Representatives of gypsy organisations are due to go to the United Nations on Monday (26 February) to try and gain official recognition as a national minority.
Representatives of gypsy organisations are due to go to the United Nations on Monday (26 February) to try and gain official recognition as a national minority. A twelve-member delegation will attend a meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC. They are members of the Swiss-based Romany Union, set up at a special congress in Geneva last year by gypsies from twenty-six countries.
SYNOPSIS: There are an estimated 10 million gypsies in countries throughout the world. It is believed they are of Asian Indian descent and spread from the sub-continent over five hundred years ago, as a result of Moslem invasions. In some countries they form sizeable minorities. Eastern Europe has some five million, and there they are officially recognised as an ethnic group. But there are problems. Throughout the centuries there have been times of persecution of gypsies -- as recently as the Second World War. Half a million died in Nazi Germany.
In recent years gypsies have been worried by their growing isolation in a world that is becoming isolation in a world that is becoming ever more organised. At the same time the Catholic Church has offered help, attempting to act as a mediator between their society ad that of the gadji, the non-Romany.
Four years ago Pope Paul held an audience for two thousand gypsies. In 1965 he had visited a gypsy camp and established the Apostolate of the Nomads. It was seen also as a move to try and reconcile the various gypsy tribes, some of whom were hostile toward each other.
Attempts to force gypsies to settle down have met with opposition. In Britain local authorities are required by law to provide permanent caravan sites...but for some gypsies this runs counter to their ideal of having no fixed home. They say it is against their nature and that they prefer temporary stopping places.
Traditionally, gypsies have been musicians and entertainers. Perhaps the most famous is the film actor, Yul Brynner. He was born in Romania and brought up in Switzerland. Last year he was made honorary president of the second World Gypsy Congress, held in Geneva.
The attempt to solve their problems is not recent. Eight years ago at this World Romany Congress, in England gypsy leaders started the move to try form a representative organisation to gain recognition.
That is an aim that will be pursued on Monday, (26 February) when the representatives of the Romany Union will try to get consultative status with the assembly. If granted it will allow them to speak as a non-governmental organisation.