Rome and Romania are the same

Sinti and Roma in Europe

Norbert Mappes-Niediek

Norbert Mappes-Niediek, since 1991/92 Balkan correspondent for various German media, 1994/95 on the staff of the UN Special Representative for the former Yugoslavia, 2004/05 spokesman for the German Bundestag. Author of several books on Southeastern European topics, most recently “Poor Roma, Bad Gypsies. What is true about the prejudices about immigrants ”, 3rd edition 2013.

Why don't the Roma in Bulgaria and Romania get out of their misery?

The Roma were kept as slaves in Romania until the middle of the 19th century. This trauma was never discussed. The economic situation in Romania and Bulgaria is still very difficult today. That means: The poorest of the poor live under catastrophic conditions. What does 'economy of poverty' mean?

(& copy Paula Bulling)

It is not true that the fate of the Roma in Eastern Europe is not met with empathy. The Romanian public, for example, was moved to tears by the case of the beautiful young Papan Chilibar, who gave rise to such high hopes and then perished so cruelly. With the 20-year-old as the main actor, his director Florin Șerban won the "Silver Bear" at the Berlin Film Festival in 2010 for his film "Eu când vreau să fluier, fluier" ("If I want to whistle, then I whistle"). The audience gladly forgave him that the young Papan had spent two years in prison for burglary. "Papan is something special, he is gifted, haughty and shy", Șerban enthused about his discovery: "And he is bursting with sincerity."

But soon after his glamorous appearance in Berlin, the so promising young man fell into his old life. "I come from a very low class," Papan said in an interview. "I work as a day laborer, deliver goods, help in the flower shop. Everything low, I do that." As a film star, he returned to the apartment of his wife, his three-year-old daughter and the fifteen others who lived in a confined space, was sent to steal, was returned to prison and died of leukemia at the age of 21.

The sad story of the Papan Chilibar in Romania was mostly read as an example of the eternal "gypsy" that, if not in the genes, is deeply rooted in the culture and that is not related to education, promotion and maximum social integration let them be taken away. It is an old topos: Even if Roma outwardly live completely adjusted and have left the misery of their ancestors behind, they will still seek a reservoir for their indestructible individuality - for example, although they could easily do that now, but they Not paying the electricity bill, as you can hear especially in Bulgaria. The story of the eternal "Gypsies" fulfills two functions: it relieves society from the burden of helping its poorest members, and it relieves poor ethnic Romanians and Bulgarians from the fear of falling into the same misery as the Roma. That can't happen to me, is the message; I'm not a "gypsy".

What is right below is wrong above

The history of the Papan Chilibar can also be read quite differently. Seldom does anyone measure as high as the young actor does. But others, who come from similar misery, suddenly stay away from work for days because an uncle has something to do somewhere in another city, and therefore lose their hard-won job. It is actually a common experience: as soon as someone comes to something, the whole family wants to participate, and the climber lets himself be pulled back into his milieu. But what becomes an insurmountable obstacle on the ascent, the close solidarity in the family, is a vital virtue in misery. That was Papan Chilibar's life experience. Those who live on the edge of existence are always dependent on the help of others; Nobody gets by on their own, not even "if necessary". And whoever has accepted help once, cannot refuse it to a needy relative at the price of his life-saving membership in the milieu. What is right below is wrong above.

The philosopher and poverty researcher Charles Karelis compares people who were born in slums and whose basic needs remain unfulfilled with pain patients. [1] Both suffer constantly. If you ask pain patients, they do not wish to have a little less pain in this or that part of the body. Rather, they want a single pain-free day - for good reason and not because they are apathetic or somehow insane because of the severe pain. Karelis takes a somewhat sought-after but apt example. Let's take a person who wakes up every morning with two painful wasp stings and finds two dots of ointment on his bedside table every other day. According to the economy of the better-off, people will save a little bit of ointment every day so that they also have one the next morning. With the one icing on the cake, he can heal the pain from one of the two stings. But then the other one still hurts; the relief he feels is less than 50 percent. But if he takes both doses at once, he has reduced his pain by half, calculated over two days. Applied to the situation of slum dwellers, this means that it is simply not sensible to only eat half full. If you only ever eat half full, you are always hungry. If, on the other hand, you eat yourself full every other day, you may be a little more hungry on the other day than if you were half full, but the bottom line is that you get away better.

If you hardly get any money to work more, it does not lead to satisfaction, but at most to a little less dissatisfaction. You can save so little when you live in a slum settlement that you cannot keep yourself harmed by saving for the additional privations. The effort that you have to make even for small improvements is not proportionate to the return. That is the economy of poverty. It is logical and therefore imperative; you cannot avoid it. All educational efforts will be put to shame in her. The economy of poverty has nothing to do with culture or with individual deficits; it applies to Roma in south-eastern Europe as well as to slum dwellers around the world.

Half of them are unintentionally unemployed

The vast majority of Roma are poor in the EU countries Bulgaria and Romania, where they each make up around a tenth of the population.

Source text


Anyone who travels through the countries can also perceive it with the senses: everywhere on the outskirts of Transylvanian or Wallachian villages there are tiny, draughty, often dilapidated huts in which people literally live on the edge of existence.

While the majority of Romanian Roma live in rural areas, in Bulgaria the Roma quarters dominate in the cities, which are not always on the outskirts, but often also close to the center, but then demarcated from the surrounding area in a ghetto-like manner. Statistics prove it. According to a large study in 2011 on the situation of Roma in Romania [2], in the two years prior to the survey, only ten percent had continuous work, six percent intermittently, 32 percent sporadically and 52 percent not at all. The official unemployment rate (which does not reflect the situation one-to-one in the case of a widespread shadow economy and unregistered unemployment) was 7.4 percent in all of Romania in 2011 and 48.7 percent among Romanian Roma. Of the permanently unemployed Roma, 56 percent stated that they would like to work. [3]

Poverty also blocks access to school and the doctor. In Bulgaria only 46 percent of Roma have health insurance. Since an educational reform that closed small rural schools in Bulgaria, the number of children without any schooling has increased. In the host countries, on the other hand, almost all children go to school. It is true that between 80 and 90 percent of Roma children in both Southeastern European countries have attended elementary school. But only about one in ten goes to high school, and the proportion of those who make it to university is in the per mille range. Of those who do not or no longer send their children to school, around 60 percent cite a lack of money as the reason. [4]

It is often said that education is the key to solving problems. But the circumstances say something different. Not only as assessed by the Roma, but actually everywhere in transition countries the value of education has fallen dramatically since the transition to a market economy. A whole generation has made the experience that formal education, school leaving qualifications and certificates are the last things that count. The parents were engineers or a Russian teacher, could draw circuit diagrams and interpret Tolstoy. While they lost their jobs, started drinking or cleaning, the completely uneducated neighbor bought a Maserati. If I study hard, I will have a good life later: The connection that still exists in the West has been torn in countries like Romania and Bulgaria. Where there is high unemployment, there are enough equally qualified applicants for every vacancy. It is not education that decides who is hired, but the social or family proximity to the employer - a resource that the Roma rarely have at their disposal.

Europe's unknown history of slavery

Roma have always been poor and underprivileged in Romania, Bulgaria and all of Southeast Europe. But their history is different from that of the Roma peoples in Western and Central Europe. While Sinti, Kalé or Manouche in Germany, Spain and France were literally ostracized and expelled again and again immediately after their arrival in the late Middle Ages, they were wanted on the latifundia of Eastern Europe as cheap labor. In Hungary and thus also in Transylvania as well as in the Ottoman Empire, to which Bulgaria also belonged, they were serfs. In the Romanian principalities they even remained in the legal status of slavery until 1855/56. That is, just like the cotton slaves in the United States, they could be sold and their families ripped apart. As in the US southern states, the liberation of slaves in Romania was not linked to the allocation of land and thus created a huge, impoverished rural proletariat. Even in the centuries of slavery, Roma from Romania had repeatedly fled to neighboring countries; the majority of today's Balkan Roma consists of groups of speakers from the "Vlah" dialects of Romani, all of whom came from Romania at some point. After the 1850s, the emigration of Roma from Romania increased sharply and also reached Germany. [5]

(& copy Paula Bulling)

It was only after the Second World War that the communist regimes - in Bulgaria even more than in Romania - included the Roma in building up industry. Force also played a role: factory buses drove through the villages and collected the Roma who were fit for work so that they could take over the cleaning work in the factories or auxiliary work in the LPGs (agricultural production cooperatives). For the second generation, the inclusion in the world of work was at the same time an opportunity for advancement; the narrow stratum of established, well-educated Roma who are now entrusted with minority affairs in NGOs, schools and universities emerged in the 1970s. When industry collapsed in both countries with the transition to a market economy, integration was abruptly over. Simple jobs were the first to drop, and among those who lost their jobs almost all were Roma. Because Roma families had no property even before the start of collectivization, they were left with nothing in the restitution of nationalized land and did not take part in the general urban exodus of the 1990s. This is how the poor and slum areas such as Stolipinowo in the Bulgarian Plovdiv, Faketa in Sofia or Ferentari in Bucharest emerged - or grew. [6]

Ethnic and / or social minority?

For a long time, the Southeast European nation states and also the European Union understood and treated the Roma alone as a national minority. The fact that they were also an underclass, whose misery had worsened and perpetuated since the fall of the Wall, was long ignored. But concepts that have been developed for ethnic minorities are not suitable for socially disadvantaged groups. Ethnic or national minorities demand autonomy for themselves and thus the right to largely regulate their relationships with one another. For the socially weak, on the other hand, "autonomy" is just another word for exclusion; on the contrary, they demand complete integration into the majority society. There is no separate "Roma society" with its own upper, middle and lower classes in Romania and Bulgaria. The narrow "Roma elite" in both countries did not emerge from selection processes among the Roma, but only reconsidered after extensive assimilation of the Roma identity. Only a consistent fight against poverty, coupled with large, employment-intensive infrastructure programs and a consistent outlawing of ethnic or "racial" discrimination, can really help the Roma.