This article was first published in Romanian, on www.contributors.ro
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last 20 years in Romania it is to not generalise. Although generalising is fun and it seems to make sense of the world, it results in a narrowness and rigidity of thought that can turn into prejudice. And prejudice can have all sorts of negative consequences. If you generalise about a population it is a statistical certainty that there is a large number of that population behaving differently to how you have described. For many years I heard Romanian people telling me that the Rroma people don’t know how to work the land and don’t like to go to school so we made a documentary film called The Land is Waiting which portrays a family of 10 Rroma kids, all of whom work the land and study hard for school and university.
When I was a kid we used to make jokes about the Jews being mean (it was many years before I realised that the rest of the world made jokes about us, the Scots, being mean), the Irish being stupid, the Italians cowardly and we would happily generalise about the Americans being naïve. In my school the French stank of garlic, the Germans had no sense of humour and to this day I can’t shake the impression that Russians are cruel. It was only when I travelled and started to meet the people I would so breezily make jokes about did I realise that all generalisations are nonsense.
But I didn’t generalise about the Rroma, or the gypsies as they are known in UK, when I was a kid. This wasn’t because I was brought up to be sympathetic to this ethnic minority, or we had Rroma friends, but simply that we had no contact with them. In the UK there are an estimated 90,000 Roma but they are widely dispersed among an overall population of 62 million. I don’t remember even seeing any British Rroma until I lived alone in a cottage and a couple of tough looking characters came to the door looking for antiques. I sold them an old tennis racquet and my Dad later told me “they were probably checking the house so they could rob it at some point in the future”. Thus was born a sceptical attitude towards the Rroma, but it never turned into full scale prejudice as I had heard so little about them and I was always curious about their mysterious ability to move around like ghosts.
I moved to Romania in early 1990 and found that people really wanted to share their opinions with me, most of which were intelligent and interesting. The only opinions that I found shocking and unacceptable were their views about ethnic minorities. In Tirgu Mures in 1990 (just after the inter-ethnic riots of that year) I met both Romanian and Hungarian students whose views of each other were so fanatical and hateful that it reminded me of what I had read about WW2 propaganda mobilising populations for war. This is when prejudice can become dangerous. Fortunately, Romanians have a remarkable ability to defuse these tensions and deal with these issues peacefully (in the 1990s western journalists were predicting a Yugoslav type war between the races in Transylvania – but this was the conflict that never happened – and the USA continue to refer to the “Transylvania Model” as a regional success story).
One of the differences I can notice in Romania today, as compared to 20 years ago, is the attitude towards the Rroma. Today, educated Romanians are aware that it is unacceptable to express racist attitudes towards the Roma and it is hard to come across the kind of wild prejudice that was commonplace in the 1990s. People today are more unwilling to express these views as anyone who has travelled or studied abroad knows that generalisations about other races do not go down well in the west; you can quickly be branded a racist. But I don’t think these prejudices have gone away and if one gets to know Romanians a bit more one comes across a bedrock of hard prejudice along the lines of “Roma live by theft and begging…they don’t work… they don’t want to send their kids to school”. There is of course some substance to these generalisations – it would be naïve to say that no Rroma are engaged in illegal activities – but it is profoundly inaccurate to say that all of them are.
If you follow the logic of this argument – that Rroma are unable to work or study and are genetically programmed to steal – you can quickly come to the conclusion that the only solution is to deport them (or worse). Considering the level of prejudice that exists towards the Rroma it is a testament to the tolerance of the Romanian people that the situation does not descend into violence or that there is no political party advocating extreme measures (such as Jobbik in Hungary). Last month I was talking to an intelligent and charming Hungarian / Romanian family about the Rroma; the mother told me how the peasants across the country are unable to grow crops without the gypsies stealing everything (“you’ve got no idea what’s going on in the villages” she told me); then her daughter jumped in and said “they should all be shot”. What’s shocking is that these views, at least in my experience, seem to be so widely held in Romania. And there is a terrible logic to it; if the Rroma are genetically programmed to cheat and steal then no amount of investment and positive discrimination can help.
Although not everyone is aware of the details – about 35,000 Roma were deported in WW2 and an estimated 11,000 died – I think it safe to say that most Romanians know that Marshal Antonescu enacted a “solution” to the so-called “Roma problem”. The memory of the deportations seems very fresh today among both Romanians and the Rroma. Nicolae Gheorghe, one of the best known Rroma leaders, recently told me that his mother had very nearly been deported during WW2 but she managed to bribe the gendarme officer. “If it wasn’t for Romania’s corruption” he said, “I would have lost my mother.” He also points out that the term “tigan” had been used to identify the Rroma in the 1940 census and then, a year later, these same tigan were deported. He draws a parallel with the recent attempt by Basescu’s party to re-introduce the term tigan (in place of the official word “Roma”) a year before the census, within the context of deportations from France. “All of this spreads fear among the Rroma, awakens memories of the holocaust and reduces their trust in government” said Gheorghe.
I can understand how hard it is for Romanians to be positive about the Rroma people when all their lives they have been subjected to negative impressions. As soon as Romanian kids can understand they are often intimidated with threats of being sold to the gypsies and one can assume that the older generation will pass down their own sense of prejudice about the Rroma to the kids in their charge. In school and at work it is considered normal to have a prejudice attitude towards the Rroma (I wonder if there is any boss in the land who bans such talk?). In other EU countries the media is not allowed to defame ethnic groups (although the British press do manage to be very offensive about foreign Rroma “scroungers”), but in Romania there seems to be no restriction on this.
During the New Years Eve celebration, when much of the population was glued to the TV, Antena 1’s Vacanta Mare so-called comedy was full of offensive sketches about the Rroma migrants in France. Presenting these events in a prime time TV show gives legitimacy to the racist view that all the Rroma who travel to the west are scammers, beggars and thieves. But does anyone know this for sure? Do we have any research to back up these assumptions? What about all the Rroma tradesmen who go abroad? Are there no Romanian thieves who travel to Western Europe?
I gave up arguing with Romanian people about the Rroma long ago. How can you argue with someone who has a list of stories of Rroma theft and trickery? I have noticed that a lot of Romanians spend years building up a mental dossier of crimes and offences carried out by the Rroma. Even though it is rare (in my experience) that the speaker has personally been robbed or cheated, he invariably has a long list of crimes committed at the market, on the bus or to friends in the area. I find it impossible to challenge such statements without calling the person a liar. And it would be wrong to call him a liar as I am sure that the incidents he is reporting are either true or based on truth; and he sincerely believes them. All I can do is persuade him to not extrapolate his experience to the whole Rroma population. I might say “just because the Rroma are dishonest in your experience does that mean they all are?” Often I get replies which paint a more nuanced picture: “we have a gypsy family living on our block and they are as good as gold. I don’t have anything against that type of gypsy.”
My fallback position in this whole debate is education. I can’t deny or justify what some Rroma do in Romania or Western Europe (and begging on the streets in western capitals has done much to increase anger towards the Rroma in recent years). All I can say is that if a people are denied access to school, public services and jobs this is their reaction; I can explain it but not justify it. I might also add that the Rroma were slaves in Romania for 500 years (until 1865), a fact that seems to be rarely discussed. You invariably come to a point in these discussions when it is said “what can be done?” (this is the point when a taxi driver might mention Antonescu’s solution) and I always say “education is the only answer”.
There is an interesting World Bank report which says that the cost of educating the Rroma would be a lot less than the contribution that educated Roma would make to the country’s GNP. It also says that a Romanian Rroma would earn more money if he/she had completed secondary education. The basis of the report is that the Rroma population is almost 10% of the Romanian population and they represent the future workforce of Romania. To not invest in their education is effectively digging the grave of the Romanian economy. It seems to me that the Rroma are being punished for their unwillingness to conform but the real victims of this (at least in economic terms) are the Romanians.
Many Romanians would find this baffling. Despite the widespread cynicism in Romania, and the general lack of faith in government, there is a strange tendency to believe that you can resolve problems by legislation (I’m sure in a one party system a law can be immediately implemented but in a democracy you have to raise awareness, set up enforcement mechanisms and make sure the money is there to make it work.)
There are numerous laws which give all Romanians free access to education (as well as health care and social security) and many Romanians I have spoken to really believe this is how it is (Romanians often tell me “the problem is the Rroma just don’t want to send their children to school”). But if you go to the Rroma communities, if you visit the schools in the Rroma areas, if you speak to the Rroma NGOs you get a very different impression – that the Rroma population are systematically denied access to quality education.
Note the word “quality” here. It is probably true to say that every Rroma family in the land could send their kids to a local school but many choose not to because of the poor quality of their local school. Is this because all Rroma don’t value education or because the schools in the Rroma areas are bad? Much of the Rroma population live in villages and village schools in general are starved of resources, and the schools in the Rroma areas particularly so. The 48 inspectorates for education have all sorts of urgent demands on budgets that are totally inadequate for the task of educating the population (let alone investing in the Rroma). They struggle to pay for the winter heating bills and teachers’ salaries (even though they are probably the worst paid teachers in the EU). These inspectorates have to prioritise and it is easy to understand that they would choose the best city centre schools. If you visit any city centre in the country you will see a freshly painted school with a concrete yard; visit any Rroma village and be sure to see unpainted school buildings, outside toilets and a mud yard. But, in my experience, it is hard to find a Romanian who is willing to admit that this is the real situation.
I have spoken to many Rroma families about these issues and it is easy to understand their perspective. Those I spoke to would like to have their kids in school but there are two main problems: the minor barriers and the overall value of the experience. The immediate problem is clothes and books. To send your kid to school in Romania you need to invest in new clothes (there is an unwritten law that every school child needs to be smartly dressed); and you have to buy books and other supplies. Many Rroma families can’t afford any of this. The other problem is the overall value of education. To benefit you need to finish at least 8 years of school and many Rroma families prioritise various trades as a route to financial independence. If a father knows a trade that makes money it is easy to understand why he would want his boys to work as his apprentice. “He’s being educated by me” the father might say.
One of the more impressive NGOs that helps Rroma kids is Ovidiu Rom, run by the local celebrity Leslie Hawke. Her mission is to get every Romanian child into kindergarten by 2020. Hawke has been working on education issues in Romania for over 10 years and she started off working with older kids, but came to the (rather obvious) conclusion that if the kids don’t get into kindergarten they will not be able to integrate into a school, they will be socially handicapped and will be unable to contribute to society. She has numerous stories of Rroma families who are denied access to good schools by bureaucratic head teachers who have an array of excuses they can use to exclude children they don’t like the look of.
Hawke has been very successful in raising money from the corporate sector (in fact, she is a case study as one of the most successful fundraisers in Romania) but she has failed to make much impression on the Ministry of Education who continue to cling to their old fashioned and elitist model of education (creating a Soviet style intellectual elite while ignoring the needs of those at the bottom). Ovidiu Rom knows exactly how much it costs to “invest” in a child to be supported through kindergarten – they ask sponsors for 420 Euro per child, to pay for clothes and supplies for one academic year – and they have evaluation and impact reports that would delight any bureaucrat (for example, this report claims a 79% “perfect kindergarten attendance” in 19 villages. Why is the Romanian government not learning from this sensible and low cost pilot project? Why are they not investing in their own children? Is spending a million Euro on a grotesque statue to Caragiale outside the national theatre a better investment?
I know that the situation is a lot more complex than I have presented here; I know that education is not the only answer; I know that employment may well be the key (if a Rroma family have a steady income they are more likely to send their kids to school and resolve many of the usual problems). All I know for sure is that generalising doesn’t help – it forms the bedrock of prejudice (which in turn acts as a barrier for Rroma accessing jobs, school and public services). Generalistions are a roadblock on the route to finding a solution. Intellectually it is difficult to sustain generalisations about the Rroma as they are so easy to contradict, and this can be stressful. It’s like forming a defensive line in a battle with not enough troops.
I try to have a neutral opinion about the Roma. All I can do is listen and learn. Teodor Tita, the editor of www.contributors.ro, recently told me “we just don’t know the Roma. We don’t understand them”. And it’s true. Even though I have built up a series of impressions about the Roma, and I have met a wide range of them, I can’t say that I really know them. All I can do is try to keep an open mind about them, not form rigid opinions, listen to everyone’s view, make time to visit Roma people as often as possible and make sure I respect the various opinions. Intellectually it’s so much easier to not have to defend a fixed position and it means that I am always open to learning more about the situation. It means I am always willing to discuss potential solutions. All this may sound impressive but it’s not; it’s just a combination of curiosity (I’ve never lost that childlike curiosity in the Rroma) and trying to avoid generalising.
Follow Rupert on Twitter, @wolfemurray.
“Gypsies are genetically programmed” and so are Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, French, Czechs, etc.. etc.. Unfortunately for hundreds and hundreds of years, gypsies were victims of an international plot that prevent them to integrate. They are FAMOUS for their worthiness, working from morning to night, but for hundreds and hundreds of years, perfectly organized plotters, deprive gypsies of the fruits of their labor, or pay their gypsy workers very badly. Gypsies like a lot to learn but hundreds and hundreds of years in all European countries, racist plotters prevent them by force to do this. To compromise them definitively, racists coerce gypsies to beg, make drug trafficking, administer prostitution networks or steal cars. Racists also make gypsies to pay NO taxes, water, electricity, thus completing the picture and ruining their image in front of other fellow citizens. However, their side have a powerful ally: Nature. In the rare moments when they don’t work, they multiply like rabbits, so the future belongs to them. The lucky ones who will make it till then, when Gypsies and others like them will be the majority (that time is approaching), will be living in a perfect world, a world dreamed by all previous generations, where tourists can visit the reservations where Germans, Swedes, Czechs, English, Dutch, French will live… … fortunately for the humanity, on its way to extinction. Upon entering each reservation will be written in large letters: LONG LIVE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS!
Very good article, it asks interesting questions and doesn’t jump to easy and “politically correct” conclusions.
I almost never comment on blogs… I make an exception here because, as a Romanian, I feel ashamed about the previous comment.
I never thought I’d write that, either.
I live in France where Rroma are deported by the government and strongly defended by ONGs. I enjoyed your article because it is very neutral and tries to analyse a huge problem which should be solved by the EU. In spite of my bad experiences with Romanian gypsies in Italy and France, I am trying to know better this minority that is suffering from discrimination all around Europe. Anyway, I agree with you: probably education and employment are the keys to help them.
Well written as usual Rupert, yet while being broadly in agreement I think it is important to point out that the phenomenon of families not being able to afford to send children to school or kindergarden is in no way a purely Roma issue. There are thousands of Romanian families in a similar position.
I would also somewhat provocatively ask if the €420 per child raised is handed to the poor families it is raised for, safe in the knowledge that it will be spent as intended? Or does Hawke’s charity spend it on their behalf? If the latter, might I not suggest that in not trusting people to spend money as intended Ovidiu Rom is not itself guilty of (albeit well meaning) prejudice?
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Why does everyone say you shouldn’t generalise? What would they have said to Wilde or any other aphorist? It’s all part of a tendency to elevate the scientist with his scientific method and barbarous jargon – and beside him the state – at the expense of the people, the old wives, the man in the pub. See France and Prussia where the state took on and defeated the Church. Nowadays the increasingly multinational deracinated state perceives national traditions as its enemy. Marx did not understand how the power of the state would reorganise the world. It was not the working class but the public sector class which achieved power at the expense of the landed class and using the working class as a cover. I hope but do not believe that E Europe will throw off this servile attitude to the progressive liberal state.
Breaking the rule is of course not acceptable by law-abiding people. However, when survival is at stake, observing regulations may equate to extinction.
Pretty tough job, fixing this mess. Most of the gypsies I met were either appallingly poor or terribly bad people. Those in between don’t call themselves gypsies, and are not perceived as such either.
In fact I’d say we’re dealing with the classic poverty trap issue (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_trap). Gypsies are generally born into severely poverty-stricken tribes (community would be too strong a word) that tend to be led by autarchs. These tribes have in fact been known by occupationally-driven sobriquets (such as ironsmiths/’fierari’). As the traditional Romanian society has progressively modernized and lifestyles adjusted accordingly, gypsies were centrifugally ousted and left w/out basic means. They obviously adapted to severe social environments and learnt to break the rules. Certain tribes have proved resilient and evolved into crafts (whoever passes by Bratei, nearby Sibiu, for instance, can trade manually crafted copper made kitchen tools; of course, one may still wonder if the very basic metals were bought at fair market prices), though the vast majority of gypsies did not developed business cultures.
The fish smells from the head, as the saying goes. We Romanians need to change alot. First off, we need to establish and follow rules ourselves.
We need open up the economy and take the breaks off. Quasi-legal monopolies need to be seriously challenged and corruption of public servants fought off. Project management skills have to be immediately grown within governmental agencies.
Social issues such as racism tend to augment in autocratically led societies. The culture of freedom of thought leads to freedom of action, that in turn creates economic value – these nurture an open society.
Democratic endeavors need to dominate the public arena. We should raise standards and have no tolerance for idiotic and selfish leaders of all kinds that manipulate the poor and win elections just to turn the public agencies into private rents.
I have 10 years less than the writer in Romania and, whilst my experience and views are broadly similar, I have always been surprised by the level of prejudice shown by many educated and traveled Romanians towards the Rroma, and also to other non-Aryan ethnic groups.
The employment versus jobs debate is like “chicken and egg”: both are essential and those organisations which facilitate real progress in either area are to be applauded, including Ovidiu Rom.
It is more costly and more complicated to make sustained progress with jobs for Rroma and this may be partly why there appears to be more effort generally on education.
The answer is not obvious but I don’t think that Romania has stumbled upon it yet and neither has the EU for that matter.
I heard this Christmas that the mayor of Targu Mures has started a scheme of social housing for Rroma, in which families are guaranteed one of these newly built functional “houses” (I haven’t seen them, and am not sure if any have been finished yet, and have no idea what they will look like), with the proviso that their kids stay in school until 18. If any of the family’s children drop out or stop attending the house is given to another family.
It sounds like a solution fraught with problems, but one which is at least a creative solution. I haven’t actually seen this policy explained at length in written format, and it would be good to see how it is supposed to work.
I would go ahead and say that the level of racism Rroma face in Romania is proportional by now to the level of racism most Romanians face in all of western Europe. I have met incredibly smart western europeans that have no problems in thinking eastern european girls are prostitutes, all romanians are in general a race that is well below their level of inteligence and so on … In 2010 a french guy (that I know obviously) told his romanian woman employee that if she wants to work in western Europe she needs to “marry” a western european boy…
I can continue with endless …and far wrose examples oh how “not rascist” western europeans are.
For me the racism Rroma face in Romania is no different than any racism other ethnic groups face all over Europe. Romania is just chosen as the bad, bad kid with the bad, bad example. The truth is Europeans in general are rascists and they like it like this. I view this as part of the European cultures, because all of them are so strong…its hard for each of them to accept each other’s arrogance.
I thought a lot before answering this article. As Rupert says in the article it is an education problem, not only for gypsies but also for us, Romanian people. We are educated from childhood with many stereotypes about gypsies and about hungarians, too.
I really wasn’t aware about how rich is our country with so many ethnics leaving here. And personally I try to fight against the stereotypes I’ve been educated with and I try that my perception about people around me to not be influenced by them. It is not easy and I don’t always can get off them.
I’m leaving now in Spain and and I lived some months in France. In Spain they achieved to integrate an important part of their gypsy population but the stereotypes are still present. In France I think the situation is worst. From what I saw, in France, gypsies have a nomad live, leaving in public properties with the police watching them anywhere they go. I don’t know if all the French gypsies are living like this. But I was really impressed.
And the racism problem against the colour people and muslims is quite high in both countries.
Personally I learnt to not care to much what others say about my country and Romanians or if they call us all gypsies. But I would like to have a government with the courage to fight against the action of Western countries that point out Romanian gypsies or inmigrants as the problem for their imperfect legal system to gain some votes.
To stigmatize people around us is worst we can do. I think that it will take long time untill the situation of gypsies in Romania will be better. Is is very difficult now whith the economical situation. But I do recommend the last comment from Rupert’s article translated in Romanian of a person (draqulea) and take care of how we educated our children. Cheers
Well written with questions that make me personally feel uncomfortable… my experience of Rtoma in bioth Roumania and France where I currently live have been grossly disagreeable – mugged twice,beaten up twice (separate instances), robbed, I had a tigana in my KITCHEN when I lived in Bucharest who would have got away with my handbag plus the contents of my fridge if I hadnt walked in from my bedroom at the moment when… I tried very hard to be understanding, to keep an open mind as I am very much one to fight for the under dog. One year in Roumania which also brought with it two broken ribs and a handful of other experiences mentioned above made that impossible. I am a teacher and taught in Roumania too. I tried to teach Rroma children in their villages and also in Bucharest, but to know avail. Except for one, Simona, a very admirable woman who became a journalist and has made fighting for the integration of the Rroma her life’s work despite the fact that, she says, it is useless since the ‘minority of lazy thieving lay-abouts make it bad for the whole community right across the board’.
An excellent article indeed which, as I said, has given me food for thought and makes me feel uncomfortable in my ‘racism’ formed entirely on personal experience… Thank you, Rupert.
In the first place all Rroma born on the Romanian territory are first and foremost Romanian Citizens with the right to a Romanian identity document and birth certificates when their children are born as are all Romanian citizens. The fact the Rroma often do not apply for the above is another subject, but its their right! All Rroma who are Romanian could benefit from education on the above subject as without legal documents they are denied at the first stop any chance of taking up their rights to education, healthcare and cant move forward in life – the same of course goes for all Romanian citizens.
For Brian: I would imagine the reason for this is that a great percentage of the Rroma people are illiterate and thus could not fill in the forms required. Their family members would also be in the same boat and they would have to wait to be accompanied by someone who could write for them. having held literacy classes for this very reason, it is a bit of a vicious circle – one wants to learn, but one doesn’t go to class. Forms therefore cannot be filled in and rights are denied. Somewhere the vicious circle needs to lose a link and gain another…
To Gabriel Ogoranu: That IS irony, right?!! Mihai, I couldn’t agree more
Example 1 : if u explain a romanian person on why they should not hate a rrom person they would say: i worked honestly all my life, barely afford a house and a car… and look at the gypsy across the street living in a a castle and driving a fancy car.i never see them working and always hear of them stealing, begging.
Example 2: if you explain a western european on why they should not hate all romanian people they would say: well i look on the street and i all i see is romanian beggers and romanian thieves. i never see them working and always hear of them stealing, begging.
And that’s the same story in my eyes. Western Europeans should not feel so entitled in giving lessons, cos they are making the same mistakes.
I don’t see anyone giving lessons here. What I see is an excellent article full of factual info – info that otherwise generally goes unsaid.
I have to say though that up to a point I agree with westvseast in the sense that, indeed (and speaking from my own experience here in Paris, France) that the whole ethnicity issue Romanian/Rroma is extremely misunderstood, simply because noone bothers to make the difference. I heard only the other day, “I was robbed by a ‘type roumain”. What does that mean exactly? I asked the woman what she meant. her reply, “vous savez tres bien, Madame, dirty, smelly, skinny, dark skinned – un type bien roumain”, to which I asked her “and me, do I look like un type roumain to you?” I have dark hair, green eyes and am very pale. She was somewhat taken aback but replied, “non, Madame, vous n’avez pas l’air.” So, I took out my mobile phone and showed her photos of my parents, my friends in Roumania and asked, “these people? Type roumain?” No, of course not, she replied. “Wrong,” I yelled in her face. “We also are Roumanian. how do you know you weren’t robbed by a Serb, croat, Hungarian, Macedonian or an Albanian? Do you speak the language? How many Roumanians do you know???” This happens all the time. In the metro, the bus, the street… it’s always ‘un type roumain’. Which is what, exactly???
I have friends here in Paris who would rather say they are Italian than admit to being Roumanian. I am not Roumanian, but I love to say that I am!! My parents are my adoptive parents – adopted via heart not via papers. they are the parents I would have chosen had I been given the choice. they are indeed Roumanian. This ignorance, this narrow-minded preconception of what a Roumanian is supposed to look like never ceases to horrify me, never ceases to make me create an exhibition of myself in public, but I do not care and will continue to do it until something changes…
It’s not even a question of whether the perpetrator of a crime is Rroma or not. It’s simply about ignorance and stupidity, the branding of a people through failure to educate oneself… Only the other week I read that the majority of gypsies in the Pqris metro belong to a gang of Serb gypsy mafia. Not from Roumania at all. (Sorry if I’m off topic here!)I currently live in a country of narrow-minded idiots, so obsessed by their own ‘nombrils’ that they refuse to see how racist they are…
@Eric: Yes, that looks like IRONY. Well, that’s what POLITICAL CORRECTNESS has left us in the end, the irony and the right to speak. Because in Romania the stupid working class in forced by law to positively discriminate Rromas, while the Rromas are not forced to do anything (say for example: learn, work, pay taxes or used services). We are fed up with the freaking political correctness because while we all pay for the rromas education and monthly social allowance, they rob, rape, beat people up and their only strategy for the future is to make as many kids as possible. For each and every kid they receive money every month from the government, so they just add the money and never send the kids to school.
We tend to use irony and to discriminate rromas but the verbal irony won’t hurt them while their infinite list of agresions has put an end to our patience. And in the following years, if they don’t send their kids to school and start taking jobs, paying their taxes and the services they use, if they don’t start acting like every other Romanian does, if they don’t stop using our money to buy luxury homes and cars and never do an hour of honest work, we, Romanians, might just quit verbally bitching about them and start doing what they do now. Reinforcing the law by using brutal force without a legal basis should be a better strategy than just giving them money in exchange for nothing, they seem to better understand the violence…
This article is lacking a lot of essential depth. This is however not reprehensible and not surprising either, coming from a non-Romanian, albeit having lived in Romania for so long. Not speaking a country’s language is a major drawback in understanding its culture, although I do think Mr. Murray has done a decent job even under the circumstances.
The author’s account is far from neutral, as claimed by the author and appraised by some of the comments. It has a clear tendency towards finding excuses for the Rroma and being outraged at Romanians’ so-called racism. What I would expect from a neutral article is an intertwining of facts for and against the Rroma’s reputation/reality. Here the “for” facts are clearly predominant.
I am Romanian myself. I grew up in Romania and went for studies abroad after high-school. While I was in Romania, I have been robbed and aggressed (verbally) by members of the Rroma ethnic group multiple times. My family an I have driven through the village of Buzescu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buzescu) at least bi-weekly on the way to my grandparents’ village, I have seen countless Rroma women whose nose had been cuttoff by jealous husbands coming to my mother’s cabinet (she’s a doctor). Moreover, in my mother’s experience (always a doctor in the public sector), there have been and there are countless attempts from the government and NGOs to help the Rroma (free clothes and books for children, guaranteed percentage of jobs, in some places even free housing etc). These attempts have definitely improved the situation perceptibly for a number of Rroma people. However, the case remains that many of them just refuse to give up their traditions and lifestyle for one reason or another.
As far as education goes, lack of means is definitely not the major nor the only factor. In primary school, we had this Rroma colleague in our class. She was coming to school most days, she almost never did any homework, but overall it was positive even just her being there. Yes, she was sometimes ridiculed, but so were chubby kids, kids with smelly lunches, funny clothes etc. We all know how cruel school can be. One day she just stopped coming. I suspect it has very much to do with the fact that she was a girl and very little with the moderate ridiculization. She probably had to get married by the time she was 10 or 12. How is that the fault of racial discrimination? I would seriously digress in addressing this situation properly, but for anyone interested, the subject of women’s education in such environments is amply dealt with in the book “Half the Sky”, by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The key is empowering the women of that ethnic group and removing the absolute authority of men, something which is ignored by all Rroma aid initiatives so far. Until that happens, progress will be minor.
Despite all this, I don’t see the Rroma people as fundamentally evil or inferior (the actual definition of racism) and I agree that education is the only answer. I feel very sorry for them, for their condition and I would not refuse to interact with them if the opportunity presented itself. However, given my personal experience there would obviously also be a strong element of distrust and fear (see Rroma sword fighting and revenge stories, e.g., mayor of Rosiori de Vede, TR murdered, Rroma wives with chopped noses or murdered) in any such interaction.
All in all, I would like to launch a call to Western Europeans to stop over-simplifying the situation (Rroma = oppressed, Romanians = racists) for the sake of political correctness and whatnot. Even an article like Mr. Murray’s who, one would think, should have more insight on the matter than the average Western European is very disappointing. To anyone wanting to write on the matter, I would highly recommend: 1. learn to speak Romanian, 2. spend some time actually living among Rroma people (not necessarily in their neighbourhood, but at least in the same village/town) and not as a foreign visitor, but just blending in as a Romanian. Only then will you be able to have a decent and more or less fair perspective on these things.
One point which I think is worth mentioning. The Rroma are by no means stupid. On the contrary, they are extremely sly and I’m sure they would do very good in school if they were permitted or if they wanted to stay long enough.
I am not mentioning this just to introduce yet another generalization (I strongly agree with Mr. Murray’s views on generalizations). The reason I’m mentioning this is the following: I find it almost unthinkable that Westerners so naively accept Rroma people’s pose as victims, but are instantly ready to accuse Romanian of lying whenever they hear accounts of robbing or aggression.
Granted, not all the Rroma feign to be victims (down with generalizations!), but I am ready to put my hand in fire that a considerable proportion are fully aware of the advantages of posing as victims for foreigners. These advantages are double 1. direct (people show compassion and help them) and 2. indirect (Romanians are booed as racists, satisfying their thirst for revenge).
As far as Romanians’ aggression experiences by Rroma go, I would be extremely interested in a statistic of what proportion of the Romanian population has at least once in their life been faced with robbery, theft, physical or verbal aggression from one or more Rroma persons. But I think I will not be surprised at the result, as Mr. Murray himself observed. I would however not be so rushed to suspect Romanians of lying. This also explains, but certainly not excuses, the fact that Romanian parents scare their children with being given/sold to gypsies.
It’s hard to answer all the comments above but I’d like to say to Andreea that I do speak Romanian and I have spent a lot of time with the Roma and I’ve never had a problem with them. Many of the comments are about this huge amount of aid/help the government gives the Roma, the social aid and jobs they offer, but if you go to Roma villages and see how they live and what they get you realise that they don’t actually get this aid — which is their right as Romanian citizens and is received by their better educated peers. And I was careful not to call the Romanians racist — I actually call them tolerant considering the level of hatred against the Roma — but some of these comments are racist. All I ask for is an open mind about the Roma; it’s the only way to find a solution. Ciao
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Congratulations on speaking Romanian, Mr. Murray! I am honestly impressed and grateful that someone like you is trying to understand our culture and that of the Rroma. And thank you for your comment.
What I meant when I said one should speak Romanian was not simply being able to get around and talk to people. I rather meant being able to pass for a Romanian, so that you are treated like a Romanian by the Rroma. I will venture to guess that you do not speak Romanian like that, otherwise you would not need someone to translate your articles.
It may appear more excusable from the Rroma side, but the hatred or negative feelings and prejudice are definitely reciprocal and more often than not have graver manifestations by the Rroma. Obviously these feelings do not exist towards foreigners… Just as you are not treated as a Rroma by a Romanian person, you are not treated as a Romanian by the Rroma person. It makes a huge difference.
As for the pitiful way in which the Rroma live in some villages, I’m not sure that is in fact Rroma specific. There are countless poor families in Romanian villages, both Romanian and Rroma. And I am not saying this as an outsider. Like many other Romanian kids, I have spend the first half of my childhood (until I started primary school) living in such a village and afterwards I returned on every school vacation. There were poorer people and richer people, like in any other place in the world. I ma curious and this is not a rhetorical question: have you also visited Romanian villages and their more or less fortunate people?
In any case, regardless of your thoughts or (hopefully) response to the above, I think it would be highly beneficial to anyone writing about the Rroma not to focus only on positive sides. The only way any piece of writing will be objective enough to be taken seriously and to provoke the reaction I’m guessing you are expecting (a positive one) is for it to show both sides of the coin.
There is no doubt that there are countless good Rroma people in Romania and everywhere, but you cannot just close your eyes on or turn away from the atrocities that some of them are perpetrating. It is crucial that both types are contrasted. Maybe then one could even demonstrate the reduction of the bad group in favor of the good group.
When you only show/talk about the good ones, you can only possibly get reactions of outrage for not having even mentioned the bad ones, when clearly they are a big part of the picture! If you want moderate and objective responses, the only way to go is to write a moderate and objective article. Maybe even a slightly contradictory article to really stress that you could argue from both positions if need be.
Unless of course you are in fact trying to provoke Romanian people in order to demonstrate how racist they are. But I would frankly not expect that from an intelligent person like you seem to be.
I was recently discovered a copy of the Sunday Times magazine dated 20/1/91.There was an article in this magazine that would alter the course of my life, it was about Ionaseni orphanage in Romania, that was homne to “irrecuperables”, I contacted the charity SEA and spent several months in Romania with theWolfe Murray brothers and a band of volunteers.I met some amazing pople and incredible children but I often wonder what happened to the orphanage and if it is still getting support, I have been unable to find any information on it or SEA. I see Rupert is still in Romania so perhaps he can tell me? I was at that point Jacqui Derham, I meant my future husband, Tristan at Ionaseni so I have alot to thank Romania for!
PS I am sorry this has nothing to do with this article but I can’t find an email for Rupert.
It’s interesting Andreea to see how rattled you are by this article and the ideas you seem to think are portrayed.
First of all, if you scroll all the way to the top you will see that the title states “My view of the Rroma”. Also towards the end the author clearly acknowledges that there are more aspects to the situation than he covered.
Second, I am Romanian, but I have lived a number of years abroad and I must say that I am thankful for the experience because it broadened my understanding of the racial tensions between Romanians and the Rroma. I can see things now from multiple perspectives, Romanian and outsider.
I know that many Romanians think that it’s unfair or unfortunate that their little country always gets the worse end of things.
But why is it that outsiders are only welcome to spend their money in the country but they can’t voice their opinions on what’s going in Romania?
God forbid someone makes an observation that’s not complimentary and immediately they’re shunned as an ignorant foreigner.
Mr. Murray has lived in Romania for over 20 years and has done a lot to help many people.
You mentioned that you’re not living in Romania anymore. Maybe his experiences are more up-to-date than yours?…
Just because you’re Romanian doesn’t mean you have more say in this than someone that has different experiences.
I also find it rather (purposely?) naive that you rely on the dictionary definition of racism. You attack the article for lacking depth and yet you believe that if you don’t view something at “fundamentaly” evil or inferior than it’s not racism. What a simplistic view you have of racism. It can manifest in many, many ways, with various degrees of subtlety.
In fact I see racism in your replies, sometimes hidden behind arrogance. I also see lots of intentional generalizations.
Also I don’t think that you really wanted the article to show both sides of the issues, as you claim, for the sake of it equally and fairly portraying the situation. I think it’s because you believe that if it were done ‘properly’, in the end it would show the gypsies as you believe they are – sly and undeserving.
It seems that your perceptions of the Rroma are a lot less based on fact that the author’s. You said “the case remains that many of them just refuse to give up their traditions and lifestyle for one reason or another”. Again that seems like a very purposely ignorant comment. What exactly is “the one reason or another”? And how do you know they “refused” as opposed to ” didn’t have the means to other options”?
I find it interesting that you sidestep the issue of integration of the Rroma into Romanian society by blaming it on gender inequalities within their own culture. I think we both know that’s not the Real issue why gypsies are shunned and can’t properly integrate.
I would like to point out that this is only a brief critique on your replies.
This is prehaps a silly question and I would like an Romanian to answer it for me, since I believe the answer is ‘yes there definitely is and this is why…” but I don’t want to be seen as an ignorant foreigner!! My Romanian isn’t anywhere near as good as Rupert’s (I’m sure – I understand it very well, speak it like a vaca spaniola but cannot write it) but I have been attached to this amrvellous country for eleven years, lived and worked there. Okay my question is this, as it hasn’t been addressed. Isn’t there a difference between pure Rroma and those that are mixed, ie. married outside their community? From my personal experience, the pure Rroma are a peaceful people who keep themselves to themselves and even if we don’t agree with girls marrying at 12, their so-called ‘justice’ system and the complete absence of education, they leave everyone alone – they want nothing to do with gadjo. In my experience it is the mixed Rroma who have the bad reputation (and rightly so, see my comments above 12 and 14) and that I personally dislike due to my own experiences both in Romania and everywhere else, for that matter. My dislike of them (and I write this comment honestly despite being profoundly ashamed of my racism since that is, supposedly what it is), I think, is not aimed at pure Rroma. Perhaps I am wrong and have a strange stereotypical view of gypsies in long skirts dancing round campfires!! I jest, but hopefully you know what I mean. I have never been to a pure Rroma community. Only those who have married ‘out’. Could someone please answer and please also forgive my ignorance. Incidentally, Isabel Fonseca wrote a superb book ‘Bury Me Standing’ which though very pro-Rroma, is interesting in a historical and sociological sense. She explains why living conditions are so bad. Bad to us but not bad to the Rroma. Why their hygiene is so…um…unkempt. To us, not to them. It has its roots like everything else.
Andreea, you make very interesting points and though I feel you were a little hard on Rupert, I agree with your Romanian viewpoint and have heard it many times before. Your comment about poor conditions in village perhaps not being only Rroma is spot on. I agree also that focusing on the positive side doesn’t do much good to anyone in the long run. BUT we need to speak from personal experience and not from the feeling in the air.
Thanks chaps, great comments! :o)
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