Can someone become a Roma gypsy

Since the free movement of people in Europe, the Roma have hit the headlines. In the endeavor to be politically correct, however, reservations arise. That makes reporting difficult.

How easy it is for the English speakers. They can speak or write about "gypsies" without anyone assuming bad intentions. Not so with the German speakers. The term gypsy is politically highly incorrect. They say Roma, we've been taught for the past two decades. And that is even respected by those who otherwise boast of calling things by their names. A local weekly newspaper wrote of «Roma raids» last year; it generated widespread indignation (and a provocative title page) and was reprimanded by the press council. Those who never miss an opportunity to beat so-called do-gooders were richer by one lesson: Even politically correct vocabulary does not protect against punishment.

Something is wrong there

What is still common in Balkan revolver papers would be forbidden in two ways: the word gypsy crime. A proven disadvantaged and marginalized minority should not be condemned across the board in this country. Even if, after criminal offenses, all the indications point to the perpetrator of a Roma clan, official statements in western Europe usually do not include any ethnic attribution.

What is irritating is that many of the members of this minority refer to themselves as Gypsies. They only know the plural of their own designation, Roma, from hearsay, but they are neither familiar with the masculine singular form (Rom) nor the feminine form (Romni). Something is wrong there. But what?

Between eight and twelve million Roma live in Europe. That this is the case only became known to a broader public when the free movement of persons was granted to the EU states in eastern and south-eastern Europe. Up until then you had seen “gypsies” with your own eyes, at most in the Camargue. They had appeared romantically inflated in song books and films. And it was believed to be known that they were the last immobile Europeans. General knowledge spread across the media included the chronic shortage of parking spaces for travelers, which periodically brought local authorities into trouble and continues to do so. This perennial hit in regional reporting consolidated the fact that travelers and gypsies were used synonymously, resulting in a hopeless confusion of terms that continues to this day.

Widespread ignorance

The cause of the blurring is based on a widespread ignorance about Europe's largest ethnic minority. In addition, there is a certain fear of contact on the part of well-meaning media people. The subject is a media minefield. The authors run the risk of being portrayed as racist or naive. Expert guidance is necessary. The German Southeast Europe Society recently took on the matter at a conference on the educational situation of Roma. On the current occasion, the situation in Duisburg was discussed, where the behavior of Romanian immigrants in the Rheinhausen district keeps the media in suspense. The case is exemplary of a situation that is currently making headlines from Scandinavia to Italy.

The cause of the excitement is similar in each case: a local mass of immigrants from south-eastern Europe who live in a ghetto-like environment for lack of alternative. The inhabitants of these partly illegal settlements and overcrowded residential buildings are almost exclusively Roma. To mention this fact alone is difficult for German authorities, because they do not want to expose themselves to the accusation of antiziganism at any price. With good reason. In the state of Baden-Württemberg, antiziganism is to be made a criminal offense this year. In Germany in particular, political correctness in dealing with Roma is well founded. Over 200,000 Roma fell victim to the racial madness of National Socialist ideology in extermination camps.

Strange double name

In the course of the slow progress in coming to terms with this injustice, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma established itself as the leading umbrella organization for all former victims. The importance of this body and its media presence in Germany meant that “Sinti and Roma” became the idiom. In terms of development history, the term makes little sense because the Sinti are a subgroup of the Roma who have been at home in today's Germany since the 18th century and have been partially assimilated there. But the fact remains: Those who want to express themselves correctly in Germany always use the double term “Sinti and Roma” - even if only a few are familiar with the singular, namely Sinto and Sintiza.

The matter now becomes difficult in the case of Duisburg and those many other places where Roma from Southeast Europe are a media topic; Most of the time there are no Sinti among them. But simply naming them according to their national origin - Hungarians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians - is also not possible, because in this case the respective diplomatic embassies inevitably protest. In Sofia, Budapest, Pristina, Belgrade and Bucharest, one is fed up with the negative headlines which, it is said, are caused by "a small minority of their countrymen" and have caused considerable reputational damage to the majority population.

In the case of the street prostitution in Zurich, where young prostitutes from eastern Hungary made headlines, it was in the interest of the Hungarian authorities to see the women in question labeled as Roma. Precision is important to them.

The scrutinizing look

Many residents of the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe boast that their counterparts may be Roma, regardless of whether their name or appearance indicate this. During the socialist reign, the Roma were not an issue insofar as they were officially viewed as an underprivileged social class. Their complete integration into the society of the working people was the goal. Settlement, where not available, was officially decreed. The police monitored compliance with compulsory schooling, and the possibility of unskilled work in state-owned companies was created for the Roma, where not already available. As a result of this policy, which is often carried out with inhuman severity, the assimilation of the Roma reached a comparatively high level, especially in Romania.

The situation changed suddenly after the collapse of the state socialist systems. The Roma population was the worst prepared for the system change. In the course of the privatization of state-owned companies, jobs for the unskilled were the first to fall victim to the need to increase productivity. And the Roma, who were confronted with unemployment overnight, did not have the money to buy what was once state housing. One of the consequences of this was the formation of informal Roma quarters, which had not existed in the cities of south-eastern Europe before the system transition. Because children in such neighborhoods often have to contribute to the economic survival of families, they rarely go to school. The result is growing illiteracy in the Roma ghettos of south-eastern Europe, in contrast to which the state institutions are mostly helpless due to a lack of funds.

State support programs for Roma in Eastern Europe, often supported by EU funds, inevitably arouse envy among the other losers of the system change. This is reflected in the marches by right-wing extremist nationalists in Roma quarters, as can be seen regularly in Hungary, but also in other countries in Eastern Europe. In Germany, too, the excitement about Roma in the media attracts right-wing extremist movements that try to jump on the train of latent hatred of everything gypsy. The xenophobic movement in Duisburg, trading under the name “Pro Deutschland”, tried to take advantage of the situation. Several hundred counter-demonstrators finally opposed the march.

The local authorities got caught between the fronts because they were aware of the real problems in the affected Rheinhausen district. According to estimates by the police, around 1,400 Roma immigrants live in several older blocks of flats in a total of 74 apartments. The overcrowding of the infrastructure led to some immissions, which caused complaints in the neighborhood and apparently also caused property prices to fall.

Exactly this situation is well known in countless municipalities and cities in Southeast Europe. What is needed is a solid social policy, for which there is usually no money. In Western Europe the phenomenon is more recent. There is a tendency to be a little too hasty to sense deeply rooted antiziganism. Instead of recognizing the real existing problems as such and reacting to them with socio-political measures, the authorities and the media often only flee into politically correct vocabulary in order to demonstrate at least as much goodwill.

What does RAE mean?

An example of this is provided by the official language in Kosovo, which is dominated by international, mostly European functionaries, where the speech is consistently not of “gypsies” but of RAE. This abbreviation, incomprehensible to the uninitiated, means «Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian». While some of the Roma in Kosovo speak Serbian and live on the outskirts of Serbian settlements, the Ashkali and Egyptian are Albanian-speaking Roma, themselves a subgroup of the Roma.

The term RAE is unknown in everyday language. On the other hand, it is very important that the RAE in Kosovo have the status of a national minority, which grants them civil rights which, in the Balkan tradition, are often only claimed by majority populations. This is exactly where the big task for media people lies: Europe provides the best evidence of community of values ​​in dealing with its largest ethnic minority - regardless of how it describes itself.

Easily readable specialist literature on the subject: Norbert Mappes-Niediek: Poor Roma, bad gypsies. Ch.-Links-Verlag, Berlin 2012. 208 pp., Fr. 26.90.