Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Effects of Severe and Enduring Poverty on the Gypsy People

It is true. I have been mostly focusing on the positive side of Roma
culture. That is because this ethnic minority has been relentlessly
beaten down for so long. Their spirit, however, has never been truly
defeated. Their defense has been to withdraw into invisibility. This has
helped them to survive, as Gypsies, but the more they withdraw, the more
the problems they face keep increasing. And now the time has come to
make a stand, for the places to hide are disappearing like arctic ice.

I am not an academic, although I have read every piece of research I
could lay my hands on, and there were many. I am not a politician. I am
merely another human being, a writer, an elder with lots of life
experience, who happens to have love and respect for the Roma people.
Our paths have crossed since I was a child. I have known them in
different countries, of different tribes. I have known some while still
nomadic, those who grew up nomadic then settled down, those who have
been settled for centuries. I am fully aware of the seemingly
insurmountable problems they are facing, most of them not part of their
culture, but a result of extreme poverty. To name a few, in my opinion
of course:

1- Roma, especially in the Balkans and Eastern Europe urgently need a
new type leadership. Whereas, while still nomadic, their leaders were
chosen because of their intelligence and their selflessness, poverty
drives the bad apples to the top. Men often without scruples toward the
majority that surrounds them, but unfortunately not caring about their
own either. Exploiters, not humanitarians. No different from the Mafia
in Sicily, Russia, gangs in black ghettos, the drug lords in Mexico,
etc. That unfortunately is the dark side of humanity. That is no
different for Gypsies. Unfortunately, this does not just happen in the
poor camps, but higher up, where money destined to change living
conditions for the poorest Gypsies never reaches its goal.

2- Again I am optimistic about a new type of leadership for Roma. I have
found the type of intelligent, selfless leadership reborn in evangelical
Roma, who are leading their congregation back to the old values via
religion. One particular such Roma pastor stood up for his rights
against a strong Southern county and won. Roma leaders like him, with
love and understanding, lots of help from the majority that rules, can
lead those long suffering European Roma to truly integrate into European
majority life, without losing their own culture, which, to my mind, is
in Europe's interest to preserve. But only Roma can lead Roma.

3- The division among the different tribes. This has always been the
norm. Just like in war zones the partisans split off into smaller groups
to avoid detection and getting killed, so these 'eternal strangers' had
to travel in small groups to survive, else they would have appeared like
an invading army. This of course created different cultures. Now they
have to unite, at least in Europe to achieve an effective political voice.

4- The Roma women in Europe are emancipating. This is to my mind of
extreme importance. They have always been the preserver of their
culture, but they have done so as backseat drivers. As a woman I have
the highest respect for the Roma woman. They remind me of the women of
partisans who dragged their kids through warzones. Only to the Roma the
war has never ended.

The true integration of Roma into European majority societies will take
lots of understanding of the problems caused by poverty, patience and
willingness to help them overcome the results of centuries of
marginalization. The time is now to undo the harm done to the Roma people.

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