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Romani people

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Romani people
Rromane dźene
Roma flag.svg
Romani flag created in 1933 and accepted by the 1971 World Romani Congress
Total population
Uncertain; estimates range from 2 million to more than 12 million
See Romani people by country for the entire list of countries and other estimations.

The following list uses official data, unofficial estimations might differ substantially.

Regions with significant populations
United States 1,000,000
Brazil 800,000
Spain 650,000
Romania 619,007
Turkey 500,000
France 500,000
Bulgaria 370,908
Hungary 205,720
Greece 200,000
Slovakia 189,920
Russia 182,766
Serbia 147.604
Italy 130,000
Germany 120,000
United Kingdom 90,000
Macedonia 53,879
Mexico 53,000
Ukraine 47,587
Portugal 30,000 - 50,000

languages of the region, Romani


( Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism),

Related ethnic groups

Dom people, Lom people, other Indo-Aryans

Romani Wagon in Germany in 1935
Recent Romani wagon in Grandborough (Grandbourough Fields Road is a popular spot for travelling people)

The Romani are an ethnic group living mostly in Europe, who have been traced genetically to a group migrating from the northwestern Indian Subcontinent about 1,500 years ago. Romani are widely known in the English-speaking world by the exonym " Gypsies" (or Gipsies).

They are known collectively in the Romani language as Romane or Rromane (depending on the dialect concerned) and also as Romany, Romanies, Romanis, Roma or Roms.

Romani are widely dispersed, with their largest concentrated populations in Europe, especially the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe and Anatolia, followed by the Kale of Iberia and Southern France.

The Americas are also home to large numbers of Romani. There are an estimated one million Roma in the United States; and 800,000 in Brazil, most of whose ancestors emigrated in the nineteenth century from eastern Europe. Brazil also includes Romani descended from people deported by the government of Portugal during the Inquisition in the colonial era. In migrations since the late nineteenth century, Romani have also moved to Canada and countries in South America.

The Romani language is divided into several dialects, which add up to an estimated number of speakers larger than two million. The total number of Romani people is at least twice as large (several times as large according to high estimates). Many Romani are native speakers of the language current in their country of residence, or of mixed languages combining the two.


Romani usage

In the Romani language, rom is a masculine noun, meaning "man, husband", with the plural roma. Romani is the feminine adjective, while romano is the masculine adjective. Some Romanies use Rom or Roma as an ethnic name, while others (such as the Sinti, or the Romanichal) do not use this term as a self-ascription for the entire ethnic group.

Sometimes, rom and romani are spelled with a double r, i.e., rrom and rromani. In this case rr is used to represent the phoneme /ʀ/ (also written as ř and rh), which in some Romani dialects has remained different from the one written with a single r. The rr spelling is common particularly in Romania, in order to distinguish from the endonym for Romanians (sg. român, pl. români).

English usage

In the English language (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), Rom is a noun (with the plural Roma or Roms) and an adjective, while Romani (Romany) is also a noun (with the plural Romanies or Romanis) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romani have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy. Romani was initially spelled Rommany, then Romany, while today the Romani spelling is the most popular spelling. Occasionally, the double r spelling (e.g., Rroma, Rromani) mentioned above is also encountered in English texts.

Although Roma is used as a designation for the branch of the Romani people with historic concentrations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, it is increasingly encountered during recent decades as a generic term for the Romani people as a whole.

Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term began to be used as a noun for the entire ethnic group.

Today, the term Romani is used by most organizations—including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the US Library of Congress.

The standard assumption is that the demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom share the same origin.


The English term Gypsy (or Gipsy) originates from the Middle English gypcian, short for Egipcien. It is ultimately derived from the Greek Αἰγύπτιοι (Aigyptioi), via Middle French and Latin. It was once believed that the Romanies, or some other Gypsy groups (such as the Balkan Egyptians), originated in Egypt, and in one narrative were exiled as punishment for allegedly harbouring the infant Jesus. This exonym is sometimes written with capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group. The term 'gypsy' appears when international research programmes, documents and policies on the community are referred to. However, as a term 'gypsy' is considered derogatory by many members of the Roma community because of negative and stereotypical associations with the term.

As described in Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the medieval French referred to the Romanies as egyptiens. The term has come to bear pejorative connotations. The word Gypsy in English has become so pervasive that many Romani organizations use it in their own organizational names.

In North America, the word gypsy is commonly used as a reference to lifestyle or fashion, and not to the Romani ethnicity. The Spanish term gitano and the French term gitan may have the same origin as a reference to Egypt.

Population and subgroups

For a variety of reasons, many Romanies choose not to register their ethnic identity in official censuses. There are an estimated four million Romani people in Europe (as of 2002), although some high estimates by Romani organizations give numbers as high as 14 million. Significant Romani populations are found in the Balkan peninsula, in some Central European states, in Spain, France, Russia and Ukraine. Several million more Romanies may live out of Europe, in particular in the Middle East and in the Americas.

The Romani people recognize divisions among themselves based in part on territorial, cultural and dialectal differences and self-designation. The main branches are:

  1. Roma, concentrated in central and eastern Europe and central Italy, emigrated also (mostly from the 19th century onwards) to the rest of Europe, but also on the other continents;
  2. Iberian Kale, mostly in Spain (see Romani people in Spain), but also in Portugal (see Romani people in Portugal), Southern France and Latin America;
  3. Finnish Kale, in Finland, emigrated also to Sweden;
  4. Welsh Kale, in Wales;
  5. Romanichal, in the United Kingdom, emigrated also to the United States and Australia;
  6. Sinti, in German-speaking areas of Europe and some neighboring countries;
  7. Manush, in French-speaking areas of Western Europe;
  8. Romanisæl, in Sweden and Norway.

Among Romani there are internal differentiations, like Bashaldé; Churari; Luri; Ungaritza; Lovari ( Lovara) from Hungary; Machvaya (Machavaya, Machwaya, or Macwaia) from Serbia; Romungro ( Modyar or Modgar) from Hungary and neighbouring Carpathian countries; Erlides (also Yerlii or Arli); Xoraxai ( Horahane) from Greece/Turkey; Boyash (Lingurari, Ludar, Ludari, Rudari, or Zlătari) from Romanian words for various crafts: Lingurari (spoon makers) Rudari (wood crafters or miners, i.e. "băieşi" (miners); the semantic overlapping occurring due to the homophony of two different notions: in Serbian, ruda "ore", hence rudar "miner," and ruda "stick, staff, rod, bar, pole" (in Hungarian rúd, and in Romanian rudă, lemma no. 2); Zlătari/Aurari (goldsmiths); Ursari (bear-trainers; in Romanian urs "bear"); Argintari (silversmiths); Florari (florists); Ciurari (sieve makers, hence the Churari above), and Lăutari (musicians).

Some groups which are commonly thought of as Romani, either by surrounding populations or by Romani groups, do not consider themselves to be Romani. This applies to the Balkan Egyptians and the Ashkali.

Another people who may or may not identify themselves as Roma(ni) are the Quinqui or Quinquins of northern Spain and southern France. The Quinquins are of mysterious origins, although the namesake Mercheros hint of their possible Moorish Spanish ethnoancestral origins, therefore some may contend they are Moors in origin. Much of Spain was under Islamic Rule by the Moors until the Spanish Inquisition eradicated the Moors and Islam in the Iberian peninsula by the late 14th and 15th centuries.



Linguistic and genetic evidence indicates the Romani originated from the Indian subcontinent, emigrating from India toward the northwest 1500 years ago. Genetic findings in 2012 suggest they originated in northwest India and migrated as a group.

Historians and linguistic specialists had thought they may have emerged from the modern Indian state of Rajasthan, migrating to the northwest (the Punjab region, Sindh and Baluchistan of modern-day Pakistan and India) around 250 BC. In the centuries spent here, there may have been close interaction with such established groups as the Rajputs and the Jats. Their subsequent westward migration, possibly in waves, is now believed to have occurred about AD 500. Contemporary populations suggested as sharing a close relationship to the Romani are the Dom people of Western Asia and North Africa, and the Banjara of India.

Historians and writers have suggested the emigration from India likely took place in the context of the raids by Mahmud of Ghazni As these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire. The 11th century terminus post quem is due to the Romani language showing unambiguous features of the Modern Indo-Aryan languages, precluding an emigration during the Middle Indic period.

Genetic evidence supports the mediaeval migration from India. The Romani have been described as "a conglomerate of genetically isolated founder populations", while a number of common Mendelian disorders among Romanies from all over Europe indicates "a common origin and founder effect". A study from 2001 by Gresham et al. suggests "a limited number of related founders, compatible with a small group of migrants splitting from a distinct caste or tribal group". The same study found that "a single lineage ... found across Romani populations, accounts for almost one-third of Romani males." A 2004 study by Morar et al. concluded that the Romani population "was founded approximately 32–40 generations ago, with secondary and tertiary founder events occurring approximately 16–25 generations ago".

Possible connection with the Jat people

While the South Asian origin of the Romani people has been long considered a certitude, the exact South Asian group from whom the Romanies have descended has been a matter of debate. The discovery in 2009 of the "Jat mutation" that causes a type of glaucoma in Romani populations suggests that the Romani people are the descendants of the Jat people found in Northern India and Pakistan. This relation to Jats had earlier been suggested by Michael Jan de Goeje in 1883. The 2009 glaucoma study, however, contradicts an earlier study that compared the most common haplotypes found in Romani groups with those found in Jatt Sikhs and Jats from Haryana and found no matches.

Possible connection with the Domba people

According to a genetic study in 2012, the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma. In December 2012, additional findings appeared to confirm the "Roma came from a single group that left northwestern India about 1,500 years ago." They reached the Balkans about 900 years ago, and then spread throughout Europe. The team found that, despite some isolation, the Roma were "genetically similar to other Europeans."

Arrival in Europe

The migration of the Romanies through the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe
First arrival of the Romanies outside Bern in the 15th century, described by the chronicler as getoufte heiden ("baptized heathens") and drawn with dark skin and wearing Saracen-style clothing and weapons ( Spiezer Schilling, p. 749)

According to recent genomic studies, the Roma reached the Balkans by about the early 12th century. In 1322, an Irish Franciscan monk, Symon Semeonis encountered a migrant group, "the descendants of Cain", outside the town of Heraklion (Candia), in Crete. Symon's account is probably the earliest surviving description by a Western chronicler of the Romani people in Europe. In 1350, Ludolphus of Sudheim mentioned a similar people with a unique language whom he called Mandapolos, a word which some theorize was possibly derived from the Greek word mantes (meaning prophet or fortune teller).

Around 1360, a fiefdom, called the Feudum Acinganorum was established in Corfu, which mainly used Romani serfs and to which the Romani on the island were subservient.

By 1424, they were recorded in Germany; and by the 16th century, Scotland and Sweden. Some Romani migrated from Persia through North Africa, reaching the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. The two currents met in France.

Romani began emigrating to North America in colonial times, with small groups recorded in Virginia and French Louisiana. Larger-scale Roma emigration to the United States began in the 1860s, with groups of Romnaichal from Great Britain. The largest number immigrated in the early 1900s, mainly from the Vlax group of Kalderash. Many Romani also settled in South America.

When the Romani people arrived in Europe, the initial curiosity of the indigenous people quickly changed to hostility against the minority newcomers. The Romani were enslaved for five centuries in Wallachia and Moldavia, until abolition in 1856.

Elsewhere in Europe, they were subject to ethnic cleansing, abduction of their children, and forced labor. In England, Romani were sometimes expelled from small communities or hanged; in France, they were branded and their heads were shaved; in Moravia and Bohemia, the women were marked by their ears being severed. As a result, large groups of the Romani moved to the East, toward Poland, which was more tolerant, and Russia, where the Romani were treated more fairly as long as they paid the annual taxes.

World War II

During World War II, the Nazis and the Ustaša embarked on a systematic genocide of the Romani, a process known in Romani as the Porajmos. Romanies were marked for extermination and sentenced to forced labor and imprisonment in concentration camps.

They were often killed on sight, especially by the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) on the Eastern Front. The total number of victims has been variously estimated at between 220,000 to 1,500,000; even the lowest number would make the Porajmos one of the largest mass killings in history.


An 1852 Wallachian poster advertising an auction of Romani slaves in Bucharest.

In Communist Eastern Europe, Romanies experienced assimilation schemes and restrictions on cultural freedom. The Romani language and Romani music were banned from public performance in Bulgaria. In Czechoslovakia, they were labeled a "socially degraded stratum," and Romani women were sterilized as part of a state policy to reduce their population. This policy was implemented with large financial incentives, threats of denying future welfare payments, with misinformation, or after administering drugs (Silverman 1995; Helsinki Watch 1991).

Sinti and Roma about to be deported from Germany, May 22, 1940.

An official inquiry from the Czech Republic, resulting in a report (December 2005), concluded that the Communist authorities had practiced an assimilation policy towards Romanies, which "included efforts by social services to control the birth rate in the Romani community". "The problem of sexual sterilisation carried out in the Czech Republic, either with improper motivation or illegally, exists," said Czech Public Defender of Rights, recommending state compensation for women affected between 1973 and 1991. New cases were revealed up until 2004, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland “all have histories of coercive sterilization of minorities and other groups.”

Society and traditional culture

A Gipsy Family - Facsimile of a woodcut in the "Cosmographie Universelle" of Munster: in folio, Basle, 1552.

The traditional Romanies place a high value on the extended family. Virginity is essential in unmarried women. Both men and women often marry young; there has been controversy in several countries over the Romani practice of child marriage. Romani law establishes that the man's family must pay a bride price to the bride's parents, but only traditional families still follow this rule.

Once married, the woman joins the husband's family, where her main job is to tend to her husband's and her children's needs, as well as to take care of her in-laws. The power structure in the traditional Romani household has at its top the oldest man or grandfather, and men in general have more authority than women. Women gain respect and authority as they get older. Young wives begin gaining authority once they have children.

Romani social behaviour is strictly regulated by Hindu purity laws ("marime" or "marhime"), still respected by most Roma (and by most older generations of Sinti). This regulation affects many aspects of life, and is applied to actions, people and things: parts of the human body are considered impure: the genital organs (because they produce emissions), as well as the rest of the lower body. Clothes for the lower body, as well as the clothes of menstruating women, are washed separately. Items used for eating are also washed in a different place. Childbirth is considered impure, and must occur outside the dwelling place. The mother is considered impure for forty days after giving birth.

Death is considered impure, and affects the whole family of the dead, who remain impure for a period of time. In contrast to the practice of cremating the dead, Romani dead must be buried. Cremation and burial are both known from the time of the Rigveda, and both are widely practiced in Hinduism today (although the tendency for higher caste groups is to burn, while lower caste groups in South India tend to bury their dead). Some animals are also considered impure, for instance cats because they lick themselves.

Belonging and exclusion

Romanipen (also romanypen, romanipe, romanype, romanimos, romaimos, romaniya) is a complicated term of Romani philosophy that means totality of the Romani spirit, Romani culture, Romani Law, being a Romani, a set of Romani strains.

An ethnic Romani is considered to be a Gadjo (non-Romani) in the Romani society if he has no Romanipen. Sometimes a non-Romani may be considered to be a Romani if he has Romanipen, (usually that is an adopted child). As a concept, Romanipen has been the subject of interest to numerous academic observers. It has been hypothesized that it owes more to a framework of culture rather than simply an adherence to historically received rules.


Muslim Romanies in Bosnia and Herzegovina (around 1900)


Hinduism is the foundation for Roma religious beliefs and the concept of kuntari, a universal balance, is central to the people's spiritual realm. Kuntari means that all things belong in the universe according to their natural place. However, animals such as the flightless hen and frogs, an animal with the ability to negotiate both land and water, are considered to be out of balance and are, therefore, inherently unlucky—consequently, Roma avoid both hens' eggs and frogs. The Roma also believe in the notion of "pollution", whereby the human body is vulnerable to pollution following the breaking of certain taboos—pollution leads to a person becoming out of balance, like the frog and the hen. If such taboos are broken, restoration of one's purity can only be attained through a trial overseen by a tribunal of Roma elders. This tribunal determines whether a person is guilty or innocent and, in the case of the former, the subject of the trial must complete a period of isolation for the purpose of eventual reinstatement (in particularly severe cases of pollution, permanent estrangement has occurred, but this is apparently rare in the modern era). Such pollution taboos do not apply until a Roma has undergone puberty.

Christianity and Islam have also been adopted by the Romanies.

Deities and saints

Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla is considered a patron saint of the Romani people in Roman Catholicism. Saint Sarah, or Kali Sara, has also been worshipped as a patron saint in the same manner as the Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla, but a transition has occurred in the 21st century, whereby Kali Sara is understood as an Indian deity brought from India by the refugee ancestors of the Roma people, thereby removing any Christian association. Saint Sarah is progressively being considered as "a Romani Goddess, the Protectress of the Roma" and an "indisputable link with Mother India".

Ceremonies and practices

Romanies often adopt the dominant religion of their host country in the event that a ceremony associated with a formal religious institution is necessary, such as a baptism or funeral (their particular belief systems and indigenous religion and worship remain preserved regardless of such adoption processes). The Roma continue to practice "Shaktism", a practice with origins in India, whereby a female consort is required for the worship of a god. Adherence to this practice means that for the Roma who worship a Christian God, prayer is conducted through the Virgin Mary, or her mother, Saint Anne—Shaktism continues over one thousand years after the people's separation from India.

Besides the Roma elders, who serve as spiritual leaders, priests, churches, or bibles do not exist among the Romanies—the only exception is the Pentecostal Roma.


For the Roma communities that have resided in the Balkans for numerous centuries, often referred to as "Turkish Gypsies", the following histories apply for religious beliefs:

  • Bulgaria

In northwestern Bulgaria, in addition to Sofia and Kyustendil, Islam has been the dominant religion; however, in the independent Bulgarian state, a major conversion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity has occurred. In southwestern Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia), Islam is also the dominant religion, with a smaller section of the population, declaring themselves as “Turks”, continuing to mix ethnicity with Islam.

  • Romania

The majority of the population are Muslim and also speak Turkish.

  • Greece

The descendants of groups, such as Sepečides or Sevljara, Kalpazaja, Filipidži and others, living in Athens, Thessaloniki, central Greece and Aegean Macedonia are mostly Orthodox Christians, with Islamic beliefs held by a minority of the population. Following the Peace Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, many Muslims resettled Turkey, in the consequent population exchange between Turkey and Greece.

  • Albania

Albania's Roma people are all Muslims.

  • Macedonia

The majority of Roma people believe in Islam.

  • Serbia

Most Roma people in Serbia are Muslim, but the Gurbeti community, as it has been designated, believes in Christianity.

  • Kosovo

The vast majority of the Roma population in what has become Kosovo is Muslim.

  • Bosnia, Montenegro and Herzegovina

Islam is the dominant religion.

  • Croatia

Following the World War II, a large number of Muslim Roma relocated to Croatia (the majority moved from Kosovo).

Other regions

Ukraine and Russia also consist of Roma Muslim populations, as the families of Balkans migrants continue to live in these locations. The descendants' ancestors settled on the Crimean peninsula during the 17th and 18th centuries, but most descendants migrated to Ukraine, southern Russia and the Povolzhie (along the Volga River). Formally, Islam is the religion that these communities align themselves with and the people are recognized for its staunch preservation of the Romani language and identity.

Most Eastern European Romanies are Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, or Muslim. Those in Western Europe and the United States are mostly Roman Catholic or Protestant—in southern Spain, many Romanies are Pentecostal), but this is a small minority that has emerged in contemporary times. In Egypt, the Romanies are split into Christian and Muslim populations—for countless years, dance has been considered a religious procedure for the Egyptian Romanies.


Young Hungarian Romani performing a traditional dance

Romani music plays an important role in Central and Eastern European countries such as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Hungary, Slovenia and Romania, and the style and performance practices of Romani musicians have influenced European classical composers such as Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. The lăutari who perform at traditional Romanian weddings are virtually all Romani.

Probably the most internationally prominent contemporary performers in the lăutari tradition are Taraful Haiducilor. Bulgaria's popular "wedding music", too, is almost exclusively performed by Romani musicians such as Ivo Papasov, a virtuoso clarinetist closely associated with this genre and Bulgarian pop-folk singer Azis.

Many famous classical musicians, such as the Hungarian pianist Georges Cziffra, are Romani, as are many prominent performers of manele. Zdob şi Zdub, one of the most prominent rock bands in Moldova, although not Romanies themselves, draw heavily on Romani music, as do Spitalul de Urgenţă in Romania, Shantel in Germany, Goran Bregović in Serbia, Darko Rundek in Croatia, Beirut and Gogol Bordello in the United States.

Another tradition of Romani music is the genre of the Romani brass band, with such notable practitioners as Boban Marković of Serbia, and the brass lăutari groups Fanfare Ciocărlia and Fanfare din Cozmesti of Romania.

The distinctive sound of Romani music has also strongly influenced bolero, jazz, and flamenco (especially cante jondo) in Europe. European-style gypsy jazz ("jazz Manouche" or "Sinti jazz") is still widely practiced among the original creators (the Romanie People); one who acknowledged this artistic debt was guitarist Django Reinhardt. Contemporary artists in this tradition known internationally include Stochelo Rosenberg, Biréli Lagrène, Jimmy Rosenberg, and Tchavolo Schmitt.

The Romanies of Turkey have achieved musical acclaim from national and local audiences. Local performers usually perform for special holidays. Their music is usually performed on instruments such as the darbuka and gırnata. A number of nationwide best seller performers are said to be of Romani origin.

Contemporary art and culture


Most Romani speak one of several dialects of the Romani language, an Indo-Aryan language. They also will often speak the languages of the countries they live in. Typically, they also incorporate loanwords and calques into Romani from the languages of those countries, especially words for terms that the Romani language does not have. Most of the Ciganos of Portugal, the Gitanos of Spain, the Romanichal of the UK, and Scandinavian Travellers have lost their knowledge of pure Romani, and respectively speak the mixed languages Caló, Angloromany, and Scandoromani.

There are independent groups currently working toward standardizing the language, including groups in Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, the USA, and Sweden. Romani is not currently spoken in India.


Historical persecution

One of the most enduring persecutions against the Romani people was the enslaving of the Romanies. In the Byzantine Empire, they were slaves of the state and it seems the situation was the same in Bulgaria and Serbia until their social organization was destroyed by the Ottoman conquest. Slavery existed on the territory of present-day Romania from before the founding of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in 13th–14th century, until it was abolished in stages during the 1840s and 1850s. Legislation decreed that all the Romanies living in these states, as well as any others who would immigrate there, were slaves. Most of the slaves were of Roma (Gypsy) ethnicity.

The exact origins of slavery in the Danubian Principalities are not known. There is some debate over whether the Romani people came to Wallachia and Moldavia as free men or as slaves. Historian Nicolae Iorga associated the Roma people's arrival with the 1241 Mongol invasion of Europe and considered their slavery as a vestige of that era, the Romanians taking the Roma from the Mongols as slaves and preserving their status. Other historians consider that they were enslaved while captured during the battles with the Tatars. The practice of enslaving prisoners may also have been taken from the Mongols. While it is possible that some Romani people were slaves or auxiliary troops of the Mongols or Tatars, the bulk of them came from south of the Danube at the end of the 14th century, some time after the foundation of Wallachia. By then, the institution of slavery was already established in Moldavia and possibly in both principalities, but the arrival of the Roma made slavery a widespread practice. The Tatar slaves, smaller in numbers, were eventually merged into the Roma population.

The arrival of some branches of the Romani people in Western Europe in the 15th century was precipitated by the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. Although the Romanies themselves were refugees from the conflicts in southeastern Europe, they were mistaken by the local population in the West, because of their foreign appearance, as part of the Ottoman invasion (the German Reichstags at Landau and Freiburg in 1496-1498 declared the Romanies as spies of the Turks). In Western Europe, this resulted in a violent history of persecution and attempts of ethnic cleansing until the modern era. As time passed, other accusations were added against local Romanies (accusations specific to this area, against non-assimilated minorities), like that of bringing the plague, usually sharing their burden together with the local Jews.

One example of official persecution of the Romani is exemplified by The Great Roundup of Spanish Romanies (Gitanos) in 1749. The Spanish monarchy ordered a nationwide raid that led to separation of families and placement of all able-bodied men into forced labor camps.

Later in the 19th century, Romani immigration was forbidden on a racial basis in areas outside Europe, mostly in the English speaking world (in 1885 the United States outlawed the entry of the Roma) and also in some South American countries (in 1880 Argentina adopted a similar policy).


Romani arrivals at the Belzec death camp await instructions.

The persecution of the Romanies reached a peak during World War II in the Porajmos, the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In 1935, the Nuremberg laws stripped the Romani people living in Nazi Germany of their citizenship, after which they were subjected to violence, imprisonment in concentration camps and later genocide in extermination camps. The policy was extended in areas occupied by the Nazis during the war, and it was also applied by their allies, notably the Independent State of Croatia, Romania and Hungary.

Because no accurate pre-war census figures exist for the Romanis, it is impossible to accurately assess the actual number of victims. Ian Hancock, director of the Program of Romani Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, proposes a figure of up to a million and a half, while an estimate of between 220,000 and 500,000 was made by Sybil Milton, formerly senior historian of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In Central Europe, the extermination in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was so thorough that the Bohemian Romani language became extinct.

Forced assimilation

In the Habsburg Monarchy under Maria Theresa (1740–1780), a series of decrees tried to force the Romanies to permanently settle, removed rights to horse and wagon ownership (1754), renamed them as "New Citizens" and forced Romani boys into military service if they had no trade (1761), forced them to register with the local authorities (1767), and prohibited marriage between Romanies (1773). Her successor Josef II prohibited the wearing of traditional Romani clothing and the use of the Romani language, punishable by flogging.

In Spain, attempts to assimilate the Gitanos were under way as early as 1619, when Gitanos were forcibly settled, the use of the Romani language was prohibited, Gitano men and women were sent to separate workhouses and their children sent to orphanages. Similar prohibitions took place in 1783 under King Charles III, who prohibited the nomadic lifestyle, the use of the Calo language, Romani clothing, their trade in horses and other itinerant trades. The use of the word gitano was also forbidden to further assimilation. Ultimately these measures failed, as the rest of the population rejected the integration of the Gitanos.

Other examples of forced assimilation include Norway, where a law was passed in 1896 permitting the state to remove children from their parents and place them in state institutions. This resulted in some 1,500 Romani children being taken from their parents in the 20th century.

Contemporary issues

Amnesty International reports continued instances of Antizigan discrimination during the 20th Century, particularly in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania, Serbia Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Kosovo.

The Romanis of Kosovo have been severely persecuted by ethnic Albanians since the end of the Kosovo War, and the region's Romani community is regarded to be for the most part annihilated.

Czechoslovakia carried out a policy of sterilization of Romani women, starting in 1973. The dissidents of the Charter 77 denounced it in 1977-78 as a " genocide", but the practice continued through the Velvet Revolution of 1989. A 2005 report by the Czech government's independent ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, identified dozens of cases of coercive sterilization between 1979 and 2001, and called for criminal investigations and possible prosecution against several health care workers and administrators.

In 2008, following the brutal murder of a woman in Rome at the hands of a young man from a local Romani encampment, the Italian government declared that Italy's Romani population represented a national security risk and that swift action was required to address the emergenza nomadi (nomad emergency). Specifically, officials in the Italian government accused the Romanies of being responsible for rising crime rates in urban areas. One police raid in 2007 freed many of the children belonging to a Romani gang who used to steal by day, and who were locked in a shed by night by members of the gang.

The 2008 deaths of Cristina and Violetta Djeordsevic, two Roma children who drowned while Italian beach-goers remained unperturbed, brought international attention to the relationship between Italians and the Roma people. Reviewing the state of play in 2012, one Belgian magazine observed:

On International Roma Day, which falls on 8 April, the significant proportion of Europe's 12 million Roma who live in deplorable conditions will not have much to celebrate. And poverty is not the only worry for the community. Ethnic tensions are on the rise. In 2008, Roma camps came under attack in Italy, intimidation by racist parliamentarians is the norm in Hungary, and in September of last year thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets to chant such slogans as "Turn the gypsies into soap". Speaking in 1993, Václav Havel prophetically remarked that "the treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for democracy": and democracy has been found wanting. The consequences of the transition to capitalism have been disastrous for the Roma. Under communism they had jobs, free housing and schooling. Now many are unemployed, many are losing their homes and racism is increasingly rewarded with impunity.

Forced repatriation

In the summer of 2010 French authorities demolished at least 51 illegal Roma camps and began the process of repatriating their residents to their countries of origin. This followed tensions between the French state and Roma communities, which had been heightened after French police opened fire and killed a traveller who drove through a police checkpoint, hitting an officer, and attempted to hit two more officers at another checkpoint. In retaliation a group of Roma, armed with hatchets and iron bars, attacked the police station of Saint-Aignan, toppled traffic lights and road signs and burned three cars. The French government has been accused of perpetrating these actions to pursue its political agenda. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that the European Commission should take legal action against France over the issue, calling the deportations "a disgrace". Purportedly, a leaked file dated 5 August, sent from the Interior Ministry to regional police chiefs included the instruction: "Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority,"

Fictional representations

Vincent van Gogh: The Caravans - Gypsy Camp near Arles (1888, Oil on canvas)

Many fictional depictions of Romani people in literature and art present romanticized narratives of their supposed mystical powers of fortune telling or their supposed irascible or passionate temper paired with an indomitable love of freedom and a habit of criminality. Particularly notable are classics like the story Carmen by Prosper Mérimée and the opera based on it by Georges Bizet, Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Miguel de Cervantes' La Gitanilla.

The Romani were also heavily romanticized in the Soviet Union, a classic example being the 1975 Tabor ukhodit v Nebo. A more realistic depiction of contemporary Romani in the Balkans, featuring Romani lay actors speaking in their native dialects, although still playing with established clichés of a Romani penchant for both magic and crime, was presented by Emir Kusturica in his Time of the Gypsies (1988) and Black Cat, White Cat (1998).

In contemporary literature

The Romani ethnicity is often used for characters in contemporary fantasy literature. In such literature, the Romani are often portrayed as possessing archaic occult knowledge passed down through the ages. This frequent use of the ethnicity has given rise to 'gypsy archetypes' in popular contemporary literature. A UK example is the Freya Trilogy by Elizabeth Arnold.

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