German Sinti often hide their origins because they fear discrimination. Most are integrated. In Romania and parts of France, however, many Roma live on the fringes of society.















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The Sinti and Roma are the largest minority in Europe: ten to twelve million people. But how they live, what their everyday life looks like, their language sounds, which traditions they maintain, many do not know.

Many only know that the Sinti and Roma were persecuted and murdered, under the Nazis, but also elsewhere. Because of these experiences, many Sinti and Roma still hide their identity today. But their stories are more than stories of exclusion. They are stories about adaptability and the will to survive, about pride and joie de vivre, about the dawn of a new self-confidence.



The Auschwitz survivor Zilli Schmidt received the Federal Cross of Merit for her commitment as a contemporary witness in 2022 and continued to appear publicly afterwards to talk about her eventful life as Sinteza.  Zilli Schmidt died in Mannheim in October 2022 at the age of 98.  (Photo: SWR, Tassilo Hummel / SWR)

The Auschwitz survivor Zilli Schmidt received the Federal Cross of Merit for her commitment as a contemporary witness in 2022 and continued to appear publicly afterwards to talk about her eventful life as Sinteza. Zilli Schmidt died in Mannheim in October 2022 at the age of 98.


SWR



Tassilo Hummel / SWR


Racism in language and discrimination in education

Antiziganism, as the racist discrimination against Sinti and Roma is called, is still present in Germany. It often has to do with the clumsy one word “gypsy”, which unfortunately is still used.

Scientific studies show that Sinti and Roma are particularly disadvantaged in the German education system. School plays an important role because it is the place where young Sinti often leave the protection of their families for the first time. Respondents report that teachers and peers make derogatory remarks about being pushed across the board to lower educational pathways. The fact that many grow up bilingual at home is not appreciated.

Roma in Romania

The official definition of Roma in Romania spoke of “persons with antisocial behavior” until 2012, when the Romanian Academy was sued, says Gelu Duminica. He is a professor of social work and an activist at the NGO “Impreuna” – in German “together”.

Professor Duminica is a Roma himself and is the contact person for EU authorities and Western governments that support development projects for Roma with money. He says that Roma are discriminated against all over Romania, despite all the regulations on political participation.

Nobody knows how many Roma live in Romania

During World War II, Roma were deported and killed in the country allied with the Nazis. Under socialism under dictator Ceausescu, they were officially designated as “full fellow citizens” for the first time, but most were still left out when it came to education, job opportunities and infrastructure.

Today nobody knows exactly how many Roma live in Romania. Professor Duminica estimates that there are around 1.5 million.



Lidiana with family: 24-year-old Lidiana has returned to Transylvania to study social work at the local university - she wants to help improve the degrading conditions under which Roma live in Romania (Photo: SWR, Tassilo Hummel / SWR)

Lidiana (right) with family: The 24-year-old has returned to Transylvania to study social work at the local university – she wants to help improve the degrading conditions under which Roma live in Romania


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Tassilo Hummel / SWR


Elena Baciu, professor of social work at the University of Timisoara, is concerned. The professor has been researching Romanian Roma settlements for years and also knows those of Lidiana’s family.

Poverty risk decreases when higher education is achieved

Professor Baciu’s research shows that the risk of poverty also decreases for Roma when they achieve higher education. If. Because there is a special quota for Roma in high schools and universities, but they often live much too far away from the educational institutions. According to Professor Baciu, anyone who wants to escape poverty not only needs an incredible amount of luck, but also has to break with their roots.

It seems almost impossible. So many Roma still live isolated from mainstream society, despised and shunned. Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. But in France, one of the richest countries in the EU, the situation is similar.

The Gitanes in southern France

In Perpignan near the Spanish border live the self-described “Gitanes”, a Catalan Roman group. Their families settled in the historic Saint-Jacques district during the Second World War. After the French government had issued a decree to settle down and the Jewish residents, now fleeing themselves, had sold their houses cheaply to the Gitanes.



Houses in danger of collapsing in Saint-Jacques: The Gitanes is a Catalan Roman group that settled in this district during the Second World War (Photo: SWR, Tassilo Hummel / SWR)

The Gitanes are a Catalan group of Romans who settled in the Saint-Jacques district during World War II


SWR



Tassilo Hummel / SWR


Today the district resembles a ghetto. The houses are in danger of collapsing. The drug trade is rampant. Many of the children and young people do not go to school. According to official statistics, the unemployment rate is over 80 percent and life expectancy is ten years below average.

Life in the midst of poverty and patriarchal structures is particularly hard for women, because they marry very young and are not allowed to take up a job. The police close their eyes and avoid the ghetto.

But despite their difficult situation, the people are proud of their traditions. And on the fact that they still manage to preserve their very own identity today.

SWR 2022/2023

manuscript for the broadcast

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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