I’m going to let you all in on a little secret concerning this here blog. A lot of you first came here because a friend gave you the link to a certain post and you’ve stayed ever since. Others of you found this blog by searching for information on Romania or the Romanian language and then decided to stick around for the show. But by far… and I mean there is no other comparison, I get almost all of my “one visit and never come back” hits from people searching for information about gypsies.
If you are Romanian, it’s a little difficult to understand this fascination with gypsies because you grew up with them all your life. In other countries gypsies are far more rare and many people have never seen them outside of movies or television. But even with that, why so much attention to these people? Just today I saw this article in my old nemesis The Economist and the title alone “Europe’s biggest societal problem – the plight of Europe’s Roma” illustrates quite a lot.
Here in Cluj there are multiple groups of people living here. There are, of course, the ethnic Romanians, both those who were born and raised here as well as the temporary student population. There are ethnic Hungarians. There are some Germans. There are foreign students from all over Europe as well as North Africa. There are Italians here, Dutch here, French and British citizens living here. There are Americans and Australians and even Japanese people living here. There are probably people representing over 50 countries and 50 cultures all living here on a permanent or semi-permanent basis and all of us are different than the gypsies.
It’s a little difficult to understand these people if either A) you resent/hate them or B) you are fascinated with them and think they’re downtrodden victims. What’s going on with the gypsies is completely different than that of the Hungarians, Jews or any other group (Gaugaz in Moldova) that exists in Romania or this region of the world. And that is because there is a fundamental difference in philosophy between gypsies and absolutely everybody else.
A small example. Imagine your cousin was married and he and his wife gave birth to a baby boy. What would their dreams be for their son? To grow up healthy, to get a good education, to be respectful, courteous and polite, to get a good job and to one day raise a family of his own, right? And it doesn’t matter if your cousin is Romanian, Hungarian, Jewish, American or anything else.
But if that baby boy was born to gypsies on the other hand, their dreams for their son would be completely different – to grow up following the gypsy code of conduct, education doesn’t matter, stealing often and well is a virtue and jobs are for suckers. The only point of similarity is they’d also want their son to marry and raise a family but only if the wife was a gypsy too, otherwise he might be outcast from his tribe.
This isn’t a slur against gypsies, it’s a simple fact that they have a fundamentally different world outlook than all of the other societies in Romania. Stealing is a recognized profession (one of many professions) in their society and yet “office worker” is not. Tent maker is a profession as well as singer, musician and jeweler but professor, accountant and lawyer are not. And yet every other society, whether American, Moroccan, Hungarian or Romanian all has a whole lot of professors, office workers and lawyers and just about zero tent makers, (professional) thieves or jewelers.
Do you understand? To be a gypsy requires that you adhere to a societal view that is not just different (the way Hungarian food is different than Romanian food) but actually incompatible with everyone else’s societal views. Being a gypsy has nothing to do with your blood but with your culture. If you take a gypsy child, bathe it, brush its teeth, lock it in a school and 12 years later indoctrinate it into becoming some kind of office worker then that person is no longer a gypsy. You haven’t done anything for that gypsy person because what you’ve done is erase their identity and replace it with your own.
Gypsies do not work indoors, ever! That is not what they do. They are a people who live outside whether it’s cold, wet, rainy or anything else. You literally cannot spend 16 hours indoors like Americans, Romanians, Hungarians and every other peoples do on a dailly basis and still be a gypsy. You just cannot. You can dig ditches or sell flowers or do roofing work or play music or hundreds of other things and be a gypsy but you simply cannot be enclosed behind walls and under a roof for long stretches of time and be a gypsy.
Gypsies are a semi-nomadic people, meaning that when they get the urge to get up and go, they’ve got to go. They can’t live in big apartment blocks and spend 20 years encased inside of there with no animals and no nature and no sun on their heads. You just simply cannot live fixed in one spot like that and remain a gypsy. Whether by horse or by airplane, you’ve got to ramble around when the mood strikes you.
And so on and so forth. And so what you continually see are programs and ideas from members of non-gypsy societies and these programs have one thing in mind – to completely eradicate and destroy gypsy culture. What The Economist wants is exactly the same as what the Australians did with the aborigines and the Canadians with the First Peoples – take gypsy children and lock them up in schools and then force them to assimilate, thus destroying their cultural identity. I’ll say it again bluntly – a gypsy child locked up in a school all day no longer is a gypsy no matter what their parents are. A gypsy child indoors all day is now a Romanian child or a Slovak child or a British child or whatever else.
But wait a minute, what about this word “plight”? Aren’t gypsies often incredibly poor, uneducated and living without running water or electricity (or as The Economist notes, without an “indoor kitchen”)? Yes, this is indisputably true. But again that is their culture. I used to live 100 meters away from gypsy families and every morning they’d send the little kids out with a cart so that the kids could fill plastic bottles with water from the free public tap on the street corner. Obviously these gypsies had no running water while I had high speed internet and a modern apartment. But I’m not a gypsy and they are.
If for some bizarre reason I let them move in with me, in a month my apartment would look like the place they left. For them to retain their gypsy identity, they’d have animals running around in my apartment, they’d be cooking their food outdoors (and trash my modern stove) and they’d break my plumbing facilities and be shitting outside in the grass. Within a year my old apartment would look like the one they left behind. They simply have another way of life and it is completely different than mine and than anybody who is reading these words.
All the other people in Europe have exactly two choices when it comes to the gypsies. Whether from hate or from “feeling sorry” for the gypsies, you can use the violence and power of the state to try and completely smash gypsy culture, force their children indoors into school and attempt to brainwash them until they are no longer gypsies except on paper or you can do what Romania has done best for centuries, which is just let them be who they are!
Usually it’s based on prejudice and resentment but ironically gypsies get treated better here in Romania precisely because Romanians have little interest in “converting” gypsies into being like ethnic Romanians. There’s very little public support here for rounding up gypsy kids and strapping them down while volunteers brush their teeth and train them how to use a flush toilet and cook food under a roof. I actually know quite a few people being paid to be here in Romania to “teach” gypsies all these things and every last one of them is a foreigner and not a Romanian.
Gypsies have survived not only for centuries under various monarchs, sultans, emperors and kings but have also kept their culture and traditions strong through fascism under Hitler and Mussolini as well as communist dictatorships. “Somehow” despite being “backwards”, despite being uneducated, despite cooking their food outdoors, despite not having running water or modern plumbing, despite not using electrical gadgetry and computers, they have managed to survive. No, fuck that. They have managed to thrive. We’re not talking about a ragged band of a few hundred destitute people on the outside of town. We’re talking about millions of people thronging the streets of every city in Romania, Italy, Britain and beyond. We’re talking about a culture with amazing musicians, brilliant craftsman and weavers and jewelers and dancers and they do all of this by adhering to their culture that yes DOES include stealing that yes DOES include no running water that yes DOES include no formal education!
It’s certainly normal for Romanians and other non-gypsy people to resent and dislike gypsy culture. Why? Because again the world outlook for gypsies is fundamentally incompatible with other societies. Every time one of these “do gooder” types tells me it’s wrong to dislike gypsy culture I tell them “I’ve got news for you – gypsies dislike YOUR culture just as much!” And they do. Christ, I get along with gypsies just fine. I laugh with them and talk with them and there’s no hate or anything else. But am I ever going to be a gypsy? Am I ever going to date a gypsy woman? No way, never happen in a million, billion years. And equally so there’s no way in a million, billion years that they’re going to use a refrigerator, surf the internet or do all of the things I do.
As weird as it sounds, it’s the very fact that Romanians (and let’s face it, Hungarians as well) dislike gypsies that actually keeps the peace in this country. The very fact that Romanians dislike gypsies is what motivates them to leave gypsies to being gypsies and not try and tie them down in one spot and force their children to assimilate. It’s all the other countries (Britain being the worst) where it’s “oh we should feel so sorry for those poor bastards” that is leading down the road to cultural genocide. Yes, I realize it’s motivated by compassion but believe it or not, so were the schools that the white Australians set up to indoctrinate the aborigines and the white Americans set up to indoctrinate the Hawaiians and so on and so forth. Hitler tried to gas the gypsies but The Economist and the rest are constantly urging government measures that will have the same result by different means.
In case you’re reading this and feeling offended, I have just one question. Have you ever asked the gypsies what they want? Are their tribal chiefs banging on your door demanding a university education? Are they marching out in front of city hall demanding to live in an apartment block? Are they clamoring for shower facilities? What’s that? I can’t hear you! Oh right, I forgot because you know damn well they’re not asking for these things. This is just what you deemed in your almighty wisdom is what they need. They are helpless little children and you are the benevolent parent. So nice of you to look after these wayward vagabonds who cry at night every day of the week because damnit it isn’t fair that their kids aren’t learning grammar down at the local school!
Save your toothbrushes and your schools and running water for all the other peoples of Europe who do want them, okay? Gypsies will be fine. The real racists are the people who don’t respect the incredible hardiness and flexibility of the gypsy culture which has survived (and thrived) all these long centuries without anybody’s fucking help. Gypsies aren’t a downtrodden, marginalized people – they are a proudly independent and different society. So just accept it!