We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Living in a gypsy community is a choice

There is an article in the Telegraph titled Slovakian troops sent in to stop gypsy riots that reports what is happening but makes no comment on what seems to me the key underlying reason it is happening:

Thousands of police backed by 2,000 soldiers in the ghetto towns of eastern Slovakia appeared to have temporarily ended attacks by mobs forcing their way into food shops. Near 100 per cent unemployment has brought thousands of Roma gypsies out on the streets

[...]

Demonstrators in one town gathered peacefully, shouting: “We want to eat.” Others said their families were starving since the cuts [ in state unemployment benefits], meant to prepare the country for European Union entry, were implemented on Jan 1.

Tibor Tutak, 39, said: “We know stealing isn’t a solution but I cannot let my children go hungry. What has happened so far is nothing compared with what will happen if the government doesn’t do anything.”

Roma leaders threatened further trouble unless the Bratislava government rescinded dramatic welfare reductions which have halved the incomes of many families. Unemployment among some gypsy communities is close to 100 per cent.

It is regrettable for anyone to go hungry but for 100% unemployment to prevail amongst significant sections of the gypsy community in Slovakia, that is not bad luck or economic vagaries, it is a lifestyle choice. What is more, what Tibor Tutak is actually saying is that he dislikes having to do the stealing himself, given that he and his community had gotten used to having the state do it for them. The fact is no one owes anyone else a living by right at their expense, particularly not if they decline to participate in the economy as anything other than parasites. The forceful official Slovak response seem entirely appropriate to me and I hope they do not even consider allowing themselves to be shook down for larger the ‘welfare’ payments.

No one is forced to live in a gypsy community in this day and age… yes, I know some people will bring up the infamous walls built Czech authorities after years of complains by local people. These were designed specifically to keep gypsies away from the rest of the community in a town near Ostrava a few years ago, but that was hardly an enforced ghetto in the traditional European sense of the word, as there were no laws compelling gypsies not to live elsewhere.

I also realise gypsy communities are on the receiving end of considerable prejudice and discrimination, though it needs to be said that not all of the reasons for the wider community’s hostility towards them are baseless. The gypsies are a separate cultural group and are certainly entitled to live according to their ways… provided these ways are not based on theft, be it directly or via the state and therein lies the issue at the heart of what is happening now in the Slovak Republic. Let me give the last word to Czech blogger Tomas Kohl who writes what the Telegraph article conspicuously did not:

These people are not victims of reforms. They haven’t been wronged by the government today, but when the State decided it’s a good idea to subsidize people for not doing anything and punish them when they moved a finger, it’s like giving away dope, making everyone addicted, then halving the supply.

Is there an easy way out? No. Yeah, I could say just abolish the idea of Caring Government, and it has certain utopian appeal I like, yet there is no political force there that would be capable of doing just that. Unless they send in an infantry regiment, the unrests can continue for a long time, until the underclass moves west, to countries where they still give lunches away for free.

9 comments to Living in a gypsy community is a choice

  • David

    I recently returned from two weeks in La Paz, Bolivia. The city sits in a canyon overshadowed by the city of El Alto which sits on a plateau several thousand feet above La Paz. El Alto is the home to most of the indigenous population in the area who are represented by the MAS Party (Move Towards Socialism Party). The MAS party, closely aligned with Castro and Chavez, wants to establish “government by the peasents” in the form of marxism.

    While I was there, several thousand indigenous people marched from El Alto down to La Paz demanding the national government increase the number of teachers in El Alto by 1,000. The Bolivian government can’t pay its current pay roll so the demand was impossible to meet. But that wasn’t what caught my attention.

    When faced with a shortage of teachers, did these people take the initiative to teach their own children? Did they band together, pool their resources and hire teachers? Of course not because they come from a traditional patriarchal society.

    In the patriarchal society, while the patriarch controls everyone lives, he also takes care of those people. If you grow up in a patriarchal society, you will naturally gravitate to a socialist or marxist government structure. In other words, for all its so-called progressive nature, socialism is at heart old fashioned patriarchy.

    Like the indiginous population of Bolivia, the gypsies seem to live in a traditional society which ill prepares them for modern life. Rather than adapt and succeed they demand the rest of us give them what they want. So I am not surprised that the gypsies, a traditional patriarchal society, would look to the State to take care of them.

  • M. Simon

    Milton Friedman is of the opinion that once you get one of these welfare schemes going it is more humane to taper off rather than cutting people off all at once.

    Such a tapering also tends to better preserve public order. Which obviously has it’s own costs.

  • A. Reddick

    Look, given these people are at a complete dead-end, and are apparently incapable of escaping their fate, wouldn’t it be kinder to just eliminate them? In any truly just society, a few percent each year won’t make it and will either die, or more likely, turn to crime and have to be destroyed. Why bother to wait until they have maximized their damage to productive society?

    Of course, given the total lack of interest in Europe in a just society, they’ll no doubt give in to the criminals. Not surpising given the criminality of their government.

  • Michael Farris

    As much fun as it is to despise gypsies as being completely at fault, it’s worth remembering that they do face a lot of prejuidice and the extreme level of unemployment is not just laziness or unwillingness to work.

    If you’re a gypsy in Central Europe the day to day treatment you get from the broader society is something like blacks got in the deep south, maybe not long after official desegregation. Overt violence is rare but you’re never welcome among non-gypsies and life is often a series of petty indignities. Part of the problem is a vicious circle where ill-treatment saps any incentive to assimilate which brings about more ill-treatment and on and on.

    One problem with assimilation is that gypsy children assume what non-gypsies think of as adult roles very early on and find the numbing obedience oriented school system about as unbearable as a literate adult would (for very different reasons).

    I won’t pretend to know the answers, and gypsies certainly aren’t angels are helpless victims, but unless you want overt genocide like Mr. or Ms. Reddick a good long term solution will involve more that tut-tutting those shiftless gypsies.

  • Verity

    Michael Farris – The comparison with American blacks is most unfair. The gypsies have spent hundreds of years carefully cultivating a culture of theft and believing it’s laudable to cheat honest people. They are also tremendous bullies. When I was a little girl, gypsies would come to the door selling tat with the implied threat that if you didn’t buy, they’d put the evil eye on you. My mother said, “Go ahead,” but many are intimidated.

    Today, the women haunt the centres of medium sized towns in twos, choosing their mark, then one comes up saying along the lines of, “Somebody loves you very much! Let a gypsy tell your fortune and I’ll tell you who!” When you tell them to FO, they follow you down the street hurling imprecations.

    The gypsies have earned the contempt in which most British and Europeans have held them for hundreds of years.

    The people who mentally tortured and harrassed Tony Martin for years were a family, or several families, of gypsies. The one he managed to kill was a gypsy, as was the cousin who only got winged and lived to sue Martin for hurting him. At the time, he had 37 convictions for breaking and entering. Not 37 accusations; convictions. Now, I believe he’s up to around 40.

    They have richly earned their reputation. And attempts to integrate them (at taxpayers’ expense) are met with hostility, cries of racism and accusations that the indigenes are intent on cultural murder.

  • Simon Austin

    I doubt it’s actually possible any longer to be a gypsy in the sense that’s
    been accepted for centuries.

    While I too accept, as an ideal, the right of groups like the Roma to pursue
    a lifestyle that is markedly different from majority norms, I cannot accept
    that such a lifestyle followed without respect for basic standards of
    communal behaviour — including, when able-bodied and fit for labour,
    supporting oneself and one’s dependants

    Here in Rome, we also have large concentrations of people who might describe
    themselves as Roma but who are by the rest of us commonly called — without
    necessarily delivering it as a deliberately insulting epithet — gypsies or
    nomads.

    My wife and I (in our younger days politically-correct to a fault) have
    grown during our ten-year residence here to singularly despise this
    particular group. There is no other ethnic or cultural group that has
    aroused anything like the antipathy and contempt we feel for the
    apparently-Roma — not Albanians, not Arabs, not Jews, not Africans, not one
    collectively identified group do we dislike. Only this one.

    In Italy there isn’t really a social security system that pays a weekly
    survival allowance to anyone — even trueborn Italians. There are though,
    officially designated, financed and equipped camps for gypsies as well as
    many more illegal and squalid shantytowns.

    Unlike the vast majority of other groups on Italy’s margins the gypsies run
    a vast organised network of wheedling beggars who make not the slightest
    attempt to offer something — if only a dubiously clean windshield — in
    return for handouts at every Point of Purchase or Transit imaginable. The
    women and children are forced to panhandle and pick pockets by their
    disgustingly brutal and indolent men-folk who carouse the streets in huge
    gas-guzzling (albeit second-hand) Mercs and BMWs. Woe betide you if you’re
    involved in a collision with one — they hold no license and scoff at
    insurance. These men’s preferred occupations range from theft to scrap
    recycling (manifested around Rome by countless plumes of thick, choking
    carcinogenic smoke from burning rubber, plastic and other noxious chemicals.
    It’s a minor credit to them, though, that they’re not thought to engage much
    in violent street muggings.

    Perry has conceded that the Roma, as in most other countries nowadays,
    attract a measure of xenophobic discrimination. We must never forget, too,
    that theirs was one of the groups singled out by Hitler and his monsters for
    mass extermination — hundreds of thousands are thought to have perished at
    the hands of the Third Reich and its quislings.

    That said, it’s hard to disagree with someone who asks quite reasonably why
    the rest of us should put up with their anti-social mores. Gypsies here
    (much like the Travellers of Britain’s isles) are regarded, rightly in my
    view, as nothing but parasites at best, and a bunch of congenitally
    un-reformable criminals at worst. This is in stark contrast to most
    Italians’ humanitarian stance towards genuinely unfortunate refugees or even
    those economic migrants who are at least willing — and dying by their
    thousands en route to fortress Europe — to work and pay their way, and
    (bless their devotion), like Morecambe’s dreadfully drowned Chinese
    cocklers, send money home to benighted family in poverty-stricken corners of
    the world.

    I write as someone who has always shared the once more common perception of
    The Gypsy, The Romany as freedom-loving folk who, while sometimes unjustly
    accused of crimes like child abduction, were a self-contained,
    self-supporting people with a proud tradition of living more or less legally
    off the land and on the road.

    Indeed, the Gypsy was respected as someone who could make a quasi-honest
    living in ways most of us would fail miserably at: poaching (while illegal,
    it was at rich landowners’ expense so somewhat admired, especially since
    likely lads from the indigenous population would also bag forbidden game);
    horse-trading (notwithstanding caveat emptor!), as door-to-door tinkers;
    fortune-telling, lucky heather hawking; entertainment in the form of
    infectious music and dancing (especially the fierce eroticism of flamenco in
    Spain’s Andalucia); the scavenging and recycling of materials deemed beyond
    use by the mainstream; and a host of other ingenious methods of paying their
    way that impinged hardly at all on static communities and many which in fact
    aided the towns and villages through which they passed.

    For many years I have owned rather an unusual paperback, The Book of
    Boswell, Autobiography of a Gypsy published in 1970. Gordon Boswell, a
    Romany, recounts with vivid affection the life he and generations before him
    led ‘free from worry, free from troubles, live close to nature; see the rise
    and the fall of the leaf, the buds, the birds,’

    Of course, the ways of the Romany weren’t so at odds with society then. He
    eventually settled, no more to roam, in Spalding, and wrote his book which
    ends with this paean to what seems to me to have been a rather enviable
    existence:

    I would like to travel the roads again
    As I did in the days gone by,
    With wagon and horse, and a few old cobs.
    To feel in my pocket and count my money
    In case I find a grai [horse] to buy, or a customer for one of mine.
    For something will turn up I’m sure of that
    I’ll find some trade somewhere or eat my hat.
    But first I pull out here and rest my old horses
    Where willows grow yellow. I’ll sure find some water.
    And the grass grows so thick — there’s no need to go further.
    So I kindle a fire with ash twigs and stumps,
    The kettle’s on the prop stick, for I must have a drink.
    I’m off to this brook to look for a trout.
    I’ll walk up the stream, against the tide, gently,
    And just find a rock where I’m sure trout abide.
    I’ve found one I’m sure! I’m up to my knees —
    I’ll just start to tiddle him as quiet as I can.
    It won’t be long now — he will be in my hands
    He’s feeling quite pleased with the feel of my hands
    In a second my fingers will be in his gills
    And all of a second — oh what a surprise —
    He’s out on the bank — and I’ve got my prize!
    For he is a good one — he sure weighs a pound
    And soon he’ll be on a spit and stuck in the ground —
    With the heat of my fire I’ll soon have him brown.
    But first I’ll have a look, both ways up the road
    In case there’s a keeper, or the Law hangs around.
    All things are quiet, so I’ll sit down to dine
    And thank God for the trout, and the good things around.

    It’s a pity, sometimes a tragedy, that progress, which I’m generally in
    favour of, makes anachronistic the more romantic age-old ways of life. But
    we cannot, we humans, remain inured to other ancient practices (like much of
    Islamic Shariah Law, Chinese foot-binding, Hindu Sutee or European
    witch-burning, for instance) that perpetuate suffering or injustice. Culture
    isn’t monolithic, and it certainly isn’t sacrosanct and immune to challenge
    and change from within and without.

    Just as no man is an island, no people, no race (if one accepts the concept
    of distinct races at all), no nation, no country, and no culture can today
    exist in complete isolation and ignore the impact of their customs and
    practices on an at once wider and narrower world.

    It seems to me that the Roma of Slovakia, while still seeing themselves as
    an exclusive group by blood, can no longer claim to follow an independent
    lifestyle apart. For one thing, it’s become or becoming all but impossible
    to hit the road by wagon train when the roads are high-speed, often tolled,
    motorways. And if you can’t travel like that on a whim as once you could,
    then really you’re no longer describable as a nomad — which is the very
    essence of being a Gypsy, is it not?

    What price an inert and unemployed Gypsy? Whatever it is, no one else should
    have to pay it.

    So, with all due nostalgic respect to the late Mr Boswell and his far-flung
    relatives, perhaps it’s time to consign, with affectionate regret, such
    lifestyle rights to history’s archives.

    Simon Austin

  • Simon Austin

    The above was posted to my private blog in reply to Perry’s posting on Samizdata by Chris Shannon in Rome

  • Verity

    Simon Austin – There’s a distinction between Gypsies and “Travellers”, who are not an ethnic group but a bunch of hippies manqué. Frankly, both groups are parasites.

    However, you might enjoy a rather compelling book by George Borrow. Romany Rye. He went and lived with the Gypsies in the 19th Century and learned the language. A very interesting insight into how they were then. Gypsies were the first horse whisperers, BTW.

  • Marcelo Moreira

    I feel sorry for the Roma to live on the fringes of a society of equals you. By eliminating a Roma, who will be next?