ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

From Gypsies to “Roma Inclusion”

With an estimated population of eight to 12 million, Roma constitute the largest minority in Europe. Wary of pervasive discrimination, many Roma do not readily admit their identity. While substantial numbers live in Western Europe, the majority of Roma live in the Balkans and central Europe.

Premodern Europeans mistakenly believed the Roma emigrated from Egypt, a belief from which derives the common and derogatory terms “Gypsy” in English, “Tsigane” in French, “Zigeuner” in German and “zingaro” in Italian.

The Roma originated in northern India. After A.D. 1000, they migrated to Persia, where they splintered into two groups. One settled in what is today Syria and Iraq. The second pushed onward to present-day Armenia and the Balkans. By the end of the 16th century, thousands of Roma were living in Europe, some of whom enjoyed recognition for their skills as smiths, musicians, fortunetellers and mercenaries.

The Roma evolved into distinct subgroups and each subgroup developed its own strict, often secretive, system of beliefs and practices, most of which are governed by principles of purity and pollution. Roma generally speak a dialect of Romany — an Indo-Aryan language.

Romanticized and yet abhorred, Europeans treated Roma as “other” throughout history. Their complexion, language and itinerant lifestyle were enough to marginalize them wherever they settled. During Wold War II, this culminated in the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Roman, who despite their Aryan roots perished in Nazi concentration camps.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, hate crimes against the Roma have increased throughout Europe.

When the European Union expanded its membership in 2004, it required new member states to ensure that the Roma and other minorities would enjoy all rights protected under the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. Nevertheless, after the European Union lifted border controls in late 2007, many Europeans speculated that central and Eastern European Roman would flock to the wealthier countries to take advantage of their social welfare systems.

While some of Europe’s Roma assimilate into the prevailing culture and society, many more lived segregated and impoverished communities, languishing in substandard housing far from health care and educational facilities.

in 2005, the European Union, the governments of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republish, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia, the World Bank and the Open Society Institute inaugurated the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.”

Participants promised more comprehensive and better-implemented antidiscrimination legislation and access to quality education and health care.

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