Rroma and Rroma related groups – the result of a forced “naturalization”, under the pressure of the politically correct vocabulary




The word “Rroma” is used since around 10 years in different official documents adopted by States or international organisations. This was the legitimate wish of Rroma activists, who wanted by this means to avoid the prejudices often attached to exonyms like “Gypsies”, “Tsiganes” etc… Nevertheless, more than a decade after, we could ask ourselves on the results of this change in the political speech. To make things clear from the beginning, I would specify that I definitely refuse to take again the old terms, and I am profoundly attached to the word “Rroma”, since it is the proof of the respect for this people. The Rroma never claimed the right to auto-determination under its common shape. They never claimed constituting a State. Being designated as “Rroma”, which is an endonyme, this is one of the aspects of this right in the eyes of Rroma activists. But let’s go back to the respect for the Rroma, the use of the endonyme being a proof of it. Since this word entered in the vocabulary of the international organisations (Council of Europe, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe etc…), it always has been accompanied by something. One of the structures of the Council of Europe, for instance, is the Division Rroma / Gypsies within the Social Cohesion Department. Lately, it is called Rroma/Gypsies/Travellers. Within the OSCE, it exists a Contact Point for Rroma and Sinti Issues (CPRSI). Whom are we talking about ?

It is well known that Rroma are a minority with a common origin. They came from Northern India to Europe and a part of them went further in Americas.  Nowadays, there are three distinct groups who share this Indian origin: Rroma, Sinti and Kale. The distinction between these three groups is a linguistic one, and it is due to historical events. Rroma, who live mostly in Eastern Europe, speak variants of the Rromani language. In spite of the differences between these variants, the understanding between the speakers is more than satisfactory. The Sinti speak, they too, the “Rromenes”, but this language, highly influenced by the German, is less accessible to the Rroma than the variants of Rromani language spoken by Eastern Rroma. And finally, the Kale, also known as Gitanos, have lost the use of their language due to persecutions under the Spanish monarchy. They conserved, nevertheless, some words, that they still use sometimes combining them with another language, like Spanish or Andalous.

The word “Rrom” is known and used by all three groups described above. In Rromani language it means “Rroma man” or “spouse”, while Sinti and Kale only use it with the second meaning.

If we refer to the criteria of a people, or of a nation, these three groups belong to the same entity. Actually, it is already proved that they have the same origin and that they used to speak the same language, which is nowadays still kept either as a communication tool, or in the memory of this people as a language that their ancestors spoke. These are some objective elements that prove the unicity of the three groups: Rroma, Sinti and Kale. There is also a subjective one, perhaps not as strong as the others, but present, despite of the luck of intervention for keeping and reinforcing it. Every time that people belonging to different groups meet, they almost systematically start exchanging between them words that they know in Rromanes. It is then surprising and touching to see that even with few common words, they feel belonging to the same people, while they don’t share, very often, neither the same religion, nor the same social status etc… Some Kale (Gitanos) activists have even learned the Rromani language these last years, for facilitating the communication with their colleagues from Eastern Europe.

After this short description, one could think that the title of this article is wrong, since “Rroma and Rroma related groups” is not the result of a “forced naturalisation”, but rather another way to say “Rroma, Sinti and Kale”, groups who really are related, but each of them has some specificities compared to the other. Unfortunately, the title is not wrong. Actually, “Rroma and Rroma related groups”, as defined and/or used by international organisations, covers another reality. The three groups are, according to the place and the time, more or less included in the “Rroma and Rroma related groups” category. But the notion behind this denomination is not at all an ethnic, and even less a national one. The pressure of the Rroma activists has not yet been that far. While the vocabulary has changed under this pressure, the notions have not. Obviously, the language changes much faster than the mentalities. Used to think in terms of “Gypsies” or “Tsiganes”, or “Nomads”, those who now speak of “Rroma” and “Rroma and related groups”, still have in mind the “Gypsies” etc… Is this because the definition of the term “Rroma”, who came from the Rromani movement, is not clear yet? It is hard to believe it. In any case, this could not be the only cause, or the most important. There is something else: the fact that the States used to deal with “Gypsies”, or “Tsiganes”, or “Nomads”, but not with Rroma.  If we take the words “Gypsies” and “Tsiganes” (with its variants in different languages), both of them originate from the majority population and are result of popular confusion. “Gypsies” derives from Egypt, because people believed that Rroma came from Egypt, while “Tsiganes” comes from the Greek word “Athinganoi”, a sect who circulated in the Balkans some centuries before Rroma arrive. The majority population continued in this way to call “Gypsies” or “Tsiganes” all those who had something particular: language, lifestyle, professions etc… We can say that any marginal is a potential “Gypsy” or “Tsigane” in this context. This is why Yenisches or Travellers are called Gypsies by majority population. This is also why Balkano-Egyptians, Rudars, or Beasi are also called “Tsigani”. Actually, it is not the word in itself that is racist, but rather the notion that it covers and the way in which the word has been found and used. Then, these groups, with no other relation between them than the amalgam made by ignorant or racist people, suffered from discrimination as “Tsiganes”, not as “Rroma”. This means that while dealing with a case of murder by skinheads of a Rudar, for instance, no distinction would be reasonable by a court. The skinheads wanted to kill a “Tsigan” and they did it; they will never care about some “intellectual nuances”, since their enemy are “Tsiganes”, Jews, and so on… But things are quite different if an international organisation drafts, for example, a recommendation on education of Rroma children. In this last case, the use of Rromani language and culture in the curriculum only is relevant for the Rroma children, and not for all those who majority call “Tsiganes” or “Gypsies”. So that, if the recommendation concerns the education of Rroma/Gypsies/Travellers children, it has few chances to be followed by the States in which live Rroma, Balkano-Egyptians and Beasi for example. Actually, the Beasi have their own language, with no relation with Rromani, and Balkano-Egyptians have not their own language. It is then not surprising if a representative of this state states that “the unification of Rromani languages is not possible, thus their teaching neither”. Since the “Tsigani” or the “Gypsies” are not a people, but a social group, stigmatized as such by the majority population, it is a non sense to think about “Gypsy language”, as it is a non-sense to use the politically correct vocabulary while using the plural for “not discriminating” and speak about “Rromani languages”. And here we are with what we can call “the real problem”: or the States are not willing to change their philosophies on ethnicity, minorities etc, or their refusal of discrimination make them to follow the racist amalgams who led to the notions of “Gypsies”, “Tsiganes” etc… In Europe, the first branch of the hypothesis is more relevant in West, while the second is relevant throughout Europe. Isn’t then time to remind that even the term “discrimination” is not genuinely pejorative? And for those who still remain reluctant after this, they should know that all what is needed is some discernment. Finally, isn’t this the only way to respect also the other minorities that have suffered from discrimination as Gypsies and who want to conserve their own identity? They too, they have the right of auto-definition, the right to keep their languages, their particularities in equality with Rroma, and they have not to pay for this the price of a “forced naturalisation”. Putting them into the category “Rroma and Rroma related groups” means to refuse them this right, and to impose them, as well as to Rroma, the status of a social group, characterised by the marginalization.