Posts Tagged ‘Moldavia’

Book on the Gypsies and Their History

February 9, 2022

Angus Fraser, The Gypsies (Oxford: Blackwell 1992).

I’ve been meaning to blog about this book, off and on, for a little while now. This is largely in response to the right-wing, Tory and Blairite Labour racists, who screamed blue murder at any chance they could get to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, but who had absolutely no qualms about whipping up hatred against Roma, Sinti and other Travellers for their own political benefit. Anti-Gypsy hatred has become topical once again thanks to Jimmy Carr’s wretched joke about their genocide in the Nazi Holocaust somehow being a ‘positive’. Mike’s written extensively about that tasteless joke, as have very many others. He’s pointed out that it came just when Boris Johnson was passing legislation very similar to that of the Nazis, which would allow the cops to close down Gypsy encampments, move them on and impound their vehicles simply for suspecting they might be about to do something illegal. And when you get to eastern Europe, the prejudice against them is even more extreme and really does approach the genocidal hatred of the Nazis. A decade or so ago doctors in Czechoslovakia were caught operating a programme of involuntary sterilisation of Gypsy women very much like the Nazis’ eugenics programme against those of mixed race and the biologically unfit. Czech politicians were also very keen to have the Gypsies emigrate to Canada after a documentary was shown on television about a Czech Gypsy family finding a welcome in the land of the maple leaf and beaver. This was, like anti-Semitic and Nazi plans to force the Jews to move to Palestine, simply a way of forcing the Gypsies out of Czechoslovakia. One female Czech MP made this very clear when she screamed ‘They will go to Canada or the gas chambers!’ Such naked, genocidal bigotry means that Carr’s joke really, really isn’t funny. Respect, then, to the Auschwitz museum for taking the moment to offer him some of its courses on the murder of 27,000 Gypsies so that he could learn about the horrific reality.

The book’s blurb runs

‘Since their unexplained appearance in Europe over nine centuries ago, the Gypsies have refused to fall in with conventional settled life. They remain a people whose culture and customs are beset with misunderstandings, and who cling to their distinct identity in the teeth of persistent rejection and pressure to conform. The book describes their history.

The book opens with an investigation of Gypsy origins in India. The author then traces the Gypsy migration from the early Middle Ages to the present, through the Middle East, Europe and the world. Through their known history they have been recognised for their music, metal working, fortune telling, healing and horse-dealing, but from the outset they outraged the prejudices of the populations they encountered; they were enslaved, harassed, outlawed and hunted. Yet against all the odds the Gypsies have survived, preserving a distinctive heritage and culture that transcends national boundaries. How they did so is the compelling them of this book.

This new paperback edition has been revised to take account of recent research and of the political changes in Eastern Europe, which have sadly been followed by a resurgence of Gypsy persecution in a number of countries.’

The book has chapters on their origins, then subsequently traces their migration through Persia and Armenia, Greece and the Byzantine Empire, Serbia, Bulgaria, Wallachia and Moldavia, the provinces that are now part of modern Romania; Germany, Austria and Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal, the Low Countries, Italy, Hungary and Transylvania, now also part of Romania, Scotland and England and Scandinavia. It also discusses images and stereotypes, the pressures placed on them to assimilate, and persecution, including expulsion, transportation and extermination, both in Europe and the Ottoman Empire, as well as their survival. It also discusses changes in Gypsy society and culture, including their music, and their genocide under the Nazis – ‘The Forgotten Holocaust’. The final section discusses modern Gypsy society and culture.

It should be clear from this that the Gypsy Holocaust is, like that of the Jews, absolutely no joke. Carr has been defended by various members of the media set, including Victoria Coren. They’ve defended him as being good and kind. I don’t doubt he is. The problem is that there are some subjects that are too terrible to be the subject of jokes, as well as moral consistency. Carr clearly balked at telling jokes about the Jewish Holocaust, as he should. But if the Jewish Holocaust is unfit as a subject of humour, so should the Nazi murder of other racial groups, especially those still experiencing persecution.

The Lotus Eaters have run to Carrs defence, posting up a video of him as a ‘free speech berserker’. Now I don’t believe that Carr should be prosecuted for his joke. It was outrageous, but, in my opinion, not hateful. He wasn’t intending to stir up racial hatred, although I don’t doubt that some others, who would tell the joke would have definite malign intentions. In my view it’s really a case of a moral problem discussed by John Stuart Mill in his classic book On Liberty: just because something’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s moral. He put it in the following terms: just because there’s no law against chasing a Jew up an alley waving a piece of pork doesn’t mean that you should do it. I don’t believe that Carr has broken any law or should be prosecuted. He just shouldn’t have told the joke. The best thing now is for him to apologise and Netflix to cut the joke. Then perhaps we should move on to combatting some real Nazis.