The people known as Gypsies or Egyptians in Britain, variously Tzigane, Zigeuner etc in Europe, left the Indian subcontinent approximately 2000 years ago. They have since reached virtually every country of Europe and Asia and become established in the Americas but have been nomadic for centuries and have no territorial base. Most countries in which they live have made attempts to assimilate them into their own culture, often by discouraging use of the Romany language.
Until 1968, Hungary ruled that all ethnic minorities had to take Hungarian names and speak Hungarian. In the early 1980s, Turks and Romanies living in Bulgaria were forced to take Bulgarian names and speak Bulgarian. Poland recognised them as an 'ethnic group' in 1989, but did not give them the status of a national group which would have entitled them to more rights. After the Second World War, Czechoslovakia refused to recognise the Roma as a separate ethnic group and pursued a policy of forced assimilation. It appears that their women were even sterilized to prevent the population from growing. In 1989, the separate Czech and Slovak governments established principles of equality for ethnic minorities.
The trades which were most highly valued by the Rom, horse-trading, blacksmithing and music, were considered 'capitalist enterprise' by the Communist regimes and actively discouraged so many found it hard to survive as unskilled labourers. Even after the fall of Communism, there is still a great deal of prejudice towards them. The new governments have limited resources and do not always want to spend money on minorities.
A need for the Rom to have a unified trans-European nationality has led to attempts being made by representatives from many countries to standardise their language so that it can be taught in schools. Despite retaining a large portion of their original language, borrowings from most countries in which they settled for some time are evident.
Romany names are very much those of the country of residence with
surnames such as 'Smith' reflecting common trades amongst them.
During the Middle Ages, bands of Gipsies led by their 'dukes'
and 'counts' travelled Europe asking for food and money at many
cities. In most cases only the name of the leader was recorded,
and it is evident from the dates and places that certainly Andrew
and Michael (in various transcriptions) visited a large number
of towns. It should be remembered that in many cases the leader
was a 'gadzo' or 'giorgio' (non-Romany) who had acquired the right
to tax, lead or employ a particular group. In Britain, Romanies
tend to retain names which would be considered rather old-fashioned
by the 'giorgios'.
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