Institutionalisation and emancipation

The Beginnings

The first Roma organisations emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, differing greatly in their focus and goals. The spectrum ranged from organisations dealing with issues of charity and religion, culture and folklore to science and editing.

On a political level, a national congress carried out 1879 in Kisfalu by the Hungarian Roma seems worth mentioning. In 1919, the Bulgarian Roma organisation Istiqbal (future) was founded. At the end of the 20th century, Lazar Naftanaila was the first to try to organice the Romanian Roma. His Association of The Brotherhood of New Farmers showed clear traces of traditional Saxon neighbourhoods. Both the General Union of Romanian Gypsies and the General Union of Roma in Romania, founded in 1933 in direct opposition to the first, achieved trans-regional importance.

Beginning in Poland and Romania in the 1930s, first attempts were made to unite the representative bodies of one or several countries and set up national or international organisations. Such endeavours, however, more often than not failed due to internal rivalries and claims of leadership. In 1933, for instance, a congress held in Bucharest merely resulted in the break-down of the union, which was replaced in 1934 by the General Union of Roma in Romania headed by Gheorghe Nicolescu.

After 1945

After 1945, when many governments did not accept responsibility for the crimes committed during the Nazi Regime and felt no need to deal with the consequences, the Roma did not have a strong enough lobby. At that time, only individual Non-Roma organisations stood up for the once again marginalised minority. Their work for justice and equality, however, did not bring forth many significant achievements, since they could not claim to officially represent the Roma.

The denial of basic rights, such as in the case of Germany, where the Roma were ignored in the reparation process, as well as ongoing discrimination brought about the founding of new organisations. One of the first post war institutions was the Roma Organisation against Fascism and Racism founded in 1945. During the following years, other associations were established all over Europe which worked at national and international levels pursuing different political, cultural and social goals.

Starting in the 1950's, different Sinti associations were founded in Germany, whose primary aim was to help survivors of Nazi persecution assert their right to retribution and support trials against their former torturers. Later on, they expanded their activities and increasingly fought for civil rights and social equality for the Roma.

A milestone in the history of Roma emancipation was without any doubt the foundation of the Association of racially persecuted non-Jews by Oskar and Vinzenz Rose in 1956. From it evolved the Association of German Sinti in 1972, whose numerous local and regional organisations eventually merged in 1982 to form the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, which became one of the most influential representative bodies of Europe.

In 1968, the unsolved issue of nationality and the uncertain status of residence for immigrant Roma led to the founding of the International Gypsy Rights Commission in Hamburg. However, in 1969 the envisioned creation of a united German representation failed due to conflicting claims of leadership by Roma delegates as well as differences in opinion on the competences of a trans-regional and "trans-tribal" committee.


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