If you’ve given a “like” to this blog’s Facebook page (see the right-hand sidebar), you saw that a couple of days ago I put up a link to an article entitled The Gypsy In Me from the New York Times.
It was written by a young woman in excellent English (a nice change of pace after reading Ponta’s illiterate ramblings in the pages of Nature) about her experience of being a child in Romania and then moving to America. I’ll let you click and read her story in her own words but it begs the question that I’ve often asked before. Are you still a Gypsy if you move to America, go to university and become an accomplished writer?
My answer is a categoric no. The issue here is what makes one a Gypsy in the first place. Is it just whom your parents are? If you’re born a Gypsy but then go to university and become a technocrat politician working in the European Parliament in Brussels are you still a Gypsy? If you are, well then it’s no different than being a Hungarian or a Romanian, that whatever “blood” you inherit from your parents at the time of your blood determines your ethnicity and nothing else determines it.
It’s pretty obvious what the color of one’s skin is or the shape of one’s eyes or other distinguishing racial characteristics that are purely physical in nature. But when it comes to a cultural identity, a societal identity, that’s where things get a lot murkier. Are you Romanian if you live in Maramures and make your own handmade shoes and work in the fields? And are you equally Romanian if you live in Bucharest and wear a suit and tie to work every day in an air-conditioned office? I think most people would say yes. But are you truly a Gypsy in both of these situations?
From the author of the New York Times piece:
As a little girl, my mother dressed me in pale colors and cut my hair short so I would not look like a Gypsy.
Still, all these efforts couldn’t stop my classmates’ parents from reproaching my first-grade teacher for giving the highest award to me, a Gypsy. That confirmed my grandfather’s belief that there is no use acting “as if I were an official from the Ministry,” as he would put it, since there was “no such thing as a Gypsy teacher, priest or lawyer.” He too wanted to be like “the others,” but he was also aware of the invisible limits that kept Gypsies separate.
I’ve known enough Gypsies over the years to know that the “invisible limits” go both ways. I’m curious what the other Gypsies in this village thought of a young girl with short hair. Gypsies have a lot of very strong beliefs about women’s hair and when it can be cut and how it can be worn. Short hair on a girl for them is virtually equivalent to sending a young boy to school in a pink dress in America.
Furthermore, are there any Gypsy doctors, priests or lawyers? I don’t mean has a person born a Gypsy ever been to law school or the seminary and been certified. What I mean is do their fellow Gypsies still consider that person to be one of them?
My family didn’t speak Romani or follow the nomadic lifestyle. However, my grandfather was a blacksmith, a common Romani occupation. My mother’s light skin allowed me to conceal my roots, but my father, whose darker skin would have drawn attention, avoided coming around my school.
It sounds to me like only non-Gypsies considered this family to be Gypsies. They weren’t nomads? They cut their daughter’s hair short? They didn’t speak the Gypsy language? The author’s parents worked three jobs to send their daughter to university (and buy her lots of books as a child)? There’s a picture at the link of the author’s parents and neither one of them are even dressed like Gypsies but instead look exactly like Romanians from that era (photo taken in 1984). How exactly are these people Gypsy in any sense of the word other than by “blood”?
No. I’m sorry but these people were no more Gypsy than I am except that somewhere along the line on some kind of piece of paper they were labeled officially as Gypsies and so everyone around them lumped them together with the real Gypsies.
For an unrelated reason, the other day I was reading through the Vrba-Wetzler report (link goes to English version), compiled by two Slovak Jewish prisoners who escaped from the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in 1942. It’s an inside look at what was going on there at the time. And while yes of course it focuses predominantly on the Jewish prisoners, there is a footnote discussing Section 2 of the Birkenau complex:
The Gypsy Camp -app 4,500 This is the reminder of some 16,000 gypsies. They are not used for work and die off rapidly.
Hitler and the Nazis had a burning hated for the gypsies and they were systematically rounded up and left to perish in these camps (in the notation above only 4,000 prisoners are still alive from a remainder (mistake in original translation) of 16,000 prisoners). I think most people know that Gypsies were the targets of Nazis persecution.
But why? I’ve read Mein Kampf before and there’s certain nothing in there about Gypsies “taking over the world” or organizing “sinister conspiracies” or being evil bankers or anything else. Hell, I’ve read paranoid literature from the John Birch Society and the Klu Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation and half a dozen other organizations who concern themselves with the Illuminati, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderburgers, the Vatican’s machinations, alien bloodlines and just about anything else you could imagine and not once and I mean not one time have I ever seen the Gypsies being mentioned as to blame for anything or being at the heart of anything or the cause of anything.
So why did Hitler round up Gypsies for his death camps? Why did Stalin consider the Gypsies a “problem” and send hundreds of thousands of them to his gulags? Why were they specifically targeted as social enemies of these two dictators? They have (and had) no political power. I was surprised to learn there’s even a Gypsy political party in Romania because they sure as hell never win any elections on any level.
Why did the residents of the village where the NYT author grow up dislike her family? Why do Romanians today (or people in France, Italy, wherever) have such a dislike and sometimes furious hatred towards Gypsies? They sure as hell aren’t the 1% of the world’s elite. They don’t run a single multinational corporation. They aren’t officers in the military or the police. They don’t impose taxes. They aren’t judges who condemn you to prison sentences. Gypsies don’t run the banks which drive you into poverty. They don’t pass laws which restrict your freedom. Gypsy armies have never attacked your ancestors or enslaved your great-grandparents. So why in the world do so many people from ordinary Romanians to Hitler and Stalin dislike Gypsies so much?
Doesn’t that seem a bit odd if the “only” reason is due to some perceived ethnic difference, that their “blood” is somehow different? Gypsies don’t even look any different than other Europeans. Some Gypsies have dark skin but others are much lighter skinned. Guess what? I know non-Gypsy Europeans who have dark skin. You can’t tell a Gypsy from another kind of European by looking at their face so we know it isn’t biological differences, we know it isn’t fear of Gypsy’s political power, financial power, military power, historical power or anything else. You’d be hard pressed to find a people so consistently downtrodden, enslaved, misused and pitifully treated than the Gypsies and this has been ongoing for the past 700 years or more. So why in the fuck do people dislike them?
The reason is cultural. Hitler and Stalin hated the Gypsies because Gypsy culture emphasizes freedom and artistic expression and nomadism and this was completely contrary to Nazi and Communist ideas about hard work, conformity and subservience to the greater good of the state. More modern people dislike Gypsies because they are terrible citizens. Gypsies don’t vote and don’t consider themselves to have a civic duty (or responsibility) to the state. They carry the passports they can get and their only allegiance is to their own kind. Gypsies don’t believe in paying taxes and they sure as hell don’t believe in spending $50,000 to spend four years buried inside of a university reading books so that you can get a piece of paper to hang on the wall that says what a top notch individual you are.
Gypsy is not a race but a culture. And the author, although she suffered somewhat because her neighbors mistakenly identified her as a Gypsy, is not herself a Gypsy. She just isn’t. Her grandfather might’ve been one but she’s a literate, educated woman who spends her days inside buildings with fluorescent lighting, speaking English and not Gypsy language. She is not a Gypsy. What makes you a Gypsy is the culture, and it is a culture that these people have hung onto tenaciously (which is why I respect them at the same time I have no desire to emulate them) DESPITE persecution from every tinpot dictator, king and tyrant that Europe has had over the last 700 years.
Gypsies have remained Gypsies not just in the face of Hitler and Stalin but also under Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Napoleon, Benito Mussolini, Henry 8 of England, Queen Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War (and then Franco), the 30 Years War in Germany, the Russian Civil War (Bolshevik Revolution), the Second Northern War of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Holodomor, the rise of the Ustashe in Croatia, the fighting in Kosovo, Bosnia and the break-up of Yugoslavia and many, many more.
And throughout all of that, including enslavement, death camps and blatantly genocidal policies by governments all over Europe, what did the Gypsies do? Did they conform? Did they adopt the lifestyle and the culture of their oppressors? No, fuck no they didn’t. The left India all those centuries ago because they were determined to hang onto their language, their traditions and their culture and no one, not Stalin, not Ante Pavelic, not even Hitler himself could convince these people to convert, to give up their nomadic, free-wheeling, artistic, thieving, musical lifestyles. You know why? Because if they relinquish their culture and become like their neighbors then they have ceased to exist as a people.
And yet still I forced to read lukewarm pap like this:
The European Union will eventually consider the Roma minority in Central Europe as a potential labour force, Hungarian Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog said on Thursday.
Talking to MTI after a meeting of his European counterparts in Luxembourg, Balog said that Roma job seekers could fill positions in areas where the EU now uses workers “imported” from third countries.
Let me express this to Mr. Balog in words that he can easily understand.