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Antiziganism (pronounced /æntaɪˈzɪɡənɨzm/) or Anti-Romanyism is hostility, prejudice or racism directed at the Romani people, also known as Gypsies.

The root zigan is the basis of the word for the Romani people in many European languages. In most of those languages, the pronunciation is similar to the Hungarian cigány (pronounced [ˈtsiɡaːɲ]). The Romanis — who have often been stereotyped as thieves, tramps, con men and fortune tellers — have been subject to various forms of discrimination throughout history.


History of Antiziganism

In the Middle Ages

West European propaganda

In the early 13th century Byzantine records, the Atsínganoi are mentioned as "wizards... who are inspired satanically and pretend to predict the unknown."[1] By the 16th century, many Romanies in Eastern and Central Europe worked as musicians, metal craftsmen, and soldiers.[2] As the Ottoman Turks expanded into the territory of modern Bulgaria, they relegated Romanies, seen as having "no visible permanent professional affiliation", to the lowest rung of the social ladder.[3] In Royal Hungary (present-day West-Slovakia, West-Hungary and West-Croatia), strong anti-Romani policies emerged since they were increasingly seen as Turkish spies or as a fifth column. In this atmosphere, they were expelled from many locations and increasingly adopted a nomadic way of life.[4] The first anti-Romani legislation was issued in Moravia in 1538, and three years later, Ferdinand I ordered that Romanies in his realm be expelled after a series of fires in Prague. Seven years later, the Diet at Augsburg declared that "whosoever kills a Gypsy, will be guilty of no murder."[5] In 1556, the government stepped in to "forbid the drowning of Romani women and children."[6]

In England, the Egyptians Act 1530 banned Romanies from entering the country and required those living in the country to leave within 16 days. Failure to do so could result in confiscation of property, imprisonment and deportation. The act was amended with the Egyptians Act 1554, which directed that they abandon their "naughty, idle and ungodly life and company" and adopt a settled lifestyle. However, for those who failed to adhere to a sedentary existence the Privy council interpreted the act to permit execution of non-complying Romanys 'as a warning to others'.[7]

18th century

In 1710, Joseph I issued an edict against the Romanies, ordering "that all adult males were to be hanged without trial, whereas women and young males were to be flogged and banished forever." In addition, they were to have their right ears cut off in the kingdom of Bohemia, in the country of Mähren (Moravia), the left ear. In other parts of Austria they would be branded on the back with a branding iron, representing the gallows. These mutilations enabled authorities to identify them as Romanies on their second arrest. The edict encouraged local officials to hunt down Romanies in their areas by levying a fine of 100 Reichsthaler for those failing to do so. Anyone who helped Romanies was to be punished by doing a half-year's forced labor. The result was "mass killings" of Romanis. In 1721, Charles VI amended the decree to include the execution of adult female Romani, while children were "to be put in hospitals for education."[8] In 1774, Maria Theresa of Austria issued an edict forbidding marriages between Romanies. When a Romani woman married a non-Romani, she had to produce proof of "industrious household service and familiarity with Catholic tenets", a male Rom "had to prove ability to support a wife and children", and "Gypsy children over the age of five were to be taken away and brought up in non-Gypsy families."[9]

A panel was established in 2007 by the Romanian government to study the 18th and 19th century use of Romanis as slaves for Princes, local landowners, and monasteries. Slavery of the Romanis was outlawed in Romania around 1856.[10]


Persecution of Romani people reached a peak during World War II in the Porajmos, the Nazi genocide of Romanis during the Holocaust. Because the Romani communities of Eastern Europe were less organized than the Jewish communities, it is more difficult to assess the actual number of victims though the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Research Institute in Washington puts the number of Romani lives lost by 1945 at between 500,000 and 1.5 million. Former ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill has argued that the Romani population suffered proportionally more genocide than the Jewish population of Europe and that their plight has largely been sidelined by scholars and the media.[11] The extermination of Romanies in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was so thorough that the Bohemian Romani language became a dead language. The policy of the Nazis varied across countries they conquered: they killed almost all the Romanis in the Baltic countries, yet they did not attempt to eliminate the Romanis in Denmark or Greece.

Romanies were also persecuted by the Ustashe in Croatia, who were allied to the Nazis. There were hardly any Romanies left in Croatia after the war.

Contemporary antiziganism

Romani woman demonstrating in Bucharest against an Antiziganistic remark of the Romanian president Traian Basescu against a journalist who bothered him in May 2007.[12] The text on the shirt is Ţigancă împuţită! ("Dirty gipsy!")

Antiziganism has continued in the 2000s, particularly in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia,[13] Hungary,[14] Slovenia[15] and Kosovo.[16] Romanis are often confined[citation needed] to low-class ghettos, are subject to discrimination in jobs and schools, and are often subject to police brutality. In Bulgaria, professor Ognian Saparev has written articles stating that 'Gypsies' should be confined to ghettos because they do not assimilate, are culturally inclined towards theft, have no desire to work, and use their minority status to 'blackmail' the majority.[17]

In the Czech Republic the majority of the Czech people do not want to have Romanies as neighbours (almost 90%, more than any other group[18]) seeing them as thieves and social parasites. In spite of long waiting time for a child adoption, Romani children from orphanages are almost never adopted by Czech couples.[19] After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 the jobs traditionally employing Romanis either disappeared or were taken over by workers from Ukraine and the stereotypes about Romanis further reduced their employability.[citation needed] European Union officials censured both the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2007 for forcibly segregating Romani children from normal schools.[20]

As of 2006, many Romanies who had previously lived in Kosovo, lived in displaced refugee communities in Montenegro and Serbia. Those who remain often fear attacks from ethnic Albanians who see them as "Serb Collaborators". In February 2007, three Romani women in Slovakia received compensation after suing a hospital for sterilizing them while they were underage and without their consent. While the sterilizations occurred in 1999 and 2002, and the women had been repeatedly appealing to prosecutors since then, they were up until this time ignored.[21]

In July 2008, a high court in Italy overthrew the conviction of defendants who had publicly demanded the expulsion of Romanis from Verona in 2001 and reportedly ruled that "it is acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that they are thieves."[22] One of those freed was Flavio Tosi, Verona's mayor and an official of the anti-immigrant Lega Nord.[22] The decision came during a "nationwide clampdown" on Romanis by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The previous week, Berlusconi's interior minister Roberto Maroni declared that all Romanis in Italy, including children, would be fingerprinted.[22] Opposition party member, Gianclaudio Bressa, responded by insisting that these measures "increasingly resemble those of an authoritarian regime".[22] In response to the fingerprinting plan, three United Nations experts testified that "by exclusively targeting the Roma minority, this proposal can be unambiguously classified as discriminatory."[23] The European Parliament denounced the plan as "a clear act of racial discrimination" and asked the Italian government not to continue.[23]

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has been an outspoken critic of Antiziganism, both in reports and periodic Viewpoints. In August 2008, Hammarberg noting that "today's rhetoric against the Roma is very similar to the one used by Nazis and fascists before the mass killings started in the thirties and forties. Once more, it is argued that the Roma are a threat to safety and public health. No distinction is made between a few criminals and the overwhelming majority of the Roma population. This is shameful and dangerous."[24]

According to the latest Human Rights First Hate Crime Survey, Romanies routinely suffer assaults in city streets and other public places as they travel to and from homes, workplaces, and markets. In a number of serious cases of violence against Romani people, attackers have also sought out whole families in their homes, or whole communities in settlements predominantly housing Romanis. These widespread patterns of violence are sometimes directed both at causing immediate harm to Romanis, without distinction between adults, the elderly, and small children and physically eradicating the presence of Romani people in towns and cities in several European countries.[25]

Europe (European Union)

The practice of placing Romani students in segregated schools or classes remains widespread in countries across Central and Eastern Europe.[26] In Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, many Romani children have been channeled into all-Romani schools that offer inferior quality education and are sometimes in poor physical condition, or into segregated all-Romani or predominantly Romani classes within mixed schools.[27] In Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, many Romani children are sent to classes for pupils with learning disabilities, regardless of whether such classes are appropriate for the children in question or not. In Bulgaria, they are also sent to so-called "delinquent schools", where a variety of human rights abuses take place.[27]

Despite the low birth rate in the country, Bulgaria's Health Ministry was considering a law aimed at lowering the birth rate of certain minority groups, particularly the Romanis, owing to the high mortality rate among Romani families, which are typically large. This was later abandoned because of conflict with EU law and the Bulgarian constitution.[28] Hungary has seen escalating violence against the Romani people. On 23 February 2009, a Romani man and his five-year old son were shot dead in Tatárszentgyörgy village southeast of Budapest as they were fleeing their burning house which was set alight by a petrol bomb. The dead man's two other children suffered serious burns. A member of the Hungarian government admitted that a dozen attacks with Molotov cocktails and weapons against Romanies over the past 12 months had taken place, but none of the perpetrators have been found. An opposition politician stated that she had been informed by the family of the reluctance of the police to treat the above incident as murder.[29] Another commentrator feels that Hungary is on the brink of a race war with the ethnic Hungarian paramilitary Magyar Garda in confrontation with the Romani Garda.[30]

Romanies in European population centers are often accused of crimes such as pickpocketing. This is a regular justification for anti-Romani persecution. In 1899, the Nachrichtendienst in Bezug auf die Zigeuner ("Intelligence Service Regarding the Gypsies") was set up in Munich under the direction of Alfred Dillmann, cataloguing data on all Romani individuals throughout the German lands. It did not officially close down until 1970. The results were published in 1905 in Dillmann’s Zigeuner-Buch [31], that was used in the next years as justification for the Porajmos. It described the Romani people as a "plague" and a "menace", but almost exclusively presented as Gypsy crime trespassing and the theft of food. A UN study[32] found that Romanis in Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria are arrested for robbery at a much higher rate than other groups. Amnesty International[33] and Romanis groups such as the Union Romani blame widespread police and government racism and persecution.[34] In July 2008, a Business Week feature found the region's Romani population to be a "missed economic opportunity."[35] Hundreds of people from Ostravice in the Beskydy mountains signed a petition against a plan to move Romani families from Ostrava city to their home town, fearing the Romani invasion as well as their schools not being able to cope with the influx of Romani children.[36]

Czech Republic

In January 2010, Amnesty International launched a report titled Injustice Renamed: Discrimination in Education of Roma persists in the Czech Republic.[37] According to the BBC, it was Amnesty's view that while cosmetic changes had been introduced by the authorities, little genuine improvement in addressing discrimination against Romani children has occurred over recent years.[38]


The country is home to about 150,000, who live mainly in squalid conditions on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples. They amount to less than 0.3 per cent of the population, one of the lowest proportions in Europe. In general, the ethnic group lives apart and is often blamed for petty theft and burglaries.[39]

On July 3, 2008 it was announced that Italy had started fingerprinting their Romani populations, despite accusations of racism by human rights advocates and international organizations. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told parliament the move was needed to fight crime and identify illegal immigrants for expulsion, but also to improve the lives of those legally living in the makeshift, often unsanitary camps.[40]

On July 19, 2008 two Romani girls drowned off Torregaveta, west of Naples. A group of four Romani children had gone into the water despite a warning being issued about rough seas. When the children began to drown, beachgoers and lifeguards rescued two of them, but two girls, Christina Ibramovitc and Violetta Ibramovitc were dead by the time they had been pulled out of the water. The two bodies were laid out on the sand and covered up with towels. Local newspapers reported that sunbathers continued as normal with a day at the beach despite the bodies of the two girls lying there for an hour.[41] A crowd of curious onlookers that had gathered around the bodies quickly dispersed. After an hour, a mortuary van arrived to collect the bodies. People reacted with indifference as the bodies were loaded into coffins and carried away. Photographs of the incident drew condemnation from Italian newspapers, an archbishop, and civil liberties campaigners. Hostility to the Romanis has been growing in recent years, and according to Enzo Esposito of Opera Nomadi, Italy's largest Romani organisation, the events on the beach "showed a terrible lack of sensitivity and respect."[42]

On September 4, 2008 the European Commission said Italy's census of illegal Romani camps does not discriminate against the Romani community. They said the census is in line with European Union law. An analysis of an Italian report on the census showed it did not seek "data based on ethnic origin or religion," said Michele Cercone, spokesman for European Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot. The controversial fingerprinting programme has the sole aim of "identifying persons who cannot be identified in any other way," he said. The fingerprinting of minors was only being carried out "in strictly necessary cases and as the ultimate possibility of identification," Cercone said.[43][44]

In May 2008 Romani camps in Naples, Italy were attacked and set on fire by local residents.[45] In July 2008, the Italian government began fingerprinting all Romanies, including children, whether or not they are Italian citizens. The government claimed fingerprinting would cut crime, avoid children being used for begging and help identify illegal immigrants for expulsion.[46]

In Italy, the government recently tried to blame the Romani population for crimes that happened in large cities[citation needed] and has claimed that there is a Roma Emergency. Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Community of Sant'Egidio human rights organization said: There is no national emergency ... What is an emergency is that in the 21st century the life expectancy of a gypsy living in Italy is under 60 years of age.[47]

A study done by an Italian anthropologist revealed that stereotypes are stronger in the Italian mind than the reality itself. She investigated a series of child kidnappings in Italy done supposedly by Romani women, and found that not even one of them was actually true.[48]


In the early 1990s, Germany deported tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to Eastern Europe. Sixty percent of some 100,000 Romanian nationals deported under a 1992 treaty were Romani.[citation needed]


In Denmark, there was much controversy when the city of Helsingør decided to put all Romani students in special classes in its public schools. The classes were later abandoned after it was determined that they were discriminatory and the Romanis were put back in regular classes.[49]

United Kingdom

In the UK, "travellers" (referring to Scottish Travellers, New Age Travellers as well as Romanichal, Roma and Irish Travellers) became a 2005 general election issue, with the leader of the Conservative Party Michael Howard promising to review the Human Rights Act 1998. This law, which absorbs the European Convention on Human Rights into UK primary legislation, is seen by some to permit the granting of retrospective planning permission. Severe population pressures and the paucity of greenfield sites have led to travellers purchasing land and setting up residential settlements very quickly, thus subverting the planning restrictions.[citation needed] Travellers argued in response that thousands of retrospective planning permissions are granted in Britain in cases involving non-Romani applicants each year and that statistics showed that 90% of planning applications by Romanis and travellers were initially refused by local councils, compared with a national average of 20% for other applicants, disproving claims of preferential treatment favouring Romanis.[50] They also argued that the root of the problem was that many traditional stopping-places had been barricaded off and that legislation passed by the previous Conservative government had effectively criminalised their community, for example by removing local authorities’ responsibility to provide sites, thus leaving the travellers with no option but to purchase unregistered new sites themselves.[51]

Northern Ireland

In June 2009, having had their windows broken and deaths threats made against them, twenty Romani families were forced from their homes in the Lisburn Road, Belfast, in Northern Ireland. Up to 115 people, including women and children, were forced to seek refuge in a local church hall after being attacked. They were later moved by the authorities to a safer location.[52] An anti-racist rally in the city on 15 June to support Romani rights was attacked by youths chanting neo-Nazi slogans. The attacks were condemned by Amnesty International[53] and political leaders from both the Unionist and Nationalist traditions in Northern Ireland.[54][55] Following the arrest of three local youths in relation to the attacks, the church where the Romanies had been given shelter was badly vandalised. Using 'emergency funds', Northern Ireland authorities assisted most of the victims to return to Romania.[56][57]

Europe (non EU)


In Norway, many Romani people were forcibly sterilized by the state until 1977.[58][59]


In the aftermath of the Kosovo War, the Society for Threatened Peoples estimated that 80% of Kosovo's 150,000 Romanis were expelled by the Albanian population.[60] At UN internally-displaced persons' camps in Kosovo for Romanis, the refugees were exposed to lead poisoning.[61]

United States

Law enforcement agencies in the United States hold regular conferences[62] on the Romani people and similar nomadic groups. It is common to refer to the operators of certain types of travelling con artists[63] and fortune-telling[64] businesses as "gypsies," as the term in the United States has come to designate any peoples with a nomadic lifestyle rather than a specific ethnic group. Additionally, a common derogatory phrase in the US is to "be gyped," as in "I was gyped" or "he gyped me," meaning that someone gave you a bad deal or took money that he was not entitled to take.

Antiziganism in popular culture

The European Center for Antiziganism Research officially filed a complaint against Sacha Baron Cohen — who plays Borat in the eponymous mockumentary film Borat — for inciting violence and violating Germany's anti-discrimination laws.[65] One part of the satirical film, which supposedly portrays Borat's impoverished native village, actually shows a Romani village in Romania. In character, Borat has referred to himself as a former "gypsy catcher," leads a dance where he instructs participants to "beat the gypsy", and he has made a reference to "running over Gypsies with a Hummer".

The Tintin book The Castafiore Emerald heavily criticizes antiziganism, as the Romanis who move onto the captain's property are falsely accused of stealing Bianca Castafiore's priceless emerald, though they are innocent.

Claude Frollo, the antagonist of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was portrayed as having a strong, genocidal hatred of gypsies in Disney's animated adaptation of the story.

See also


  1. ^ George Soulis (1961): The Gypsies in the Byzantine Empire and the Balkans in the Late Middle Ages (Dumbarton Oak Papers) Vol.15 pp.146-147, cited in David Crowe (2004): A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia (Palgrave Macmillan) ISBN 0312086911 p.1
  2. ^ David Crowe (2004): A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia (Palgrave Macmillan) ISBN 0312086911 p.XI
  3. ^ Crowe (2004) p.2
  4. ^ Crowe (2004) p.1, p.34
  5. ^ Crowe (2004) p.34
  6. ^ Crowe (2004) p.35
  7. ^ Mayall, David (1995). English gypsies and state policies. f Interface collection Volume 7 of New Saga Library. 7. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. pp. 21, 24. ISBN 9780900458644. Retrieved 28/02/10. 
  8. ^ Crowe (2004) p.36-37
  9. ^ Crowe (2004) p.75
  10. ^ Company News Story
  11. ^ Patrin © 1997. "Truth & Memory". Archived from the original on 2009-10-25. 
  12. ^ "Basescu chided for 'gypsy' remark". BBC News. 23 May 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  13. ^ Amnesty International
  14. ^ Hungary's anti-Roma militia grows |
  15. ^ roma | Human Rights Press Point
  16. ^ Roma and Ashkali in Kosovo: Persecuted, driven out, poisoned
  17. ^ BHC
  18. ^ "Czech don't want Roma as neighbours" (in Czech). Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  19. ^ What is keeping children in orphanages when so many people want to adopt? - 07-02-2007 - Radio Prague
  20. ^
  21. ^ Slovakia court compensates Gypsy women : World
  22. ^ a b c d Italy: Court inflames Roma discrimination row The Guardian Retrieved 17 July 2008
  23. ^ a b "U.N. blasts Italy over Gypsy 'discrimination'". 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  24. ^ Viewpoints by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
  25. ^ Human Rights First Report on Roma
  26. ^ "The Impact of Legislation and Policies on School Segregation of Romani Children". European Roma Rights Centre. 2007. pp. p8. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  27. ^ a b "Equal access to quality education for Roma, Volume 1" (PDF). Open Society Institute - EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP). 2007. pp. 18–20, 187, 212–213, 358–361. Archived from the original on 2007-04-07. 
  28. ^ Ivanov, Ivan (2006-10-11). "Women’s reproductive rights and right to family life interferance by the Health Minister". Social Rights Bulgaria. 
  29. ^ "Roma man, son murdered.". The Budapest Times. 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2009-04-03. 
  30. ^ D'Amato, Erik (2009-02-03). "Why Fidesz can't profit from "Gypsy crime"?". Politics.Hu. Retrieved 2009-04-03. 
  31. ^ Dillmann, Alfred (1905) (in German). Zigeuner-Buch. Munich: Wildsche. 
  32. ^ Ivanov, Andrey (December 2002). "7". Avoiding the Dependence Trap: A Regional Human Development Report. United Nations Development Programme. ISBN 92-1-126153-8. 
  33. ^ Denesha, Julie (February 2002). "Anti-Roma racism in Europe". Amnesty International. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  34. ^ "Rromani People: Present Situation in Europe". Union Romani. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ (Czech)
  37. ^ Injustice Renamed: Discrimination in Education of Roma persists in the Czech Republic Amnesty International report, Jan 2010
  38. ^ "Amnesty says Czech schools still fail Roma Gypsies". BBC News. 13 January 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2010. 
  39. ^ The Independent
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ The picture that shames Italy - The Independent
  43. ^
  44. ^ (Italian)
  45. ^ Unknown, Unknown (2008-05-28). "Italy condemned for 'racism wave'". BBC News. BBC. 
  46. ^ BBC News
  47. ^ Italy assailed over plan to fingerprint Gypsies | International Herald Tribune
  48. ^ Femeia roma care rapeste copiii este doar un stereotip (The Romani woman that kidnaps children is a stereotype)
  49. ^ "Roma-politik igen i søgelyset" (in Danish). DR Radio P4. 18 January 2006. 
  50. ^ "Gypsies and Irish Travellers: The facts". Commission on Racial Equality (UK). 
  51. ^ "Gypsies". Inside Out - South East. BBC. 2005-09-19. 
  52. ^ "Racist attacks on Roma are latest low in North's intolerant history". Thursday, June 18, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  53. ^ Amnesty International
  54. ^ Morrison, Peter; Lawless, Selva, Saad, WolfeMurray (17/June/2009). "Romanian Gypsies attacked inIreland". The Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  55. ^ "Protest held over racist attacks". BBC News. 20/June/2009. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  56. ^ McDonald, Henry (23/June/2009). "Vandals attack Belfast church that sheltered Romanian victims of racism".,. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  57. ^ "Romanians leave NI after attacks". BBC News website. 23 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  58. ^ Eleanor Harding (January 2008). "The eternal minority". New Internationalist. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  59. ^ Hannikainen, Lauri; Åkermark, Sia Spiliopoulou, "The non-autonomous minority groups in the Nordic countries", in Clive, Archer; Joenniemi, Pertti, The Nordic peace, Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 171–197,,M1 
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^ Becerra, Hector (2006-01-30). "Gypsies: the Usual Suspects". Los Angeles Times. 
  63. ^ Dennis Marlock, John Dowling (January 1994). License To Steal: Traveling Con Artists: Their Games, Their Rules, Your Money. Paladin Press. ISBN 978-0873647519. 
  64. ^ "Real Stories From Victims Who've Been Scammed". Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  65. ^ Rights group files complaint against 'Borat' in Germany

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