- The Roma people, otherwise known as Gypsies, originally came from India, but the reason the people left, and subsequently lived in a diaspora, is unknown. They migrated through Persia, Armenia and Byzantium, and reached Europe around the late 13th or early 14th century, settling mostly in the east.
- Their initial migration to Europe was met by curiousity, soon followed by hostility and xenophobia. The Roma were frequently subjected to expulsion, abduction of their children, and forced labor. They were enslaved for five centuries in Romania, until abolition in 1864.
- The Romani language is of Indo-Aryan origin and has many spoken dialects, but the root language is ancient Punjabi, or Hindi. The spoken Romani language is varied, but all dialects contain some common words in use by all Roma.
- During World War II, the Nazis murdered 200,000 to 800,000 Roma, alongside six million Jews, one third of the global Jewish population. The Roma were the only other ethnic/racial group besides the Jews targeted by Nazi Germany for annihilation. The Roma refer to this attempted genocide as the Porajmos, or the “Devouring”. After the war, the Roma people received no restitution for their suffering and tremendous loss.
- Discrimination against Roma remained pervasive in Europe after World War II. In Bulgaria, the Romani language and Romani music were banned from public performance. Tens of thousands of people from Slovakia, Hungary and Romania were re-settled in border areas of Czech lands. In Czechoslovakia, Romani women were sterilized as part of a state policy to reduce their population.
- Today, there are substantial populations of Roma in countries formerly part of the Eastern bloc, but the level of integration of Roma remains limited. In these countries, Roma communities usually remain on the margins of society, living in isolated ghetto-like settlements.
- Most Roma communities have adopted the dominant religion of their “host” country – primarily Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox and, increasingly, Evangelical – while still preserving their own particular belief system, with a highly developed sense of morality, taboos, and the supernatural. Many of these beliefs and practices exist in some Hindu cultures.
- The Roma are very diverse in physical appearance. In southern European countries, they tend to have dark hair and dark skin, while in other communities, they tend to have lighter hair and skin, and appear indistinguishable from “Whites”.
- Roma music has been very important in to the cultures of eastern Europe. The style and performance practices of Roma musicians have influenced European classical composers such as Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. Many famous classical musicians, such as the Hungarian pianist Georges Cziffra, are Roma. The distinctive sound of Roma music has strongly influenced bolero, jazz, flamenco, and Cante Jondo.