Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month

Published: 30th June 2021

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller month

In 1993 the writer, former dissident and first President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel described the situation of the Roma ‘as a litmus test for Europe’s civil society’. Nearly 30 years later the social questions of how the prejudice against the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities across Europe is to be understood and challenged remains.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are diverse with distinct characteristics and traditions. Nation States group them all together as nomadic peoples whose lack of permanent status is often all that provides their real commonality. These different groups can trace their presence in Europe for over 1000 years and yet they continue to be labelled as outsiders and are frequently treated by the authorities and general public with hostility. Despite being a part of European societies for centuries their lifestyle, customs and languages are frequently the subject of disdain and dismissal. The historic treatment of these communities in many countries is little more than barbaric, reaching the level of genocide by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

However, following the Second World War the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities continued to be the subject of persecution by governments and officials of all political shades. Cultural erosion was one of the ways that countries sought to ‘solve the Gypsy issue’. In parts of Eastern Europe it is still customary for media channels to show an image of a Roma village whenever they want to raise a general story about criminality, such is the entrenched prejudice in many places.

Havel in his ‘Litmus test’ statement was addressing his own country’s long history of prejudice as well as highlighting that these attitudes were widespread amongst the European family. He was keen to raise the idea that if civil society was to be a success in post-Communist Europe all communities must be treated equally and that included the traditional outsider communities such as the Gypsy, Roma and Travellers communities.

In Britain the exclusion and denigration of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities also has a strong history – and many would argue present. That is why June was adopted as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller month in an attempt to explain the heritage of these groups as well as their long presence within the UK. The majority of people still know very little about these communities beyond myth and emotive headlines – none of which helps the development of civil society very much. So in case you missed the chance to find out some of the real history of these communities last month we are bringing you another chance with some newly released podcasts.

Take some time to understand why this history is important, interesting and relevant to any country that believes in a civil society that values democracy and inclusion.