Jelena Čvorović, The Roma: A Balkan Underclass, Ulster Institute for Social Research, 2014, 254 pp., $25.00 paperback, £5 e-book.
Today’s immigration disaster in Europe is liable to make us forget that a significant racially alien underclass has already lived on the continent for centuries: the Gypsies, or “Roma.” Jelena Čvorović, an anthropologist at the Ethnographic Institute of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, is the author of two previous books and many scholarly papers on Serbian Gypsies. In this new title from Richard Lynn’s Ulster Institute, she uses r/K selection theory to analyze Europe’s centuries-old “Gypsy problem.”
From Northwest India
The ancestors of Europe’s Gypsy population originated in Northwest India, moving West, for unknown reasons, about AD 800-950. They were never a homogeneous nation, but, as Dr. Čvorović puts it, a “conglomerate of genetically isolated founder populations,” with greater genetic diversity than Europeans. Their language, Romany, includes loan words indicating that Gypsies passed through Persia and Armenia, and Byzantine records show that they reached Constantinople by 1054. From Greece, they fanned out across the Balkan Peninsula, and the earliest reports of their presence in Europe date from the 14th century. Some Gypsies traveled as far as France, Spain, and even Britain, but the largest concentrations remain in Eastern Europe:
Country Absolute Numbers Percentage of Population
Bulgaria 750,000 10.33
Macedonia 200,000 9.59
Slovakia 500,000 9.17
Romania 1,850,000 8.32
Serbia 600,000 8.18
Hungary 700,000 7.05
[Estimates by Council of Europe, 2010]
The total Gypsy population of Europe is thought to be between 10 and 12 million–greater than the populations of such nations as Hungary or Sweden. They are known by a variety of names, such as Sinti, Manouches, Travelers, Kalo, Romanichals, Tsigani and Gitans. The most commonly used English word, “Gypsy,” is a corruption of “Egyptian,” and reflects the mistaken belief that they originated in Egypt. The politically correct term for them, “Roma,” is what they call themselves, and comes from the name of their language, though many no longer speak Romany.
Dr. Čvorović describes the usual condition of Gypsies in Europe as follows:
Roma communities tend to be segregated and characterized by poverty, unemployment, poor education and poor quality housing. Throughout Europe, the Roma experience social exclusion, a lower life-expectancy (ten to fifteen years lower than the European average), have a higher infant mortality rate and an unemployment rate of up to 80 percent. Since coming to Europe, the Roma have been received with hostility and blamed for everything from petty stealing to child stealing, cannibalism and Satanism.
Small, endogamous gypsy populations have typically lived on the margins of European societies, working as traders, craftsmen and entertainers. Their willingness to pull up stakes and move “has allowed them to exploit marginal opportunities within their hosts’ economy,” often accepting “tasks which no one else wanted.” When these sources of income have dried up, they have lived as beggars or thieves. They are described in historical records as traveling in bands of 30-100 under the leadership of an elder.
In various times and places, Gypsies have been forbidden to enter churches, to marry Europeans or to exercise certain professions. In Romania they were even enslaved for a time.
Gypsies are unpopular with Europeans to this day: “Many recent public opinion polls confirm that the Roma are by far the most unpopular social group, commonly considered a major burden on slender public resources.” This impression is justified. As Dr. Čvorović notes, “In Central and South-Eastern Europe, an average of 46.8 percent of Roma families receive social assistance; 56.8 percent receive child support payments.” In Bulgaria, fully 90 percent of Gypsies live on state benefits. In Britain, their “skillful manipulation of [the] benefits system has brought an outcry from the media, police, and charities for the homeless.”
Gypsies, for their part, do not think highly of the gadjé (their term for non-Gypsies). They have a concept of ritual purity according to which gadjé are considered unclean: “[M]ost groups restrict their interaction with outsiders to economic transactions and brief encounters with officials or institutional representatives such as welfare or hospital staff.” They do not view stealing from or cheating gadjé as morally wrong. Gypsy girls are not permitted to marry gadjé, and are shunned if they do. Gypsy men occasionally take European wives, but the woman must promise to adopt Gypsy ways.
Europeans have made many attempts since the Enlightenment to improve the condition of Gypsies and integrate them into the larger society.
In the second half of the eighteenth century under Empress Maria Theresa, Habsburg strategies aimed to eliminate the Roma’s nomadic lifestyle and encourage assimilation. In 1761, Maria Theresa embarked on ‘settling’ the Roma by barring them from engaging in most of their traditional occupations and by forcibly removing their children and sending them to school.
Dr. Čvorović notes that “this endeavor was no more successful than the many similar attempts initiated by later rulers in various nations.”
The Nazis were intolerant of Gypsies and killed an estimated 300,000 to 600,000. The Communist governments that followed were relatively benign. Socialism is a bad system for enterprising or innovative people, but it is not such a bad system for poor workers. Gypsies were guaranteed employment in state-owned enterprises–usually in unskilled positions–but at the same (meager) wages as Europeans, and with the same benefits.
By the same token, Gypsies have suffered more than others in the post-Soviet era:
They have been called the ‘orphans of transition,’ reflecting their deplorable experience since the fall of communism. The transition started at a time when the economies of all [East European] nations were near or at the point of collapse, and as a result, impoverishment and unemployment rose significantly. Living standards and general quality of life have declined for many and for the Roma more severely than others. They [suffer from] substandard housing, lack of education and skills and a deepening dependence on state benefits and services.
There is such a vast literature on Gypsies and their problems that Dr. Čvorović writes of a scholarly “Gypsimania.” She notes, however, that most of this literature is “characterized by the absence of a general theory and lack of empirical basis to most theorizing.” Dr. Čvorović herself applies life history theory and the r/K continuum pioneered by E. O. Wilson and applied to human populations by the late J. Philippe Rushton.
High fertility is the central element of the r reproductive strategy, but it has disadvantages: low investment in the many children that are born, shorter life spans, more high-risk behavior, lower IQ, and a shorter time horizon. The K strategy characteristic of Europeans involves a sacrifice in number of children in order to allow for greater investment in each child; it is associated with higher IQ, long-term planning and an ability to delay gratification. Dr. Čvorović notes that Gypsies and Europeans differ consistently in terms of r/K.
Total fertility rates are currently below replacement for all European countries. In the former communist countries, total fertility fell to between 1.1 and 1.4 children per woman by 2000, the lowest of any region in the world. In nine European nations, the average age of a European woman at first marriage has now passed 30.
Gypsy girls, on the other hand, traditionally marry between the ages of 14 and 17. Pregnancies are one week shorter than among European women, and children are smaller at birth–both biological traits associated with a high-fertility, r-type reproduction. Dr. Čvorović does not provide an overall estimate of current Gypsy fertility, but gives local figures: 3.0 children per woman in Bulgaria, 3.03 in Serbia, 3.12 in Hungary, 3.2 in Bratislava, 3.3 to 3.7 for “some” groups in Romania, 3.9 in Croatia, and 4.3 in Eastern Slovakia. Both the Gypsies and the problems associated with them will multiply in the coming years. The Minister of Education of one unspecified EU state reports that already “in his country, every third child entering school is Roma.”
Gypsies suffer from the drawbacks of the r strategy. Their life expectancy is low; only 2.7 percent of their population is 65 or above, while the figure for the EU is 17 percent. Their high fertility and low life expectancy combine to give Central and Eastern European Gypsies a median age of 20.5, a figure “comparable to that of the poorest African or Asian societies.” Particularly striking are the ratios of children to old people. Whereas among the declining Europeans there are only 92.1 children (age 15 or younger) for every 100 people age 65 or above, among Gypsies the figure is 1,343.
Gypsies’ relatively short lives are plagued by health problems. According to UN Development Program documents, child mortality among Hungarian, Czech and Slovak Gypsies is at twice the level of their host populations. In Romania, the ratio is between three and four to one. In Bulgaria in 1989, as communism collapsed, the ratio reached six to one.
Cardiovascular diseases, often brought on by obesity, are the most common cause of death. Gypsies are also reported to have high levels of hepatitis, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and Type-2 diabetes. Many smoke and eat a great deal of fat. Poor hygiene leads to parasitic and contagious diseases. Marriage among close relatives means a high proportion of recessive syndromes, and Gypsy mothers often resist efforts to vaccinate their children.
Dr. Čvorović is an expert on Gypsy IQ; she wrote four papers on Serbian Gypsy IQ with Prof. Rushton. She reports that the highest national IQ for Gypsies is 85 in Slovenia, comparable to American blacks. Other figures are 83 for Slovakia, 70 for Serbia, and 60 for Romania–this last figure is among the lowest recorded for any population, anywhere.
Traditional Gypsy education is informal and oral, though Dr. Čvorović notes that in the typical Roma family, “verbal communication is characterized by the absence of abstract or subtle concepts.” Many Gypsies are illiterate, and though most Gypsy children now start school, their attendance is irregular:
When they do show up, they often arrive without the necessary learning materials, since they regard them as irrelevant and neither they nor their parents know how to use them. During lessons, when they [lose interest], they stand up and walk around or shout at their classmates. Eventually they just stay away from school altogether.
Occasionally they are forced out. In England, the rate of temporary suspensions and permanent expulsions is higher for Gypsies than for any other group, including blacks.
East European communist governments and their successors put Gypsy children in special schools, either restricted to Gypsies, or together with learning-disabled European children.
Gypsy children function perfectly well in their own environment, and even solve certain tasks as well as, or better than, European children. For example, they are expected to, and do, find their way around large cities from an early age. However, they have great difficulty grasping abstractions or coping with new situations. For children and adults alike, their normal response when things get difficult is to break off contact. Gypsy self-segregation may in part be a way to avoid the cognitive demands of European society.
Since the fall of Communism, the European Union has been putting pressure on the Balkan states to treat Gypsies better, even though Gypsies themselves interpret this as an attempt to stop them from migrating to the more affluent West. The EU has called for an end to segregated Gypsy schools, for example, despite the good reasons for them.
Twelve European countries with large Gypsy populations have declared the years 2005-2015 to be the “Decade of Roma Inclusion,” with programs sponsored by the UN, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and national governments. Dr. Čvorović reports that this “most ambitious project so far for the most part has failed to provide results in everyday lives for most Roma.” If anything, their lives are worse.
I found myself sympathizing with the Gypsies in the face of earnest efforts to integrate them. EU and UN bureaucrats with little knowledge and less experience of Gypsies and their problems persist in imagining that they are only one new program or policy away from producing the first generation of Gypsy PhDs. The principle root of this delusion is, of course, a refusal to accept differences between human populations–this refusal is perhaps the single greatest cause of avoidable evils in the West today.
Territorial separation might not solve the “Gypsy problem.” Gypsies have no history of political or even economic independence; as noted above, they traditionally exploited marginal niches in the European economy. Forced segregation might be a humanitarian disaster. A more realistic goal might be simply to get them off welfare.
On the other hand, as the Gypsy share of the population grows, Europeans may stop seeing them as objects of charity and consider them dangerous demographic competitors. Certainly none of George Soros’s uplift and integration is doing anything to prevent or delay such a development. Finding a policy that is fair to both the Gypsies and Europeans is not simply a matter of good intentions. An essential precondition is recognition of the natural and persistent differences between the two peoples.