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January 15, 2004

Europe's Free-Riders

This article (free) in The Economist addresses the freeing up of movement between poor east-central Europe and western Europe with the expansion of the EU. One concern is the possibility of a drain on local resources by welfare seeking migrants, and it specifically mentions Gypsies.

Everyone knows about the Roma (Gypsy) genocide by this point. When I was in college I did a research paper on the Gypsies of Europe, and one thing to note was how bestial the European nations behaved toward them, deep into the 19th century there were parts of Germany where nobles hunted them for sport (I found one painting where a German noble holds aloft the heads of a Gypsy woman and her child that he has just run down and decapitated). But...life is more complicated than the propoganda, and I found that the Gypsy attitude toward the gadje (non-Gypsy) was one of total contempt and lack of moral feeling. Just as Europeans treated Gypsies like animals, the victims themselves had no conception of moral relations with their host peoples, cheating, lying and deception were considered acceptable so long as the person who was being exploited was a gadje.

The Gypsy way is highly successful-there are millions all over Europe, and their numbers are increasing with the spread of modern medicine in their communities.

Update: Here is some text from a letter written by Roma (Gypsy) activists to PRI:

We don't deliberately deceive the Gajo, we simply do not trust him, but why should we? He discriminates against us, burns our homes, beats our men, tortures our children, rapes our women, and tries to eliminate us from the face of the earth! Let me assure you that there is scarcely a Rom, as there is scarcely a Jew, that is not aware of the Holocaust. Those who survived cannot forget, some marked with numbers burned into the flesh forever. Those who lost their loved ones cannot forget. I know many Roma and Jews who wish not to talk about it, who will avoid the subject altogether, who will even ignore the questions posed to them unless they are with someone they truly trust, someone that truly cares about them. They do not need to see the documentaries - they do not need or wish to be heroes - because in my book they are already heroes. I was raised in the 1950's in eastern Europe and I can tell you that the Jews and the Roma were taught never to disclose their ethnic heritage (if indeed it was not hidden from them altogether by their own parents!) and with good reason!! If Isabel Fonseca concludes that they know nothing of the Holocaust and have no interest, it is because she was excluded from their confidence. The very appearance of such a statement casts great doubt on the validity of the remainder of her collected data, to say nothing of her conclusions!

We are Roma and Roma we shall remain. We do not wish to assimilate, we do not wish to give up who we are - we do not want to be sterilized; we do not want to die - would you? We are a nation in spirit, yet we also strive to be individuals - don't you? We are an ancient people of India. Our original homeland is northern India: Delhi and its surroundings: Rajasthan, Eastern Punjab, and Haryana. That is the home or the great land (Baro Than as we call it), that we dream of, the home we carry with us wherever we go, the home we get nostalgic about, believe it or not.

Because Gypsies were highly mobile and suspicious of the authorities compared to Jews, it seems plausible that a lower percentage were caught and killed by the Nazi regime.

Posted by razib at 12:49 PM