Effects of Assimilation-Policy

Since their arrival in Central and Western Europe in the 15th century, the Roma had at times been tolerated and at times been expelled and persecuted cruelly . Starting in the middle of the 18th Century, many sovereigns of the Enlightenment had tried to make Roma settle down permanently and force integration into society by means of regulations issued by the state. In spite of harsh compulsory measures and severe punishments most of these attempts failed. As a consequence of the failure of the sovereign policies of assimilation , the Roma were committed to workhouses in many places, such as in France by order of Napoleon Bonaparte in the year 1803. Able-bodied men were forced to work, children were sent to orphanages, women as well as the old and sick, sent to poorhouses. Despite or maybe exactly for those reasons, many Roma had taken up their normadic ways of life again at the beginning of the 19th century: they roamed, and tried to make their living as basket weavers, coppersmiths, horse traders, peddlers, flayers, etc. An itinerant trade, however, was hardly sufficient for a secure living under these political circumstances and many families just managed to stay alive, enduring miserable conditions.

A welfare service for the poor tried to bring at least some relief. But since nomadic Roma were increasingly seen as a threat to law and order, allowances were bound to a provably permanent place of residence. According to the law of the poor issued in Prussia in 1842, a "supportive place of residence" was the absolute necessary precondition to be entitled to welfare.

Whereas the lawmakers had intended this accountability to be an effective instrument to keep the Roma from "roving", it increasingly proved to become a burden for the communes. At this stage many Roma were actually striving to settle down permanently, others were at least making an effort to prove the existence of permanent places of residence. The communes that were obliged to take care of those in need of help were confronted with an ever increasing number of people entitled to their assistance. Counteracting the intentions of the government, they tried to keep the Roma from settling down to reduce the ever mounting costs.

Even shortly before the turn of the century, at a time when the practice of itinerant trades was already subject to strong regulations, a few communes illegally issued itinerant trade licences to make the "gypsies" move on. They also handed out documents to "foreign" Roma to avoid the bureaucratic and costly effort of a deportation to their countries of origin. The abolition of bondage in the principalities of Moldavia and Walachia (1856) triggered a big wave of migration, in the course of which tens of thousands of Roma left their homes. The Roma living in Moldavia turned to the neighboring Bessarabia, the Southern Ukraine, and to Russia and Siberia in search of better living conditions. In the following years and decades a large number of Walachian Gypsies migrated to Bulgaria, Serbia, the banat as well as Transylvania. Coming from Hungary, they reached Central and Western Europe, some going overseas (USA, Mexico, South America, South Africa and Australia).

The arrival of new Roma groups from the East was instrumental in bringing about changes in "gypsy policies" in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire that had been founded in 1870/71.


Fraser, Angus (1992) The Gypsies. Oxford.
Mayerhofer, Claudia (1999) Dorfzigeuner. Kultur und Geschichte der Burgenland-Roma von der Ersten Republik bis zur Gegenwart, Wien.
Reemtsma, Katrin (1996) Sinti und Roma. Geschichte, Kultur, Gegenwart, München.
Szabó, György (1991) Die Roma in Ungarn. Ein Beitrag zur Sozialgeschichte einer Minderheit in Ost- und Mitteleuropa (= Studien zur Tsiganologie und Folkloristik 5), Frankfurt.
Vossen, Rüdiger (1983) Zigeuner. Roma, Sinti, Gitanos, Gypsies zwischen Verfolgung und Romantisierung, Hamburg.
Image Printable version