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A history of the Roma, without prejudice
Roxana MAZILUAccording to a 2002 population census, there are 535,250 Roma in Romania. But many organisations claim their number is well beyond one million. Which may be more accurate, since Roma are generally reluctant to declaring their ethnic membership, although they are a constant and recurrent presence across Romania.
We have witnessed countless, heated, more or less clued-up debates on the situation of the Romani people in the country and in Europe. An overview of the history of this people is critical, if we are to understand the present and the Romani culture, often viewed, with good grounds, as a culture of survival.
Why Roma, rather than Gypsies?
The name „țigan,„ (pronounced tsigan) that Roma elites do not regard as mistakenly used for this ethic group, perhaps because it has long grown into a pejorative label used in speech, does have its justification. After all, “țigan” is not the original name of the ethnic group, but it is derived from the Greek “athinganoi” (translated as „untouchable„), the name of a Byzantium sect which practiced isolationism, and which Roma were mistaken for. In fact, they were referred to by various names by the peoples they came in contact with; Roma were often mistaken for Egyptians because of their dark skin: „arami“ (Armenian, pagan), „faraontseg“ (crowd), „bohemien“ (Bohemian), „tartares“ (Tatar), „gypsy“ and “gitano” (Egyptian) or „saracin“ (Arab).
The ethnonym „Rom“ is a name they better identify with; the term is of Greek origin, too, and was used in reference to the people of the Roman and Byzantine Empire, where Roma lived for extensive periods. Along with Rom, depending on their geographic location, this ethnic group which originated in India may refer to themselves as „Sinti„ (the Roma in the German area) and „Cale„ (the Roma in the Iberian area).
History preserved through language
Stereotypes on Roma are in part owing to omissions in works on the history of Romania as taught in the communist era and later. No history textbook includes references to the Roma, to their history in this region, and even less so to the five-century Roma slavery in the Romanian medieval states.
An accurate history of the Roma is therefore hard to draw up, as hardly anything was written about it until the 20th Century. Worth mentioning in this context is that most historical assumptions are worked out on the basis of the Romani language, whose lexicon preserves words taken over from peoples in the areas where the Roma inhabited at various points in time. Linguistic and cultural evidence clearly proves that they originated in India, most likely in the northern region of Punjab, which they left at least 1,000 years ago. There are also Persian and Armenian influences, which prove that the Roma crossed these countries. To this day there are nomadic or quasi-nomadic tribes in India, which substantiates the theory that the Roma were originally nomadic people, who left India during some invasion and were then pushed towards Europe by subsequent wars and invasions.
Armenia is where they separated into three groups: one of them went north of the Black Sea, another to Egypt and a third to the Byzantine Empire. It is this latter group which spread across Europe later. The Turkish invasion most likely drove the Roma into the Balkans region in the 14th Century, some of them travelling to Western Europe after the Ottomans’ conquest of the Balkans.
Generally speaking, the Roma preserved their nomadic or quasi-nomadic lifestyle amid settled societies for quite a long time. This enabled them to preserved their identity as a people, defined a distinct social and cultural brand and shaped their social behaviour and economic activities. Unlike other peoples, for a long time the Roma did not practice established or recognised professions; however, their arts and crafts skills won them fame, particularly in Eastern Europe.
Slavery - a stage kept under wraps
As many as 50% to 75% of the Romanians know nothing about the Roma slavery. How many of us still remember Vasile Alecsandri’s short story on Vasile Porojan? Romanian history textbooks barely refer to the „abolition of slavery,„ but give no further explanations. But it is slavery which occasioned the first written records documenting the presence of Roma in Moldavia (1428) and Wallachia (1385). Monastery records include them as … assets. Roma were also owned by the State or by boyars. In contrast, in Transylvania the Roma status was better, as they were serfs of the Crown in the 1400s, while in 1785 Emperor Joseph II abolishes slavery.
In the 19th Century a new generation of Romanian intellectuals, significantly influenced by Western civilisation, regarded slavery as an obsolete and barbaric practice. The abolitionist movement gained increasing scope in the Romanian Principalities, having France as a model. Ioan Câmpineanu is the first boyar who in 1834 released the Roma slaves he had inherited from his parents.
In 1841 a memorandum by the Swiss Emile Kohly in Iași asked Romanians, „Will you dare to regard yourselves as a civilised nation, as long as your dailies read: young gypsy woman for sale?“ The document had a remarkable impact, and abolitionist views were embraced by an entire generation. Between 1843-1856 Roma slavery was abolished, with crown slaves released first, followed by monastery slaves and eventually boyar slaves.
Estimates indicate that over one-quarter million slaves were freed, and then a large number of Roma left the Romanian territory for neighbouring countries, and from there to Western Europe and eventually to America. This mass movement is known as the third major migration, after the ones from India and Byzantium. Some of the Roma living in Western Europe and America today speak a dialect with Romanian influences.
From slavery to Holocaust
But the Roma emancipation was not accompanied by support for their social and economic rehabilitation, which generally perpetuated their status as an ethnic group affected by poverty, discrimination and social exclusion.
The early 19th Century saw the emergence of the first Roma organisations and publications, intended to enable the group to safeguard its rights. The 1930s were the most prolific in this respect, with Bucharest hosting in 1933 the first Congress of the Roma in Romania and the release of the first Roma history book, written by secretary of the General Society of the Roma in Bucharest George Potra, and titled “Contributions to the history of the Roma in Romania.” But the positive trend came to an end in 1939, when WW2 broke out.
Against the backdrop of Nazi policies, xenophobic trends targeted both the Jews and the Roma—an ethnic group which could not be fully assimilated and controlled anyway, and which did not match the racial standards of the time. The first Roma expulsions to Transdniester took place in June 1942. By 1944, 36,000 people had died in camps.
The Roma Holocaust is also a hardly researched topic, largely kept under wraps. Those who ventured to study it and came in touch with Roma communities with Holocaust survivors were mostly Westerners, e.g. American social scientist Michelle Kelso, whose research resulted in a documentary titled “Hidden Sorrows.”
Between assimilation and inclusion
The communist regime that seized power after WW2 implemented a policy of assimilation: Roma lost their status as an ethnic minority and were forced to settle. In April 1948 a large-scale operation was launched, to identify gypsy communities and register them in public population records. The operation took long to complete, and involved the issue of identity documents and award of conventional names. For the Roma, the process entailed some benefits, including sedentism, compulsory school enrolment and certification of professional skills. Traditional activities bordered unlawfulness, and officially the Roma did not exist. The communist regime also forcibly changed their habitat, as the Roma were confined to shabby outskirts houses or to homes abandoned by the Germans having left Transylvania.
In post-communist times, the social status of some Roma worsened, while others got very rich. At present there is an income divide within the ethnic group; adding to the two categories are the educated, integrated Roma, who are hardly ever news material.
To give fresh impetus to the solving of century-old, deepening problems, a large-scale initiative titled “The Roma Inclusion Decade” (2005-2015) was launched in Central and Eastern Europe. The programme is aimed at identifying solutions to problems that have been a vicious circle for centuries. It is a political commitment by eight CEE countries, Romania included, to reduce disparities in terms of fund allocation for economic and social development, by means of reforms and programmes to fight poverty and social exclusion. The foremost investment target in the programme is education.
Romani culture and identity
Today Roma are integrated in the society or preserve their traditional life style, with family names hinting at their traditional occupations: Kalderash, Boyash, etc. But their economic and social status and their perception are no better than a hundred years ago. While their culture is appreciated and many Romanian personalities are Roma, their valuable contributions to the Romanian culture and society do not remove the ethnicity stigma from their image.
Although they don’t have a national state, the Roma have created an anthem, a flag and a common holiday (equivalent of national days). In the first World Romani Congress in 1971 the flag, anthem and international day of the Roma were approved. The Romani flag consists of two longitudinal strips, green and blue, representing the earth and sky respectively, and of a cart wheel, “chakra,” a symbol of the centuries of travelling. The International Day of the Roma is April 8, though former nomadic Roma in Romania also celebrate the Blessed Virgin on August 15. The anthem, “Gelem, gelem” (“We go, we go”) speaks about the travels, tribulations and joys of the Roma.
Publicat în : English de la numărul 53
Revolutia din decembrie 89: Pacatul originar, sacrificiul fondator este prima carte dintr-o serie de sapte volume dedicate ultimelor doua decenii din istoria României. Nu am pretentia ca sunt detinatorul unui adevar politic, juridic sau istoric incontestabil, si sunt gata sa discut si sa accept orice documente, fapte sau marturii care pot lumina mai bine sau chiar altfel realitatea. Educatia mea stiintifica si religioasa m-a ajutat sa cercetez faptele în mod obiectiv, eliberat de ura sau intoleranta. Recunosc însa o anume încrâncenare în ceea ce am scris venita din durerea unui om care a trait în miezul evenimentelor si se simte lovit de acceptarea cinica a crimelor, abuzurilor, coruptiei si minciunii, sau de indiferenta la fel de cinica cu care sunt înca privite de catre o mare parte a societatii românesti.... Am scris aceste carti de pe pozitia victimelor mintite sau speriate, care nu-si cunosc sau nu-si pot apara drepturile. Le-am scris de pe pozitia milioanelor de români cinstiti care cred în adevar, în dreptate si în demnitate. Emil Constantinescu (text preluat din Introducerea cartii).
MINTEA CEA SOCOTITOARE
de academician Mircea Malita, Editura Academiei Române, 2009 În volumul de eseuri Mintea cea socotitoare, aparut la Editura Academiei Române, acad. Mircea Malita formuleaza în crescendo o serie de întrebari grave ale timpului nostru: Daca omul este rational, de ce se fac atâtea greseli în economie
sau în politica?; Daca rationalitatea nu e de ajuns, care ar fi rolul întelepciunii?; Din viitorul imprevizibil putem smulge portiuni, daca nu certe, cel putin probabile?; Ce si cum învatam pregatindu-ne pentru viitorul nostru?; Este în stare omenirea sa îsi vindece crizele?; Ne asteapta oare un dezastru final? s.a. De-a lungul anilor, acad. Mircea Malita a staruit asupra acestor teme în lucrari recunoscute, însa acum o face raportându-se la dinamica realitatii imediate, inspirat de cuvintele lui Dimitrie Cantemir: socoteala mintii mele, lumina dinlauntrul capului. Eseurile sunt structurate pe patru parti - Mintea senina, Metaforele mintii, Mintea învolburata si Privind înainte. Finalul este de un optimism lucid care tine seama de potentialul de rationalitate si imaginatie al mintii umane si, fireste, de generatiile tinere care îl pot valoriza benefic.
Această carte de poezie este seismograful de mare sensibilitate care înregistrează cele două întâlniri ale sufletului, deopotrivă cu URÂTUL care ne schilodește ca ființă, ca neam, dar și cu FRUMUSEȚEA sufletească nepoluată ce stă ca o fântână cu apă curată pe un câmp plin cu peturi și gunoaie nedegradabile. Ce poate fi mai dureros decât să surprinzi această fibră distrusă de aluviunile istorice încărcate de lașități, inerții, apatii, compromisuri devenite congenitale ale românului? Vibrația versurilor, directețea lor, simplitatea dusă până în marginea cotidianului paradoxal n-au efect distructiv asupra tonusului moral al cititorului, ci produc neliniștea cea bună, cum ar spune Sfinții Părinți. Citești în revolta și durerea poetei un mănunchi admirabil de calități: o demnitate neînfrântă, o fiziologie a verticalității și, mai ales, o inimă creștină, o inimă din ceruri, cum ar spune poetul latin. Căci, în această inimă din ceruri, există lacrimi deopotrivă pentru românul umilit, distrus până și-n visele lui, dar și pentru copilul din Gaza, cu sufletul și trupul chircite sub șenilele tancurilor unui război ce tinde să devină mai lung decât viața lui, ale unui război-viață, lacrimi pentru copilul evreu ce nu a putut fi salvat de la deportarea bestială, lacrimi pentru Tibetul sfâșiat. Și toate acestea fără impostura unui ecumenism sentimental, ci izvorâte din acel suspin curat românesc ce face esența lacrimii creștine. (Dan Puric)
ISLAMUL SI SOARTA LUMII - Fundamentalismul islamic ca ideologie politica de Virginia Mircea "Islamul si soarta lumii - Fundamendamentalismul ca ideologie politca invita la o reflectie mai adanca asupra porceselor lumii contemporane. Judecata critica si independenta a autoarei a produs o lucrare de o veritabila investigatie stiintifica, exact la momentul in care tema tratata deseori fara solutii si perspective ocupa scena din fata a politicii si problemelor mondiale. Cititorii o pot aseza cu satisfactie in bliblioteca lor de referinta. Vor fi mult ajutati in intelegerea evenimentelor care ne sesizeaza in prezent si intr-un viitor in care tema nu se va desprinde de mersul lumii contemporane." (academician Mircea Malita)