Tuesday, July 4, 2017

DIANA MUIR APPELBAUM - The Rootless Roma: The benefits of nationalism, as illustrated by its absence

....At the core of the Roma’s troubles is the fact that they are a people without a land - but with a twist. To say that a people is without a land can mean at least three things. It can mean that, for one reason or another, a people does not in the main live in the land with which it is historically associated. That was true, of course, of the Jews for most of the past 2,000 years. But it has been true, too, for what are sometimes called projection states - states defined by the fact that more members of a particular group live outside their homeland than within it. That was the case for Greeks during much of the 19th century, and it is true for Lebanese and Armenians today.

For a people to be without a land can also refer to a lack of sovereign control over a territory or country in which, in fact, most of the national group does live. That is the case today for the many peoples, including the Kurds, Puerto Ricans, Berber, Baloch, Palestinians, Basques, Aymara and Quechua. But the Roma are different, if not unique. The Roma are “without a land”, and thus by definition without a state, not only because they have no history of attachment to a particular territory, but because Gypsy culture does not value attachment to place.

That is why if you think you know, or if you want to know, where the Roma “really” came from, you are revealing yourself as a Gazo - a non-Gypsy. The first substantive attempt to discover their origin came in 1783, when Heinrich Grellmann of the University of Göttingen demonstrated the similarity of the principal family of Gypsy languages, Romani, to Sanskrit. Other Roma languages are Slavic, but linguistic analysis of languages in the Romani group indicates that Gypsies originated in or around Kashmir or the Punjab. Genetic studies in recent years have substantiated this evidence by demonstrating that, although Gypsies have intermarried as freely as other peoples, most of Europe’s Roma groups can trace an ancestral line to the Subcontinent.

This information has not excited much interest among the Roma, who themselves tell no stories about their geographical origin. They do tell stories about how they have been and still are the target of much discrimination, but even here the Roma operate at a disadvantage: Roma, a term promoted by ethnic activists, is by no means universally accepted by the people it purports to describe. Nor do all Roma think of themselves as forming a single people, a fact reflected in the difficulty of defining who we are describing.

In earlier times, the names used by Gypsies to describe themselves referred to small groups of people, clans for the most part, in the different places they were to be found. The name “Gypsy”, some version of which is used in most European languages, is not a name that Gypsies ever gave themselves, but is rather a term that has stuck among most due to prevalent use by others. It derives from the word for “Egyptian”, and was used by Europeans in earlier centuries to characterize as exotic, Eastern and different the itinerants who begin to appear among them in the late Middle Ages. Thus Gypsies became “Gypsies” in more or less the same way that native Americans became “Indians”—for lack of an obvious alternative by adopting a term invented by outsiders.

Roma Identity
By most measures, the Roma are a people, or a nation in the strict sense of the term. They have a dominant language, a culture and, above all, a sense of being a people. As Hans Kohn used to put it, a nation is a group of people that calls itself a nation and gets away with it. But the Roma have sought neither a country nor any form of political sovereignty or government structure for themselves. Roma identity is bound up with the romance of rootlessness. In a way, then, Roma identity takes the anarchist ideal one step further; they reject government by rejecting the territorial sine qua non for it... read more: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2011/03/01/the-rootless-roma/

More articles on the Romany people