Romani ('Rromani', aka 'Gypsies') and Friends - February 18th, 2007

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February 18th, 2007

01:44 pm - United
Roma Seeking Sense of Unity to Combat Racial Bias
By PETER S. GREEN - The New York Times

LODZ, Poland — The 12 million Roma, the Gypsies of Europe, are trying to unite at last to fight what they see as their increasing marginalization in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism.

Some 30 European Romany organizations met in May in Lodz, in central Poland, where Jews and Roma were killed and deported in the Nazi Holocaust, to set up a continentwide organization that could give the Roma, as Gypsies prefer to be called, a strong voice in advancing their causes: housing, jobs, education.

Romany leaders say they must act now because they are sitting on a demographic time bomb. Their population is growing rapidly, with the young born into deepening poverty in societies, mostly in Central and Eastern Europe, that have marginalized and suppressed the Roma for centuries and stood by as up to a million of them were killed by the Nazis.

"We will face a Palestinian problem in Europe," said Rudko Kawczynski, 48, chairman of the Romany National Congress. "Young people cannot be patient forever. How long can they live in the poor settlements like in Slovakia? In 20 years we will be 20 million."

Mr. Kawczynski, whose organization represents dozens of Romany civic groups, said the Roma are worried by the recent resurgence of populists with a racist message in Western Europe. "Anti-Gypsy sentiment is like anti-Semitism," he said. "It is a European phenomenon." Read more.. )

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01:46 pm - Gypsies Account for 1 Out of 4 Female Inmates
Gypsies Account for One Out of Four Female Inmates

MADRID, Mar 7 (IPS) - One out of every four female inmates in Spain's jails are Gypsies, or Roma - a proportion 15 times greater than the ethnic group's presence in the population at large, according to a study on Gypsy women.

The report, carried out with European Union financing, found that Gypsy inmates tend to be given long sentences - an average of 6.7 years - and 87 percent of them are mothers, usually of at least three children.

Roma women also suffer social uprooted ness and discrimination in prison, Daniel Wagman, the director of the team of seven professionals who carried out the year-long study, told IPS on International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8th.

Eighty percent of inmates in Spain are in prison for charges related to drug trafficking and drug use, while 39.7 percent of Gypsy women are in prison for crimes against property and 60 percent for drug smuggling and dealing.

According to the report, foreign nationals make up around 20 percent of the female prison population.

''We did not have Gypsy men or women on our team, but we tried from the start to seek out their ideas, opinions, contributions and criticism, through people working with Gypsy associations, and through the experience and voices of the 300 Gypsy inmates in women's penitentiaries,'' said Wagman, the only man on the team.

The report, ''Barani'' - which in Romanes, the language of the Roma, means ''women's prison'' - was carried out with European Union support as part of a programme aimed at combating violence against women and minors.

Some 650,000 of Spain's 39 million people are Roma. Another study, carried out by sociologist Maria Jesus Miranda y Barberet, found that 30 percent of female inmates are Gypsies - which means their presence in the prisons is as much as 18 times higher than the proportion they represent in the population at large.

According to both studies, the reasons for the disproportionate representation of Gypsy women in Spain's prisons lie in the social discrimination, racism and marginalization suffered by the Roma along with their limited access to legal recourse.

Small-time drug dealing, for example, becomes an alternative means of survival when Gypsies are blocked from other, legal, options the reports point out.

Local authorities and police keep Gypsies from exercising their traditional occupation as traveling salespersons and street vendors, said one Roma woman interviewed.

''The police are getting taller and more agile, they run more, and run off our Gypsy women who are selling along with and our youngsters selling a few melons, water melons, onions or lemons,'' she said.

''So of course we are left with few alternatives, and unfortunately there are many families who have opted for that route, which is to move about a little in the world of drugs. If they don't let me do anything, what can I do?

''Where is there money? In drugs. And what can we do about drugs? Well I believe they should broaden (the regulations) for street vending...if they don't let me sell, I'll work. And if they don't let me work, then I'll steal, and if not, well I'll sell drugs and if not, well I'll...but my children have to eat,'' she said.

Another problem affecting the Roma community is discrimination by employers when it comes to hiring.

A Gypsy man told of his many attempts to land a job. ''I haven't even made it to the end of an interview. I show up, start talking with whoever's in charge, and they cut me off and say ok, ok, leave me your personal information and we'll let you know. Not one single response yet. There is a lot of discrimination.''

For that reason, according to Wagman, unemployment is not mentioned as a problem by the Roma because ''not holding a regular job is not strange, but normal, and no one is aware that they have a right to a job.''

The research team hopes that the release of the study will help raise awareness among local authorities and society at large of the problems faced by the Roma. The study calls for measures aimed at boosting the social integration and educational level of the Roma community and at combating racism in Spanish society.

According to a survey cited by the report, 42 percent of the non-Gypsy Spanish respondents said they would not like to have Roma as neighbours, compared to 17.5 percent and 11.5 percent who would not want Moroccan or black African neighbours, respectively.

*taken from the Roma Womens Initiatives website

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01:49 pm - A privileged glimpse..
Terry Fletcher meets a man who enjoyed a privileged glimpse into the lives of Yorkshire's Gypsies.

Barrie Law looks at the rows of boxes filled with photographs and says, "I only ever meant to take one film, you know". But however limited his early plans, Barrie has now almost 10,000 pictures, many of which he has taken himself, all devoted to a single subject - the life of Britains Gypsies.

It began innocuously enough 13 years ago when Barrie, a kean amateur photographer, read of a new law banning Gypsies from camping at the roadside and decided to photograph a family of Romanies who camped regularly in the lanes around his home near York before they disappeared for ever.

"I had always had a sort of interest in Gypsies, ever since I was at school. they always looked like interesting charactors and there was something about the way they dressed and the freedom of the life they seemed to have, just sitting around the fire talking. But I kept my distance. There was something a bit spooky about them, probably because parents always warned children that the Gypsies would pinch them. It was just a saying but at that age you are not sure about it."

His first encounter was with the Smith family, presided over the self styled Sir Montague, better known as Cocker, and Elly. He was not warmly received by the Smith's, who shared most Gypsies' innate distrust of outsiders, born of years of harrassment.

"At first they were not very talkative and Elly got a cup from the kettle. I thought she was pouring herself some tea then she threw it over me and said 'clear off."

Some of those first pictures appeared in Dalesman in 1987 and was seen by a libraian from Toronto who ordered copies to create a display in the city's central library. It was the start of a major new interest.

Barrie persevered with Cocker and his family and slowly won a grudging trust which allowed him to take more photographs and slowly build up a protfolio of their unusual life travelling the country lans of Yorkshire. Bit by bit his name spread through the other Gypsy families of the north and he was able to photograph them as well.

He always makes sure he gets prints of the pictures for the people he has photographed, not that they are always appreciated: "They like the pictures but they don't hang onto them the way most people would or put them in albums. They make it a few days but then they are something to light the fire with and that will be the end of the photograph."


"Even then it wasn't always smooth going. It never is with travellers. Sometimes things would be fine and then for no reason they would have had enough and they would throw something at me and tell me to clear off and never come back. All you can do then is to go and hope it will be all forgotten next time you see them. I can get a picture of two of the people as well. Some of the older generation are very superstitious about having their photographs taken," Said Barrie.

But as his knowledge of the Gypsies grew he began to appreciate the intricacies of their way of life and the bitter inter-family fueding that often lies beneath the surface. He also learned of the different kinds of travellers. Some, like Cocker's family stayed in their caravans all year, clinging to the old way of life, relying on their horses and their wits.

Others have given up the life on the road nd moved into houses but they still keep their bow topped wagons for special occasions and fairs. Often these were brightly coloured and ornate, some of them worth £30,000 or more.

"They still consider themselves true travelling people even though they have houses. Their wagons are very elaborately decorated but you can't keep a wagon like that if you are living outside all year. Only about 6% of them now live in wagons all year. In the sunshine in the summer with a campfire burning it looks a very nice way of life, but in the winter it can be grim. I like to see the camps along country lanes even if they are not always very tidy. Even though the Gypsies haven't taken much notice of the laws about not camping one day it will be gone forever."

"Sometimes it can be a stressful life too. I have been there when people have come to move them on. I have been with them when the police have come and told them to pack up. Then it's the police who don't want me to take pictures."

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01:50 pm - They looked like "gypsies"..
Aspen stores suspect fur thieves back in town
By Joel Stonington
July 15, 2006

Aspen fur stores fear the same group of thieves that struck in 2004 is back in town.

Several shops reported suspicious behavior on Thursday, but it was unclear if anything was actually stolen.

Hillis Furs, on the Hyman Avenue mall, called other fur sellers in the area to warn them after workers there suspected mischief.

"[The thieves] came in but nothing happened here," said Annie Buysse, the store manager at Dennis Basso in The Little Nell building. "Hillis called to warn us, and I said, 'They just left here.'"

Representatives of the stores the alleged thieves visited described the culprits as looking like "gypsies" or as coming from an "Arab background."

They said the scheme was similar to 2004, when two couples stole $120,000 worth of jewelry and fur from five stores. Then, one of the people would try to distract the shop owner by trying something on in the back while another person would stock up on goods under a jacket or dress.

"If you're in the retail business, you know when someone comes in to steal," said Caroline Alper, co-owner of Alper Furs and Leathers Inc. "The woman was my height but she had a voluminous dress [on]."

Mickey Alper, also co-owner of Alper Furs, said the people who came in were a mother and son, though he said in another store there was a mother and daughter who were part of the same group.

"We were very busy when they came," Mickey Alper said. "Had we let them, they would have stolen here."

Aspen police officers visited stores during the day Thursday, according to Buysse and other store owners. Aspen police said an investigation is ongoing and would not comment.

Employees of Prada, Gucci and some of the other high-end retailers in town said they had not noticed any suspicious behavior.

"They tried on different styles," Buysse said. "I just had a feeling because I remembered last year. It reminded me of the gypsies who came last year. It's amazing, it's every summer."

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01:52 pm - Czech job centres put an “R” on Gypsy records
For many years, Czech job centres have been marking with an R, coming from Rom (main Gypsy ethnic group in the Czech Republic), the files of Gypsy people who go there looking for a job, as Vladimir Spidla, Minister of the Work and Social Affairs Office, admitted last October the 28th. This revelation is the result of a journalistic investigation and it has raised a great controversy within the Czech Republic after knowing, the week before, that the Czech Airlines were stamping a G on the tickets of those passengers considered as Gypsies by the current employee.

Zdenek Prouza, Director of Ostrava’s job centre (in North Moravia), confirmed that till 1993 there was a requirement to put an “R” on all the unemployed Gypsies for statistical purposes, as it must be done with sex, age or professional level.

According Efe, up to current time, the number of job centres which are still following this method have not been confirmed yet, but it is know that many of these job centres carried on doing that after 1993, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia split up in two States.

The Employment Act which was implemented at the beginning of this month states that the right to work can not be denied to any citizen for issues related to race or ethnic and social origins. However, unemployment specially affects to 300,000 Czech Gypsies and taking into consideration that the national unemployment average is by the 9%, among Gypsies this percentage increases up to 50%, according to the results of surveys.

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01:53 pm - Remembering Auschwitz

By Grattan Puxon

Romani leaders gathered in Poland to commemorate the massacre of the remaining inmates in what was known as the Auschwitz Gypsy Camp.

Their murder, on the night of 1 and 2 August 1944, was but one incident in the long horror of the Nazi genocide against Roma & Sinti, which resulted in more than 500,000 deaths. However, this final solution imposed by Nazi Germany and its allies was no isolated event. Roma migrants were met by persecution and repression almost everywhere from their first arrival in Europe. Historically, one of their entry points was Byzantium and its capital Constantinople. In the twelfth century, Roma came through what is now known as Sulukule, Istanbul's Water-Tower Gate. Many thousands have since lived in the nearby mahala. It's the oldest recorded Romani quarter in Europe - and faces imminent demolition to make way for new development. The Roma of Sulukule have began a campaign to save their homes. They say the foundations of their present-day houses stand on buildings dating back 800 years - and want the area preserved as a Romani heritage site. It's hoped to interest UNESCO and other international institutions in such a project.

Meanwhile, Sulukule Roma aim to broaden their efforts through a twinning of the ancient quarter with Dale Farm, the largest Travellers' community England; a brand new village also under threat of the bulldozer.

On Tuesday (1 Aug), both communities held events to remember the destruction of the Gypsy Camp at Auschwitz. They hope those in power will get the message - and perhaps revoke plans to go down a similar road and liquidate their homes and lives.

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01:55 pm - Exhibition on Romany Holocaust Opened
Exhibition on Romany Holocaust opens in Brno
Brno, 24. 7. 2006, 17:49 (CTK)

An exhibition on the Romany Holocaust and current racism in Europe opened in the Brno-based Ombudsman Office on July 24th. On 82 exhibition panels people can read about the fate of Romanies during World War Two and some panels are dedicated to the present. The visitors, for instance, can learn the story of the wall in Usti nad Labem's Maticni street and the problems of the Romany minorities in Slovakia, Austria and Germany.

"The exhibition is designed to open an unknown chapter in European history. The notion Holocaust is usually connected with the extermination of 6 million Jews, but it also means systematic extermination of 500,000 Romanies and Sinti," Silvio Peritore from the Documentation Centre of German Sinti and Romas that created the exhibition and showed it with success in Strasbourg and Prague said at the opening ceremony.

According to Jana Horvathova from the Brno Museum of Romany Culture, the exhibition is a significant event.

"It mostly speaks about the past but also connects it with the present," Horvathova said, adding that the questions of racism and suppression of Romanies in Europe were still urgent.

"There are displays of intolerance, inability of co-existence and racism in our society, although we do not want to seem them," ombudsman Otakar Motejl said.

The exhibition was financially supported by the South Moravian region because the Brno Town Hall refused to support it.

The Town Hall objected against the panel depicting the history of the controversial Maticni street.

Maticni street got into the limelight in the 1990s due to the conflict over the wall that was built there to separate old residents from inhabitants of community flats for rent defaulters, mainly Romanies.

The erection of the wall was criticised as an _expression of racism by many Czech and foreign politicians and human rights organisations and the wall was later removed.

Romanies were persecuted and deported to concentration and extermination camps in Nazi Germany and the countries occupied by the Third Reich.

Czechs and Moravian and Moravian Romanies were gathered since 1940 in labour camps in Lety near Pisek, east Bohemia, and in Hodonin, south Moravia.

According to historians, some 2,690 Romanies came through the camps. Many of them died there and others were sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

According to various sources, 5,400 to 5,600 Czech and Moravian Romanies were sent to Auschwitz. The first train left Brno on March 7, 1943.

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01:57 pm - Civil Guards to learn about the Gypsies
Back in 1840 the Civil Guard rulebook or ‘Cartilla’ gave instructions on how the Gypsy Community should be treated.

In these days of political correctness such comments would now be frowned upon, but new applicants to join the Civil Guard will now receive classes on Gypsey culture.

It will happen in Jaén when a new intake of 4,000 youngsters will hear from historians, anthropologists and even lawyers on the particular problems facing Gypsies living in Spain.

It will be the first time such an event has been seen in Spain and it’s intended to break some of the stereotypes faced by the Gypsy community with the hope that future Civil Guards will be better prepared to solve conflicts.


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02:03 pm - Gypsy Victims of the Nazi Terror
by Myriam Novitch

The extermination of the Gypsies was part of the programme of the Nazi party. However, official discrimination against Gypsies as a group can be traced back at least as far as 1899, when the Bavarian police created a special Gypsy Affairs Section which received copies of verdicts delivered by the courts concerning offences committed by Gypsies. In 1929 this Section became a National Centre, with headquarters in Munich, and from then on Gypsies were not allowed to move from one place to another without permission from the police. Gypsies aged over sixteen who could not prove that they had a job faced a sentence of two years' labour in a reformatory institution.

After 1933, the year in which Hitler came to power, these measures became even more severe. Gypsies who could not prove that they were of German nationality were deported; others were interned as "asocial" persons. Interest in their racial characteristics began to grow. In 1936 Dr. Hans Globke, one of the drafters of the Nuremberg Laws, declared that "Gypsies are of alien blood" (Artfremdes Blut). Unable to deny that they were of Aryan origin, Professor Hans F. Guenther categorized them as Rassengemische, an indeterminate mixture of races.

The study of the racial characteristics of Gypsies came to be admitted as a subject for doctoral theses. Eva Justin, the assistant of Dr. Ritter of the Health Ministry's Race Research Division, declared when submitting her thesis that Gypsy blood was "very dangerous for the purity of the German race".

The situation of Gypsies was worsened by a decree of 14 December 1937 which declared them to be "inveterate criminals". In late 1937 and in 1938 there were widespread arrests, and a special section was created for Gypsies in Buchenwald concentration camp. Gypsy names appear in the death lists of many camps including Mauthausen, Gusen, Dautmergen, Natzweiler and Flossenburg. Many Gypsy women were the victims of experiments by SS doctors at Ravensbruck. A certain Dr. Portschy submitted a memorandum to the Fuhrer proposing "forced labour and mass sterilization of the Gypsies because they are endangering the blood purity of the German peasantry".

In 1938 Himmler intervened personally, ordering the transfer of the Gypsy Affairs Centre from Munich to Berlin. In the same year 300 sedentary Gypsies, the owners of fields and vineyards, where arrested in the village of Mannworth.

Himmler stipulated that Gypsies should be classified as follows: pure Gypsies (Z); mixed race Gypsies of predominantly Gypsy blood (ZM+); mixed race Gypsies of predominantly Aryan blood (ZM-); and mixed-race Gypsies with half-Gypsy, half-Aryan blood (ZM).

In his study "L'Allemagne et le genocide" the historian Joseph Billig identified three methods of committing genocide: the suppression of fertility, deportation, and homicide.

Gypsy women married to non-Gypsies were sterilized in the hospital at Dusseldorf-Lierenfeld. Some died as a result of being sterilized while pregnant. In Ravensbruck camp 120 Gypsy girls were sterilized by SS doctors.

The deportation of 5,000 Gypsies from Germany to the ghetto at Lodz in Poland was an example of genocide by deportation. The living conditions in the ghetto were so inhuman that no community could have survived.

But the Nazis' chosen method of genocide was mass killing.

The decision to exterminate the Gypsies is believed to have been taken in the Spring of 1941, when the Einsatzgruppen or execution squads were formed. First of all the Gypsies had to be rounded up. Since Himmler's decree of 8 December 1938 the addresses of all Gypsies were known to the police. A decree of 17 November 1939 forbade Gypsies, on pain of internment in a concentration camp, to leave their place of residence.

Thirty thousand Gypsies deported to Poland were destined to perish in the death camps of Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor and Majdanek. Thousands of others were deported from Belgium, The Netherlands, and France, and died in Auschwitz.

In his memoirs, Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, revealed that the deportees, included people nearly a hundred years old, pregnant women, and large numbers of children. Some of the survivors of Auschwitz, such as Kulka and Kraus in their book The Death Factory, describe a terrible massacre of Gypsies which took place on the night of 31 July 1944.

In Poland and in the Soviet Union Gypsies were killed both in death camps and in the open countryside. War between Germany and the USSR broke out on 22 June 1941. On the heels of the armies of Von Leer, Von Bock, Rundstedt and other generals marched the death squads of the SS. The Baltic States, the Ukraine and the Crimea were pitted with mass graves. At Simviropol 800 men, women and children were shot on the night of 24 December 1941. Wherever the Nazis passed, Gypsies were arrested, deported, or murdered. In Yugoslavia, executions of Jews and Gypsies began in October 1941 in the forests, where peasants still remember the cries of children being driven in trucks to the places of their execution.

It is difficult to estimate either the number of Gypsies who were living in Europe before the Second World War or the number of those who survived. One historian, Raoul Hilberg, has estimated that there were 34,000 Gypsies in Germany, but the number of survivors is unknown. According to reports made by the Einsatzgruppen responsible for the killings in the Soviet Socialist Republics of Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimea, there were 300,000 victims in those territories. According to the Yugoslav authorities, 28,000 Gypsies were put to death in Serbia alone. The number of victims in Poland is hard to establish. The historian Joseph Tenenbaum asserts that the Gypsies lost at least 500,000 people.

An ancient people, prolific and full of vitality, the Gypsies tried to resist death but the cruelty and might of their enemies prevailed. Sometimes their love of music brought them consolation in their martyrdom. Starving and verminous, they gathered in front of the vile huts of Auschwitz to make music and encourage the children to dance. Some of the younger Gypsies tried to escape. In the camp diary kept by Danuta Czech can be read the names and dates of execution at the Wall of Death of those who were recaptured. Eyewitnesses have described the courage displayed by the Gypsy partisans who fought in the Nieswiez region of Poland. According to some accounts, they carried only knives as they flung themselves against their heavily armed adversaries.

Forty years have passed since the genocide of the Gypsies. These lines are no more than a reminder of the terrible crime committed against this group of human beings.

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02:05 pm - You Try It for a Few Days: The Roma and the gadje in the Czech Republic
by Fedor Gál

The year 1997 will go down in history as the year the Western press suddenly noticed the relatively massive Romani emigration from this country which has been going on for years. Since nothing is true until it appears on television, most journalists and commentators blamed the exodus of hundreds of Czech Roma to Canada on a TV Nova documentary that presented an idyllic picture of émigré life in the North American country. The Canadian government reacted to the exodus by slapping a visa requirement on Czech visitors to Canada. The Roma then started heading to Britain. The British reacted by sending the buses on which the Roma arrived back to the Czech Republic. A proposal to impose visa restrictions on Czech and Slovak travelers started to circulate in the British parliament. President Václav Havel tried to get in touch with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in an attempt to prevent London from imposing a visa requirement - a move that could complicate the Czech Republic's integration into the European Union.

Czech television viewers were treated to nightly footage of Romani families sleeping at British and French train stations and ports. The newspapers were filled with dramatic headlines such as "Czech Roma Not Welcome in Dover" or "Czech Transport Companies Don't Want to Carry Refugees." The chairman of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, Miloš Zeman, let it be known that the whole affair was mainly a Romani "disgrace." Czech Prime Minister Václav Klaus at first declared that there was no Roma problem in this country but later announced that the government would take "firm" measures, even recommending that a special government office be created to deal with the issue.

In late October, the deputy chairman of the small Czech National Social Party stated his thoughts on the issue. While his party has no representation in parliament and the comment was pure rubbish, it is noteworthy for the simple reason that it truly reflects the opinions of many average Czechs. This commentator placed the blame for the situation squarely on the shoulders of the Roma. In his opinion, the Roma are not so bad off in the Czech Republic. He asked, "How long are we going to silently suffer restrictions to be placed on our rights because of a minority group that has demonstrated time and time again that it is not prepared to conform to the laws and basic societal norms of this country?" He also proposed that the president and government quickly find a "few Gypsy advisers" because "the Gypsies know better than anyone how to make easy money without lowering themselves to any form of mental or physical exertion."

By mid-November, the Roma exodus had been pushed off the front pages of our newspapers, but its protagonists were and still are among us.

A history on the fringes

The Roma settled into what are today the Czech and Slovak republics sometime around the 15th century. Most of them turned to traditional craftsmanship or lived as nomads. Those who settled down ended up anchoring themselves in the local society. But the anchor was unsteady. Their traditions and language, their carefree attitude toward money and competitiveness, their communal lifestyle, and their hand-to-mouth existence all served to cut them off from the rest of society once and for all.

In 1927, the Czechoslovak government passed the Law on Wandering Gypsies. In March 1939 - two weeks before the German army's occupation of Prague and the establishment of the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia - the government passed an ordinance on the establishment of punitive labor camps for "Gypsy families and other wandering individuals." This collection center was later replaced by concentration camps in Lety u Písku and Hodonín u Kunštátu, where many Roma perished or were held until they could be transported to Nazi death camps. Of the thousands of Roma who were sent to the concentration camps, only a few hundred survived. After the war, the Czech nation maintained an embarrassed silence with respect to this tragic genocide.

The communist regime decided to "re-educate" the Romani people in its own image. It stripped them of their identity and persistently worked to destroy Romani culture and solidarity by imposing a "correct" set of values and lifestyle on them. In a society that no longer recognized private property and freedom of movement, the Romani people were forced out of their traditional occupations as musicians, blacksmiths, and basket-weavers and drafted as unskilled laborers at construction sites. According to the regime's grandiose social engineering projects, the Roma were moved from Slovakia to the Czech lands, from rural settlements to tenement housing blocks in the city, from a communal lifestyle in the countryside to the anonymous environment of large industrial urban centers. This systematic uprooting of the Romani people had a predictable effect - a high crime rate, unemployment, alcoholism, and related problems.

The past eight years

The fall of communism in 1989 opened up new opportunities for the Roma of the Czech lands. However, the successful exploitation of these new opportunities depended not only on the Roma but also on the dominant majority in the Czech lands. The same majority that has been losing the struggle for multiethnic and multicultural harmony throughout this century - from the Romani Holocaust in the Czech lands, to the postwar expulsion of the Sudeten German population, to current attitudes toward immigrants from impoverished corners of the world. Today, public opinion polls show that the majority of Czechs refuse to put up with the Romani minority, whom they view as a loud and lazy band of parasites. Those same Czechs view themselves as friendly, tolerant, and hard-working.

Meanwhile, daily life is becoming increasingly difficult for the Roma. The number of racially motivated crimes against Roma is increasing with every passing year. Other forms of racism are also becoming more common, such as incidents of Romani children being beaten up in the schoolyard or on the streets, Romani youths not being allowed into certain clubs or bars, or Romani fathers unable to find work because of their ethnicity. As for those who say the Roma are only getting what they deserve, one can only respond that they should color their faces and hair and try to live like a Rom for a few days, because the story of the Roma is also the story of the gadje who refuse to learn.

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02:06 pm - Flamenco dancer is appointed Roma's ambassador to the EU
By Graham Keeley

In the stuffy confines of the European Parliament, he cut an unlikely figure. A strutting peacock of a man, Joaquin Cortes is normally to be found stripped to the waist, dancing Flamenco in front of thousands of mostly female devotees.

This is the dancer who almost single-handedly used his talent - not to mention his looks - to make Spain's most famous art form a must-see among the fashionable classes. But, though more used to hearing excited female fans shouting guapo (handsome), the one-time model for Giorgio Armani now wants to use his fame for a very different end.

Roma by birth, Cortes has become the new European Union ambassador for his people, in an effort to end decades of discrimination and xenophobia.

Dressed in more sober attire than normal, the dancer recently addressed MEPs in Brussels. "The main reason for my presence here is that I am of Roma origin and I understand that this institution is known as the champion of human rights in the EU," he said.

"I am one of the rare European Roma to whom fortune has been kind, as I am able to proudly assert my identity without fear of being persecuted, humiliated or being made a scapegoat." He added: "We all have to fight for the integration of the Roma nation, and hope that in the near future a new generation will live a better life."

An EU report in 2005 on racism and xenophobia stated that: "Roma are often stereotyped as criminals. The reality is that many Roma are the victims of crime." Many, particularly women, are marginalised by society, living in an underclass from which it is hard to break out. An EU resolution last year said Roma women suffered high levels of exclusion, particularly from access to health services.

There are now believed to be 14 million Gypsies in Europe, with at least nine million of those living inside the expanded EU. The largest contingent of two million live in Romania, but the Roma have perhaps the highest profile in Spain, thanks in part to Flamenco, the art whose origins are credited to them.

Cortes, who is currently dancing in Moscow for Russia's new super-rich, has been fighting hard for the recognition of the Roma. He launched his own campaign, called Stop Anti-Gypsyism, seven years ago. One ambition is to try to rid the word "Gypsy" of the negative connotations which it sometimes has in the popular imagination.

He agreed to be the new ambassador for the Roma nation as the EU declared 2007 "the year of equal opportunities for the Roma". He is to head a series of initiatives to try to get Gypsy artists equal billing with leading singers, dancers and artists throughout Europe. Away from the arts, the broad initiative aims to integrate the Roma in society.

His people's cause is close to his heart. Growing up Cordoba, Andalusia in the 1970s, Cortes watched as many of his contemporaries struggled to find jobs or often slid back into the murky world of drugs and petty crime.

About 800,000 Gypsies live in Spain, and they have been persecuted for much of the past 300 years. A series of laws and policies tried to rid them from the country altogether.

Gypsy settlements were often broken up and the residents dispersed. In some cases, they were forced to marry non- Gypsies. They were banned from using their language, which is a mixture of Andalusian Spanish and Romani, and prevented from taking up public office or joining trade organisations. Under General Francisco Franco's dictatorship, Gypsies were harassed or their children forced to attend school. They became a permanent underclass.

Conditions for Spain's Roma have improved considerably in the 30 years since democracy was re-established, with special state education programmes operating, and social services becoming more geared to their needs. But recent reports on Gypsy life have found high numbers are still illiterate and living on the periphery of Spanish society. Many run their own small companies, dealing within their own communities. Gypsy-run building firms mark their sites with the blue and green Roma flag as a warning that if anyone breaks in, they may have to reckon with reprisals from Gypsy "security".

Huge slum dwellings like Los Tres Mil (The Three Thousand) in Seville and San Cosme in Barcelona were traditionally used as dumping grounds by local authorities to separate Gypsies from the rest of the community.

A dancer with Gypsy roots

* Joaquin Cortes is a native of Andalusia, the birthplace of flamenco. He was born into a Gypsy family in Cordoba on 22 February, 1969.

* The Cortes family moved to Madrid in 1981, where at the age of 12, Cortes began to take formal dance lessons. He was invited to join the Ballet Nacional de España in 1984, taking to the stage in venues as diverse as the New York Opera House and the Kremlin.

* His wild, passionate approach to flamenco earned him worldwide recognition and controversy. He once said, "In classical ballet they still dance with a nude torso. Why not in flamenco?"

* In 1992 Cortes founded his own company, "Joaquin Cortes Ballet Flamenco". A starring role in Pedro Almodovar's 1995 film, La flor de mi secreto, brought him a new audience, as did Carlos Saura's film, Flamenco, and he regularly tours worldwide.

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02:07 pm - Photographs
Some really nicely done sites with photographs of various Romanies in different locations..

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02:08 pm - Gypsy teen plays key part in new policy for children's services in Cambridgeshire

A TEENAGER from the gypsy community in Huntingdon has played a key part in helping to draw up a new policy for children's services across Cambridgeshire.

Billy Smith, 13, a student at Hinchingbrooke School, made suggestions for the plan being drawn up by the Cambridgeshire Children and Young People's Strategic Partnership, and his artwork also features in the finished document.

The partnership's plan is designed to improve the lives of young people and their families.

It includes measures to reduce the number of children injured in road accidents, to improve youngsters' self esteem, tackle bullying, increase participation in sport, and increase attainment in the traveller, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, as well as boost GCSE results of children in care.

Billy, who is proud of his Romany origin, said he enjoyed taking part in the project, especially to help get the views of gypsies across.

"I interviewed some council people and drew some artwork and miniature posters and did some work on the booklet - The Big Plan," he said.

Billy, who was born in Essex and who has travelled all over the region, has been living in a house for about 10 years.

"I do prefer travelling really, but you can't stop anywhere, and when you do people throw firebombs at you or come up looking for a fight, so we are moved on," he said. "There is good and bad in everybody. Travellers are not all bad people."

Coun Shona Johnstone, Cambridgeshire County Council cabinet member for children and young people's services, said:

"Children, young people and their families are at the heart of the partnership and the plan they have produced.

"What they have told us has been vital in setting our priorities.

"We particularly valued the contribution made by Billy and the travelling community."

Coun Johnstone said the partnership was working to ensure children and their families receive faster and more effective services close to where they live and go to school, and that they look to the Government for support.

The partnership, made up from local councils, the police, primary care trusts and NHS trusts, Connexions, schools and voluntary organisations, felt contributions by young people were an integral part of the plan, and 1,850 took part.

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02:11 pm - Herdeljezi Festival

I spoke to Sani Rifati, the organizer for the annual Herdeljezi Festival in Sebastopol, CA. The info isn't posted to the website yet, but she informed me that the event will be held on Saturday, May 5th, 2007 downtown at Ive's Park, and this year we are going to attend :) I didn't hear about it in time last year, and I have been waiting for the info so that I could request the time off work.

Just wanted to post it for anyone who might be interested.
Kushti bok

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02:13 pm - Anti-Romani hate speech contributes to intolerance toward Roma
On 15 February 2007, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to Mr Boris Sorkin, Managing Director of the Russian Information Agency "REGNUM", expressing concern at the regular linkage of Roma with crime in the agency's reports and noting that such media reports contribute to a climate of intolerance of Roma. The letter referred to numerous articles published in the newspaper collected by the ERRC during 2006 and 2007, which explicitly link Roma with drug dealing and criminality. In its letter, which was copied to the Director of the Central Regional Administration of Rosohrancultura, the ERRC urged the information agency to take a firm stand against hate speech and to refrain from publishing inflammatory anti-Romani language. The full text of the letter is available on the ERRC Internet website at http://www.errc. org/cikk. php?cikk= 2722 .

The letter is a result of ongoing ERRC work in the Russian Federation to combat hate speech against Roma. Since 2006, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs has supported ERRC work in the Russian Federation.

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr Boris Sorkin
Managing Director, Information Agency "REGNUM"
Pravdi 21 stroenie 1, Moscow 125040, Russia
Fax: +7 495 2594639

Mr Alexander Haev
Director, Central Regional Administration of Rosohrancultura
Malaya Nikitskaya str. 12, Moscow 630091, Russia
Fax: + 7 495 2904573

The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at http://www.errc. org
European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel: +36.1.413.2200
Fax: +36.1.413.2201

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02:13 pm - No Security Guarantees for Roma in Kosovo
European Roma and Travellers Forum
Press Release

Strasbourg, 15 February 2007: After renewed violence in Kosovo involving two deaths, the president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, Rudko Kawczynski, warned Roma not to travel to the province. To those who have remained there he recommended to prepare for an eventual evacuation and called on the international security presence to finally fulfil its mandate and guarantee the security of Roma.

“I am appalled to notice that almost eight years after the end of the war the international community has failed to rebuild a multiethnic Kosovo,” Mr. Kawczynski said, adding that following the proposal of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari for a conditional independence of Kosovo and last weekend’s events he he was expecting further violence .

The president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum reminded that more than 150,000 Roma have been ethnically cleansed by Kosovo Albanian nationalists by the end of the war and that ethnic cleansing was conducted with the clear purpose to obtain an independent, monoethnic Kosovo. He announced the organisation of an international security conference with the topic of the persecution of Roma in Kosovo.

Kosovo once provided a home to about 200,000 Roma who inhabited this territory for almost 600 years. Most of them were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo in summer 1999 when the international community watched unprepared.

The European Roma and Travellers Forum is the international Romani interest representation which gathers Europe’s main international Roma organisations and more than 1,500 member organisations from most of the Council of Europe member states. In December 2004, the Forum signed a partnership agreement with the Council of Europe which provides for special relations between both organisations.

For further information and interviews please contact:

European Roma and Travellers Forum
c/o Council of Europe
F – 67 075 Strasbourg

Tel.: 00 33 3 90 21 43 31

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02:15 pm - Romani on House MD

A few weeks ago, there was an episode of House MD that deals with a young patient and his Romani family.

Heres the recap from the FOX webpage. The portions that relate to the family are in bold.
Needle in a Haystack )

I'm trying to absorb it, since I didn't actually get to see this episode, but these are a few things, (good and bad) that come to mind:

The doctors confront Stevie about the address he supplied. Leah finally admits that Stevie is Romani, which is a gypsy. Stevie explains that the doctors cannot go to his home because their mere presence will spiritually pollute it and his parents treat that very seriously.

Depending on how traditional the family is, this could or could not be accurate. I think, at least in my own family and other Romani families/people I've met, we don't do things much differently, (if at all) from anyone else, so to me it seems a bit far fetched, particularly the following:

Stevie's parents argue that their son's life is simply out of balance and they're helping to restore it.

This, to me, is where the racial stereotyping comes in, as if all Romani people are new-age hippies. Not that I have anything against hippies, mind you, but it just doesn't tend to be the case 90% of the time. I don't know a single American Romani (or certainly Romanies anywhere else in the world) who would refuse proper medical care for themselves or a family member if their life was in danger - and I can't imagine even very traditional Romanies, while they may not be trusting, saying something like that. The occupation of the parents bothers me a bit, too, because there are plenty of Romani people in more conventional occupations (doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, etc.) so I see that as another example of how mainstream society (in the United States, at least) perceives the word 'gypsy' (not capitalized here because it seems to have been used more as a term to describe their lifestyle than their ethnicity - "oh, they're gypsies? well, they must not have any proper means of living, probably selling junk by the side of the road", etc..) so, not too pleased with those things. I also don't care for how the family is portrayed as completely ignorant to modern medicine, but I am impressed that the Holocaust referrence was used, only because it means Romani people are finally getting some widespread recognition when it comes to that subject. My hope is that one or more of the many watchers of the show Google'd 'gypsies' and 'holocaust' and educated themselves on our past as a people, thereby wiping out the 'Esmerelda/Disney' image and replacing it with a more accurate one. We kind of have to sneak that stuff in where we can, eh?

The parents being portrayed as overbearing and hostile doesn't strike me as having anything to do with their race, as this seems to be the case with all the parents/spouses/sisters/brothers/cousins, etc on the show. They never cooperate with House and his team or trust him (sometimes with good reason!) and that seems to be a major theme in the show from the beginning, so no shocker there.

I do like the part where the character is offered an internship, (recognizing, for anyone who had doubt or 'needed to see it on tv first' to believe it, that Gypsies can read and write and are just as intelligent and capable as anyone else,) and I also like the fact that he turns it down. Maybe I'm a sap, but him pointing out that everyone else is alone and that's not what he wants for his life is both very perceptive and heartwarming at the same time.. but maybe that's just me :)

All in all, it could have been so much worse in terms of stereotyping us, or making us look like a joke. Yes, they got some things wrong, but they got some things right, too. I'm not terribly offended by the inaccurate parts.. at least we weren't portrayed as tossing glitter around and consulting our crystal balls! I tend not to be as bothered by the 'American version' of the stereotype as I am the European one, where we're not even considered human in some places. And then, in some ways, it makes the notion that we're a fictional character all that much worse because of the suffering and discrimination that is going on in other places. It's nice to be recognized, but it seems people still aren't quite clear on what 'we' are. More than sub-human, less than magical. Yep, that about covers it ;)


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