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A Brief Description of Gypsy Culture, Part I

Anne Sutherland, Professor, Macalester College

The Roma are different from the majority of populations they live in, in a number of ways. They have their own religion, they have their own language, they have their own way of dealing with problems. They generally are nomadic; although in Kosovo, for example, the Gypsies were settled Gypsies. Mother Teresa comes from that population of Albanian-speaking Boyash Gypsies.

So there are Gypsies who become wonderful people, and then there are Gypsies who are viewed as scum, and so you get the whole range. But, they live differently in a lot of ways, and they are very secretive and keep to themselves, and that makes people suspicious of them. I think some of the same -- you know, marrying each other, for example, only, if they can -- same with the Jewish population. Separateness often breeds suspicion. It shouldn't, but it does.

The Roma are extremely close to each other. They have large, very tightly knit communities and families, large extended families. They are -- most Gypsies, almost all Gypsies, are honest and lead good lives. If they are involved in crime, it's most often petty kinds of crimes that are not violent. I think the violence against them may lead them to become more violent themselves. I hope that doesn't happen.

But they are, at the moment, in what I would consider -- at least in Eastern Europe -- the third diaspora of Gypsies. That is, the first was when they left India a thousand years ago; the second was the Nazi persecution in World War II; and the third is today, the post communist period since 1989, in which it's been a kind of free-for-all in Eastern Europe and the Gypsies have become a target again for persecution.