I Met Lucky People by Yaron Matras – review Sukhdev Sandhu

Romanian Roma people

The Roma movement is often political, a series of displacements and exoduses triggered by prejudice and social panics. Photograph: Mihai Barbu/EPA

Here they come: swarming and noisy, dirty and barely civilised – stories about the Roma. Talk-radio gobmeisters, custodians of mass-market morality belching out bellicose headlines and editorials, on-the-make politicos eager to show they’re in touch with what the public is “really” thinking: in recent months they’ve all united in a chorus of hate aimed at Romanians or Bulgarians who have the temerity to step foot in Britain. Their accusations are as horrendous as they are hackneyed: the Roma are pickpockets, baby thieves, spongers, beggars, tax-shirkers, doorstep-defecators. Worst of all, they bring down house values.

On the periphery even of the liberal imagination, Romani people have long oscillated between being invisibles and folk devils. Hardly homogeneous (those living in present-day Britain are a mixed bunch, including Irish Travellers, Hungarian Romani who arrived after the failed uprising in 1956, and the Kale of north Wales), they have been labelled and relabelled ever since they migrated from India in the middle ages: Saracens, Bohemians, Egyptians, all terms signifying vagabond otherness, dangerous mobility. As early as 1496, the legislative council of the holy Roman empire, meeting in Bavaria, declared them “enemy agents”.

Yaron Matras’s I Met Lucky People, a historical and linguistic survey of the Roma, tells how many European territories soon followed suit. In 1530, King Henry VIII passed an Act expelling “outlandish people” prone to palm-reading and fortune-telling. In 1541 they were blamed for fires in Prague and kicked out of Czech lands. In 1548, the German diet in Augsburg ruled that their murder was not a prosecutable offence. By the early 18th century, those living in parts of Austria might have their backs branded.

Time and again over the last millennium, Roma movement has been more than purely cultural; it is as likely to be political, a series of displacements and exoduses triggered by prejudice and social panics. Like the Jews, another group repeatedly castigated and cast out through history, the Roma were targeted by Nazis. They were sterilised and, during a period they refer to as the “Great Devouring”, at least 100,000 (some estimates claim 1.5 million) were exterminated. Matras calls this “genocide”, but also points out that not one German implicated in it has been brought to justice.

Relatively little scholarship on these people exist. No doubt this has something to do with stories often being passed down orally rather than textually. But given how consistently harassed and persecuted the Roma have been, that they’ve been described as “the first blacks in Europe”, and to this day use words such as “pani” (water) and “sap” (snake) that are identical to similar words in Hindi and Punjabi, it’s surprising that they’re so little studied.

Perhaps it’s because, in some eyes, they can pass for white, and therefore aren’t the “right” kind of minority. Certainly, they don’t easily fit within the schema of postcolonial analysis; their history precedes that of European imperialism, and the polemical claim “We’re here, because you were there,” often used by pro-immigrant activists, has little force. Besides, many Roma, if they’re not living in rural landscapes, are found in edgelands that are terra incognita to many scholars.

I Met Lucky People is expository, describing its subjects in almost anthropological prose. At its best, though, it homes in on the possibility that the Roma problem has nothing to do with the Roma, but with the “paradigmatic dilemma” they raise: “The identity of the Roms as a people is difficult to conceptualise if one’s understanding of nationhood is bound to territory, national sovereignty and formal institutions. We tend to think of a nation as having a land, a state, an official language and a recorded history.”

Matras rightly debunks the idea that the Roma are in constant motion; some settlements go back decades, while it’s often pushy local authorities, or grand projects such as the 2012 Olympics, that perturb and unanchor inhabitants. No doubt he’d agree that it’s odd, if not downright hypocritical, for them to be so routinely talked about in the language of pandemics or military conquest (“swarms”, “invasions”), or that they should be damned for their perceived nomadism when non-Roma society fetishises speed and circulation, weekend breaks and EasyJet getaways.

No less strange is how European society discusses the Roma relationship to work. Often it’s assumed there is no relation: they’re portrayed as being indolent and like “chavs” (a Romani word). Specific histories – such as the number of Roma who served as snipers for Britain during the first world war or who laboured in munitions factories during the second world war – are conveniently overlooked. At the same time, the extravagant and voyeuristic attention given to the tiny number of Roma families who have lavish mansions feeds suspicions that “they” are getting rich at “our” expense.

Matras points out that most Roma live below the poverty line. This may be the price they pay for cleaving, in his words, “to independence and flexibility in earning their livelihood”. There’s not a vast amount of money to be made in hawking carpets, shifting deckchairs, repairing roofs, selling trinkets. Working seasonally rather than for steady wages is tough, but it’s neither illogical nor reprehensible. It may even be preferable to the forms of psychic servitude and clocked-on torment that capitalism inflicts on so many people.

Perhaps on one level we suspect that already. Matras draws attention to the many novels (including ones by DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf) that celebrate the Roma for their perceived transgressions, as well as the hundreds of songs – by jazzbos, metal bands and folk chanteuses – that, however hokey and sentimental, fantasise about exercising Gypsy freedoms.

He might also have mentioned Ewan MacColl who, when speaking of his experiences recording The Travelling People (1964), the final episode in his widely revered Radio Ballads series, recalled: “There were occasions when it was easy to imagine that one had slipped through a time-warp and was in a place where automobiles and television and supermarket were still in the future. To sit in the dark in a bow-tent made by throwing a tarpaulin over bent sycamore saplings and to listen to a disembodied voice telling the story of the firebird was to experience a special kind of enchantment.”

To some that kind of reverie is as worthy of scorn as situationist Guy Debord championing the Roma as fork‑tongued rebels, rhetorical refuseniks whose dialects helped them avoid capture by straight society: “The Gypsies rightly contend that one is never obliged to speak the truth except in one’s own language; in the enemy’s language the lie must reign.”

But both MacColl and Debord are, in their different ways, expressing their shared belief that what gets called civilisation all too often feels like enclosure. Perhaps today’s hatred of the Roma springs mostly from hatred of ourselves – our complicity in a deformed social system that few of us can imagine opting out of.

Originally published in The Guardian 29 January 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/29/i-met-lucky-people-review

Meet the Gypsy entrepreneurs

Travelling people are putting their business skills to increasingly impressive use
 24 August 2013
Travellers Attend The Annual Appleby Horse Fair

Ask anyone from the settled community (known as ‘gorgias’ to Romani Gypsies and as ‘country people’ to Irish Travellers) what Gypsies do for money and the list would be short: tarmacking, roofing, scrap-metal dealing, hawking or maybe horse dealing.

This picture, of course, has a germ of truth in it. Many Gypsies still work as skilled labourers — but what’s remarkable is just how entrepreneurial they are, too. These are trading peoples, with a global attitude towards seeking work that would impress even Iain Duncan Smith. I’ve been astonished to discover that many English and Scottish Romani Gypsies are enthusiastic Freemasons. Away from evictions such as Dale Farm, in October 2011, most Romani Gypsies and Travellers get on with life — trading both inside their communities in what one Irish Traveller entrepreneur, the antiques dealer Candy Sheridan, dubs a ‘parallel economy’ and, somewhat quietly, outside with the settled community too.

Traders are comfortable travelling abroad to find work. Many Gypsy men are not only fluent in English but also speak German, French and a smattering of Scandinavian languages. This is striking, since academics often bewail the fact that many can’t read or write — a relic of a nomadic lifestyle where they were often moved on every few days from stopping places and few attended schools. But their linguistic skills are very impressive. So is their lack of dependence on benefits, which many men in the cultures feel are shameful to obtain. They would rather travel across Europe to work.

Professions vary in the Gypsy and Traveller communities, but the more traditional unskilled jobs are disappearing fast. Many have turned themselves into tree surgeons or landscape gardeners, for instance, as casual work in the agricultural industry has dried up. More worryingly for the Gypsies, as of this year, regulation of the scrap-metal industry has tightened. Hard as this is in the short term, it is probable that the communities will adapt fast. The evangelical Gypsy Church Life and Light, which is spreading fast throughout the communities, holds Bible-reading classes for adults. These are boosting literacy rates, and that in turn makes it easier for adults to obtain professional certification for skilled work.

More traditional professions are respected abroad, if not here. The Gypsy cob, a powerfully built, quiet and handsome horse, usually of piebald or skewbald colouring, with feathered feet and a luxurious mane and tail, has become popular abroad, exported by British Gypsy dealers.

Two years ago, British dealers were selling cobs for tens of thousands of pounds as far afield as the US, Brazil, Australia and Russia. That market has shrunk since the recession but remains active. One such dealer, Loretta Rawlings, who alongside her husband has been exporting cobs since 1999, told me that the elders who dealt in horses were taken aback by the welcome they got when they went to the US, where the Gypsy Horse Registry of America maintains a DNA database of the breed. ‘The dealers are treated like royalty there. Funny that they have to travel 3,000 miles to get respect, and they are outcasts here.’

Despite the impression that Gypsy and Traveller culture is male-dominated, women are well-respected traders. Go to any horse fair and you’ll see Gypsy and Traveller women running stalls with considerable flair, trading traditional clothes, antiques, bedding and collectable china (Crown Derby being most coveted). The aforementioned Candy Sheridan, who rose to prominence when she challenged the eviction at Dale Farm, maintains that Gypsy and Traveller women are born entrepreneurs. ‘We are brought up to work. Most girls and women contribute to their fathers’ and husbands’ businesses. Women traders are popular at the markets and the fairs, and they like supporting their families. But perhaps we’ve been a parallel economy for a long time, so people haven’t known about it.’

p18-art

She also points out that many do not advertise their identity when they sell to gorgias. ‘Go to any car-boot sale or to any market stall and you’ll see Gypsy and Traveller women selling alongside men. And we are good saleswomen, remember we have always sold, we would dukker [tell fortunes] around the houses of the settled people and hawk, selling lavender, heather, holly, pegs, paper flowers. I’ve still got my grandmother’s hawking baskets. It’s a great distortion when you see Gypsy girls sitting at home not working.’

Their entrepreneurial spirit is feeding their success in other fields. Tom Ewer, a chef with Welsh Romani roots, has cooked in the Oxo Brasserie and now cooks at Caravan in King’s Cross. He also writes a popular blog, where he features old Gypsy recipes, including foraged food, drawing on tradition. He attributes his strong work ethic — he gets up at 5.30 every morning — and his passion for cooking to his roots: ‘Through an understanding of the way my ancestors lived, worked and ate, I have built an ethos and cooking style that reflects that. For me, family, tradition and simple but flavoursome food made to share with others is paramount when thinking about my job.’

Billy Welch, a sherar rom or elder within the community, organises Appleby Horse Fair every year in Cumbria, which attracts about 10,000 from the community and a further 30,000 tourists. He told me that the links between entrepreneurial Gypsy men and the Freemasons are also helpful for business. Showing me his intricate masonic ring, he said: ‘This was my father’s ring, he was one too. Freemasons aren’t anti-Gypsy; the thing I like best about Freemasonry is that in it all men are equal.’

The links between Freemasonry and Romani Gypsies are thought to go back centuries. Cornelius van Paun, in his Philosophical Researches on The Egyptians and The Chinese, advanced the theory that Freemasonry was introduced to Europe by Romani Gypsies. James Simpson, in his History of the Gypsies, published in 1866, observed that there were many Gypsy Freemasons, including lodge masters. This link remains strong today. Billy Welch comes from Darlington, a town known as the ‘Gypsy capital’ of the UK, as it’s estimated that around a third of the population has Romani roots. Welch notes: ‘A couple of my cousins have even been in the chair, they’ve been quite high up.’

Damian Le Bas, editor of Travellers’ Times, explains the reasoning behind Freemason membership. ‘If it’s good for business, they will do it. If you think about it rationally, if you have got people who are part of the rural and urban economy for 500 years, it would be miraculous if they weren’t, especially a community that is so typically self-employed, fiercely entrepreneurial, where masculine identity is so tied up with making a living. Our identity is all about making good business contacts, being the boy who makes good, and that is the prototype of working-class people that Masons are looking to incorporate.’

But it’s not all plain sailing for Gypsy and Traveller businessmen, says Billy Welch. Such is the stigma of being a Gypsy that many successful businesspeople still hide their Romani or Traveller roots. Billy Welch told me: ‘I could take you to mansions, people who have houses worth millions, who drive Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, who have tennis courts, wine cellars and swimming pools. But they hide their roots because if they don’t people stop trading with them. I lost a lot of business when I started to organise Appleby. There are Gypsies and Travellers living in expensive apartments near Harrods, who spend half the year in Dubai. Then there are the 500, as we call them, who own skyscrapers in New York, who are all -originally English Gypsies. They turn up at our big weddings in limos, and they still pull on at Appleby, at least once in their lives.’

Some of the biggest businesses in the country are owned by Gypsies — shipyards, car dealerships, scrapyards, caravan suppliers, carpet shops and exporters, Welch says. ‘We are true business people, we are like Asians or Jewish people. We don’t just tarmac, or sell beds and windows. We do big business. We just keep quiet about it.’

Katharine Quarmby is author of No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers.

 

A time to fear your own private opinions.

Earlier to day the Independent newspaper published an article entitled Top Twitter Gaffes of 2013 after a Public Relations Expert tweeted the unforgivable: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”. She unsurprisingly lost her job soon after landing.

As a Human Rights activist who campaigns predominantly online I am highly concerned about the impact my e-footprint might have for future job prospects. I might be working in what I would hope to be a mutually exclusive sphere to Justine but I am no less controversial and no stranger to grime satire.

One would hope Justine’s comments were a crass attempt at raising awareness of the disparity between access to health care and education for people living in different areas of ‘African’ communities but it simply wasn’t. Just a ‘harmless’ ‘joke’ with the punchline playing on misinformation and ignorance.

Now I do not agree with people’s personal lives, or as I put it earlier ‘being a bad person’, so severely impacting someone’s career as to lose them their job, especially within the private sector where unlike politicians or public figures they are not themselves a product just another drone following the corporate line. But in this example the company, due to the amount of attention she received could not but sack her as a representative on grounds of bringing said company into disrepute. Let alone any ill comfort or feeling she might have created between herself and her co-workers.

So where is my personal concern in all this? As a Human Rights campaigner  I discuss issues such as discrimination and ignorance without our direct communities and throughout the world. As a masochist my interests lay within more controversial areas of human rights abuses such as indigenous right, Roma and the Arab-Israeli conflict (Hint: I use the word Palestinian). All I want, somewhat naïvely, is for all human beings to be treated as people with equal access to the same state facilities as people of other races and cultures within their given country. That statement also includes ‘regardless of sex’ but that’s a topic for a different time.

What possible problem could that cause for me then? Non at all one would hope but people so often fall within one of a small number of categories – ‘The Bore: You’re so Boring’, ‘The Ignorant: But they’re Criminals?’, ‘The Doe-Eyed: What? I Didn’t Realise Racism Existed Today?, & ‘The Enraged: But they’re Criminals!’. The majority of my peers fall within either the first or third category, and the second and fourth are so closely related and interchangeable that it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly where ‘The Average Person’ stands. There is also a fifth category known as the ‘But I’m not a Bad Person’ but everyone is a little guilty of that.

Each category presents its own unique trials and obstacles, it is very difficult to know exactly where a given person is going to stand on the topic and without a full understanding of the issues and exactly what I know or do not know my feed can feel a little daunting with individual statements cherry pick-able almost at random.

Above all this, what does every employer want? Someone who can get along with a team and when you risk taking a stand on something you believe in, especially something that goes against conventional opinions or highlights problem where ‘there aren’t any, right guys?’, you gamble building a reputation as a high-risk investment.

You don’t believe me? Try reading some of my hate mail :3

Young Roma Gain New Perspective Far From Home, in New Zealand with the Māori

Roma in Central and Eastern Europe are in a unique situation compared to other ethnic groups—they are not indigenous to the continent, nor do they have a homeland like national minorities. However, the socioeconomic disadvantages and discrimination that they frequently face parallel those of other populations throughout the globe, whether they are indigenous peoples, refugees, migrants, or other groups.

Two young Roma leaders, Erika Adamaova from Slovakia and Florin Nasture from Romania, had the unique opportunity in April and May to travel halfway around the world to New Zealand to participate in a youth leadership Study Session on “Democracy in the Pacific.” The program introduced them to some of the parallels and contrasts between Roma and New Zealand’s indigenous Māori population and sparked ideas for new approaches to Roma development programs.

The program was organized by the Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy—a youth-led NGO based in Gisborne, on the east side of New Zealand’s North Island—and was funded by the New Zealand government, including the Ministry of Māori Development and NZAID. The World Bank Institute also provided support.

The session involved 28 young leaders from New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and Indonesia. The organizers were interested in involving Roma to include a diverse set of perspectives. The program aimed to support an inter-cultural and inter-generational dialogue and to identify strategies for sustainable and innovative community development initiatives. During their visit, Erika and Florin also had the opportunity to visit schools, government agencies, and Māori organizations.

Who are the Māori?
New Zealand Out at Pasture
Roma and Māori are vastly different ethnic groups, each with their own unique and rich histories and cultures. Māori are an indigenous minority of approximately 620,000 based largely in New Zealand, with small diaspora populations in Australia and other countries. Roma are an ethnic minority spread across the world, but concentrated in Europe, where an estimated 9 to 12 million live. Although Roma originally migrated into Europe from India, they do not have territorial claims there.

There are also similarities. Both Roma and Māori societies are historically based on oral traditions, which made codifying language and creating a written historical record particularly important. Both groups are striking in their internal diversity.

A More Traditional International Conference

The study session incorporated and exposed the participants to Māori culture and traditions. It was held on a marae, the traditional Māori meeting house, which is central to every aspect of Māori life, including weddings and funerals, and serves as the center of the community. Participants were welcomed through Māori ceremony, including the Māori language and music.

“Being on the marae, I finally understood why workshops, conferences and study sessions organized for Roma activists do not achieve their intended impact and effect,” said Erika. “Organizing such events in a four-star hotel is comfortable and pleasant, but to stay in direct interaction with the community and culture motivates and helps the participants to better understand the way of living, thinking and cultural values…The whole Study Session was held in the spirit of Māori culture and traditions.”

Learning from Each Other

New Zealand Fun ActivitiesRoma attendees compared and contrasted their status in Central and Eastern Europe with that of Māori in New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi sets the framework for relations between Māori and the Government, and has influenced the status of Māori in New Zealand. The Treaty was signed in 1840 between representatives of the British government and chiefs of iwi (Māori tribal groups) from across New Zealand. While there is ongoing debate about the meaning of the Treaty, it has been an important basis for recognizing the rights of Māori in New Zealand. In recent years, the Waitangi Tribunal has been hearing claims by Māori against the Crown of breaches of the Treaty. The Government has signed settlements with about 12 iwi.

Increased use of the Māori language has been part of a Māori cultural renaissance in New Zealand. Māori is an official language alongside English. A Māori Language Strategy supports the incorporation of the language across society, including within public services, media, and the arts. Keeping alive the Māori language is seen as critical in sustaining a strong and proud cultural identity. The Roma participants were impressed by the emphasis on language use. Florin noted, “The way to preserve culture is by introducing the Roma language into the schools were Roma children are studying.”

Roma and Māori women face similar challenges. “Talking to Māori women, I realized that the privileged status of men over women is not a part of Māori culture,” said Erika. “An effective approach to promote educational attainment among young Roma mothers would be to implement policies that will encourage young Roma mothers to stay in school.”

Contributing to the lack of education among Roma in Central and Eastern Europe iNew Zealand Florin and Erikas the unofficial policy in many countries of enrolling Roma children into special schools intended for the mentally and physically disabled. Many of these children eventually drop out, as they have no prospect of attending secondary school or university.

New Zealand, however, has effectively banned special schools, something that some CEE governments still resist. However, many Māori parents—and a small but growing number of non-Māori parents—choose to send their children to bilingual or immersion schools that expose students to Māori language and culture.

A Renewed Sense of Identity

The Roma participants returned home having learned important lessons about fostering cultural identity, improving living standards, and increasing social inclusion. “Many Roma feel there is a gap between the community as a whole and its leaders and elites,” pointed out Florin. “Community participation is key to closing this gap, and it will in turn strengthen Roma identity and a feeling of belonging.”

Florin also emphasized that the whole approach to Roma integration should be turned on its head. “In our region, we take a negative perspective, focusing on the disparity between the Roma and the majority, and creating the appearance of a helpless Roma population.” Māori, on the other hand, are more positive. “They build on existing successes to channel their potential. Like them, Roma should not be people with problems who create problems; we should have the power to overcome our obstacles

Reblog Pip Borev: An Open Letter to Carol Vorderman

Dear Carol Vorderman, 

I was somewhat shocked to discover that you still have a career after coming across your ignorant, vile and derogatory rant about Gypsy and Traveller communities in Closer magazine. This shock, however, was short lived when I remembered that, as you point out, there is one rule for us and one rule for the rest of society. Nonetheless, I am still rather bewildered as to why you feel so hard done by, thus, I would like to highlight to you the special privileges that you, as a rich, white and successful celebrity, are missing out on by not being part of a Gypsy or Traveller community. 

 
Under the Race Relations Act 1976, Gypsy and Traveller communities are recognised as ethnic minorities, thus, supposedly should be protected from discrimination. I guess you find this very unfair – why should a bunch of delinquents who decided to live in caravans be entitled to these extra rights that the hard working white tax payer doesn’t get? Maybe if you bought a caravan and became a Gypsy then you would also be able to bask in the privileges that the Race Relations Act supposedly brings, such as: being refused registration at your local GP surgery; being refused service from pubs and restaurants; being forced to deny your identity so you are not bullied at school or refused employment; and being refused planning permission whether it be on the green belt, a remote mountain peak or the moon. 
 
What more could Gypsy and Traveller communities want? All these extra privileges and still they have to snatch away the very few pleasures that the rest of society are given, such as cricket pitches, village greens, playing fields and the roadside. Of the19,413 Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England, 84% are on authorised sites while 16% on unauthorised sites. Under the Housing Act 1996, a person is considered homeless if they have accommodation but “there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it”. Therefore, any Gypsy or Traveller living on an unauthorised site can be considered homeless. The Coalition government have withdrawn funding for and repealed targets to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities whilst introducing greater powers for local authorities to challenge unauthorised developments. This was introduced in spite of the fact that there is a widely documented pitch shortage. In Preston, the home of the Hoghton Cricket Club whom you speak of so fondly of, there are an estimated 111 Gypsies and Travellers but just 14 pitches. The presence of unauthorised sites, thus, is hardly surprising. 
 
But what about the people “who pay their taxes and work hard to keep their homes and villages nice”? Why should they be subjected to the injustice of having homeless people living in their white middle class villages? Why can’t Gypsies and Traveller just live in houses like everyone else? Turns out, that around one half to two thirds of Gypsies and Travellers are living in bricks and mortar accommodation. If you would like the rest of us to join them then we will happily ditch centuries of nomadic tradition and move in next door to you and your hard working neighbours Carol. Oh wait, that’s right, you wouldn’t want the likes of me living next door to you would you? So where should we go? Should we only ‘invade’ the not so “pristine” parks situated in council estates, after all, as long as we’re not leaving behind “faeces” on the precious cricket pitches of middle class villages, does it really matter? Or do you simply want the “Gypsy problem” to disappear as Hitler advocated during WWII when he murdered 500,000 Romani Gypsies, including members of my own family.
 
The truth is that you are entirely correct. There is one rule for Gypsies and Travellers and one rule for everyone else, except it is your rule that comes crammed with extra privileges. Gypsies and Travellers are hated not because they ‘invade’ fields and cricket pitches, but because they have been a hugely maligned and despised minority since their arrival to Europe and the UK, centuries ago. They have been subjected to slavery, extermination, sterilisation, segregation both geographically and in education, evictions, poverty, hate crime, and the criminalisation of their entire culture. In spite of this, the rest of society wonders why we remain so resistant to assimilation. The sad truth is that despite Hitler’s attempted extermination of Europe’s Romani community, attitudes towards Gypsy and Traveller communities have not changed but instead have remained hostile and prejudiced. “Discrimination against gypsies and travellers appears to be the last ‘respectable’ form of racism” and goes without the same level of outrage that racism towards other ethnic minorities receives. Had your column included a similar article about any other ethnic minority, I am certain that you would be surrounded by shame and scandal. Perhaps then Carol, you are a very lucky that there is one rule for Gypsies and Travellers and one rule for everyone else, as if there wasn’t your career would certainly be over. 
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Pip Borev.

Reblogged from: http://pipopotamus.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/an-open-letter-to-carol-vorderman.html

Don’t blame the Roma for their mass exodus from their Bulgarian and Romania homes.

Due to media hype and political rhetoric there is a fear brewing that with the uncapping of the immigrant restriction for Bulgaria and Romania at the beginning of next year we will see a full scale 29 million strong migration. We have been lead to believe the entire populations of Bulgaria and Romania will be banging down the doors of Dover, and with them will include the most abhorred of all, the Roma.

For the most part this is utter nonsense; Whitehall reports reassure us that this predicted mass tsunami will be more of a trickle with most Bulgarians and Romanians who want to move abroad have already done so. Regardless, this publicised hostility has lead to many Romanians and Bulgarians blaming the Roma for the mass hysteria, resulting in increased violence against their communities and worsening conditions.

The Roma (referred incorrectly to as Gypsies) are well known for being Europe’s poorest and most segregated minority. Living in Romania and Bulgaria under apartheid conditions, they have every reason to want to build a better life for themselves.

Understandable, the EU’s more affluent countries are concerned … for all the wrong reasons. The situation surrounding the Roma is, and always has been, a European problem. If Britain is concerned about mass Roma immigration we should first look at the situation in Eastern Europe and address the problem at the source. Wouldn’t time be better spent investigating and improving the conditions for Roma in their native countries?

Roma prosecution in Romania and Bulgaria

“…systematic discrimination is taking place against up to 10 million Roma across Europe. [Amnesty International] has documented the failures of governments across the continent to live up to their obligations”.

The Roma first arrived in Romania (Wallachia) in 1241 and until liberation in 1856 most lived in Slavery for boyers and orthodox monasteries. In 1886 the Roma population of modern day Romania stood at an estimated 200,000.

During the Second World War The Romania Government of Ion Antonescu departed 25,000 Roma to the Transnistria concentration camp; a total of 36,000 Romanian Roma were killed.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Research Institute estimates the total number of Romani people murdered during the holocaust (by 1945) at between 500,000 and 1/5 million

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg in August 2008, noted that “today’s rhetoric against the Roma is very similar to the one used by Nazis and fascists before the mass killings started in the thirties and forties. Once more, it is argued that the Roma are a threat to safety and public health. No distinction is made between a few criminals and the overwhelming majority of the Roma population. This is shameful and dangerous.”

Academic studies against the Roma people are often published, and without criticism. Professor Ognian Saparev published an  article on ‘Gypsies’ stating that they should be confined to ghettos due to a cultural inclination towards crime.

A popular style of modern Roma music known as ‘manele’ is prohibited on public transport and in taxis in some Romanian cities as an experimental study (published by Professor’s Dr. Ioan Bradu Iamandescu) linked ‘manele’ with increased aggression and low cognitive ability.

Today an estimated 400,000 live in ghettoes in Bulgaria without access to basic facilities. In 2006 the European Committee of Social Rights found violations of the European Social Charter concerning right to housing, and in 2008 concerning right to health.

Roma children are often segregated in the education system and sent to special schools with half the number of students in schools of children with disabilities being of the Roma ethnicity, and two-thirds of the students in delinquent schools being of the Roma ethnicity. The Bulgarian Helsink Committee found a variety of human rights abuses, including physical violence to be common place in these schools.

In Romania since 1985 more than 1500 Roma have been forcibly moved to a ghetto built on a rubbish dump outside Romania’s second largest city Cluj-Napoca. In 400 Roma were given 2 days notice to move out of their homes where they had been living without conflict for 20 years.  The European Roma Rights Centre are fighting against such convictions.

In June 1012 the Mayor of Baia Mare ordered 2,000 Roma to be moved overnight from their homes to a former chemical laboratory (known to locals as the “death factory”). Police were involved in the eviction and forced the Roma into open trucks to be transported to the factory.  The factory had not been renovated for human habitation and poisonous toxins in the dust and air caused 22 children and 2 adults to have to be rushed to hospital. They were the only people permitted to leave the camp with local police patrolling the area. In another part of town a 2-metre-high wall “The great Gypsy wall” was constructed to separate the Roma community from the town. Mayor Cherecheş has subsequently been fined by the National Council Against Discrimination after complaints from Amnesty International but has no intention of demolishing the wall.

The United Nations Development Programme is concerned that the percentage of Roma with access to running water and sewage treatment in Romania is well below the average leading to high proliferation of pediculosis, mycosis, askaridosis, respiratory health problems, hepatitis and tuberculosis.

Re-Blog: Travellers should resist collective shame for slavery

Travellers should resist collective shame for slavery.

by Rosaleen McDonagh

OPINION: The cruel actions of a family in England have horrified my community

‘Your crowd were at it again.” This came from a friend, referring to the recent sentencing of members of the Connors family for slavery offences in England.

The family are Travellers who exploited, beat and starved vulnerable men for financial benefit. The men who had been under the control of this family, some for more than 20 years, were paid £5 a day. Their living conditions were appalling. The images and the reports of the malnutrition and the treatment they suffered was evocative of an earlier century when white people carried out similar forms of cruelty on black people.

The collective shame and shock within my community was palpable when the news reports were broadcast. Traveller children were afraid to go to school the following morning. “Slave owners” was the taunt in the playground, in the classroom, in the library and even in the workplace.

The punishment is dished out to a whole community for the acts of individual criminals. My friend, using the phrase “your crowd”, not only articulated a false sense of familiarity – it was an attempt at goading.

Catapulted into guilt

The coverage of the Connors case catapulted my community into guilt. Guilt by association operates more intensely when it is embedded in a context of racism. The impulse was to keep our heads down, bury our shame and hold our silence. This is problematic. Silence can be toxic. Being falsely incriminated by way of one’s ethnicity should not mean that you collude with criminality.

The words of Traveller human rights activist Martin Collins came to my mind when I searched for a response to the taunt “your crowd”. Criminality is not part of Traveller culture nor part of our DNA.

Shame should not be used as a mechanism to hold a community to account. Collective shame should not have to be carried by the whole community for the behaviour of one small group. It should not have to be carried from one generation to another. My generation already carries many elements of shame – these are projected on to us by the mere fact that Travellers are “the other”.

Slavery, feuding, domestic violence and other forms of criminality are all too prevalent, not just within the Traveller community. The stereotypes and the misdefinition of Traveller identity gets reduced to these negative behaviours.

The exploitation of migrant workers, the mistreatment of domestic workers and the trafficking of women are forms of criminality that are societal rather than ethnic issues.

Internalised oppression can never be used as an excuse for criminality. Systemic oppression does, however, lead to behaviours whereby the oppressed, to feel powerful, will exploit other vulnerable people in inhumane ways. This modus operandi for internalised oppression manifests as a particular type of social contract.

Endemic alienation

This concerns itself with bullying and intimidation and serves as a form of fast-tracking of social mobility based on money, machismo, and bravado. Alienation can become so endemic within marginalised individuals and communities that crime can be perceived to have the most immediate rewards.

The rewards for buying into the dominant social contract include a sense of citizenship, belonging and opportunity. Esteem and dignity are on offer. Participation comes with rewards of access and choice.

However, in my community I know very few doctors, barristers, dentists, teachers, engineers or academics. The list of professions we are not a part of seems to get longer with each generation.

The crimes carried out by members of the Connors family are also attacks on the fabric of a vulnerable community. Exploitation and intimidation are not confined to victims beyond the community but also happen within the Traveller community.

This is often difficult to challenge or highlight. An imposed collective shame is difficult to shrug off. Challenging a false social contract based on crime is difficult in a context of racism. Exposing any kind of antisocial behaviour within a small community comes at a price. Individuals within our community do take on these tasks with integrity and courage. They are our agents for social change.

* Rosaleen McDonagh is a playwright from the Travelling community