By Claudia Untrueger
One can talk about a specialized topic. The ethnic group of Roma and Roma and their living situation are often not shown in the Austrian public. But today is April 8, the International Day of Rome and Romnia, which dates back to the first World Conference on Rome and Romnia that took place in London on that day more than 50 years ago. Romani culture, traditions and language are celebrated. However, in many families, gypsies are no longer passed down to children. It is assumed that it is best to fully absorb and push your culture into the background.
Sladi Mirković and Laura Darvas are Romnja from Vienna and actively support the rights of young Roma and Romanians in Austria. What does belonging to an ethnic group mean to you?
“Everyone can tell why my parents didn’t want me to be Roman at school and in my circle of acquaintances,” says Laura Darvas from Vienna. She is 24 years old, and she is the first in her family to study law and wants to become a lawyer. Public recognition of your ethnic group is often associated with a fear of hostility in work life or a fear of never getting a job in the first place.
The Gypsy Genocide and Its Consequences
Nobody knows exactly how many Rom*nja live in Austria today. Estimates of the size of the ethnic group range from 10,000 to 50,000 people. “We live in secret” – this is what the writer and concentration camp survivor Sija Stoica once called one of her books. She was one of the first to speak publicly about the Holocaust in Rome and Romania by the National Socialists. The majority of the ethnic group formerly living in Austria were murdered. The few who survived the concentration camps continued to be marginalized by the majority of the population – a history that remains largely silent. Then came the racist attack in Obervart, in which 4 Gypsies were killed. No wonder, then, that members of an ethnic group often do not announce their identity to this day.
Anti-zine, i.e. racism towards Rom*nja and Sinti*zze, is still socially acceptable in Austria. Resentment sometimes “only” subtly appears in the form of subtle reactions on the part of the other person, as anti-racism teacher and coach Slade Merkowicz describes using the example of confrontations in which she reveals herself as a gypsy:
“Then I noticed briefly a deterioration in my peer’s face. It’s often: Ah, cool..! But they really don’t mean it at all. Feeling this moment of shock is really uncomfortable. Watching people suddenly get stereotypes in their heads. Then it connects them directly to you as an individual.”
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HÖR, the student body of Austrian Roma and Romania, is the first ethnic group youth association in Austria. It was founded a year ago with the aim of organizing, educating, promoting and supporting Rom*nja and Sinti*zze and actively combating anti-intolerance.
Pass by the white or colored person
But compared to her parents, who immigrated from Serbia as guest workers in the 1970s, when Romney was a young woman she didn’t have much to deal with negative clichés, says Sladjana Mirkovic. “My life in Austria looks good because this gypsy trait is not visible at first sight. I decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to share this information about me.”
Unlike the elderly, members of the ethnic group in Austria can sometimes “disguise” as people of color. When asked, “Where do you come from?” , which is often asked by members of the majority, one can be assigned to a “hipster” or at least a less discriminated ethnic group. But this certainty can be deceptive, says law student Laura: “I am a white cross, unlike my mother. My parents are from Hungary and Slovakia. When we were on vacation there, it often happened that we did not receive service in the restaurant.” These fears appear over and over again.
Exit to English Matura
At the age of 18, Laura decided to stop playing the game of hide and seek. She wanted to be able to live out her own identity frankly. During oral English Matura, she decided not to refer to the traditions in her family as “Hungarian cultural customs”:
“I had a racing heart. When I said we were Roma from Hungary, I saw my English teacher’s face. I saw her click and smile. I even got an A,” laughs Laura. Since then, she has become more confident in her private life towards her new acquaintances.
Roma and Romani in Austria are a heterogeneous ethnic group – some live in a precarious situation, receive little education and social benefits, while others have qualified jobs. In general, the position of young Rom*nja improved compared to their parents and grandparents because Rom*nja was officially recognized as an ethnic group in 1993 and gradually they fought for better educational opportunities. Rom*nja children are no longer automatically sent to private schools by the authorities.
Confronting the clichés of the “uneducated ethnic group” is what HÖR, the university student body of Austrian Roma and Roma, is all about. Sladjana and Laura are active on the association’s board of directors. They want to take the discussion about the living situation of Rom*nja to a university level and a scientific level. In this regard, there is now also a first master’s degree in “Roma Studies” at the Central European University in Vienna.
The word Z* is a derogatory term that is still used extensively in Austria. It was used in National Socialism to classify Rom * nja and Sinti * zze as inferior. The letter Z was also tattooed on their skin. The term is not intentionally clarified in this article in order not to reproduce violence from the term.
In order to take action against racism and anti-immanence, activists work with other communities. HÖR is currently calling for support for the first “Black Voices” anti-racism referendum, which will be open for signature for a month.
Sladi and Laura would like the derogatory terms for Rom*nja to disappear from everyday use. It’s been a lot of struggle already, some foods with discriminatory product names have been renamed in recent years. But schnitzel with sweet pepper sauce can still be found on many menus under the word Z *. Sladjana in this regard: “This word should not be used without hesitation as an aphorism. Because it is discriminatory and hurtful. You should go.”