Hon. Ian F. Hancock

Romani Archives and Documentation Center
Calhoun Hall 501 -UTA
Austin, TX 78712
Telephone 512-232-7684, FAX 512-295-7733

“The mass media, in a veiled and often less-veiled form, goad opinion in an anti-Gypsy direction.”
(Vekerdi, 1986:14)

There are between seven and twelve million Romanies (“Gypsies”) throughout the world, about one million of whom live in the United States, and between five and eight million of whom live in Europe, particularly in eastern Europe.  A non-white, non-territorial population of Asian origin, Romanies are being subjected today to intense and increasing hostility.  It is no exaggeration to say that their situation is one rapidly approaching crisis proportions, and the possibility of a second Romani genocide in the 20th century has been mentioned by more than one observer.

Despite the presence of a substantial Romani-American population, the general public in the United States continues to be misinformed about who and what “Gypsies” really are.  Many people think Gypsies are not a real people at all; most believe us to be a population defined by how we dress and behave, a group to which anyone may belong if they adopt certain behavior.  Because of this, and because of such widespread reinforcement of such an image in the media (both news and entertainment), the real situation of our people is not at all well known, and “Gypsy” continues to be a synonym for “thief” (cf. the common American slang term “gyp”).  In 1992, the January 8th issue of the New York Times published the results of a public opinion poll surveying national negative attitudes to 58 different ethnic/racial American populations over a 25-year period.  For the entire quarter-century, Gypsies were ranked at the very bottom.  Since most Americans have no personal, social contact with Gypsies at all, such attitudes in this country can only be based upon how we are presented in the media.  If the Romani situation is to be taken seriously, and if pressure can be brought to bear to ensure that steps be taken to halt the growing genocidal danger, two things must happen:

1) The American public, and especially those in control of news and information, must disabuse itself of the image of the “Hollywood” Gypsy.  Until that happens, our people will continue to be unreal, fantasy figures, not to be taken seriously, and
2) The situation of Romanies must find a place in news broadcasts, and in documentary news programs such as 20/20, 60 Minutes and so on.  At present, Romanies are hidden behind other labels.  In Germany, we are buried among “refugees,” in ex-Yugoslavia, among “Muslims,” in the Romanian state institutions, among “orphans.”

It is my hope that those to whom this report is directed use whatever means are available to them to bring these changes about.

As many as 80% of the “Romanian” refugees in Germany are Romanies, not ethnic Romanians.  As many as 80% of the inmates in some Romanian state institutions (both orphanages and prisons) are, in fact, Romanies, not ethnic Romanians (although Romanies constitute only about 15% of the national population).  Two weeks ago, a dramatized semi-documentary film called Nobody’s Children was broadcast nationally on the USA cable network.  It was about the children in those Romanian state homes (where the death rate in some of them is 65% per year), and one American couple’s experiences trying to adopt one.  The film was interspersed with real footage shot in some of those institutions by investigators from such human rights organizations as Terre des Hommes, and it was patently clear that the majority of the children were Romani.  But not once was this specifically Romani plight mentioned in the film!  If eighty percent of the children had been ethnic Hungarians (who also constitute between ten and fifteen percent of Romania’s national population), it would have caused an international outcry.  News of what is happening to Romanies must be more widely acknowledged, if changes are to be brought about.

Because of the general lack of familiarity with the history and identity of our people, some background is provided here.

The Romanies, or “Gypsies,” are an Asian people of northern Indian origin, having left that part of the world about one thousand years ago as Rajput troops who were sent towards the West to resist the incursion of Islam and the attacks led by Mohammed Ghaznavid.  The same spread of Islam towards Europe also caused the movement of the Romani people up from the Byzantine Empire (now Turkey) into the Balkans, by about AD 1250.  Here, a good portion, perhaps half, of the Romanies were kept in slavery in the area which is today Romania; this enslavement was not fully abolished until the 1860s, at the same time that African slavery was abolished in the United States.  After the 1860s, a mass exodus of Romanies came West, many ending up in North and South America.  Most of the Romani American population came at this time and under these circumstances.

Those who remained in Europe continued to suffer racially-motivated persecution, which culminated (though did not end) with the Holocaust, when between 75% and 85% of the European Romanies were systematically murdered because they posed a racial threat to Hitler’s ideal white population.

The reasons for anti-Gypsyism are complex, but originate not only in a difference in skin-color, language and dress, but also in the early erroneous identification of them with the Muslim threat (some names still applied to Romanies today reflect this, including “Tatar,” “Turk,” “Saracen” and even “Egyptian,” from which the English misnomer “Gypsy” derives).  As foreigners everywhere in Europe, Romanies have no territorial, political, military or financial strength, no homeland in which to seek refuge; they continue to be the perpetual “outsiders.”  Scapegoating is easy, since over a period of centuries, the population has not been in any position to protect itself from such charges.  This continues to be the case, and has increased significantly in the past three years.

In addition to these factors, the Romani culture itself, being Indian in origin, has inherited aspects from the caste system which prohibit socializing between members of different castes.  Having descended from the Kshattriya or warrior caste, civilians were, according to the Indian social structure, not to be fraternized with.  The common Romani word for anybody who is not a Rom (i.e. not a Gypsy), is gadjo, which comes from the original Sanskrit word gajjha which means “civilian.”  In traditional Gypsy culture, non-Gypsies, or “gadjé,” are to be avoided because they are seen to “pollute” or “defile” the Romani world, in a ritual sense.  Romani culture is in some respects like orthodox Judaism, the parallels most clearly seen in habits of food preparation and personal hygiene.  Since non-Romanies do not follow these practices, they are seen as potentially dangerous.  Clearly, such an excluding type of culture, one which does not allow outsiders to get very near, will quickly bring suspicion, and charges of unfriendliness and having something to hide.  All of these factors have contributed to the general prejudice against Gypsies.

Because of historical factors, the period of enslavement in particular, the greatest concentration of Romanies in Europe is in the east, specifically in the ex-Communist territories.  Perhaps three quarters of Europe’s Romanies live in Eastern Europe, the greatest population by far in Romania.  Under Communism, ethnic resentments were suppressed because of an ideology which placed the state above all things.  Whatever people might have felt, they were not free to demonstrate it.  After the collapse of Communism, however, ethnic hatreds came to the surface very quickly, with the events in ex-Yugoslavia as just one highly visible example.  The splitting-up of ex-Czechoslovakia and the ex-Soviet Union are obviously other examples.  Whereas under Communism, popular blame for mismanagement was directed upwards, it is now being directed downwards, and Romanies, at the bottom of the social hierarchy, have become everybody’s scapegoat, and are being subjected to increasingly blatant and virulent hatred.  Our office has documented evidence of pogroms, rapes, murders, lynchings or mutilations from all over eastern Europe, and even from places in the West such as France, Spain, Italy and Germany.  Just yesterday we received a report from Britain (in European Race Audit for March) of a blockade of 380 townspeople attempting to prevent the construction of dwellings for Romanies in Somerset.  Last month, we learned of the lynching of a Rom in Spain.  Without exception, every published public opinion poll from the different European countries indicate clearly that the most hated ethnic/racial population everywhere, without exception, is the Romanies.  This quote, from the December 19th, 1993, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle (pages A-1 and A-15) illustrates what is going on at this moment:

An orgy of mob lynching and house-burning, with police collaboration, has turned into something even more sinister for Romania’s hated Gypsies: the beginnings of a nationwide campaign of terror launched by groups modeling themselves on the Ku Klux Klan. . . “We are many, and very determined.  We will skin the Gypsies soon.  We will take their eyeballs out, smash their teeth, and cut off their noses.  The first will be hanged.

Last September 20th in Romania (in the Transylvanian town of H|d|reni) three Romanies were killed and 170 forced to flee from their homes, which were burned down, in an outbreak of racial violence during which police did nothing to intervene.  One woman involved in the pogrom said “We didn’t commit murder; how can you call killing Gypsies `murder ?”  Such action had been announced in the spring by an organization called The Anti-Gypsy Militant Organization” in PloieÕti, whose spokesman, a doctor from Teleorman, told a journalist representing the Hungarian paper Gyarmáth that “the war against the Gypsies will start during the fall. Until then, preparations will be made to obtain arms.  First, we are going to acquire chemical sprays.”  On March 8th last, Germany began to arrest and deport Romani asylum seekers in that country back to Bosnia via Romania, to whom they have offered aid in return; last November they did the same thing, returning Romanies in handcuffs to Romania, to whom they paid $21 million.  Lufthansa refused to transport those Romanies in protest, but they were deported by rail.  The French government has put a similar plan into operation, with a December, 1994, deadline.  A press release from the Romanies National Congress dated 20th April 1994 reported that, in an unsuccessful search for hidden weapons,

Led by a unit of the notorious anti-terrorist squad Mobiles Einsatzkommandos, police broke their way into the home of Romanies National Congress president Rudko Kawczynski at dawn on Wednesday, April 13th.  The masked men were carrying guns and were dressed in dark clothes . . . Kawczynski and his son were beaten by policemen and later received medical treatment; other family members were stripped naked and their body openings searched.  The police then proceeded to the joint offices of the Romanies National Congress and the Rom and Cinti Union in the centre of Hamburg, where more than 20 officers conducted an eight-hour search.  They confiscated several dozen files and copied the memories of all five office computers.  The files and data contain information information on RNC and RCU members and employees, international contacts . . . among the material taken are files relating to RNC activites in multilateral organizations, the CSCE and the Council of Europe, and information on Romani organizations.

The vast majority of Romanies living in the Czech Republic have been categorized as Slovakian citizens, whether or not they were born in Slovakia or have any connection with that country.  All individuals so categorized must now apply for Czech citizenship, for which the restrictions ensure that most applicants are ineligible.  Slovakia meanwhile claims no responsibility for them, and thus the number of stateless, jobless, homeless Romanies in that part of Europe grows, together with the incidence of crimes motivated by desperation, and the refugee situation in neighboring countries increases.  France has given its own Romani refugees a December 1994 deadline to leave that country.

In ex-Yugoslavia, the same is happening, although with the fighting going on, violence against Romanies is less organized.  It is no less harsh, however.  We have reports that in Banja Luka, Gypsies have been forced to cross minefields to test for hidden landmines, and are being kept physically from entering refugee camps where they could find some safety.  A fax transmission from the London Times dated April 6th informed us of reports of Romanies being used as forced labor to dig trenches on the front lines; the Gypsy settlement near Prijedor in Bosnia was “ethnically cleansed” of its inhabitants in March this year.  In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands this year (and each year since 1990) I have met, and spoken at length with, Romanies from Bosnia and elsewhere in ex-Yugoslavia who have described the conditions there.  For reasons I have outlined above, this gets little or no media coverage in the American press, although the French-language news service received in New York City devoted a 15-minute segment entirely to the plight of Gypsies in Bosnia-Hertzegovina.  The Israeli and the Canadian press have also dealt with this; the Friday, August 21st, issue of The Toronto Globe and Mail reported on its front page that “thousands of Muslim and Gypsy refugees have been dumped back into Bosnia-Hertzegovina by Croatian military police...the cycle of separation, fear, dislocation and possible death is continuing.”

According to the report on the Yugoslav Islamic Romani population in Muslim Peoples (Richard Weekes, ed.),

The 1971 census reports 78,485 Gypsies in Yugoslavia, but both official sources and the reliable scholars consider the true figure to be much higher, probably around 20 times as many [i.e. over one and a half million].  The issue is confounded further by not knowing what proportion of these are Muslim, although one can assume that roughly one half [i.e. as many as 750,000] are.”

Unlike the Bosnians and Serbs and Croats, the Romanies have no regional ethnic territory, and are not able to organize for self-preservation.  For this reason, they are very easy targets.  Gypsy women are frequently raped, and we have heard of individuals being doused with gasoline and set alight.  A common claim in Slovenia is that “in the event of a third world war, Slovenes will kill the Gypsies first.”  A report published in the current issue of Patrin states, in part, that

At the beginning with Slovenia, and later with Croatia, Romanies were attacked by all nationalist and chauvinist currents.  National armies were formed, and everyone seized Romanies.  Each republic of former Yugoslavia warned its citizens not to follow YNA’s (the Yugoslav National Army’s) call-up, but to join the corresponding national military groups.  The German newspaper Die Tageszeitung reported that in the fighting between Serbs and Croats, Romanies were just being used for “cannon fodder.”. . . . It became notorious on December 1st, 1991, that in the last morning of November, eleven Romanies, Mišo Bogdan, Lazo Bogdan, Tihomir Ivanovic, Josip Bogdan, Drago Kalanji, Mile Petrovic, Boško Petrovic, Adam  eljko and Ruso Kleš had been treacherously killed and massacred . . . The fate of the Romanies in Bosnia [whether Muslim or not] is the same as the Muslims.

The points I want to emphasize at this hearing are five in number:

1.  There are literally millions of Gypsies throughout Europe, and they are not going anywhere.  They are here to stay.  The solution can only be through accommodation.  The alternative, mass genocide of the Romani people, has been tried twice in European history, and didn’t work either time.  These millions of Gypsies are in every part of Europe occupying other people’s territories, and are therefore everywhere viewed as outsiders.  The possibility cannot be dismissed that the plight of Romanies in Romania, Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere does not receive serious, concerned attention by our government simply because Romanies are a non-territorial, non-national, non-economic population, and because no territory or economy is jeopardised by their persecution, and because no government exists to speak in their defense or complain about their abuse.  Concern for repercussion of this kind is simply not a component to be alert for in the Gypsy case.
2.  Despite between seven and eight hundred years in the West, and despite greater or lesser genetic interbreeding with the white population, Romanies remain a non-European people with a non-European racial heritage, speaking a non-European language used to express a non-European culture and world view.  These linguistic and cultural differences must be taken into consideration if constructive changes are to be brought about.
3.  The present situation is the end of a continuum of oppression and persecution which stretches back into eight centuries of European history.  Only by acknowledging this and by understanding the contemporary situation in its historical context, will positive change be brought about.  Communist ideology does not recognise historical factors, but looks only forwards, and while Communism is gone, administrators remain in office whose thinking has not changed.  Unless it is clearly understood and explained why Romanies are in their present condition, what historical factors have brought it about, and who has been responsible for it, we will not move forward.
4.  Racism is expensive, and it undermines national solidarity and security.  We are rapidly approaching the time when the frustration and anger of a severely oppressed population will no longer be contained and it will explode, as it has in the United States.  Already, one Romani political party in Slovakia is recommending Romanies in that country to arm themselves for a coming crisis.
5.  The way to deal with these points is through education.  The increasing involvement of the American government in eastern European affairs, and its commitment to lead the way towards the new society, means that Americans, both in the administration and in the general population, must know more about Romanies.  The widespread image of the “Hollywood Gypsy” must be gotten rid of if the public is to begin to recognize the Rom are real people with very real, and serious, problems.  The media have been largely responsible for keeping the stereotype alive, and the same media must take the lead in laying it to rest. The Romani Archives and Documentation Center would be pleased to provide further documentation in support of the claims made in this summary.


On April 15th 1994 Associated Press released two Gypsy-related stories; one by David Briscoe detailing the congressional hearing at which this report was presented–an historic first–and the other, unsigned, entitled “Gypsy family feud involves police.”  The New York Times printed neither story, but did include a photograph of the Romani representatives, with the caption “Gypsies gather in Washington” in its April 15th issue.  The Daily Texan (Austin, Texas) printed only the story concerning police intervention in a family dispute.  It is unlikely that they would have devoted three columns to the story had the families been Mexican American or Irish.

And so it goes on: nearly a decade later—on June 29th 2003—Associated Press released a story by George Jahn entitled “Gypsy bride mourns a medieval future: arranged marriage shatters teen’s dream of studying medicine,” a sensationalized and empty account of an arranged Romani marriage in Romania, when it could have published instead the press release from the World Bank of the same week entitled “Roma poverty critical in Central and Eastern Europe,” which began “A World Bank report identified ‘the complex cycle of Roma poverty’ as ‘one of the most critical remaining issues on the agenda of countries of Central and Eastern Europe as they prepare for European Union (EU) membership . . .’”.

I repeat: the media have a responsibility to present the Romani people and the Romani situation in a factual and unbiased way if anything is to change.


Kenedi János, 1986.  “Why is the Gypsy the scapegoat and not the Jew?,” East European Reporter, 2(1):11-14.