HOW THE WONDERING WRITER DISCOVERED THE ROM CULTURE
In 2008 I decided, after participating in the Erasmus program at the University of Glasgow and meeting Robert Burns, Edwin Muir, and Wole Soyinka in my studies, I would apply for a national community service project called "Library in Hospital." It must be said that I had etched in my memory a TV commercial in which a young blond actress stated the slogan "Community service: a life-changing choice." The project I applied for was aimed at promoting the value of reading and the services offered by municipal libraries in places not conventionally used for this activity. I used to love reading so much and I pine now, at 35, because I can only do it when I'm on the bus or when I'm waiting for someone and I'm alone (reason why I love being early). There would only be four volunteers required for this project, so I went to the interview excited because I really wanted to be selected, but I was also aware that I had "a lot on my plate" for that year between college and various commitments. Surprise of surprises, I was selected! In addition to the undeniable thrill of receiving money for 30 hours a week, I was really excited to "serve" the state I was born in by learning the mechanics of loans, returns, the arrangement of books in different areas, and most of all I loved going to hospital wards to offer read alouds and books: I became acquainted with the "Born to Read" project, which involves not only librarians and authors, but also pediatricians, midwives, and general practitioners in the scientifically based belief that reading with and to a child from the earliest days of life not only strengthens the relationship between adult and infant but also serves children to learn words better and to form their imagination and fantasy. During this year I tried my hand at researching library catalogs because I knew absolutely nothing about the Roma I encountered in different places in my hometown. I discovered through anthropology their origins, and how their society is organized. When I moved permanently to Scotland, I continued to be interested in Roma culture. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a job in an association that deals with them because I couldn't find someone to teach me Romani, the language they speak. Now that I am a mom, I try to read fairy tales to the girls that belong to all cultures and countries of the world. In this blog I will report some of them in Italian and English, but first of all I would like to debunk some false myths that circulate about this ethnic group, which fuel racism and the lack of integration of these people in our society.: some of them even go so far as to be forced to omit their ethnic Roma membership in order to study and work in a European country. First: where do you think the Roma originally came from? Some argue that they arrived centuries ago from India. Indeed, there is some evidence that Roma may have originated in India. But this is far less convincing than the evidence that can send Hungarians back to Mongolia and crowd out most of the Slavs in Ukraine. Following the same logic, depending on how far back in time or imagination one chooses to go, we should all go back to Africa or Iraq-the Eden of mythology.No one is a "pure" Eastern European. The obsession with blood purity is not only absurd but also dangerous; it led to the Holocaust and continues to cause the deaths of millions of people around the world. Much of the historical accounts composed by majority populations in Europe show that significant numbers of Roma slaves-most Roma have been slaves for hundreds of years-were raped and then bore the children of their masters. A simple mathematical simulation thus shows that the vast majority of Eastern Europeans are of mixed race and that many of them have Roma blood. If we apply the Nazi rules for determining the identity of Roma and Jews (you are Roma if you have one-sixteenth Roma blood), then a significant portion of the majority populations of Eastern Europe are in fact Roma. Statistically, a large percentage of the most ardent anti-Roma racists will probably have to pack their bags for India as well. The saying "You are a Gypsy or Hungarian, a Jew, a Romanian, a Turk, a Bulgarian, an Armenian, a Slovak, a Czech, a German," if applied literally, could lead to the collapse of Eastern Europe and the largest and most confusing emigration ever.
This idea, and the deliberate contrast with Gypsies, helps majority populations strengthen their imagined identity and sense of national unity. The denial of the right to use the word Roma-present in almost all Romani dialects-will eliminate the risk of confusing national politicians, particularly those in Romania. Instead, words like Gypsy, Tigane and Zigeuner, with their associations to the vast majority of the thefts, rapes and other crimes that appear so often and so prominently in the European media, should be used for the benefit of our respective national identities. Since they are "unpatriotic" and "bad citizens," it is only fair that they should click "stinky gypsy," "raven," "gypsy," "Moor," "gypsy princess," and, of course, that we should not feel guilty that these, and the other names attached to them, all indicate the ethnic identity of the criminals. Self-sterilization and unconditional submission to the European superhuman races could perhaps help make life better for us (and for them?). The idea of an international conspiracy that seeks to associate Romania with Romanestam, which some say is the name of the country of the Roma, conveniently glosses over a minor detail; it would be easier to believe that Rome, the capital of Italy, is the target of this plan.
"Roma only steal." There are indeed Roma who steal, just as there are many who do in any national or ethnic community in the world. But compared to the millions stolen by corrupt politicians or the Mafia, the amounts are insignificant. Can we then say that only Gypsies steal?
"Roma are not smart." a university professor and journalist once asked, "Do you know of any research that has shown that Gypsies would do better in school if they had a more welcoming educational environment?" Most of them grow up isolated, in very poor families, and study in schools with low educational standards and expectations. Hence their poor educational outcomes. Even today, parents of "European" children prefer schools without "Gypsy" students. This, too, contributes to their poor educational outcomes. Any poor family in an isolated village anywhere in the world faces the same problems. The lack of a family-school transition, especially for children who speak Romani at home, makes their adjustment to school extremely difficult; they may not speak or understand the majority language at the same level as their schoolmates. Since the educational atmosphere in these schools teaches us that "Gypsies" are violent, idiots and thieves, school is not a very attractive prospect for any of them. The situation is not improved by the fact that several cultural heroes enthusiastically promoted by the European educational program are actually guilty of killing, torturing, deporting or discriminating against "Gypsies."
In any country where poverty, corruption and totalitarian regimes have been the norm for many centuries, deception and theft have proven to be the means of survival for the vast majority of the population. To discuss morality and ethics at the social level in most of Eastern Europe without taking them into account is hypocritical. Like all marginalized and poor groups, the Roma have sought their own means of survival, and one of them has been music. Few are violinists and, in general, their profession is not enviable. An even smaller number of them are successful and, like most celebrities, adopt an undisciplined lifestyle.
Research shows that majority populations are not ready to work with Roma or consider them as equals. Europeans are unwilling to give up the belief that the majority is entitled to priority in the workplace and the exclusive right to make decisions in their own country. Citizens who are not as white or "majority" as they are, of course, are not entitled to such rights. Roma, therefore, have no chance to work, live or be accepted as equal members of European societies. There are more Roma in Europe than Austrians, but almost no one in Europe knows a word of the Romani language, indicating that, at best, there is little attempt to understand them better. As for them being "uncivilized," some of the values promoted by European societies are difficult for Roma to adopt. The Romanian Orthodox Church was a major supporter of the fascist Iron Guard movement and General Ion Antonescu, a Romanian leader and war criminal convicted of the deaths of thousands of Roma and Jews. If the Orthodox Church is, as many believe, the backbone of Romanian civilization, it is not difficult to adapt to its civilizational guidelines. Similar examples can be found throughout Eastern Europe.
The European Commission's (EC) final report on Romania and Bulgaria before their accession to the European Union (EU) in 2007 says nothing in the first eight pages about the Roma, but instead focuses on rampant corruption in government and administrative structures. Given its colonial and fascist past, which caused the deaths of millions, Europe shows little interest in improving the lives of a group that has no political representation and no serious economic potential. As the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia have shown, Europe is content to remain silent until the crisis reaches its climax. The targeted killings of Roma in Hungary and acts of extreme violence by racist mobs in Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic in recent years have thus been observed without comment. Meanwhile, the image of Eastern European countries-not to mention Italy and Greece-is much more damaged by the corruption, nepotism, arrogance and stupidity of their "political" representatives.
But now that we have unpacked some of the misconceptions about Gypsies, here is for you a Roma' Xoraxane Montenegrin fable, a well-known tale among the various Gypsy groups. The version I offer below shows some similarities with the Argentine version collected by Lolo Vitrovic from the Terkaroni Gypsies.
Long ago, when the world was inhabited by a few peoples, the Gypsies and the gage' decided to build two large churches. The gypsies, who were people who traveled the great world, knew about certain hard, black stone quarries in the mountains. So they went up there, cut all the stone they needed, brought it down to the valley and built a beautiful church with a big wrought-iron portal and a steeple so high it pierced the clouds. The gage' on the other hand, who were peasants bound to their handkerchief of terr and knew nothing of the great world, for lack of stones made do as they could. They took some cheese wheels, squared it with their kitchen knives and with those they built a small church, which had only a miserable little doorway built with cypress wood and not even the shadow of a bell tower. Months and years passed and the gage' were less and less happy with their cheesy Church. For not only was it crooked and shabby, but also because the cheese, as it matured, had retreated in on itself, so that the poor church looked even more tiny and insignificant, in front of the one the Gypsies had built from the black stones of the mountain. It was for this reason that one day the gage' asked the Gypsies to make an exchange: they would take the stone church and in return give the Gypsies their cheesy church plus a bag of cash.
-The church now,‖ said the gages, -and the cash when we sell next year's harvest. The Gypsies gave it some thought and decided that that was a good deal. And that in any case the good Del, who like them was a serious person (and knew full well that it is certainly not the dress that makes the Monk), would be neither a little nor a lot offended if they addressed their prayers to him in a cheesy church. -A deal! - they said therefore. And after spitting three times on the ground and shaking hands, the Gypsies moved their priests and prayers to the new church. The year that followed, however, was a disaster for the gage', for not a drop of rain came down from the sky, and the ripened fields yielded neither a bushel of wheat nor a starel of barley. The fruit dried up on the trees, the beasts died for lack of fodder, and the little savings the gage' had set aside served to buy of merchants supplies for the following winter. -We are sorry,‖ they told the gypsies, -but we can't give you a penny of it! Lacking the money they were entitled to, the gypsies also had a hard time. For not only did they find nothing at the market to put under their teeth, no matter how much they had beaten with copper nice pots and pans to barter, but also because the passing merchants, contrary to what they had done with the peasants, were certainly not willing to give them credit, since one day they were there and the next day who knows. So it was that the gypsies, in order not to starve, for lack of anything else and with respect speaking, had no choice but to eat Del's house. And so it was that from those distant times, they began to beg, hard-nosed and shamelessly: because the money they ask for is only what they are entitled to.