Roma must take control of their destiny

There is no doubt that France is wrong to deport members of a largely powerless minority from its territory, but a Romanian writer suggests the Rom community will have to give up the negative thinking that has made it vulnerable in Romania and elsewhere in the EU.

Published on 10 September 2010 at 15:31
 | Next bus to Paris, please. A Roma family expelled from France arriving at Bucharest airport, August 2010.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to attack the weakest and the most visible section of the Rom community. But is there nothing to be done in response to his initiative? Let’s look squarely at this situation. The Rom community has long been marked by a process of transformation that has brought people of Rom origin into diverse walks of life. We have seen Rom police, Rom doctors, Rom Orthodox priests, party activitists or what we now refer to as Rom politicians and also Rom poets. So we should give serious consideration to Roma Party leader Nicolae Păun’s claim that approximately 25% of the MPs in the current Romanian parliament are (either totally or partially) of Rom origin.

Virtually all of the Roms who join “normal” society tend to forget their background as soon as they are settled, but the fact that they become “assimilated” is clear evidence that their community could adopt another lifestyle. The ones who remain “Roms” are the musicians who are well liked and also the lumpen proletarians who are so feared in western countries, the child beggars, and the “bulibaşi” or so-called “Rom” aristocracy who live in specially styled mansions with gold taps. Many of these prosperous ”Roms” who drive Audis and employ Romanian servants live in the Bucharest area, and most of them are leaders of networks, who administer their own parallel justice system, and apply their own civil code (child marriage etc.).

Caught in a tribal-feudal system

It follows that society in Romania (and also elsewhere in Europe) is marked by two different social systems, which should not occupy the same historical period: the tribal-feudal Rom system and the Romanian state, which is based on a completely different set of principles.

The Romanian state (like the Atatürk government in the 1920s, which banned the wearing of the Fez to encourage social change) could put an end to “Rom” courts. The Romanian police could take the initiative to put mafias that send children away to beg in other countries out of business. Legislation could be introduced to ban the nomadic life. But does the Romanian government have any real will to implement such measures?

If it chose to so it would be in direct breach of the principle of multiculturalism which has acheived a sacrosanct status both in Europe and North America. Roms have an alternative vision of society which does not share the usual opprobrium for the nomadic life, begging or small-time crime. But who among us has the courage to take a stand against multiculturalism?

Rom way of life transformed by EU grants

We do not have persecution of the Roms in today’s Romania, but what we do have is a kind of low intensity civil war between Romanians and Roms, and it is a conflict that is locked in stalemate. No one is winning and no one is losing. However, little by little the Rom way of life is slowly being transformed by grants from the EU and the Romanian state. But decisive change which which will have to be cultural can only come from an emergent middle class within the Rom community.

One day a critical mass of Roms will realise that their community is being exploited, and that is mainly exploited by its own feudal overlords: the caste of emperors or “bulibaşi,” which is honoured by Romanian authorities and invited to state receptions. These wealthy few, who perpetuate a parallel justice system and an arbitrary division of wealth that enables them to shop for jewelry in Paris, continue to prevent Roms from enjoying a better life. On the day of their ethnic awakening, the Roms will set aside the downtrodden condition they perceive to be their destiny, and finally solve the problem of their social integration, which is a problem on a European scale.

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