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Antiziganism in Europe: Past and Present

Antiziganism: The hostility against the Roma but also against those who have been labeled ‘Gypsies’ by the majority society, even if they are not of Roma ethnicity (Falck 2020).


The Romanis define “Roma” as “man.” Roma’s predecessors migrated to Europe around the ninth century through Asia Minor from Punjab, India (Amnesty International 2015; Simpson 2013; Muncan, 2018). The Romanis speak a language related to Sanskrit (Simpson, 2013). The group may have migrated due to Persian mercenaries and Arabic slave traders (Muncan 2018). Romas are typically Christian or Muslim (Simpson, 2013). European governments do not know the official Roma population. However, authorities assume there are 10 to 12 million Roma. The majority live in Eastern Europe, making up a tenth of the population in the region. Over 100,000 Roma live in Italy. Under a million Roma reside in Spain, and 300,000 live in the United Kingdom and France. There are numerous Roma subgroups. Some are Romanichals (England), Kale (Wales, Portugal, and Finland), Gitano (Spain), Kalderash (Eastern Europe), and Sinti (France, Germany, Italy). Travellers are not a subgroup of Roma and tend to be nomadic (Amnesty International, 2015).


Europeans appreciated the newcomers due to their diverse capabilities and thought they migrated from Egypt (Amnesty International 2015; Simpson 2013). Some Romanis became craftsmen, farmers, artists, entertainers, and blacksmiths. Gradually, the religious and political officials believed that Roma were infidels and aliens (Amnesty International, 2015). Others saw them as filthy and unruly crooks, scammers, and loafers (Falck 2020; Liegeois 2007, 159). Consequently, Roma isolated themselves from other Europeans and sought support from each other (Muncan, 2018). In some regions, Roma could not legally become landowners or wealthy merchants. European officials also prohibited Romanis from wearing traditional clothes and using their language (Simpson, 2013). Romanians and Hungarians enslaved the Roma during the 1400s because nobles needed workers (Amnesty International, 2015; Simpson, 2013). Further west, the Romanis did not have better fates. English, Danish, and Swiss medieval authorities persecuted and murdered Roma people. Polish, Italian, and German governments expelled the Romani from their borders (Amnesty International, 2015). During the 20th century, German Nazis perceived the Roma as genetically inferior and slaughtered 220,000-500,000 Romanis (Amnesty International 2015, AP News 2023, Simpson 2013). Czech and Slovak doctors sterilized approximately 90,000 Roma women without their consent (Amnesty International 2015) at the end of the 20th century. Roma in Czechoslovakia died two decades earlier than Czechs and Slovaks and were more likely to be diabetic and have hypertension (Harvard, 2023).


Norway has a history of prejudice against the Roma (Runa Falck, 2020). In 1687, Norwegian officials demanded the arrest and expulsion of the Romas population. Oslo also killed Romani leaders (Falck 2020). During the 1800s, Norwegian leaders kidnapped Romani children and brought them to orphanages. In 1897, the Norwegian Mission, a Christian organization, took responsibility for the Roma. The institution supported labor colonies and foster care centers (Falck 2020; Nou 2015: 7, 11; Nou 2015: 7, 44). The Mission removed 1,500 Romani kids from their families-one-third of the Norwegian Romani population-due to the Children Protection Act of 1896. Romani children in orphanages faced physical and mental abuse. Authority figures prohibited kids from contacting their parents (Nou 2015: 7, 40-1; Falck 2020). A thousand Romanis worked at the Svanviken labor colony during the 20th century due to the Vagrancy Act of 1900 (Falck, 2020; Nou, 2015: 7, 44). The legislation targeted Norwegians without a state-approved occupation. Romanis could not don their historical clothes or practice their culture. If they did, Norwegian authorities could remove Roma children from their community (Falck, 2020).

The Trade Act of 1907, Sterilisation Act of 1934, and Animal Welfare Act of 1951 also targeted Roma. Romanis could not travel to trade goods or use horses. Due to the Sterilisation Act, the Mission aimed to make the Roma dutiful Christians. However, the Mission sterilized 40% of women laborers at Svanviken to reduce the future Roma population in the late 20th century (Falck, 2020). Oslo repelled the Animal Welfare Act in 1974, the Sterilisation Act in 1978, and the Trade Act in 1980. The Norwegian government stopped funding Svanviken after 1989 and formally apologized to the Romanis in 1998. Oslo approved the Council of

Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and established the Centre Against Ethnic Discrimination (Falck 2020).


Ten thousand Roma and sixty thousand Sinti reside in Germany (AP News 2023; Federal Agency for Civil Education). Amaro Foro and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma documented hundreds of discrimination incidents against Romas and Sinti in Germany during 2022. The causes are growing nationalism and conservatism (AP News, 2023; Grunau, 2023). The latter organization received 621 reports. Most incidents were verbal. However, the organization documented eleven threats and seventeen attacks. In one case, a man targeted Roma or Sinti persons with a compressed air weapon. Consequently, the criminal harmed multiple people (AP News, 2023)

Certain discrimination cases happened at police stations, employment centers, refugee centers, and youth welfare offices (AP News 2023). According to the 2022 Leipzig Authoritarianism Study, most respondents in eastern Germany admitted that they do not want Roma or Sinti living near them. Over 30% of West Germans agreed. Participants also believed that Roma and Sinti were more likely to commit crimes (Grunau, 2023). Romas from Ukraine fled to Germany. However, immigration authorities classified them as unlawful refugees, according to Violeta Balog, the leader of DOSTA (a documentation center on antiziganism/antigypsyism) (Grunau, 2023). According to Mehmet Daimaguler, German police removed thirty people from a train from Ukraine because the authorities doubted whether they were legitimate refugees (Grunau, 2023). After a Romani woman raised a watermelon for inspection, the supermarket removed her from the store. The workers accused her of being a thief (Grunau, 2023).


Romanis face prejudice online as well. In Italy, far-right internet users spread hate against Romani women by portraying them as thieves (Rorke, 2023b). The Italian government approved the posters' actions. Rome endorsed a security decree that permitted authorities to detain Roma women if they were inadequate mothers. Judges could send children to another family if the police arrested their mother (Rorke, 2023b). When the Italian Democratic Party advocated helping caretakers, Salvini claimed, “The Democratic Party frees Roma pickpockets who use children and pregnancy to avoid prison and continue to commit crimes. Shame on you. The League had passed a law in the Justice Commission and will immediately resubmit the text: it is a question of health, justice, and common sense” (Coluzzi 2023; Rorke, 2023b). Members of the Identity and Democracy group suggested to the European Commission that Roma women across Europe are accountable for stealing, drug dealing, and pickpocketing (Rorke, 2023). They also believe that Romas steal in populous European cities, which mars the cities’ images.

Far-right commenters publicized images of Romani girls and young adults and accused them of being bandits without evidence. As a result, Italian streets are hazardous for young Romani women. Dunja Mijatovic, a Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights member, recognized the dangers Romani women encounter. She said, “The magnitude of digital violence against women and girls and ensuing impunity remains colossal, having an impact on society. [Brutality] in the digital world can be especially [damaging] to those women and girls at risk of or exposed to intersecting forms of [prejudice]" (Mijatovic 2022; Rorke 2023b) The UN OHCHR recognized that state-approved discrimination constructed an environment where “hate speech has become normalized, and [articulations] of hatred have become [admissible].” (UN OHCHR 2019, 12; Rorke, 2023b).


At the beginning of November 2023, Greek authorities killed a Romani teenager after a car chase (Rorke 2023). According to bystanders, a gunshot hit a 17-year-old boy. The police assert that the teen was accidentally shot after another passenger attempted to take an official’s weapon. The victim's sibling believes the police killed his brother (Rorke 2023; Keep Talking Greece 2023). Rorke (2023a) argues that police lack credibility because Greek officers shot Roma youth in the past. For instance, an authority figure shot Kostas Frangoulis because he ran away and did not pay a gas station bill (Rorke 2023a; Stamatoukou, 2022) In 2021, police killed and injured Romani teenagers after they stole a car. The authorities knew their ethnicity and fired 30-40 shots into the vehicle. Police contended that the police officers had injuries, the victim was a criminal, and the minor had little to no injuries. The opposite turned out to be true. The police had no wounds, the 18-year-old victim was blameless, and the 16-year-old passenger had severe injuries (Rorke, 2023a). After Nikos Sabanis passed, anti-Roma sentiment spread across Greece. At the end of 2021, the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) persuaded Greek authorities to investigate the case for racial motives, stated their alarm at anti-Roma media reports, and hoped that Greeks would condemn hate speech (Rorke, 2023a).


Anti-Roma sentiments are also common in the United States, according to Margareta Matache (2022). During the 1960s and 1980s, Americans ranked Romas beneath Latinos and Wisians, a fake ethnic group (Matache, 2022). When she was a kid, Matache was asked by a peer if she lived like a “gypsy” on shows like Gypsy Sisters or Big Fat Gypsy Weddings-which included negative stereotypes and episode titles. Some episodes were titled “Birthday Party Turns into a Massive Fight”, “Mama Bear Attacks the Bride”, and “Gypsy Truck Fight”. Matache notes that Hollywood inaccurately portrays Romani culture, but also uses it to make money (2022).

Grace Claire O’Neill (2020) has spoken out against anti-Roma sentiments in the United Kingdom. When she grew up, her father advised her against telling people she was Roma. After her peers found out she was Romani, they began bullying her and her cousin. During her teenage years, British media expressed anti-Roma and Traveller sentiments. The Sun started the “Stamp on the Camps” campaign in 2005, which caused Roma parents to avoid sending their kids to school. Over a decade later, Channel 4 televised an episode of the Dispatches entitled “Truth About Traveller Crime”. The show negatively stereotyped and dehumanized Travellers. O’Neill has received death threats for speaking against anti-Roma sentiments (2020).



Roma face discrimination from healthcare establishments across Europe. Discrimination is defined as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference or differential treatment that is directly or indirectly based on the prohibited grounds of [prejudice] and which has the intention or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of Covenant rights, (Watson HL, 2017)" and may be directed against an individual or group of individuals by a person, network, organization, or establishment, on the basis of (but not limited to) age, sex, gender, gender orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, creed, language, socioeconomic and political standing, physical and/or mental illness, and religion (Watson HL, 2017; Muncan, 2018).

Patients who face discrimination from healthcare institutions have an increased risk of progressed diseases, death, and co-morbidities (Muncan, 2018). David Williams, Florence Sprague Norma, and Lauren Smart Norman learned that increased heart disease, cognitive impairment, infant mortality, and other health issues are related to discriminatory health institutions (Harvard, 2023). Jacqueline Bhabha, a Harvard professor, recognized that racism against Roma leads to poor health (Harvard, 2023). The Romanis have less access to medical information, assistance, and health insurance (European Parliament). In some rural Romani towns, family doctors and health education are inaccessible. Romanis ignore their health needs (Muncan, 2018). According to a 2013 Parvu study, Roma expected discrimination and low-quality care from health services (Muncan, 2018). If there are doctors in the town, they might deny serving Roma communities (Muncan, 2018). Ambulances refuse to transport Roma because health workers believe that Romas are dirty and dangerous (Muncan, 2018). Carmen Gheorghe, a Romanian scholar and activist, also noted discrimination against Romani women at health facilities. Healthcare workers called Roma women promiscuous, animals, and dirty (Harvard, 2023). When a Romani chemotherapy patient went to the emergency room after she vomited, the security guard accused her of “only com[ing] to [the hospital] to eat and drink” (Grunau, 2023).

Eastern European authorities blamed Roma for the COVID-19 pandemic. Bulgarian officials roadblocked Romani neighborhoods and set up police checkpoints (Matache & Bhabha 2020). Angel Dzhambazki, a Bulgarian politician, thought that Roma neighborhoods were possibly “the real nests of [COVID-19] contagion” (Matache & Bhabha 2020). North Macedonian authorities made nine Roma musicians in a group of two hundred quarantine (Matache & Bhabha 2020). Anti-Roma sentiment increased when a Slovakian mayor called Romanis “socially unadaptable people,” and a Romanian newspaper claimed that COVID did not impact Roma people (Matache & Bhabha 2020).

Education and Employment

Romani children also face discrimination throughout Europe. A Romany woman asked a kindergarten if they were accepting new students. The two visited the school, and the school rejected them because there were no spots. Later that week, the school accepted a white child. Even if Sinti and Roma students are accepted, peers and workers taunted them. According to a 2021 RomnoKher study, six out of ten Roma and Sinti kids faced discrimination at school (Grunau, 2023). According to the 2019 Roma Integration Strategies Report, almost 7/10 kids left educational institutions prematurely (European Parliament 2022). For example, only a fifth of Romany kids in Serbia start secondary school (European Parliament 2022). In comparison, nearly 90% of Serbian kids have attended secondary school (UNICEF 2022). Distance, lack of transportation, finances, and admission requirements partly explain why less Romani children go to school (Forum 2016). If Romani kids go to educational institutions, they are more likely to take remedial classes and go to segregated schools-separating them from their peers (UNICEF 2022; Forum 2016). As a result, only approximately 40% of Roma are paid workers (European Parliament 2022).


While some Roma have assimilated, others have not. Romas desire the ability to move freely without regulations. Additionally, stateless Romanis do not ask for statehood or political power (Amnesty International n.d.). Local, regional, state, and international organizations should work with the Roma people to develop legislation to decrease anti-Roma sentiment and inequalities between Romanis and non-Romanis.


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Amnesty International. n.d. “Roma Persecution-Antiziganism-Intensifies in Europe” Amnesty International. Roma persecution - Antiziganism - intensifies in Europe | Amnesty International USA (

Associated Press. 2023. “Report on Racism against Roma and Sinti in Germany Shows Widespread Discrimination.” AP News. Report on racism against Roma and Sinti in Germany shows widespread discrimination | AP News.

Coluzzi, Tommaso. 2023. "La destra vuole tenere le madri in carcere perché "si approfittano di bimbi e gravidanza." Fanpage. La destra vuole tenere le madri in carcere perché si approfittano di bimbi e gravidanza (

European Parliament. 2022. "Roma: What Discrimination do They Face and What Does EU do?” European Parliament. Roma: what discrimination do they face and what does EU do? | News | European Parliament (

Falck, Runa. 2021. “Discrimination against Roma: Evidence from two survey experiments in Norway”, Migration Studies 9 (3): 360- 382,

Forum on Investing in Young Children Globally et al. 2016. “The Effect of Discrimination and Social Exclusion on Young Romani Children.” In Reaching and Investing in Children at the Margins: Summary of a Joint Workshop. The Effect of Discrimination and Social Exclusion on Young Romani Children - Reaching and Investing in Children at the Margins - NCBI Bookshelf (

Grunau, Andrea. 2023. “Germany: Discrimination against Roma and Sinti on the Rise.” Deutsche Welle (DW). Germany: Discrimination against Roma and Sinti on the rise – DW – 03/30/2023.

Harvard. 2023. "Conference Explores Link Between Anti-Roma Racism and Health Disparities." Harvard University. Anti-Roma racism and health disparities | News | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Keep Talking Greece. 2023. "Roma Boy Shot Dead During Police Chase." Keep Talking Greece. Roma boy shot dead during police chase (

Liégeois, Jean-Pierre. 2007 Roms en Europe. Council of Europe Publishing.

Matache, Margaret. 2022. "It is Time to Address the Anti-Roma Discrimination in the US." Al Jazeera. It is time to address anti-Roma discrimination in the US | Roma | Al Jazeera.

Matache, M. and Bhabha, J. 2020. “Anti-Roma Racism is Spiraling during COVID-19 Pandemic”. Health and human rights, 22(1), 379–382. Anti-Roma Racism is Spiraling during COVID-19 Pandemic - PMC (

Mijatovic, Dunja. 2022. "No Space for Violence against Women and Girls in the Digital World," Council of Europe.

Muncan, Brandon. 2018. "Eastern European Roma: Ethnic Discrimination in the Public Healthcare System." Journal of Global Health Reports (Vol. 2). DOI: 10.29392/joghr.2.e2018025. Eastern European Roma: ethnic discrimination in the public healthcare system | Published in Journal of Global Health Reports (

NOU, Jf. 2015. "Assimilering og motstand. Norsk politikk overfor taterne/romanifolket fra 1850 til i dag”. Oslo: Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet.

Rorke, Bernard. 2023a. “Another Romani Teen Shot Dead by Greek Police,” European Roma Rights Centre. Another Romani teen shot dead by Greek police - European Roma Rights Centre (

Rorke, Bernard. 2023b. “Italy: Inciting Hatred against Romani Women.” European Roma Rights Centre. Italy: Inciting hatred against Romani women - European Roma Rights Centre (

O'Neill, Grace Claire. 2020. "I'm a Romany Gypsy-why is racism against us still acceptable?" The Guardian. I'm a Romany Gypsy – why is racism against us still acceptable? | Grace Claire O’Neill | The Guardian.

Simpson, David. “The Roma: A Thousand Years of Discrimination Continues in Europe Advocates Say.” CNN. The Roma: A thousand years of discrimination continues, advocates say | CNN.

Stamatoukou, Eleni. 2022. "Police Killing Sparks Protests and Arrests in Greece." Balkan Insight. Police Killing Sparks Protests and Arrests in Greece | Balkan Insight.

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Watson HL, Downe S. 2017. “Discrimination against Childbearing Romani Women in Maternity Care in Europe: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review.” Reprod Health 14(1): doi:10.1186/s12978-016-0263-4.


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