The Pariah Syndrome
XIII. The Contemporary Situation of Gypsies
in Europe

Chakra
The history of the enslavement and persecution of the European Gypsy population dealt with in these pages is factual. It is also a fact that, even in the best of times, Gypsy populations have had to deal with discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis; much is made in the press of the "Gypsy problem," with scant regard for the problems which the non-Gypsy population creates in turn, and with which Gypsies themselves have to deal with on as daily basis. In Britain, where according to the 1983 report of the Save the Children Fund the infant mortality rate among Gypsies is fifteen times higher than the national average, the City of Bradford sought a court injunction in May, 1985, to make it illegal for Gypsies to trespass within city limits - a move which the press called "a policy of apartheid" (Leeds, 1985:6-7). In the same country some years earlier in March, 1968, a speaker in a political broadcast from the City of Birmingham publicly proclaimed that "There are some of these Gypsies you can do nothing with, and you must exterminate the impossibles; we are dealing with people whom members of this Council would not look upon as human beings in the normal sense" (Kerswell, 1979:6). In October of the same year, the Sundon Park Tenants' Association Report included the statement that "There is no solution to the Gypsy problem short of mass murder" (The Essex Post for November 24th, 1969). Teams employed by local governmental bodies to keep Gypsies on the move by using strongarm tactics are becoming increasingly common in Britain:
Spook Erection is the name of a company that throws Gypsies out of their homes; it is employed by several Midlands councils ... Spook's people are apt to use violence and intimidation, and there is disturbing evidence that Spook's methods are condoned by some local police and council officers.

According to Hughie Smith's eyewitness account ... Spook's men found Dempsey Boswell and his family; they were camped on a small site, with [the local Borough Surveyor's] permission. Watched by police,  Spook's men started to tear the place apart. Boswell's pregnant sister ran towards the caravan to put out a fire, and to put away crockery that was being tipped over. In the ensuing struggle Dempsey Boswell came to the aid of his sister, whose baby was stillborn later that day. Dempsey Boswell was arrested for assaulting five police officers ... Mr. Boswell pleaded guilty; he was fined l50 pounds and bound over for two years ...

Tough tactics against Gypsies are now widespread. Cardiff Council, for example, uses a local company called Property Protection Agency to clear sites. A police search instigated by Hughie Smith uncovered an array of implements such as pick-axe handles, but the Agency said these were "for defensive purposes only," and no further action was taken ... Wolverhampton has asked outright for a 'Gypsy Task Force', to engage in "Gypsy prevention operations" (Cook, 1983:16-18).


An earlier incident in the same city of Wolverhampton in 1969 led to the deaths of four Gypsy children, when a trailer was pushed over with a bulldozer by the authorities who were attempting to move it. The wife was ready to give birth to her fourth child, and her husband had refused to remove his home until the baby had come. When it was bulldozed, the kerosine lamp was smashed and started a blaze which killed her three children and resulted in the still-birth of the child she was to have delivered that day.

The huge discrepancy which exists between official attitudes in Britain towards Gypsies and towards other minority populations is starkly illustrated by the following two job advertisements, issued in 1985 by the City of Leeds Department of Environmental Health. These were posted side by side on the same document (No. CD3703, June 28th, 1985):

1) ASSISTANT GYPSY LIAISON OFFICER

The postholder will assist in the enforcement of the Council's policy on Gypsies ... serving eviction notices and physically evicting caravans from Council-owned land ... Assisting in the treatment of male clients for head, body or pubic lice, scabies and other conditions. Appearance in court to produce evidence in support of applications for possession orders.

2) ASIAN LIAISON OFFICER

To be responsible to the Director of Housing for work on various housing matters, including housing welfare ... involving the Asian ethnic minority in Leeds, both in the public and private sectors. To assist the Department in efforts to achieve equal opportunities in the field of housing, and to assist in bringing about a better understanding of the needs and requirements of ethnic minorities. To provide assistance by acting as interpreter to overcome the inevitable language problems which arise.


Just as governmental spokesmen in Britain have, since the end of the war called for the extermination of Gypsies as a way of dealing with them, ensuring their non-propagation by means of sterilization did not stop with Hitler either. The Czechoslovakian newspaper Vychodoslovenske Noviny, in May, 1976, carried the text of a governmental proposal which called for the compulsory sterilization of Gypsies as an act of "socialistic humanity," and sterilization is clearly what is being referred to in a more recent news bulletin first published in Bratislava Smena on August 6th, 1986, and in the Western press in Insight, on the following September 15th. Claims of a 20 percent rate of mental retardation among the Romani population are now being made to justify its instigation:
The destruction of the Romany (Gypsy) minority is the task of Czechoslovakia's Government Commission for Problems of the Gypsy Populace. One of its Slovak officials, Jozef Prokop, who recently expressed official horror at the high Romany birthrate, claimed that 20 percent of the 7,000 Gypsies born annually were mentally retarded. He asserted that those who still maintained the traditional itinerant lifestyle were genetically unfit.

Prokop announced that "we will also in the future pursue regulation of the birthrate of the unhealthy population." And, as for any children born to traditional Romany families, "we will have to seek alternative methods of their upbringing; for example, in foster homes, special boarding schools and the like (Anon., 1986a:40).


In Hungary, according to the newspapers Magyar Hirlap and Kritika, a 1983 pop-song by a group called Mosoly at the Mosaic Club in Budapest, began
The only weapon with which I can defeat them is a flame-thrower;
I will exterminate all Gypsies, adults and children,
Though they can only be destroyed if we cooperate.
If we exterminate them successfully,
We'll have a land free of Gypsies.

In an article entitled "Hungary's Gypsy explosion" in the World Press Review for October, 1983, a spokesman for the Hungarian government expressed fears that if Romani nationalism were encouraged in that country, "we could have pogroms, with Gypsies killing Hungarians, and vice-versa" (p.12). The same article pointed out that less than ten percent of Hungary's officially-estimated nearly 400,000 Gypsies are in the professions (the unofficial estimate is something over half a million), and the life expectancy is fifteen years lower than the national average. According to another article about the Hungarian situation, "about 15 percent of Gypsy pupils are sent to schools for mentally deficient children, whereas their handicap is chiefly a cultural one" (Satory, 1986:5). A medical investigation by a team of Swedish doctors which was conducted ten years earlier, concluded that Gypsies are "on average no less intelligent" than non-Gypsies (Duckenfield, 1976:5). In Italy,
Infant mortality rates are very high - most families refused to say how many children they had lost, but over 70 percent of those who answered had lost one or two, and many families had lost as many as 10 to 15 children.

Respiratory and digestive diseases are rife, life expectancy is much lower than for the average Italian, and less than three percent of Gypsies are over 60 (The Baltimore Sun for October 13th, 1985, p.16A).


A lower life expectancy among Gypsies than the national average is also reported from Spain, where
Gypsies have been condemned by a hostile society to live in poverty and ill-health. The average life expectancy of a Gypsy male is 64 years, nine fewer than the Spanish average. Only a quarter of Gypsy children attend school, only 26 percent of Gypsy men have regular employment ... (Ellman, 1985:J2).

A year prior to that report, in Zaragosa, Spain, non-Gypsies violently opposed city authorities' building houses for the local Gypsy population, and retaliated by burning them down and attacking the Gypsy children trying to attend school there, pelting them with bricks (The New York Times for October 25th, 1984).

In December, 1985, Reuters released details of the arrest of a gang of Yugoslav kidnappers in Austria who, since 1980, have been stealing children from defenseless Gypsy families and selling them to Americans and Italians. The parents of the of 100 kidnapped children have been too frightened of the authorities to report these crimes (The Daily Colonist for December 1st, 1985, p.5 and Rullmann, 1986).

Gypsy children were also systematically taken from their parents since 1926 in Switzerland, to provide them with a "better life." An organization named Pro Juventute has headed a program called "Operation Children of the Road" for many years. "The idea, based on proto-Nazi ideas of 'racial hygiene', was to destroy the Romany way of life" (Williams, 1986:10), and are reminiscent of the new plans announced by the Czechoslovakian government detailed above.

Although newspaper reports, which often described the program as a form of "kidnapping," were published as early as 1973, little was done to unite the families until recently ... many of the children wound up in prisons, mental institutions or juvenile detention centers. [... the lawyer] said "We don't know where all the children are, if some were adopted, or sent abroad, if some died." ... In one case cited by Swiss newspapers, a woman lost five of her seven children to the program (Netter, 1986:A9)

From Sweden, it was reported in the London Times (for August 21st, 1985), that "An enquiry is to be held into an incident in which police watched from a patrol car as 50 youths attacked a Gypsy family with stones and a firebomb, in Kumla, central Sweden."

Most of the newspaper accounts included here have intentionally been selected from those which have been published during the present decade, to give an idea of the situation as it is today. Hundreds of similar reports are on file in the archives of the Romani Union, which date back to the last century. But they have had little effect on the public conscience.



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