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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Live from Europe: Holly on Gypsies

With only 20 minutes until our bus departed, my friends and I scrambled to take in the last few moments of Budapest by purchasing armfuls of Hungarian lace and postcards. All of a sudden, we were bombarded by a herd of women and children wearing long, flowing dresses with desperate expressions on their faces.”Food for the baby,” one woman cried to us, as she and her newborn came hurtling forward. Another child, coughing and sneezing, stepped in front of her and held his hand out.


On our 20-day tour through Eastern and Central Europe, there was no way of escaping the eight million gypsies residing in Europe. Gypsies, or Roma, are notorious for making their living from begging in the streets, and sometimes even exploiting their children by keeping them sick to gain more sympathy.

I tried not to stereotype during our visit, but every time we encountered them, our entire group clutched their personal belongings until a good 100-foot distance separated them from us.

Gypsies have roamed through Europe since the 9th century. Linguistic evidence hints that the origins of the Roma population are in India. Because of Muslim attacks in the 9th and 10th centuries, the gypsy tribes fled the land and moved westward.

Today Hungary has the fourth largest gypsy population in the world; their arrival in Hungary began in the 14th century as the Roma fled from attacking Turks in the Balkans. During the 16th century, gypsies began to make their mark on Hungarian society, providing cheap labor in jobs like woodcarving and blacksmithing at a time when Hungary suffered constant invasions by the Turks.

Several Hungarians even attempted to provide permanent housing for some gypsy tribes, causing some gypsies to desert their nomadic lifestyle. Gypsy life during the 16th century thrived as many tribes received privileges under King Sigismund and King Matthias.

However, at the end of the 17th century, the Turks were forced out of Hungary and the gypsies were no longer needed for cheap labor. When Maria Theresa came to power in the mid-18th century, she banned the use of the word “gypsy” and placed strict control over gypsy marriages. She even went as far as ordering that gypsy children be taken from their biological families and placed into peasant households. In 1783, Joseph II outlawed the use of the Gypsy language.

Gypsies were forced to integrate into Hungarian society, rejecting their former traditions and culture. During this time, several gypsies worked again as woodcarvers and blacksmiths, but it was through music that the gypsies were able to keep their legacy alive.

Then in the 19th century, another influx of gypsy immigrants came to Hungary. These new settlers had held onto their traditions and culture for centuries, causing a clash with the newly assimilated gypsies residing in Hungary. In the early 20th century, Hungary’s gypsy population was divided into two groups: the “Romungro” (Hungarian gypsies) and the “Vlach Gypsies” (the immigrants).

Gypsy history soon suffered another devastation on March 19, 1944: the German occupation of Hungary. During this time, their solution to gypsy migration was genocide. Estimates for the death toll of the Roma Holocaust ranges from 10,000 to 30,000.

After World War II, however, the relationship between Hungary and the Gypsy population slowly began to improve. At first, the only employment opportunities were low-level jobs, but in 1957 the Cultural Federation of Gypsies was founded, aiming to revive gypsy culture and language as well as provide employment possibilities. However, the Foundation only lasted until 1961.

Luckily for the Roma population, the industrialization of Hungary in the 1950s created jobs for all citizens. By 1971, 85 percent of gypsy men of working age had jobs and 60 percent of gypsy children attended school.

Before learning about gypsy culture on our tour through Budapest, I always thought that gypsies were illiterate and uneducated.

Unfortunately, on our trip, the only gypsies I encountered were beggars, and we never got to see the true gypsy culture.

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