With 80% of their families living in poverty, Romani are Europe’s largest minority, an ethnic group with a colourful and rich tradition, but with a dark history. Ten million Romani are living all across Europe, with larger groups found in eastern countries, like Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia. The general perspective of Europeans on the Romani population is one with a deeply rooted discrimination and ingrained social injustice that continue to separate the minority from others.
Who are Romani?
Deriving from the word “Roma” which means “man”, Romani are an ethnic group originating from India, which gradually spread across Europe around the 14th century. Most people call them “gypsies”, but it is important to recognize that this term is offensive to many groups and is generally categorized as a racial slur. While there are many Romani subgroups, they share similar traditions and a common language, Romanes. Back into the 19th century, Romani were widely forced into slavery, sentenced to death and faced organized persecution. This all culminated in the 1930’s, when the Nazis murdered hundreds of thousands of them during World War II.
How is the life of a Romani in Europe?
Despite hundreds of years passing since Romani’s migration, there seems to be little improvement in their integration into European societies. Most of them live a life of continuous struggle, having limited access to health services, poor education – if they have access to education at all, and are systematically discriminated in the job markets. It is common for Romani to live in precarious conditions, in mono-ethic camps or abandoned buildings, which have little to no access to current water, electricity or gas. With more than 90% of Romani children being at the risk of poverty, and 41% experiencing hunger at least once a month, parents often have to resort to theft or begging in order to provide for their families.
Why are Romani trapped in their lifestyle?
Many Europeans believe that they simply don’t want to improve their life and integrate into European societies, but the difficult truth is that Romani are the victims of inner-oppression, also called internalized stigma. After generations have been constantly brushed-off by those around them, some Romani started believing that this is their place in society: separated from the rest, living a life of poverty and criminality. Trans-generational poverty led to trans-generational criminality, and how could you break this vicious cycle when you don’t have access to a proper education, the single key to becoming a functional member of the society? The injustice and discrimination that Romani face every single day makes some assume that integration is not possible from the start. Of course, there are cases of Romani who do get educated and get to live a prosperous life, but until that is the norm, something still needs to change.
What can I do to help?
While the situation of the Romani group has been recognized long ago, it seems that a solution has not yet been found. A complex social issue, the perpetual discrimination against the ethnic group requires institutional reforms, but we, as individuals, can also aid change. First of all, we can start viewing disadvantaged groups from a place of understanding and compassion and help whenever we can. Challenging our friends’ and families’ discriminatory statements and sharing inclusive viewpoints is a small step, but one that can slowly lead to a widely-spread embracement of inclusivity.
Try to understand what your role is in anti-romanism. Are you sustaining it or are you challenging it?