Roma, a thousand years of wandering and persecution

Roma, a thousand years of wandering and persecution


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The evacuation and expulsion of Roma in France, which never ceases to poison domestic political life and make Western chancelleries cough, tragically recall the difficulties of the Roma, in a Europe which wants to facilitate the free movement of its citizens, but which folds in and closes in on itself when it comes to this minority. The Roma, between wandering and persecution, a history as old as Europe ...

Although the Roma have lived in Europe for over 800 years, their origins remain a mystery. Probably located in northern India, the Roma are said to have started their migratory movement in the 11th century, following Muslim invasions. Some settled permanently in Persia, others continued north and the Mediterranean, as far as Greece, then progressed throughout Europe. Local chronicles thus date the first arrivals of Roma in 1407 in Germany, 1425 in Spain, 1427 near Paris.

Migration and persecution

At first, the Roma are often welcomed, but very quickly their way of life arouses mistrust. In Spain, where the Roma were free under Muslim rule, their situation changed after the Christian reconquest in 1492. In 1499, with the promulgation of a dozen laws prohibiting the costume, language and Roma customs and aiming at assimilation forced, a good number of Roma leave Spain for the south of France.

The first official repression of the Roma in France took place in 1539 with an order for expulsion from Paris. Likewise, in 1563, the Roma of England were ordered to leave the country on pain of death. In the 17th century, in Hungary and Romania, many Roma were reduced to the status of serfs, persecuted, exploited and living in poverty. In Romania, their release only took place in 1855; this heavy legacy still weighs heavily on relations between Romanians and Roma.

The second wave of Roma migration took place from the middle of the 19th century, initiated by the gradual liberation of Roma slaves from Romania and took on a global dimension. In Europe, during the 20th century, the persecutions did not stop, quite the contrary and culminated under the regime of the Third Reich: from 1936, Roma were interned in concentration camps, in particular in Dachau. Persecution intensified from 1939, and in 1942 the Roma were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. After the second war worldwide, around 500,000 Roma perished in Nazi camps, without the issue ever being addressed in the Nuremberg trials.

After World War II, the Roma continue to suffer harassment and discrimination, but their situation is slowly improving. The organization of the Roma at national and European level is being strengthened, particularly at associative level, with political repercussions; in France, for example, the Besson law (1990) obliges municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to have a reception area, although many municipalities prefer to pay a fine rather than obey the law.

European Union bodies have been working since the mid-1990s to defend the rights of the Roma, who constitute one of the largest minorities in the EU, in particular since the enlargements of 2004 and 2007. These efforts for political recognition, at European and national level, cannot mask the often miserable living conditions of the Roma, forced into sedentarization by coercive measures, and victims of discrimination in employment as well as the age-old prejudices attached to their people. ...

For further

- Roma and Gypsies by Jean-Pierre Liégeois. The Discovery, 2009.

- The Gypsies: A European destiny of Henriette Asséo. Gallimard, 1991.

- Freedom, film by Tony Gatliff, on DVD. 2010.


Video: The Romani Trail