Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Romani in the World

I was watching an interesting documentary about the Romani or the Roma population in the World, commonly known as Gypsies, their origins, their settlements around Europe and, to my surprise, their massive human loss in the Holocaust
In my upbringing in Portugal, I was always familiar with the Gypsy communities around us, I learnt that their designation in this area is Iberian Kale. My understanding of their culture relied on their business activities mainly in mobile or seasonal markets, in the circuses, moving bands. I would be amused by their 1 to 3 week long weddings and all night long musical parties, when I was lucky enough that they would chose a near-by parking lot to set their tents. And my recollection of it all was that the interaction between them and the rest of the population and the authorities was pretty much pacific. Any gadji (non-gypsy) would be welcome to join their celebrations. I remember that our government was always trying to fit them into our standards of living, giving them apartments because their settlements would be sometimes seen as unsanitary, trying to educate them and give them jobs, as there is high unemployment in their communities, they tried to empower women in their society because their main culture would be based on the elder male authority (their ethnic name comes from Rom which means male, "husband"). I remember that these efforts at times would flop, and other times it would be successful, which in my view, is all good, when there was an interest from their side to fit in, they would be given that chance, when they weren't interested in fitting into any other culture than their own they would emerge in their culture roots, which ways I believe have its own value.
I think it's a common belief that Romani are originally from Romania, part of that belief maybe comes from the fact that there is a significant population of gypsies in Romania or maybe it has to do with myths surrounding Count Dracula... Either way, the Roma population actually is originally from Medieval India, their language is unique with traces of Sanskrit, sadly one of the dialects Bohemian Romani used in Central Europe was extinct during World War II due to the extermination of most of its speakers in Nazi Concentration Camps.
Although there is no exact number of Romani lives lost in the Holocaust it is suspected to come up to a million and a half... This is an extraordinary serious number to be left unmentioned. Most of the Holocaust stories are of Jews, but when I made a small research on other ethnic minorities exterminated they count to higher number than the Jewish life loss. It is believed that the genocide accounts approximately 6 million Jews plus other groups reaching in number up to a believed 17 million of Holocaust victims.
Among these ethnic groups the Romani, ethnic Poles, Soviet civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, people with disabilities, gay men, political and religious opponents.
Unfortunately, unlike the Jewish, the Romani survivors never received the same status, remain stateless, and up until recently they were not recognised as Holocaust victims.
Former ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill has argued that the Roma population suffered proportionally more genocide than the Jewish population of Europe and that their plight has largely been sidelined by scholars and the media.
An interesting account from a Romani Holocaust survivor in the site below:

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