or less overtly, despise Romanians. In your stance ignorance meets not only arrogance, but also hypocrisy, since you Westerners are the first to hate Gypsies like the pest.
It is true that many Romanians have a very negative discourse about Gypsies. On the other hand, the historical evolution of the Romanian Gypsies represents an unprecedented success story: from slaves to full integrated members of the society in only 160 years, ways better than the emancipation history of the Afro-USers.
For your information: today, the descendants of the the Gypsy slave population are to one third fully assimilated, to one third well integrated and only to one third they do keep some of the old traits remembering a long history of slavery. A real success story due to the diligence, intelligence and talent of the very Gypsies and to an equal measure to the extraordinary tolerance and openness of the Romanian society.
Romanian, I would take issue with the statement that the Roma are “fully integrated members of the society”. This would imply that they have exactly the same opportunities as anyone else in Romanian society, but my experience, after 18 years of interaction with Romanians (including living here), is that the Roma are almost universally seen as second class citizens.
I have witnessed Romanians avoid shops and restaurants because Roma are in them. I have spoken to Romanians who casually acknowledge that the Roma in their classes at school were targeted and excluded by the school staff. I have seen the fear in their eyes if they need to walk/drive through predominantly Roma areas. God forbid that a Roma should be successful because “the only way this could possibly happen is through crime”.
What particularly shocks me about this is that, unlike your suggestion that I “despise” Romanians, actually I think they are a wonderful people but it amazes me that they can discriminate so easily against such an integral part of their society. It is a sad truth that one of the first things that a foreigner learns when living in Romania is that you cannot have a balanced discussion about the Roma with Romanians.
Don’t get me wrong; I have no doubt that some Roma commit crimes, and it would not surprise me if they are disproportionately represented in the crime statistics, however you could say the same for all poor, excluded populations in all countries. If you have no other choice but crime, crime you will likely commit.
What is needed is an across-the-board recognition by the majority of Romanians that the situation the Roma find themselves in is primarily due to their historic treatment at the hands of the majority. Regardless of the cultural differences, this has placed psychological and societal walls around them that they have little hope of escaping without pro-active support from the majority (with a recognition that there need to be concessions on both sides of the divide).
As with the collapse of Apartheid in South Africa, what is required is a period of reconciliation with active participation from both sides. The black South Africans at least had the benefit of numbers to force the issue; it is easier to avoid the effort when the oppressed are the minority.
Thanks for this brilliant proposal for a solution, or a route towards one…
Romanian……Thanks for Very interesting history about the integration of Gypsie slaves
Into Romania …i had always thought of Gypsies movements across the globe as an assertion of freedom on their part ..if had never occurred to me that they were slaves…ignorant of me . Should have known if a group of people are being persecuted and looked down…the ultimate wouod be to use them in any way you ses fit…the final insult being to enslave them.I am going to buy the book Wolfe recommends to understand more.