History and tradition

At the turn of the 10th and 11th century, the ancestors of today’s Roma left India. In Europe, in the 14th and 15th century, they were calling themselves newcomers from Little Egypt, penitent and pilgrims. The legendary Egypt soon penetrated European languages – languages such as Gitanos, Gitanes, Gypsies, Egiftos, Pharaohs were created. Before the name Roma became popular – terms like Cikáni, Zigeuner, Цыганы, Ţigania, Çingene and Polish Gypsies emerged from the Greek Athinganoi and the Latin Adsincani. Nowadays, the vast majority of European Gypsies call themselves Roma, some groups identify themselves as Manouches, Calé, Sinti. (…)

In the 16th century, a period of persecution, banishment and denationalization began. Its culmination were the policies of the Nazi Germany and extermination of half of the Gypsy population. After 1945, the countries of “people’s democracy” pursued a policy of assimilation, settlement and productivization of the Roma. Additionally, in some Western countries, Roma were sometimes sterilized, their children were taken away, their freedom of movement was made difficult.

In Poland, the Roma appeared in the 15th century. They wandered around the country, but they were also property owners, merchants and craftsmen. In the 16th century a number of laws was passed against the Gypsies – at the same time they were given their sovereignty by the king. The result of this relative tolerance was a massive escape of the Roma from Germany. Today, they identify themselves as the Polish Roma. The swan song of the Roma policy of the First Republic of Poland was issued on the basis of the Constitution of May 3, 1791. The universal guaranteed the settled Roma freedom and protection of the law. The period of partitions of Poland was a time of oppression and persecution, but was a reason for the arrival of Kelderash and Lovari from Romania and Hungary.

The recurring persecution, genocide of the Roma, the policy of assimilation and forced settlement of nomads – all culminated in the brutal action in 1964. Those events perpetuated a way of life on the margins, beyond the social framework of the majority. The social structure of the Roma ancestors, a system of behaviors based on distrust and hoax in contacts with the outside world – those were seen as the best protection against threats. (…)

Political changes in Poland led to equality of the Roma, but at the same time brought a social crisis. In 1991, anti-Roma riots took place in Mława. The sources and reasons of these events should be sought in the early 1980s, when similar incidents took place in Konin, Słupsk and Oświęcim. The events in Mława and other cases of aggression contributed to the ethnic awakening of the Roma. Feeling threatened and abandoned by the state, the Roma trusted young leaders who saw a chance to improve the situation and influence political processes in the activities of their own organizations.

Today, over 100 Roma organizations are registered in Poland. Most of them were established in the 21st century, also in connection with the development of governmental integration programs. Their primary goal is to improve the educational and living situation of the Polish Roma and to promote knowledge about them – to fight the stereotypization. (…)


opr. Andrzej Grzymała-Kazłowski