Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Racist

A person who had followed me on social media wrote me a note, calling me
naïve and romantic in my position toward Gypsies. I kept no notes, so
this is from memory. They are all alike, the person stated, and
proceeded to tell me what had happened to them in Italy. Namely, Gypsies
had entered a store, had separated this couple into different corners,
took their wallets and left.

1. Anybody who grows up in a war is ever naïve; they would never live to
tell the tale.

2. Gypsies had entered the store. Were they wearing traditional cloths,
hat, neck scarf and all? The only indication to me that these may have
Gypsies is they left this couple alive.

3. This brings me to the cause of such behavior, should they indeed have
been Gypsies. I grew up in part in Italy. In my days there were Roma,
established Roma there, they bothered nobody to my knowledge. In those
days, the fifties, poor, underprivileged Italians were doing the
stealing, although they often did not leave their victims alive. The
problem with Roma arose with a sudden influx of Yugoslav Gypsies, many
of whom had served as human shields during the brutal wars in that
corner of the world. Now in Italy, they have no place to stay, no work,
no protection and on and on. They have two options to survive: beg or
steal. Which would any of us chose? Growing up in the war, everybody
stole. The German Catholic church had a word for it, "Mundraub" i.e.
food theft, and declared it not a sin.

4. This person's knowledge of Gypsies, if that is indeed who they were,
is basically that one run-in. She is now ready to condemn 12 million of
them. I have known Gypsies/Roma all my life. I have encountered them in
the woods during the war, I have lived with them, have been close to
them. I have never felt threatened, nor been afraid they would steal my
belongings. Would that be true for all? No! They are people like us.
They have their bad and their good.

So how do you deal with racism? This person, however hard I tried to
convince him/her of the contrary, had turned into a racist who will
spread his/her very impassioned impressions to whoever will listen to
it. Worse he/she will pass it on to their children. And there lies the
true root of racism. Racism starts in the home. In the interest of world
peace and survival: fight racism at its roots.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Decade of Roma Inclusion: Is it Working?

2005-2015 A political commitment by Governments to fight Roma poverty
and discrimination. We're half-way through. Has it worked?

On the political majority side, if anything prejudice and vicious
persecutions in a down-economy have risen. What about the Roma side,
Europe's largest minority? Gypsies are always a reflection of their
surroundings. While still nomadic, they lived in perfect harmony with
their surroundings, respecting life of humans and animals alike. Their
response to the wars raging around them, has always been avoidance. But
they have been forcibly pulled off their ancient treks and pushed into
cage-like settlements into the poorest, least law-abiding sections of
Western society, where they have to survive surrounded by prejudice and
downright hatred. But Gypsies have had at their core family ties
stronger than of those who surround them. These families close in on to
themselves when they feel threatened, a tool of survival, yet by now
resulting in a weakness of the Gypsy population as a whole. The Roma
population has been and still is divided into tribes and family units.
As a result they do not, nor ever have had, a unified political voice.
This and their peaceful nature makes them very vulnerable and defenseless.

The big question is, why an intelligent, talented people with strong
family ties and loyalties, who are not known to turn to violent
reprisals, fanaticism or radicalism like so many other ethnic groups,
why are they so maligned and hated.

The answer is simple: Those around them do not know nor understand them.
They see them only through the eyes of prejudice and misconceptions. The
big task is for both sides to learn more about each other, have the
separate communities get into real contact.

My personal feeling is that, so far, the economic downturn and the
efforts made by several human rights organizations have so far merely
raised awareness of the existing and enduring problems. To my mind that
is a step in the right direction. The next step has to be finding a way
to solve these problems, through education, training of job skills,
acceptance and respect. For the Roma the prize cannot be a loss of their
culture. Theirs is a peaceful culture, we can learn from them in that
respect. The petty criminality they are accused of is a function of
poverty, no different than existed among Europe's poor before their
nations turned wealthier, offering an escape from poverty. Now only Roma
seem to have to live under third world conditions, that is what now has
to change.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Who is Behind the Successful Rise of the Neo-Nazis in Hungary?

[Herald Scotland, Monday 14 June 2020]:
Hungary's far-ight backed by 'rolling Moscow roubles'
Gabriel Ronay in Budapest, Hungary

13 Jun 2010

"Hungary's Jobbik party, the shrillest among Central and Eastern
Europe's far right parties, has been exposed as having received secret
financial support from Russia as quid pro quo for its anti-European
Union and anti-Nazi bluster.

The issue of 'rolling Russian gold roubles', and alleged 'Iranian cash
gifts' helping sustain a virulently anti-Roma and anti-semitic party
that flaunts its hostility to Western liberal democracy is troubling
Hungarian public opinion.

The proto-fascist party's xenophobia and strong-arm actions against what
it calls 'the criminal Roma' have secured it a measure of popularity –
and, because of its anti-Western stance, Russia's interest is not

All I can say, as one who grew up in the midst of racial strife, to the
Hungarian people: Watch out. Racial strife kills on both sides of the
aisle. Remember the American Civil war! Remember Germany. They killed
all those people, but there was nothing left of Germany in the end.
They were lucky the American offered them a helping hand, else…………nobody
knows what would have happened to a Germany in rubble.

Friday, June 11, 2010

MOTHER TERESA -- tiny Gypsy woman, Great Saint to us all.

I always believed she was an Albanian Gypsy, but a Roma friend told me
she was a Macedonian Gypsy living among Albanians. One thing I am sure
of, Mother Teresa, never asked the question – who are you, where are you
from, what ethnic group do you belong to? She worked among the poorest
of the poor, hers was the heart of true humanity. A guiding light in a
destructive world, nobody deserves more than Mother Teresa to have the
Empire State building lit in honor of her 100th birthday.

In fact her type of religiosity and goodness of the heart I have found
among other religious Gypsies. I have been religious without being a
churchgoer since my childhood days in a war zone. I once told a Roma
pastor, a church is only as good as its pastor. I have come across only
a few religious leaders who actually stuck their neck out to help the
persecuted. I rarely felt God in the European churches I grew up with. I
did feel his presence, a true gift, in a Roma church in Florida, which I
frequent as often as I can. There too, the pastor, his wife and his
congregation, even in these tough economic times, try to reach out to
whoever is poor and near.

We are all of the same human race that from time to time produces a true
star. Mother Teresa is such a star. She would have wanted us to stick
together, and work toward a better world.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

GYPSY, the word

It was a misnomer from the beginning. When a group of travelers arrived
into medieval Europe in the fourteen hundreds, they were believed to
come from Egypt, therefore they were called Egyptians/Gypsies. These
colorful travelers, entertainers, fortune-tellers, horse-people did
nothing to dispel that misconception. Their country, ever since leaving
India hundreds of years before, was the open road; they interacted with
outsiders merely to supply their families with the necessities of life.

At first these entertaining people were greeted with open arms, they
brought joy into the harsh life of sedentary folks who were divided into
a handful of rulers and a vast majority of the poor who had to serve
these few rich and powerful. But it did not take long for this
underclass of peasants and servants to become envious of the freedom and
independence of these often dark-skinned nomadic strangers, who were and
always had been people of peace. The sedentary folks started taking up
whatever arms were at hand – after all wars were part of their lives –
and went to hunt down these nomads who abhorred violence and killings.
They killed many outright, in brutal medieval fashion, many were caged
like animals of the wild. The persecution of the Gypsies, their real
name is Roma, has had its ups and downs, but has never truly stopped. It
is reaching another peak in Europe as I am writing this.

Many, not all, of the Gypsy people now want to be known as Roma only.
That is their right, their choice. To them the word Gypsy has become a
derogatory term, a curse. I cannot help but feel a certain sadness. To
me personally the word Gypsy has always meant warmth, loyalty, and love
of life. In my darkest moments there was always some Gypsy or other to
pat me on the shoulder, to sit down with me and talk. It is not the
Gypsy who has sullied that word, it is us. For, be honest, who among you
has ever experienced harm done by a Gypsy, a Roma? Most of you know them
only through hearsay and prejudice. In reality they are part of and
contributors to our culture. I would feel mournful at having to bury the
Gypsy word. But nomads have always buried their loved ones and tragedies
and walked into the future. We have much to learn from them.