Living in various parts of the United States as well as a lengthy stint in Israel (including during the 1989 Romanian revolution), I’ve spent considerable time around Jews and gotten familiar with one of their stranger beliefs, that of the self-hating Jew.
In essence, there is a pervasive internal belief amongst a long-suffering minority that some of their own members are to blame for a particular misfortune. I am reminded of all of this because of the death of one man and the almost death of a second man this past week.
The man who died, Nicolae Gheorghe, was perhaps the most famous and respected Gypsy (or Roma/Rroma) rights activist. An ethnic Gypsy born in Romania, he graduated from university (under the “evil” Communist regime, no less) and spoke and wrote several languages fluently. By the time of Romania’s accession into the European Union, Gheorghe was in a prime position to lobby and advise Brussels on behalf of Gypsy rights.
The latest print edition of The Economist (no link as the website is now hostile to non-subscribers) goes to great length to praise this man for his efforts, some of it merited by his tireless work on behalf of his own people. Nonetheless his reception by his fellow Gypsies is what struck me as the most interesting:
In 1993, communism having imploded, [Gheorghe] set up the first Roma NGO, the Centre for Social Intervention and Studies (CRISS), to try to prod them into education and jobs in the formal economy.
After a fight he persuaded the government to call them Roma, not tsigani [sic]. And he had bigger dreams. He imagined 1,000 civic associations, 200 small businesses, talented young gypsies entering mainstream politics, until they gradually became a successful part of national life.
None of it happened. Some gypsies blamed gadze prejudice, and there was plenty of it; the first use of CRISS had been to rebuild gypsy houses torched by their ubiquitous enemies.
But Mr Gheorghe rejected victim-talk. He rebuked gypsies for their habit, honed from the sheer need to survive, of tricking gadze and turning too readily to begging to get money. He scolded them for failing to think collectively, to help themselves or to send their children to school.
As a result, some hated him. In 1991 he was kidnapped, taken to the forest and accused by a kangaroo tribunal of “stealing funds”, a bizarre charge when all his puny funding went to the cause, not to him. He escaped, but the incident confirmed what he already knew: his intellectual training made him an outsider.
Mind you, this is a native Romanian gypsy who spoke the local language, who was “tireless” in his effort to promote gypsy rights and then “prodded” them to get jobs in the formal economy and yet about all he got for his efforts was to be kidnapped and accused of robbing them.
Mr. Gheorge’s viewpoints can easily been summed up by this excellent 2010 article in the Guardian that he wrote:
The Romanian government recently announced the intention to adopt a new strategy for the Roma. I think this is a bad idea because it will enable the Romanian authorities to shirk their responsibilities towards their fellow Romanian citizens by “Europeanising” the problem, in other words passing the problem onto the EU institutions and other member states.
Romania needs a functioning public administration run by properly trained civil servants, some of whom could be Roma, who would guarantee access to public services. If the Romanian social services would work according to their own rules it would be much more beneficial – for everyone – than any specific Roma strategy could be.
The challenge for policymakers is to harness the skills and dynamism of the Roma into legitimate entrepreneurship in the formal economy: self employment, family co-operatives, international commerce in crafts and other business activities that fit into the EU context of free movement of capital, goods, services and people. Obviously this goes hand in hand with improved access to education. The Roma are very adaptable and skilled, and policymakers need to find ways to bring these skills into the formal economy.
Again with the emphasis on integrating the Gypsies into the formal economy and again a complete failure.
I mention all of this because it dovetails precisely with my article Black and Blue, which continues to provoke people into calling me a “racist” because I dare to acknowledge that a large part of what constitutes Gypsy culture is fundamentally incompatible with any and all “formal” economies, not to mention becoming “properly trained civil servants”.
Well you can’t accuse Nicolae Gheorge of racism. At best you can label him a “self-hating Gypsy”. I can’t blame the guy for wanting his people to follow the dream he took – higher education, literary studies and hobnobbing in the corridors of power. But that’s just not a realistic option for a large segment of the Gypsy population, no matter how ideal it sounds.
Mr. Gheorge’s passing was barely noted here in the Romanian media but the near death of another man, Florin Cioaba, the self-proclaimed “King of All Gypsies” (worldwide), not to be confused with his cousin Iulian Radulescu, who is the “Emperor of All Gypsies”, was a top story here in Romania because President Basescu got personally involved.
King Cioaba, after a steady diet of shit and years of abusing his body, is unsurprisingly dying of a heart condition in Turkey. Some of the king’s family wrote a letter to President Basescu to intervene and possibly bring home the king using a SMURD (Romanian government emergency response service) plane. When Cioaba slipped into a coma, Basescu dispatched Serban Bradisteanu to Turkey to advise and monitor the king’s condition, which set off a political firestorm.
One aspect is that the Romanian government is spending money to intervene in a case of the Gypsy king when he’s clearly wealthy in his own right (and can pay his own medical costs) and secondly the fact that King Cioaba is out of the country and has access to top-notch care locally. The second aspect is that Serban Bradisteanu is technically a doctor but primarily involves himself in politics, being (at the moment) heavily aligned with the PSD old guard, so for Basescu to involve Bradisteanu is stirring up a hornet’s nest, causing Ponta to respond venomously and Emil Boc (standing in for Blaga these days as the PDL attack dog) to respond in kind.
Cioaba’s father was the first to declare himself “King of All Gypsies Worldwide” back in 1992 and the title has caused some confusion and consternation ever since. In 1997, the father died and Florin then inherited a “crown” which is of dubious usefulness.
When it comes to courting the Gypsies, a visit to the King and his extended clan has always been useful for politicians in Romania. You can see here Elena Basescu (a politician in her own right and the daughter of the president) in attendance at the “International Gypsy Conference” (sometimes known as “International Day of the Roma”) held every year in the first week of April. Elena was in Sibiu, the home power base of both King Cioaba and his cousin the Emperor.
Likewise President Basescu (and to a lesser extent, politicians from other parties, including surprisingly the odious Cornel Vadim-Tudor) frequently make their way out to visit King Cioaba and “make nice” with the Gypsy community. Romania receives withering criticism (including in The Economist‘s piece on the death of Gheorghe) for its supposed rampant racism but I don’t see too many other country’s leaders taking the time to visit their native Gypsy population.
King Cioaba and his “subjects” have almost always gotten along quite well with the Basescu administration, the one glaring exception being in 2003, when King Cioaba married off his youngest daughter when she was either 12 years old (as the BBC and other media put it) or 14 years old.
The Romanian government, interestingly enough, largely turned a blind eye to this practice of child marriage because, as you can see in the linked BBC piece, it’s an integral part of Gypsy culture that they are proud of. But because Romania was still in the process of joining the EU, they were pressured into condemning the marriage.
What’s interesting is just how much King Cioaba, with his adherence to the old traditions, and the educated, multilingual Gheorghe sound alike. Here’s a quote from a recent interview (in Romanian) with the King:
Principala problemă a ţiganilor este problema socială. Majoritatea ţiganilor se confruntă cu probleme elementare: haine, încălţări, mâncare, apă etc. Se fac burse cu locuri de muncă pentru ţigani şi asta este numai aşa, o chestie de spectacol. Aproape nimeni nu angajează ţigani. Dar ce este cel mai rău astăzi, este că în timpul lui Ceauşescu ţiganii erau mai şcoliţi, mai educaţi. Peste câţiva ani ţiganii vor fi o masă de analfabeţi”.
The biggest problem facing Gypsies is the social one. The majority of Gypsies are facing basic problems: clothes, footwear, food, water, etcetera.
They set up affirmative action jobs for Gypsies and that’s it, and it’s all just one big show. Almost nobody ever hires Gypsies. But the worst thing going on today is that in Ceausescu’s time Gypsies were better educated. In a few more years, Gypsies will all be illiterate.
Mind you, that’s not some “racist” American blogger saying this, that’s the self-proclaimed King of All Gypsies!
But what struck me most about both of these men is that there is a an avenue to power that seemingly neither one of them has adequately explored – entering into politics directly.
As I noted in my piece Hey, Hey We’re the Tiny but Respected and Protected Minorities, Romania has gone above and beyond when it comes to securing political representation for its traditional minority populations.
The fact that Macedonians, who number in the hundreds, have a guaranteed representative in the Parliament is something to be lauded and yet is too often ignored in the drumbeat by the western media and politicians in the EU to convict the Romanian government of “racism”.
But what’s utterly astounding is that the Gypsies in Romania, who number at least 500,000 (and possibly as high as 2 million), all of which have full citizenship rights, unlike in many other EU countries (including holier-than-thou Britain), have never once organized politically enough to gain a single member of Parliament by votes alone. Instead, like the tiny Armenian and Macedonian population, they have but the single representative guaranteed them by the Constitution.
King Cioaba himself once ran for office and failed to win. In what other countries and with what other minorities is there such a large population that seemingly cannot get their shit together enough to elect politicians, which would then be able to effectively lobby for them and represent their interests?
The Hungarians, who have their own fair share of battles on their hands, have a number of highly organized political parties and have used the rules of parliamentary coalitions to place many of their own members into key cabinet positions. It’s clear that the Hungarians could teach the Gypsies a thing or two about maximizing leverage when one is often facing hostile opposition by a majority population consisting of a different ethnicity.
Instead, the Gypsies, despite the proclamations of both King and Emperor and the tireless campaigning by erudite activists as Mr. Gheorghe, have so far completely failed to organize politically and better protect their rights and promote their interests by their own volition.
And because of this systemic failure to organize politically, which no self-respecting EU bureaucrat or snobby anonymous Economist author can ever publicly condemn, the Gypsy people are left to a fate much like their king, begging for help from the government to rescue them after suffering from years of avoidable self-abuse.
So who is really to blame here?