Michael Stewart from UCL’s anthropology department lectured us today on the role of Roma in the Danube region and beyond. We learnt that their origins are diverse, ultimately Indian, but that over time historic events and natural processes led to the creation of fairly ethnically distinct group of Roma. While the expansion of the USSR in part created this, it also created some of the marginalising ideology concerning ideals of income and work which increased their separation from a ‘national’ culture. Later, the romanticised version of a national culture became more important, and inevitably so did folklore, which in some part is represented by the Roma. This led us on to some fascinating and sobering discussions on the treatment and activities of Roma and other marginal groups in Romania (such as Ceasescu’s Orphans – street children).
Horrifically in Romania during the Second World War, as in much of central and Eastern Europe, Roma were deported to death camps in large numbers, though there were significant attempts at resistance due to their integration as Romanian citizens. In later years, for the sake of social cohesion and lingering fear, it was easier to ‘forget’; and so support available for Roma holocaust survivors was taken up by very few.
Discrimination still exists today in Romania as in most parts of the world towards the Roma, resulting in a lack of opportunities and thus very little integration into the community which is already made more difficult by some language, lifestyle or trade barriers between sedentary Romanians and nomadic Roma. Roma distrust of the state, understandable as so little representation is provided, causes structural marginalisation such as the lack of registration of Roma children resulting in many having no form of paper ID.
We began to discuss some reasons why discrimination is so widespread – for example, the attitudes and ignorance on the part of other nations in seeing Romanians and Roma as one and the same (arguably true to some extent in nationality and some socio-cultural aspects) can create tension towards Roma both in their region of origin and elsewhere. Scaremongering in the British media (see image) is an example. We also discussed how a distrust of nomadic lifestyles which leave no visible mark of ‘hard work’, ie reliability, to some extent may form a lack of understanding and thus a ‘suspicious’ outlook towards the Roma.
In the afternoon, our Romanian language lesson taught us about various landmarks of the river Danube while learning some basic phrases and injecting a healthy bit of lighthearted competition into the lesson with a quiz.
In discussing the Danube and the aspects of it that struck us or impressed us the most, all teams related how its sheer expanse and ability to act as a backbone, or unifying feature of the entire region, led us to discuss how its various cultures may be divided, and languages different, but all nations essentially possess some intangible ‘Danubian’ essence.
During the last part of the day we teamed up to develop the numerous tasks in need of completion.
After a day of struggling to position the cool air fan fairly in the room, the film crew decided to embrace the unusually warm British summer weather and went out in search of Romanian film subjects, and found some delicious sweet walnut bagels made by Romanian bakers.