ROMA (GYPSIES), 1991, 1992

Since the Gypsies left their original homeland of Northern India and reached Europe in the early 14th century, there has been constant legislation against them. In Eastern Europe in the 18th century, the Gypsies were denied the right to their traditional way of life; they were forbidden to speak their native Romany language, to wear their costumes, to play their music, and to own horses.

The European measures were so relentless that by the mid twentieth century, the objective was to fully assimilate and convert the Gypsies to Christianity. They could pursue their nomadic lifestyle only with police permission, which, however, could be withdrawn at any time and without reason.

During the Second World War, the Gypsies headed the Nazi list of "races to be eliminated". In effect, 250,000 perished in the gas chambers and the race was near extinction.

Their lot did not improve throughout the ensuing decades under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. The Communists believed, as had Empress Maria Teresa in the 18th century, that the Gypsy way of life could not be tolerated. They were forced to give up nomadism for permanent residence in designated settlements in Eastern Slovakia. Between 1965 and 1968 "governmental provisions" were made to integrate the Gypsies by relocating those who showed greatest potential for assimilation into various corners of the Czech Republic.

Despite their history of persecution, the Gypsies have maintained their ancient culture. Although their status has not improved in any significant way, they continue to keep their identity.

In my project, I wanted to document the current situation. Reflected in this work are the many socio-cultural aspects of the Gypsy people, as well as their problems: pervasive alcoholism, poverty, and discrimination.

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