Historical Development

The significance of the traditional professions has been continuously decreasing in the last two centuries. Industrialisation, and as a consequence of rationalisation, mechanisation in agriculture has lead to a considerable decline in the need for different services that mainly affected nomads offering services, (e.g. horse traders: Lovara), but also settled workmen who worked for the rural population.

A further break was caused by the consolidation of racism at the end of the 19th century that developed into an ideology. Discrimination by authorities, and violence and harassment by the police has continuously increased, and limited to a minimum the range of activities and professional possibilities for Roma and Sinti groups, especially in the central European region. This development resulted in a trend towards impoverishment, which was further increased by the economic crisis of the Thirties.

The radicalisation of policies regarding the Roma and Sinti reached its sad peak during national socialism, resulting in genocide. Primarily the generation of grandparents who were the upholders of their culture, and those who handed down their culture, fell victim to the genocide. Consequently, the socio-structure of many Roma and Sinti groups was destroyed forever. The fact that discrimination did not stop after the end of the war also contributed to the parallel that in many cases it was impossible to work in traditional professions.

A further decisive factor, which lead to the extinction of many professions, is due to the changed social framework and economic conditions. Today the traditional entertaining and pleasure time professions are not required anymore; craft products are too expensive in comparison with those goods that are produced in an industrial way in countries paying low level wages. The trade of basket makers is not profitable anymore. Nowadays the members of the Sepečides work as charwomen and cooks or in food or service trades. Other groups like the Lovara or the Kalderaš on the other hand try to avoid wage dependency according to their traditional socio-structure and in most cases work in independent trades (used metal, flee markets, carpet trade etc.). [Traders]

The Kalderaš-Rom and representative of the Roma association Romano Centro, Dragan Jevremović), regrets these developments and also has to note that the young generation does not show any interest. In his view the loss of culture and language is closely linked to these developments because as the working techniques are lost then so will be the Romani words to describe them. As one of the few Kalderaš in Vienna he still knows the traditional copper coppersmith-techniques, and is always open to showing them to the public.

In the eastern European region, where the major part of the Roma population is living, the communist assimilation policy prohibited every kind of culture and way of life which did not coincide with the state doctrine. They forced the Roma to lead a settled life and to work in kolkhozes and factories. [Racism and human rights] The socio-political developments of the last decades – increasing nationalism, racism and neo-liberalism – have created a climate of intolerance, especially in former eastern block countries. These days poverty, no hope for the future, and discrimination characterise the lives of most Roma. The majority of the Roma population have lost their jobs due to the privatisation or the closing of former state industries. In the whole eastern European region the Roma are affected by unemployment in an unproportionate way; in some countries the unemployment rate is between 80-90%. Many Roma have to rely on state social assistance or the support of charity organisations. Some others succeed in leading a modest life by way of occasional jobs (collecting used paper, used metal, etc.).

The traditional socio-structure is intact only within few Roma groups, either in Western as well as in Eastern Europe. Those groups who could adapt their professions to the respective conditions or who work in relative branches are the exception. They have succeeded in maintaining their independence and their cultural traditions. The majority of European Roma is living in conditions that only guarantee their survival.


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Image Printable version
Image The Roma work
Image E bući řomaji
Factory workers (Hungary), 1980
A woman with two children are looking for useable things on rubbish dump (Pata Rat [Romania]), 1988
Second-hand-market on the outskirts of Belgrade (Serbia-Montenegro), 2003