Are the Roma Primitive, or Just Poor? – NYT

The author William Easterly seems chagrined on Twitter to see the “culture v. poverty” debate revisited here in these austere pages:

This month’s trial only intensified that debate when members of the defense team offered an unusual legal defense: rather than focusing on the argument that the Roma are forced to resort to crime because of poverty and discrimination, it claimed that in some cases they were simply following age-old Roma traditions and generally operate outside the norms of society in “the style of the Middle Ages.”

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the Roma issue is linked to difficult questions of ethnicity, race, social exclusion and political gamesmanship. Last week, highly publicized protests erupted in Paris and several other French cities following reports that police officers had detained a 15-year-old Roma girl in front of her school friends and deported her to Kosovo with her family, who had been living in the Doubs region of eastern France as illegal immigrants for five years. The government has pledged to investigate the circumstances of their expulsion.


6 thoughts on “Are the Roma Primitive, or Just Poor? – NYT”

  1. I think that the last quote of this article said it all, “We Roma also need to learn to emancipate ourselves.” Much of the “Roma problem” has to do with economic background and discrimination. European countries tend to look down on the Roma gypsies as second class citizens, and often rather than concern for them and their children there is scorn.
    But I also know that their behavior starts from childhood. Children love and trust their parents, and do what their parents teach them. I was walking with a BYU group in Russia and a gypsy woman with two children trailing behind her nearly pick pocketed my friend. How accountable are they, or when do they become accountable? Parents who have done nothing else in their life find it hard to help their children do anything else at all, if they are even willing to let them.
    The first step is making sure that all children are allowed access to education, and that as many of them as possible attend. As children associate with peers, they learn the cultural values of the country they live in, and hopefully learn the importance of respecting other’s property, and contributing to society positively.

  2. I’m not unsympathetic to the poverty endemic to the Roma. That being said, having lived in a country with a high Roma population, I’m not unfamiliar with some of the acts common among this group. Though I do not wish to over generalize about an entire ethnic group, I do not believe that these actions are relegated only to the population of which I was part. For the most part, the Roma I knew were very kind, hospitable people. However, disturbing practices were also present. It was routine for small children to be hit by older children or parents in order to make them cry, since crying children get more donations from passersby than quiet ones. Families in indigent circumstances would also have multiple children for the purpose of having more people to ask for money. Other issues like child and spousal abuse and general male chauvinism are common. Culture is a wonderful thing that should certainly be embraced and protected. But the world has moved on from “the style of the Middle Ages.” Some practices simply cannot be tolerated anymore.

  3. I agree with both of the above comments, especially the first comment about the necessity for educating children so that they won’t have to resort to a life of crime. However, there is a greater problem, and it’s not just a problem caused by the Roma’s poverty. In almost all impoverished nations, the children are forced by the adults in their lives to beg, steal, and swindle to get money and food. This has been going on for centuries (Charles Dickens wrote a whole novel about it). In most developed countries, rules have been put in place to protect these children, but when poverty hits, the children are the ones that suffer the most. The adults, turn to the children to make the income dishonestly because society is more forgiving of the indiscretions of children. I’m not saying that we should crack down on children the same way we do on adults. Rather, as we provide education for these children, we need to simultaneously supply welfare to their parents so that they don’t continue to use these children’s crimes as their source of income. Unless a dramatic shift occurs, the primitivity of the Roma caused by their chronic poverty will persist through future generations just as it has from the middle ages up through today.

  4. I agree that part of the solution rests in helping the parents, because even if the children are properly educated, that may not stop the influence the parents have on these kids. When I was studying abroad in Paris, there were Roma families everywhere you looked. In most cases, you could tell that they were families, and that the parents were teaching and using their children to steal. There would even be toddlers and babies, and some of the parents would play the pity card on tourists. One interesting part in the article was when a Roma girl in Paris said, “We have no papers, we can’t work, what else are we supposed to do? We are Europeans, too.” How can these Western European countries integrate the Romas into society when their citizens do not view the Romas with equality? There needs to be structural reforms, but also attitude adjustments. This cannot be easy because of the criminal stereotypes (and often realities) of these Romas in Western Europe. I know that in Paris, some people do not even view them as the same level of human. It’s rough, and I really do not know how to fix these types of issues, but if these countries do nothing, no one’s lifestyle is going to get any better. I liked what the Hungarain Roma/parliamentary member Livia Jaroka said, that assimilating Romas into Western European culture does not require abandoning Roma traditions as much as overcoming age-old stereotypes and investing in education, jobs and health care. Perhaps these are the structural and attitude adjustments needed. Now, the only question is how to get these things incorporated into society.

  5. I don’t think that justifying the Roma’s culture is any excuse for allowing them to break the rules of Western society. Yes, they may have typically sold child brides in the past, but in the 21st century, this practice is unacceptable. Having a mother who works in the travel industry, she sees on many accounts thievery done to her clients by Gypsies on the streets of Paris and other parts of Europe. The Roma question therefore needs to be addressed immediately. Education should be made available and mandatory and ways to have the Roma adapt to Western society need to be implemented. Adopting a similar pattern to Spain’s way of educating Roma populations is a solution to the Roma question in France.

  6. Yes, the children are being taught certain values, but eventually, people are old enough to make their own decisions. Talking with some French people, they had no sympathy because these people try to leech off society when it profits them but also claim to not be part of any country when it benefits them. Many of them could incorporate themselves in to the formal system but they use their own values and claim to being a nation to protect themselves against anyone making them do that and do not take advantage of opportunities.

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