I had decided to take some photos of the Roma in Europe on my most recent trip. I have never photographed them before out of deference to their privacy. But I have been reading about increased rates of forced evictions of the Roma/Sinti in several European countries including, France, Italy, Romania and Serbia. There has also been an uptick in human rights violations against them, and crackdowns on them in their refugee camps. Amnesty International has taken on their cause. I have always noticed widespread prejudice against the Roma in Europe. This time I still saw the Roma on the streets but I didn’t see the previously present mothers with their young children. They are becoming the invisible people.
I talk to everybody when I travel. On this trip I surveyed taxi cab drivers, hotel staff and sales people. I asked people, where are all the Roma women and their children? I got answers such as, “They are disguising themselves so they can steal better.” “They are a dishonest people and will rob you.” “They hide and lie and cheat.”
Whenever, I hear this, I cheerfully pipe up with, “Really, my great-grandmother was a Roma, so that makes me a Roma too.”
I am always curious about their reactions. They basically just said my great-grandmother was scum and so was I as her relative. Just like I don’t like bullying, I don’t like bigotry either. On this trip out of the dozen or so people I talked to, no one stood up for, or said anything positive about the Roma.
I do sometimes see people being kind to the Roma. Talking to them, giving them money, treating them like human beings, and this always raises the spirits. But the Roma are for the most part, present but invisible.
Would you beg if your children were starving? Would you steal?
The Nazis carried out a major effort to entirely annihilate them. The sign above is from the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Now countries are trying to send them to other countries. The Roma, because of their displaced status, frequently have no birth certificates, no citizenship status, no rights.
Their status seems somewhat similar to undocumented workers in the United States.
Believe me I am not saying that we do a better job. We don’t. I do notice that the Roma have always been rather uniquely voiceless though.
I talk with them. Like oppressed, homeless people anywhere, I find them to be incredibly grateful when someone bothers to notice them, or reach out to them, or help them in some small way. So simple. So important.
I plan to continue photographing them when I travel and when I see them. I am proud of my Roma heritage. For more information on the Roma, check out these links.
Balkan Genocides: Holocaust and Ethnic Cleansing in the Twentieth Century (Studies in Genocide: Religion, History, and Human Rights) [Hardcover]