Sajóbábony, a small town of 2,000 inhabitants 13 km from the city of Miskolc, has been in the news off and on since 2009, shortly after the random murders of Gypsies in several towns and villages. In the aftermath of these murders the Hungarian Roma population was not surprisingly jumpy and fearful. Intensifying their fear was the activity of Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard, its paramilitary unit. Guardists often appeared in towns with a large Roma population, almost as if they wanted to provoke some kind of conflict with the Gypsies.
In November 2009 the Hungarian Guard decided to move about 600 of their members to Sajóbábony, and Jobbik organized a political gathering in the town. The local Roma community felt threatened and unprotected by the police. Some of them decided to defend themselves, apparently armed with axes, swords, and canes. When they saw a dark car going through their neighborhood, at least nine people attacked it. The two people in the car, who were members of the Hungarian Guard, received minor injuries.
As a result of this incident the nine people involved in the incident were arrested. Last May the Miskolc court found them guilty. According to the prosecutors, in the course of attacking the car the Roma threatened to kill “the stinking Hungarians.” All of the accused denied the charges and claimed that they simply sent “the filthy guards back to where they came from.” Notwithstanding their protestations, all nine were found guilty of a hate crime directed against a distinct community, in this case against the Hungarians. Each received between two years and six months and four years in jail.
This was not the first time that a law designed to protect members of a minority against the aggression of the majority was invoked by Hungarian judges to rule in favor of the majority. There were two very similar cases to that of Sajóbábony, one in 2010 and another in 2011, in which the defendants were found guilty of committing a hate crime against the Hungarian community.
In the wake of the verdict TASZ (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), the equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, released a communiqué in which they stated that the verdict is based on entirely wrong premises. Serious legal mistakes were committed. Yes, the defendants should have been charged with disorderly conduct or breach of the peace, but they should not have been convicted of a crime motivated by racism. After all, they attacked the car because they thought that members of the Hungarian Guard were inside, whom they suspected of intending to harm them and their community. They didn’t attack them because they were Hungarians. TASZ actually accused the court of racism.
As soon as the verdict was handed down the nine Gypsies decided to appeal, right then and there. They made the wrong decision. The appellate court (ítélőtábla) in this particular district is in Debrecen. There, on September 30, the court decided that the lower court’s verdict was not harsh enough. What these nine people did was so heinous that longer sentences were warranted. Instead of sentences ranging from two years and six months to four years, their jail time was extended to between three years and six months and five years and four months.
TASZ released another communiqué in which they reiterated that the motivation was not anti-Hungarian prejudice but fear of an attack by the Hungarian Guard members. Moreover, the court did not consider the background leading up to the encounter. The judge neglected to give reasons for considering the attack on the two people in the car a hate crime directed against the Hungarians. Moreover, “the essence of violence against a given community is that the perpetrator is prejudiced toward a group which he considers to be inferior.” From the testimony of the accused it is clear that it was not “anti-Hungarian prejudice” that motivated them.
It often happens that racist attacks on Gypsies go unpunished while Gypsies are convicted on charges of racism. “All that makes it look as if in Hungary the Roma were responsible for racism and not that the Roma are the ones who are fearful because of their ethnic origin.” Clearly, the communiqué continued, the members of both the Miskolc district court and the Debrecen appellate court are racists themselves since they declared the Gypsies to be racists because they got embroiled with members of the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, xenophobic, ultranationalist, irredentist Hungarian Guard. There is no appeal. The verdict is final.
An – curiously ‘gypsy’ is actually a legal term in English law, as it was a perfectly acceptable name (for non-Roma, at least) until quite recently. But these days, it can often have a pejorative meaning – as with all these terms, it depends on the context and the speaker/audience. Generally, ‘Roma’ is preferred, and is used by government, local authorities, etc.
There are also many slang and dialect terms for gypsies, most of which are seen as pejorative (if not downright insulting) these days. An interesting one, here in Kent, is ‘pikey’. It’s still very much in common use, in fact it is the general name for gypsies in this area amongst ‘common’ people, but it has definite pejorative connotations (it’s not a word I would ever use, for instance). But, just a couple of miles from here, there is a Pikey Lane – which is the road’s official name.
The situation in the UK is further complicated, because ‘our’ gypsies are quite different from the continental ones. Many European Roma don’t even consider British gypsies as real Roma.
For a start, gypsies here have a tradition of travelling around and resist attempts to get them to settle down (originally many people had to live like this in order to follow the seasonal work, road/railway building, etc, but with gypsies it has become tradition). These days most do live on ‘gypsy sites’, many provided (reluctantly) by the local authorities (it is a legal requirement, but there is no budget allocated for it by central government). But a lot still do travel, causing (in our crowded and highly developed island) upset almost anywhere they go. And even those who have ‘settled down’ often still live in caravans, so that they can move on if they want to.
The other big difference is that UK gypsies are not all ethnically Roma (etc) and don’t speak the same language(s) – which is why I’m tending to refer to them as ‘gypsies’ here, not Roma. You do often see gypsies that look like the Roma of Europe, but you also frequently see gypsies that are northern-European whites – and have Irish names! Originally, the Irish ‘Tinker’ community were identified separately from the ‘real’ Roma, but over the centuries, they have become completely integrated (as far as I know), and are collectively referred to as ‘gypsies’.
They speak a patois that includes many Roma words, but is basically a dialect of English (with Irish/Celtic influences). From what I’ve read, although they can communicate with their European ‘cousins’ because many words are the same, they cannot speak easily to each other, as the basic languages (grammar, etc) are very different. And there is some controversy amongst Roma as to whether the UK gypsy ‘language’ really is a Roma language. UK gypsies do cooperate with European Roma (Roma Parliament, etc), but also tend to keep themselves separate (a microcosm of British attitudes to Europe in general!).
And, just to make things even more complex, we have the ‘Travellers’. These are ethnically British people who have chosen to live on the road – as far as I’m aware this is a relatively recent development, dating from the hippy and commune movements of the 60s and 70s. These people have nothing historically, ethnically or culturally in common with Roma gypsies, or even Irish Tinkers, but because they live the same lifestyle (and encounter the same problems and negative reactions), they are lumped together with gypsies. You will often hear on the news of see written in newspapers, the convenient short-hand of ‘Gypsies and Travellers’. This phrase is even used in some government of local authority signs and forms.
Although there is a lot of bias against gypsies (etc) over here, it is nothing like as strong or all pervading as it is in places like Hungary. Interestingly, anti-gypsy behaviour is not seen as racist here (at least not by the perpetrators), as gypsies are not generally seen as ethnically different to the rest of us (bearing in mind what an ethnic mix we are anyway!). The people who are anti-gypsy will tell you it’s not the people they dislike, it’s their lifestyle – especially their illegal camping (there is almost nowhere where they can still camp legally) and the mess they leave behind when they move on.
And there is some truth in this. Generally, where gypsies have settled down, they get a far less negative reaction (especially as they often aren’t immediately identifiable). Most people’s attitude is that they don’t mind the gypsies as long as they aren’t causing ‘problems’. Although there is still a fairly deep-seated automatic anti-gypsy assumption amongst many people, especially amongst the elderly and the rural working-class.
We also have a bit of a mixed feeling about gypsies culturally (in much the same way as Hungarians do with gypsy music, weddings, etc). The old gypsy way of life is romanticised (as is all rural life, pre-Victorian) and people collect old gypsy implements, furniture, etc – and especially the old wooden caravans. Some people even actually live in old gypsy caravans! Also, whilst gypsies themselves might be looked down upon, people are often proud to have gypsy blood in them. David Essex, the 70s pop star, was of gypsy ‘stock’, for instance, and very proud of it – and it certainly didn’t do him any harm.
Apologies for the length of this ‘essay’ – I am actively avoiding doing several other, more important things!
You know what? I will ask a friend of mine who is a Roma activist what he thinks of Roma versus Gypsy. I will report.
Gypsy < little Egypt, the nickname of the Greek town Ioannina in the 14th c
Gypsy < Gupta Empire of India, 320 CE–600s CE
Cigány < Ἀθίγγανος < [perhaps] untouchables
The above discussion regarding the Romani might arguably come under a heading as encompassed within the area related to socio-lingusitics with a wink toward ‘argot’ with apparent fine or not–so-refined differences in usage.
For sure however, most of these appelations are finely tuned by cultural provenance.
I’ll never forget reading James Baldwin’s essays on his painful stay in a Swiss-Romande village in the mountains — ‘Romande’ being the local name for what English speakers call French-speaking Switzerland…– as he noticed that people were referring to him behind his back as “le negre” the sound reminding him of his pains in the US over the prase “nigger”.
While on the topic of Roma, and Suisse-Romande, worth while noting that Romanhe is the 4th and least spoken national official Language of Switzerland, a derivative of the Latin language group.
For years (til maybe the mid-’70s there was this black foamy chocolate delicacy called Tete de Negre… and, by decree, it was decided to rename it something quite different because it was becoming embarrassing as the world was getting savvy that African identities were being however unintentionally, maligned.
The Roma also speak a languge – the main one being, I believe, Romani.
Nevertheless, although Roma is becoming the most politically correct way to refer to the group, in some unusual way cigány can be quite acceptable within certain contexts of speech or intentions to produce subltle effects, not necessarily negative. You do need an increasinly well-tuned receptor or audience for it not to be misread.
I have however not heard any rumors of the pending renaming of the “100 tagu Cigányzenekar” or the French musical formation called Gypsy Kings or even Jingo Reinhard the famous guitarist being referred to as anything else than “le grand guitarist Gitan…” or Bizet’s Carmen as anything else than a Gitane, nor of the famous cigarett brand… Worth noting the fact that there were two brands, competing with one-another, the other was Gauloises… and later there was a type called Gauloises Blondes…
Thanks, Paul, very informative post.
It’s not that all Hungarians emphatically hate the Roma. Most people are quite indifferent actually.
What rural people expect though is that Roma clean their yards, be quiet, not shout and threat people who try to criticize them, keep the welfare monies and not spend it on stupid things, keep their children in clean clothes and make sure they go to school, in other words to live and make observable efforts to live according to the rules of the majority society, stop behaving disorderly and assimilate.
I myself told a kid aged 5-6 in downtown Budapest recently who threw away some chocolate paper casually that he should not have done so. His mother immediately started to shout at me, who dare I talk to the kid, she will kill me and set me afire (all told in front of the kid) and will call the police. I told here that she is mistaken if she thinks I get threatened by the police or by her so she left. Anyway, the point is that often their use of language can be very threatening to the average joe and their lifestyle is often careless (I am not saying others don’t throw away things but I rarely see it in public), as if nothing had any consequence. I guess it is part of the inherited culture according to which they don’t have to care about their environment because the caravan will leave soon and so they can litter another ground and formal education does not matter because they will not accept the normal middle class value of a permanent job anyway.
I am certain that Jobbik’s voter base is not made up entirely of fervent Magyar Gárda soldiers. It is a mistake to think that.
Many Jobbik supporters are simple, old people who just want quiet and order in their neighborhood and some respect. Since the average age of the Roma are much younger (and are poor of course) and they make up much more of the younger population in any community in Hungary, it is natural that they commit more crimes proportionately, as older people usually don’t commit many crimes. But that has the consequence that older people (mostly majority Hungarians), who are anyway more conservative because of age, resent the disrespectful people who tend to be browner in appearance.
Anyway, I guess what I wanted to say is that although I agree with the racism of the system as such, many people are not active hatred-filled people, just expect certain rules to be complied with and like parties which campaign that they will force compliance.
@An – with your logic, no words are pejorative as long as the user claims s/he doesn’t attach a negative value loaded meaning. A weak argument. The fact that the international Roma movement (e.g. European Roma and Travellers Forum, European Roma Rights Center) and other Roma institutions (e.g. Roma Education Fund, ODIHR – Roma and Sinti Contact Point) is working hard to move away from derogatory terms such as “gypsy” and “cigany” and replace them with the Romani word “Rom/a” is evidence enough that we should drop the others. The fact that some Hungarian Roma say that “cigany” is perfectly fine is not surprising as that’s the term “gadjo” has assigned to them in Hungarian and since you and others insist on repeating the racial slur, it becomes ingrained. It would have been the same for African Americans in the US – they didn’t become “African Americans” term wise overnight, yet I doubt you would refer to them as “colored,” “niggers,” or “negros” today?
Paul’s remarks reminded me of my experience in England in the early seventies when I was really surprised to find height barriers on the entrances to the supermarkets’ parking lots. Someone told me then that these were supposed to keep the Gypsies and other travellers in their caravans/trailers out …
An anecdote (at the same time funny and sad …):
When we passed by car through some run down district at a city’s end in the “Bible Belt” on a holiday in the USA my wife remarked:
These people’s places look like the Hungarian gypsy dwellings – only their cars are much bigger …
It seems to be a general rule of human society that you always will have some outcasts – whether you call them gypsies or travellers or trailer trash and the prejudice is the same. Maybe there’s some psychology involved: many people need a group that they can look down on – even if they’re poor and uncultivated, there’s always someone poorer ?
We also should not forget that the Roma were another group that the Nazis wanted to exterminate – and they did first sterilise, then in WW2 kill several thousands of them (there seems to be no half way exact number).
There is a word for the Nazis’ “Romani Holocaust” : Porajmos
Hmm. I don’t know why you single out Roma for this.
We’ve got a neighbour (here in Budapest) with two ridiculously large dogs which she keeps in her flat. She takes them out every day on the street to go to the toilet. It’s disgusting enough, but once, my wife caught this woman letting her dog urinate all over my wife’s bike, which was tied to a lamp post.
When my wife asked (politely) why the dogs were allowed to do this, the woman got very angry, started shouting that my wife shouldn’t leave a bike in the street, and she hopes my wife gets killed by a car.
Uncivilised behaviour is universal. Nothing to do with being Roma (or any other grouping).
@Lydia: Almost all words in a language can be used as slurs if the intent is to offend. So yes, the intent of the speaker does have a lot to do with the word’s meaning. In some case the offensive use of an originally neutral word becomes so widespread, that the offensive meaning becomes the dominant meaning of the word. It happens in the case of some words, while others may stay in a grey-zone: neutral in some context, slurs in others.
In my earlier post I brought up the word “Jewish” which would be an example for a word that is neutral, but gets abused as a slur a lot.
In Hungarian “cigany” is definitely one these words, it can be used in a pejorative, or it can be neutral. I understand that variations of “cigany” and “gypsy” carry a pejorative meaning in many languages, that is why that leaders of the international Roma community decided to use the word “Roma” when referring to their group. If your suggestion is that Hungarian speakers should respect this and stop using the word “cigany,” that is a reasonable suggestion. What is not reasonable is to lecture Hungarian speakers about the meanings and connotations of Hungarian words, and accusing them of using racial slurs when they don’t.
I have no problem with stop using a word if a community that the word is used to describe, finds it offensive. I’d love to hear the Hungarian Roma’s opinion on this matter.
@Lydia: “It would have been the same for African Americans in the US – they didn’t become “African Americans” term wise overnight, yet I doubt you would refer to them as “colored,” “niggers,” or “negros” today?”
How about “black”? Interesting word, can be neutral or pejorative… the politically correct word of course is “African American,” without any reference to skin color. But I do hear people using “black” as a shorthand and meaning no offense.
I already wrote to one of the best known Roma activist and asked his opinion. As soon as I hear I will let you know.
I don’t think we should view that “progression” as an example to be followed. The word nigger always was derogatory, of course – but Negro wasn’t. Even Martin Luther King used it in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, with no negative connotations whatsoever. But then along came Malcolm X and started to insist that Negro was a pejorative term so everybody should use black. Then there came still others who argued that black was unacceptable and you should say Afro-American. Then someone decided that Afro-American was still not quite right and said that the term African-American ought to be used. Which has led to some funny results like Nelson Mandela being called an ‘African-American’ leader (an African he is but an American he is not). At least the British have had the common sense to stick with black – the Americans haven’t.
There’s absolutely no reason to go through all this linguistic madness again with the word cigány. As An so aptly put it, “it can be used in a pejorative way, or it can be neutral.” Just like almost any word out there. That’s not a reason to stop using it altogether.
I received an answer from Aladár Horváth, one of the important Roma leaders in Hungary. He supports those who claim that both “Roma” and “cigány” are equally acceptable in Hungary. He added that “the international Roma elite prefers the p.c. “Roma” label. And he added that both can be used in a negative sense.
My small contribution to these comments. Hungary has even a ciganyvendeglo. The food looks good.
Nice post, Paul. Just to add to the confusion, I must add the information (since I take a particular interest) that the ‘Traveller’ community of Ireland (which far outnumbers the Roma community there, although there are Roms in Ireland too), is, for the most part, not Roma, but descended from the families displaced during the horrific nineteenth century famines and brutal evictions. They have been on the road ever since. They have their own language(s) and dialects, are the community one is most likely to find at halts and camps, suffer discrimination and distrust (though not on a Central European scale), and were renowned for a long while for their expertise in, yes, tinsmithery, or tinking.
A bit OT:
To remind you how bad things were in Europe not too long ago, our local German newspaper reports that 300 years ago the law professors at the university declared a poor Roma woman a witch (she had supposedly put a spell on a young lord) and sent her to be burned …
Because they were “humane protestants” (the Catholics in neighbouring Austrian Rottenburg were really inhuman …) they asked however that she was not to burned alive but be strangled to death first.
Btw, the mother of Astronomer Johannes Kepler was a bit luckier 100 years before that. Johannes Kepler defended his mother himself, with the assistance of his university in Tübingen.
Oh, those god fearing Christians – they really like(d) to murder people …
Tyrker: “There’s absolutely no reason to go through all this linguistic madness again with the word cigány. As An so aptly put it, “it can be used in a pejorative way, or it can be neutral.” Just like almost any word out there.”
The problem is the following. To change “the habit of thinking”, it is necessary to accept that some words carry derogatory meaning. Of course the word (the combination of sounds) as such is “innocent”. But how can you then discuss about pejorative meaning and – most relevantly in current Hungarian circumstances – disparaging thinking, when all words that are generally used in such terms and to denote pejorative meaning are in the end classified as “not as such problematic because not all people who use them actually think so”. People leaning towards Fidesz are doing this regularly with Jews (“only you interpret it in this way”), with the Roma population this appears to be completely consensual. But I wonder with what kind of language one wishes to speak about this thinking when the words used to say derogative things are considered more or less unproblematic. So shifting to other words, even if considered futile as they still can aquire negative connotation in the process (testifying to the continued prevalence of the underlying problem, in this case a not integrated Roma population and prejudices), can be useful – because another connotation is at least attempted (in this case: Roma are Hungarians with equal rights and their integration should be actively aimed for). We are so often speaking about a missing sensitivity of the general population with respect to individual rights, modern society and so on, but for a change to happen, that will have to be reflected in the language used. Simply not all words are equally suited to help people grasp the essense of “individual rights and dignity”; and such understanding currently appears to be often missing.
@Kirsten: “But how can you then discuss about pejorative meaning and – most relevantly in current Hungarian circumstances – disparaging thinking, when all words that are generally used in such terms and to denote pejorative meaning are in the end classified as “not as such problematic because not all people who use them actually think so”
Kirsten, you are missing the point. “Cigany” in Hungarian is a word that is often used in the pejorative by some, but whether it is “generally used” to “denote pejorative meaning”…. I would disagree with that. At least that is the case in Hungarian. Following your logic, we should stop using the word Jewish, at least in Hungarian, as it used as a slur so often… Sorry for repeating myself,but this point just somehow doesn’t want to get across. In Hungarian, we have words like “ciganyozas” and “zsidozas” which mean using “cigany” and “zsido” (Jewish) in a pejorative sense. Meaning that these words do have a neutral connotation as well.
I can see a case to stop using a certain word if some members of the group it is used to describe finds it offensive or prefer other words. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Hungary, as per Eva’s post (#15). Can we leave it at that?
I think there are more important things to do for the Roma in Hungary than to fight a war on words. On words that they actually don’t find offensive.
An, I understand your point. But I was thinking in which way then you can try to explain people that they DO think disparagingly if in nearly all cases they can reply that it is just you hearing something derogative, they of course did never mean it. And that such kind of debate does occur from time to time was reported by Eva not only once.
Kirsten, I see what you mean. Some of those using “cigany” as a slur, may defend their actions by saying “but that’s a neutral term.” The problem is that the word “Roma” gets abused this way too (though not that often, that’s true).
It seems that Aladár Horváth didn’t convince you people that cigány is perfectly OK. It is not a slur.
As I wrote, my problem with it is a different one. I believe you and Aladar Horvath and also from the circumstances in which I heard the word that it need not be a slur.
Eva, I know, but some use it that way. Actually, if I were Roma, I’d insist on being called gypsy, to defy people who abuse the word and use it as a slur. I would make a point of using the word gypsy with pride.
Well, I meant being called “cigany”, the Hungarian word for gypsy.
Just to muddy some waters, the derogatory Hungarian derivaton of “black” even worse than the American – in my opinion.
The word “black” is “fekete” in Hungarian, as you learned already, but the slur version “feka” used by many Hungaro-Americans even has an added tasteless conotation too, what I don’t even care to explain even if you’d need that explanation.
And people who using it even think it’s a hype, it shows, just how much “insiders” they have became in the US during those few months or even years.
Otherwise to me it’s a telltale sign just how anyone relate to their fellow Human beings in general, in my opinion it qualifies you, qualifies your humanity. From there on the rest isn’t really matters.
For example, if your/my government introducing inhuman laws and regulations, – like the latest regarding the homeless in Hungary – it doesn’t matter thereafter to me, if they lower my utility costs or not, they have to go, I have nothing o do wit such scum any longer.
And it still not even an ideological difference, but a human kind on the most basic level, the ideology comes later, if at all.
The very same applies to individuals too, ther is no “otherwise nice family guy” if he is a racist or such, I can not – will not – allow that distinction taking place in my relations, ever.
But of course, this is only my subjective, personal view of life with the right to be wrong in it, you see.
Aside from his 1933-59 diaries, which really are essential reading for anyone who wants a very deep insight into the Central Europe of that dark period, Victor Klemperer’s other major works concern the “neutralising” of language within the tyranny of his era – what he saw as an essential, normalising component of that tyranny in his time and place.
We’re not remotely there yet, of course. But language matters. Gay people are fully entitled to use the term “queer” and inhabit and subvert offensiveness into pride; others are not. The same is true of many pejorative racial terms. Only the targeted groups are entitled to play with language like this. And I think the same may soon be true of “cigany”, not because the core meaning of the word has changed, but because society has become more hateful, and hate has become widespread and normalised. What might once have been a word of cultural reference point is now becoming loaded with venom. And this is why we have to be careful with words, especially in Hungary – where even the words “cosmopolitan” and “foreigner” are ludicrous, but commonly recognised, code words for “Jew”.
It is very possible that eventually “cigány” will not be acceptable in Hungary. One can observe such changes in usage all over.
Whilst I don’t want to sound disrespectful towards your Roma friend, Éva, his opinion certainly does not match my experience of everyday Hungarian (non-Roma) conversation in and around Debrecen. There ‘cigány’ is most definitely used as a derogatory term, often quite viciously and vehemently.
True, it can sometimes be used ‘neutrally’, but nearly always in the context of the speech it is used in it isn’t actually neutral at all. As an example of what I mean by this is the word being used to describe any situation where ‘normal’/expected standards are not being observed – such as an untidy garden/house, or aggressive behaviour in public, bad dress sense, etc. My wife, for instance, frequently refers to people as looking/behaving like a gypsy/cigány, and often scolds our children by saying that people will think they are gypsies/cigány.
The word is used as a general purpose insult/put-down, in much the same way as we use ‘chav’ in the UK, or (as I understand it) in the US they use ‘trailer trash’ or ‘white trash’.
The Roma themselves may regard it as neutral and even use it to describe themselves, but the non-Roma Hungarians certainly do not use it neutrally.
well in my black of flats (12 aparments) we got one Roma family. And one family that doesnt pay its montly 40 usd general upkeep, garbage etc charges.
And the one family am referring to slurps the dog from the 4th floor (Eu) to the main floor while he cant hold it in along the way. I mentioned the fact to the fellah takin out his dog… He got mad at ME. Irrascible. Irrational. Loud. Attacking. His Dog turned out to be an angel compared to him. When I saw the friendly persuasion want gonna work, I just just truned around and walked away. Its neigh impossible to argue rationally with somone hell-bent on being irrational. He was already hinting at physical abuse that he metes out to those who criticize him… Well, Bowen, and anyone else who thinks its all kif-kif, just know that its a societal abberration that Gypsies, Roma, have a penchant for being ‘difficult’ to deal with to put it mildly.
I am not saying all. Not even saying the majority. but the problem is SO sizable that its not possible not to find it not offensive. So why dont you come and try it out for yourself if its all the same to you, babe.
Wolfi – from my reading, even though there are no agreed figures, it is generally accepted (at least by British historians) that the Roma suffered even more badly at the hands of the Nazis than the Jews (i.e. deaths as a percent of population).
And yet, until very recently, this was almost entirely ignored. And even today it is still barely acknowledged.
I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth repeating. Many years ago I heard an interview with two German musicians who were in the news in the UK for some reason. The were known as the Cohens or the Cohen Brothers, or something similar, and at one point in the interview the reporter asked if the fact that they were Jews had influenced their music.
At which point they laughed and said they weren’t actually Jews, they were Roma – they had just called themselves Cohen because Jews got a lot of sympathy in Germany. They said they would never have got anywhere if they had used their Roma names.
Paul, I have news for you… I, and many of the people I know use it neutrally. A lot of people use it neutrally… Yes, it is loaded and a lot of people use it derogatorily.
Any other non-Hungarian speaker want to join in and tell us how the word “gypsy” in Hungarian is used with 100% certainty? Don’t you people see how arrogant that is?
I wouldn’t even there to make such an absolute statement about English… I hope at least I am not making any. Maybe I would note that in my experience, I only heard a certain word only in a derogatory sense.
In the UK, the usual explanation of the name is that, when gypsies first appeared in Britain, they were mistakenly thought to be Egyptians – presumably because they were foreign and brown. (We were as cosmopolitanly aware of the rest of the world then as we are today! )
If this doesn’t sound believable, remember that we are talking about a people who refer to Native Americans as ‘Indians; because they thought the early ‘discoverers’ of America had actually sailed right round the world and reached India (hence the name West Indies).
An interesting cultural PS to this – in his book His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman’s heroine is looked after by a group of sea-going travellers (rough but with kind hearts, of course), and he names these people ‘Egyptians’.
dare to, not there to… I guess I should just stop posting.
Paul, Aladár is not just my Roma friend. He is one of the important leaders of the democratic Roma community.
Now that would be a real loss 🙂
An – I have no doubt that this is true within your community and circle of acquaintances. But in the Hungarian environment I am used to – mostly working class north-eastern Hungarians – the word is rarely, if ever, used neutrally. In fact it is used so often and often with such emphasis, that it was actually one of the first Hungarian words I became familiar with.
Much the same is true of the word ‘gypsy’ in the UK. In my ‘politically correct’, middle-class world, it is used entirely neutrally, purely as a name for a group of people. In fact is it preferred to ‘Roma’ by many as it doesn’t sound so pretentious and because the gypsies themselves are said to despise the term ‘Roma’ as being condescending and patronising. But outside of my cosy middle-class world, amongst (for instance) the people I go to football with, or worked with at Tesco, the word ‘gypsy’ is an entirely negative label (except that they would actually say ‘gypo’ or ‘pikey’).
Eva, thanks.. just for today, I mean 🙂
On a related tangent – as others have mentioned, derogatory terms used/invented to attack certain groups are often eventually adopted by that group as their own preferred name. Examples include Tories, Suffragettes, and, of course, Quakers.
We are still some way from ‘nigger’ being universally accepted as a neutral term for people of black African descent, but already ‘negro’ has changed from a derogatory word to almost the preferred neutral term (at least in the UK).
And often, a derogatory term gets adopted by a minority group as an act of defiance. This has happened with the supporters of the north London football club Tottenham Hotspurs. The area where this club is based has (or had) a large Jewish population and a lot of the club’s fans were said to be Jewish, so they were called ‘yids’ or yidos’ by fans of other football clubs (‘yid’ being an English derogatory term for Jews derived from the word Yiddish).
But now, in our newly politically correct world, racist terms like this are frowned upon, even in football, so the old chants of ‘yido, yido’ from the West Ham fans at derby games are no longer heard. Unfortunately, at the same time as we were trying to get racism out of football, the Tottenham fans were beginning to adopt ‘yid’ as their own name, and bizarrely it is they who now chant ‘yidos, yidos’ at games.
And David Cameron is one of the important leaders of the democratic British community. But he has no real idea of what life is like for the majority of the people of that community.
I am not sure if this has been mentioned here before but I can thoroughly recommend watching the documentary “A People Uncounted: The Untold Story of The Roma”. You can see the trailer for it here http://vimeo.com/29574774. I found it very moving, and very enlightening.
I guess, what you describe here is an event all too typical to people living under pressure in long time, and you’ve got on the short end of the accumulated frustration what these people experiencing constantly. It still wrong, I don’t want to say anything else or whitewash what went down, I’d like to call your attention to the reasons.
When you’re mistreated on account of your ethnicity – just because “your kind” used to do such and such – it never right. Particularly if you happens to be a peaceful and law-abiding person and still being treated as a criminal by a majority. Then you certainly starting to develop a kind of resistance, pretty soon you’ll react prematurely and unreasonably. From here the reactions going on, like “haven’t I told you so, they are like this”, and the next time they’ll have the preconceptions ready and you start to behave as you’re expected: “see, I told you so”… And so on.
Again, it doesn’t make the experience any better, but I believe, that if we will give ourselves a chance to look into a bit deeper, may help to figure out what to do about it.
Or not. But it worth trying, I’m pretty sure of it.
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