After spending a couple of decades working in countries outside of Europe, I decided to return and set up a chain of small shops. I researched possible locations and chose Finland for my first shop. There was a gap in the market. Unbelievably, there was only 1, yes, 1 other ethnic Roma Gypsy shop in the whole of Europe.
I thought by opening a chain I was to be part of a good, old-fashioned win-win situation: I would pay Romanis, or Roma people, often called insultingly ‘Gypsies’ to revive their craft work. I would introduce this craft work to the European customer, by doing so try to help them understand more about Romany people and generally work towards better integration of Romany, or Roma people at a European level.
The Romany people are Europe’s largest minority. They are Europeans and not recent immigrants from some far off land, yet the tacit discrimination against Romas by citizens and governments of all countries of Europe is a hidden, and secret disgrace that makes one ashamed to be European.
Here we are,ending the official Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005-2015 and where are we? What steps have been taken, education-wise, in integration, in acceptance of the Roma people? Why isn’t the Roma language an official language along with all the other national and minority languages of Europe? We are talking about at least 12 million people, without any political representation whatsoever, who have never planted one bomb in any location, nor ever tried to take over a country or gain any kind of territory from another country.This is a people who nearly totally vanquished in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II, with 1.5 million people murdered, with countless Romani children experimented on in the most cruel of ways by Dr Mengele, the Angel of Death, who injected chemicals into these children to see if he could make them white, and sewed them together for unknown purposes, as well as sending all those experimented on to the gas chamber.
When I was in Hungary in 1990 after the fall of communism, I tried very hard to get colleges to open Roma Studies departments. The first answer I received was that they did not have departments for animals, this told to me by a faculty member in a college in Eastern Hungary.
In Slovakia and the Czech Republic selective mayors have been walling in Roma communities to create ghettos. In Britain ‘gypsy immigrants’ are, to read the screaming headlines, draining social funds by claiming ‘unemployment benefits.’ First, the idea that anyone can enter any European country and ‘claim’ is just totally false. Actually, reliable statistics show Romani people generally are not claiming, and when they are doing so they do so as any other immigrant from any European country. In fact, ‘other’ immigrants generally claim far higher benefits than ‘gypsies’ do, claiming housing benefit and other forms of financial benefit, which are higher sums than unemployment benefit.
In Italy there is illegal racial profiling carried out by the Ministry of Interior, who instructed police to tick a form if a given crime was committed by a ‘gypsy,’ anywhere across the country, in a presumed effort to classify Romany people as more involved in criminality and accordingly subhuman. And let us not forget that the French Minister of the Interior called for all Roma to ‘return’ to where they are from, because their culture was incompatible with ‘French’ culture. I make no comment about this, as it speaks for itself.
So, what was the reaction, from more than one group of people in Finland, I took to be a tolerant, democratic society, when I opened my Romani Secrets shop?
“Look at the black faces, they are even opening shops now, what next?”
This statement, or close variants to it, was heard from three separate groups of people during the opening days, when I employed a fake Romany fortune teller to tell children their ‘fortunes’ and give them gifts. Not one, and I mean not one child from the many families passing by was allowed to sit with my pretty fortune teller.
Europeans are quick to point at how American native Indian, Australian Aboriginal, or New Zealand Maoris are treated. They way European Romas have been treated or are treated now in Europe is a disgrace.
Click on the ERRC – European Roma Rights Centre logo on the right for more information on current issues regarding the Roma in Europe.
My shop survived 2 years and a bit, but was generally shunned, despite some very loyal customers.
Enjoy some Romani music