Rromani People
 Historical Origins  Present Situation in Europe 
 Geographical Distribution  Some Rromani Desires
 The Rroma in Spain  u-romani@pangea.org
Historical Origins
Classical history has been interested, with more or less success, in the long peregrination of the Gypsies. But all the researchers have found a lack of documental evidence in their intention of constructing their theories. Many of the projects are no more than castles in the air that t would not resist a deep analysis. Most of the conclusions reached by Rromani researchers about the history of Rroma people are reduced to mere hypothesis. Nevertheless, even this has allowed researchers to achieve a certain degree of consensus on some aspects of the history of the Rroma. 

        The road began in India ...- The Rroma people -o Rromanò thèm- are Indian because of their origins, and European and transnational due to their projection. The Indian origin of the Rroma people -more concretely in the northwest of the Hindustani subcontinent, that includes the regions of the Punjab and the Sinth- is shared by almost all the researchers. According to the linguist Vania de Gila Kochanowski, in the IX century Islam invaded India and the Indians that were living in the north-western territories of the Hindustani peninsula started a great migration westward. The second migration was produced in the XIII century, when those today called Rroma, left their homes when the Mongolian armies arrived and finally conquered the territory. From then on the travellers exodus was continuous.   

        ...crossed Persia....- Doctor Donald Kenrick does not believe that the road from India that brought Rroma to the borders of the western Mediterranean was crossed by a uniform group of the Indian population which was going towards the west. Kenrick thinks that "the Indian immigrants, coming from different tribes -Sott, Sindhi-, got married, were mixed in Persia and there formed a people designated Dom o Rom. Then, a large part of them continued their travel to Europe, so that their descendants are the Rroma of today". These men worked as soldiers and farmers, they also worked as craftsmen and artists. The hungers, the invasions of the Huns, of the Arabs or of the Mongolians, the wars and the disorders, and the hope of finding some better living conditions in other lands caused various groups of Rroma little by little to travel in pursuit of the Sun, crossing the Bosphorus and arriving in Europe.  

        ...and after some centuries the Rroma arrived in Europe- Greece and Armenia were important bridges in this passage from the East to the European continent. In the middle of the XIV century Rromani shanty towns were found in nearly all the islands of the Mediterranean and in continental Greece. According to some authors, the first European territory where the Rroma arrived was Corfú at the beginning of the XIV century. Little by little the groups of Rroma extended around Europe. Depending on the customs, the geographical area that they occupied and the dialectal variant of their own language, large groups of Rroma were formed and they have survived until the present time: kalé, lovari, sinti, kalderash and manouche.  

The attraction of that which is unknown- The first Rroma that arrived in Europe, wandering around the different countries where they reported the most extraordinary and mysterious histories about their origins. The inhabitants of the countries to which they arrived listened to them fascinated, but when the magic of the unknown disappeared, they started to be seen as invaders, when not as vagabonds, delinquents or godless. From that moment the history of the Rroma would be full of pursuits, punishments and incomprehension. But that will be explained later.

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Present Situation in Europe
    The situation of all the Rroma living around Europe is similar in many aspects, but there are some particularities that make their situations quite different, depending on the countries in which they live. Below we make a revision of the common characteristics and also of those that make the communities different between them, as well as of their current living conditions.  

    Offences of Human rights-  Nowadays, many European Rroma have to face terrible situations, since their rights are abused and they are also deprived of their freedom. Many are stateless, refugees, political asylum seekers and repatriated because of the recent Balkan wars and the events that happened after the fall of the regimes of Eastern Europe. The international negotiations to solve the situation caused by the disappearance of Yugoslavia have been done without the participation of the Rromani ethnic minority that inhabit these territories. The European Council has been able to verify on the spot that not even humanitarian aid was equal for the Rroma who needed help compared to the rest of the population. 

    Denial of the right of asylum- At the same time, there are many Rroma of Central and of Eastern Europe that must flee from their countries because of the rising wave of racism and violent assaults that put their lives in danger, so that they are forced to ask for political asylum or refugee status in the States of the European Union. In most of these cases, border authorities of the European Union do not allow these people to enter their territory.   

    Also they condemn the repatriation agreements signed between the member states of the European Union and States of Central and Eastern Europe, since refugees are treated as goods.  
    Racism against the Rroma  
    Soon after the arrival of the first group of Rroma to Europe an attitude of rejection emerged towards these strange people whose procedence was little known about, who wore striking clothes and spoke an incomprehensible language. The red travellers were different from any others known by the European natives, they were rejected and feared by the white people that were living in the towns and cities where the Rromani caravans were arriving. As a response to this feeling of rejection, the governments began to create restrictive and racist policies.  

    Persecutions and slavery- In the XIV century there were Romanian Rroma that were slaves of the king, the church or the landowners. Until the XIX century they would not be free of this ominous yoke. Joaquín Albaicín writes: "One of the servile categories in which Rroma slaves were divided in Romania was the skopici: Rroma who were brutally castrated so that they could work as coachmen for the rich ladies without any risk to their husbands". In western Europe things were not better. The Spanish monarchs constructed step by step complete legislation against Rroma.  

    Racism was extended with the colonization of other countries by the European powers. In the biggest period of expansion and discovery of the world, Europe formulated scientific suppositions that were promulgating the difference between people and, above all, the superiority of some of them. This superiority was legalizing the exploitation of individuals considered inferior. 

    The Nazi Holocaust- The XX century brought more calamities for the Rroma. In central Europe the Nazi Holocaust was born, that reached nearly all the continent. In 1934 the Nazi regime decided which Rroma would be sterilized with injections or castrated, in camps such as Dachau or Sachsenhausen. Also in January 1940 the first massacre of the Rromani Holocaust took place: 250 children were used as guinea-pigs for scientific experiments in the concentration camp of Buchenwald. On the first of August 1944, during the early hours, 4.000 Rroma were gassed and incinerated in Auschwitz -Birkenau, on a night that is remembered as The night of the Rroma (Zigeunernacht). Ian Hancock calculates that "towards the end of the II World War between 70% and 80% of the Rromani population was annihilated by the Nazis". More than half a million people. The forgeting has just started. 

    The Racist parties proliferate in Europe- The cyclical economic crisis suffered since 1973 has contributed to the creation in western societies of an extremely high rate of unemployment that we can already consider chronic. This has instigated situations of rejection to any immigrant who wants to gain access to employment market and it has helped the recent organization of clearly racist political parties. The Front National in France, the Republikaner in Germany, Vlams Block and the Front National in Belgium, are some examples of the political ideologies based on intolerance that have been appearing in some parts of Europe.  

    The end of the Cold War- After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 Rroma have been blamed, even from official instances, for many of the evils that affect the States of the former Soviet area. Because of the changes due to the disappearance of the Iron Curtain, Western Europe has knowledge of the disastrous conditions lived in by the ethnic minorities in those totalitarian states.  

    The Yugoslavian Rroma have suffered ethnic cleansing- The war in the former Yugoslavia caused the most important movement of masses since the end of the II World War. The ethnic cleansing carried out mainly by the Serbian army instigated, apart from other atrocities, a refugee exodus to nearby Europe of almost half a million people. Chronicles of the war have told us of the injustices committed against people from Bosnia, the Croats, and even against the Serbs. But the Rroma have not deserved the attention of the western mass media, while they were also suffering the consequences of the war, without having anybody to defend them, neither politicians or soldiers.  

    New forms of racism- The phenomenon of the skin-heads, the birth of one more of the city gangs, has acquired a huge importance, specially when, in many cases, they have joined together with fanatic groups of football supporters. It has been proved that there are permanent international connections between them, always with the support of extreme right-wing groups, even when they are not part of the same structure.  

    The introduction of new technologies in the field of communication -internet, satellite, optical fiber- has meant the end of frontiers for information. The access to any point in the world, practically at the same moment, represents a new concept in the organization of people. Unfortunately, one of its undesired effects has been the traffic, through these nets, of racist and xenophobic slogans that have been introduced by rigth-wing groups.  

    Some countries limit the free traffic of people- The removal of the internal frontiers in the European Union has caused some countries to adopt harder measures, in order to stop the migrant flow. It must be taken into account that the migrant population consists, of many ethnic groups, not only of immigrants, that relatively recently began to seek employment. Almost always we talk about European and community citizens pleno jure, though they may belong to ethnic or cultural minorities. Their integration, in any case would mean the loss of their identity.  

    In public order conflicts the police frequently treat as delinquents those people who, due to their physical appearance, could look like Rroma. At the same time, being rom is a suspicious element for many police when they are carrying out their investigations.  

    The legislative disparity- Something that has made the fight against racism and xenophobia difficult has been the disparity of judicial and penal approaches that exist in the different countries of the European Union. As a result, there have been very low number of convictions of many people who are accused of committing violent acts against minorities, which has produced, sometimes, a certain sensation of impunity. 

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Geographical Distribution
It is really difficult to quantify the number of Rroma that inhabit Europe. The current census are not very reliable because of the traditional nomadism of the Rroma, that in spite of being decreasing, especially in some countries, still lasts. For these reasons all the figures given must be taken with much caution.  

The Rromani community is about twelve million people- Today the European Rroma form a community of 10 million people. Most of them live in Eastern Europe, concretely eight million, while the rest of them, almost two million, live in the European Union. The approximate figure of the total population of Rroma living around the world is about 12 million people.  

Romania is the country with a larger Rromani population- In graphic 2 one can observe the Rromani population which lives in 15 countries of the European Union and the percentage that this figure represents in every community of each country, in comparison with the majority population. Among the rest of the European countries Romania is highlighted, with almost 3.000.000 Rroma, which corresponds to the 9,15% of the total population.   

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Some Rromani Desires
Rroma have the intention of changing many of the circumstances that negatively condition their own existence and they also want to promote the customs that make them feel a people united in their rich culture and diversity. These are some of the reports, observations and desires of the European Rroma, and many of them have been inspired by the conclusions of the I European Congress of the Rromani Youth, that was celebrated from 6 to the 9 of November, 1997 in Barcelona.  

Legal aspects- The rights of the Rroma people should be guaranteed in a European Document of the Rights of the Rroma that recognizes this community as a nongovernmental cultural, ethnic minority and make it possible, with firm and continual action of public powers to stop the criminal actions against Rroma.  

The European Union and the Council of Europe should have structures that represent the cultural minorities like the Rroma people, who have no state and are scattered throughout Europe as they have a relevant role in forming an integrated Europe of united communities. The community state should apply the recommendations, resolutions, agreements and treaties coming from the European Union, Council of Europe and the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose objective is to protect the rights of national minorities and, in a special way, those that refer to the Rromani rights.
An office for the rigths of Rroma people- It is absolutely necessary that the European authorities inspect their policies of asylum and migration. The creation of an international office for information, direction and advice for the rights of the Rroma people would be a great help in the solution of these problems.  

The youths bet on their culture- The Rromani youth in Europe express their desire of finding a road that will allow them to reach social and cultural welfare of their people and their plenum incorporation into the European plural society. This implies the necessary conservation of their cultural patrimony and of their traditions. 

The Rromani language should be present in the schools- The Rromani language should be considered as one more of the European minority languages of the European Document of the Regional and Minority Languages, and its lack of territoriality should not adversely effect its protection and development. Public powers and Rromani organizations should start programmes for training teachers to teach Rromanès in the public schools. The programmes should include the protection of Rromani literature and the establishment of a policy to promote Rromani literature.  

To retrieve cultural values- An investigative programme should be carried out, incorporating various disciplines and using an international viewpoint that could join together the ethnographic materials and would conclude with the establishment of a European museum of the Rromani culture. The European public institutions could guide a European school project of Romani music and could even sponsor the conclusion of the project of the Rromani Encyclopedia, as well as collaborate in its distribution.  

To incorporate the Rromani culture to the curricular contents- It is necessary to make access to education easier for the Rromani youth, not only at primary level but at secondary and university level as well. The institution responsible should facilitate the creation of an official training project for professional educators that can later make it possible to introduce into schools the concepts referred to as intercultural education. It is very important to have a Rromani in a mediating role as a valid instrument to create awareness of the Rromani families and from the centres of learning as a rule.  

Rromani youths are interested in the creation of a European Network of Juvenile Rromani Associations in order to have themselves taken into account.  

The role of the young rromnià- The acknowledgment of the role of young rromnià is essential not only in their community but also in the rest of the society. The respect of the tradition demands that this is adapted to the times and current circumstances. This is one of the responsabilities of the Rromani youths, that through constant dialogue with their elders, they should get rid of all those obsolete practices that damage the development of the rromnià as persons. The creation of an European Network of Rromani Women is important.  

Living conditions and health-  A high percentage of the Rromani European population live in sub-standard housing conditions and in insanitary environments, which causes people to suffer from different diseases. In order to encourage the improvement of health conditions it is necessary to act on various fronts: to improve unhealthy environments, make the health professionals aware, facilitate access to the normalized health services and hygiene prevention campaigns.  

The institutions should start integral hygiene programmes directed at the Rromani communities that live in poverty and conditions of exclusion. These proceedings should not only be limited to housing but they should also relate to their environment and they should always take into account the advice of the those who are involved. Institutions not only European, but also national, regional and local, together with the Rromani organizations can not postpone the undertaking of a promotion of the training and of  employment that makes it possible for the Rroma to reach a better standard of living. 

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The Rroma in Spain
Historically, the presence of the Rroma in Spain dates back to the XVth century, when they arrived to the Iberian peninsula through the Pyrenees. The first document that gives an evidence of their presence dates from 1425, when the king Alfonso V, the Magnanimous confered a passing permit to Juan and Tomás, who called themselves "Counts of Egypt Minor", to let them by. The name "Egypt Minor" in spanish suggests the word gitano, they way the Rroma are named in spanish. From then onwards, the Rroma scattered across Spain. 

The Rroma are at the present a community of 500.000 to 600.000 members in Spain. Andalusia is the region with a higher number of Rroma, 300.000, wich means a 5% of the population in this area. They have so much importance there that the andalusian parliament declared the 22nd of november as the "Andalusian Rroma Day". This day commemorates the date in which the first Rroma arrived to Andalusia in 1465. After Andalusia, Extremadura, Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia are the regions with a higher number of Rroma living there. Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Country are the areas with a lower Rromani population. 

The main problems of Rroma people lie on education, employement, housing and culture. The Rroma have always had exlusively an oral tradition. They never wrote anything. Therefore, the level of illiteracy is still around the 60 % among the Spanish Rroma. We are talking about people, then, who are not prepared enough to face up the challenge of the present society and, more over, that are helpless in front of the major society. 

In regard to education, we find a two-faced phenomenon. Several educational centers put some difficulties for the Rroma children to study with the non Rroma girls and boys. The schools are afraid of a parents's reaction against the Rroma, and they don't want them to take their sons away from the school. In the same way, the regular school doesn't include in its study programms some elements of the Rromani culture or the social structure of the Rroma people. For both reasons, neither all the schools have a disposal to receive Rroma pupils nor all the Rroma parents and children see the school as something useful for their future. The consequence is obvious: there is a high rate of absenteeism from school among the Rroma children. 

Something similar happens in the labour sphere. Times when the Rroma were valued for their knowledge of cavalry or their work in the forge are very far. Mainly, the Rroma live now from the travelling sale. But this job has enormeous difficulties because of the reluctance of the local authorities to give selling permits. The rest of the activities in wich the Rroma often work, very far from the number of travelling sellers, are agriculture, paper or scrap collection, antiques or artistic activities. In other sectors the Rroma normally have to deal with problems because of their lack of professional skills and the prejudices they find at work. A few employers dare to employ or less still to offer responsability positions to a Rrom. As a consequence, and without any precise stadistic, the unemployment rate among the Rroma people is extremely high. Fortunately, this situation is changing and nowadays the number of Rroma university students is increasing every day. 

In the field of housing we find the same analogous phenomenon of discrimination. The few Rroma people who still live as travellers all over the european continent see how their movements are conditioned by the numerous legislations and ordinances that veto the right to camp in the public terrains. At the present time european Rromani population is mainly sedentary. An important part of them have to live in unhealthy conditions because of their economic situation, in marginal areas of the big european cities. The numerous programms to accommodate the Rroma find its main obstacle in the rejection of the neighbours to accept the Rroma in their neighbourhood. Lastly, at present Rromani culture remains in the oblivion. The majority of the institutions has exclusively a social conception of Rroma people, forgetting the cultural aspects. It is evident that the prior problems are housing and work. But we must not forget that the collective identity of the Rroma people depends in large mesure on the fact of having a common historical past, their own language, a certain social uses and, definitively, a common history. In this sense the efforts to promote the Rromani culture or the teaching of the Rromano language are not enough yet. 

We face, then, that the lack of academic and occupational training, the absence of decent houses or the lack of recognition of the Rroma people idiosyncrasy lead an important part of them to live in marginal conditions, sub-standard housing and to find in very difficult conditions to make a living. Some of their members have to resort to delinquency as a way to survive. As a consequence, the discrimination of the major society against the Rroma people is accelerating and deny them the opportunities to get out of this situation. This is also responsability of many institutions and media. The media frequently base their informations on stereotypes, something that doesn't help at all to bring into harmony the convivence of the Rromani community and the major society. 

The non-Rroma Spanish owe a lot of things to the Rroma people. There are many contributions from the Rromano in the spanish language and a lot of words that come directly from the Rromano language (like chaval, for instance). There is also an important influence of the Rromani culture in other aspects of the spanish culture. It is said, for example, that in Andalusia "you don't know where the Rrom ends and where the Andalusian begins". 

Among the efforts to improve the Spanish Rroma people quality of life and to promote their culture it is remarkable the task of Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia, Rrom, member of the spanish Parliament since 1977 to 1985 and of the european Parliament (1986-94) as well. Nowadays he is the president of the Spanish Romani Union and a representative of Spain in the Consultative Commission "Racism and Xenophobia" of the European Union Council. 

At present Spain has several means of aids for the Rroma people through the central, regional or local government. Generally speaking, we can affirm that it exists a certain compromise of the authorities towards the Rroma people problems, although it could be stronger. The main part of the incomes are given by the own estate through the National Scheme for Rroma Devolopement, which had a 500 milion (ptas) budget in 1996. 

An important part of the efforts in the social and cultural promotion of the Rroma have been made by the own Rroma people. In the middle sixties the Spanish Rroma started to organize themselves and to found associations dedicated to claim for the recognition of their rights, the improvement of their standard of living and the promotion of their culture. Nowadays the Rroma associations themselves are the ones who channel a large portion of the state help. 

Luckily, in Spain there hadn't been many cases of violent racism, opposite to Germany, Austria or the Estern Europe countries (Romania, Bulgaria or the Czech Republic, mainly). The last case of violent racism took place in the village of Mancha Real (Jaen, Andalusia) in 1993, when the major induced the neighbours to set on fire the houses of the Rroma in order to expel them from there. However, racism does exist. It exists in a subtle but constant discrimination, which makes that when the word Rom is pronounced authomatically is associated with criminal activities. To take an obvious example, the general secretary of the Romani Union, Antonio Torres, couldn't come into a discotheque in Santander last summer for the mere fact of being a Rom. These kind of circumstances are very frequent, and it's still quite usual that the policemen ask for the identification papers to the Rroma they find in the streets, simply for being Rroma. We can't forget that until 1976 the by-law of the Guardia Civil (a national security civil force) had some articles that let the police to act at random with the Rroma and, for instance, stop and ask them for the bills of the clothes they were wearing. 

- Article: "The Roma in Spain", by Agustín Vega Cortés, about the historical evolution of the Rroma People in Spain. 

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