Attitudes towards the romani people of the population majority

Tomáš Dunko

Romani people, or “parasites” as they are often called in the racial discourse these days, form a relatively large ethnic group in Slovakia. They have to face multiple challenges on a daily basis the most prominent among which are: very low standard of living, high crime rate and social benefits misuse. These factors result in a gap between the white majority and the Romani minority. Here in Slovakia, as well as in other countries, we can say with certainty that anti-Romani attitudes are rooted in history. It is impossible to determine whether the politicians really do not care for the Romani minority or whether they are racists. They may also be mistreating the Romani people in order to receive more monetary aid through EU-funded programmes.

Racism and Extremism

The most serious manifestation of racism is structural violence. Genocide organised by the state was quite commonplace during the age of colonialism. In America and in Africa, several nations disappeared or were reduced to the status of minorities. Nowadays, the international community is a proof of ethnic cleansings in Central Africa and Eastern Europe organised by state governments. Deportations, terror and similar state-authorised community segregating measures that serve to separate minorities from the population majority are all methods of ethnic cleansing. However, structural violence in the form of racism can be implemented in more subtle ways than genocide – terror organised by the state (Vorster, 2002).

These days, the population majority’s attitude towards the Romani people can be described as largely negative. Interestingly, the Romani people tend to be more appreciative towards the population majority than vice versa. The relationship between the Romani minority and the so-called “gádžovia” has potential for radicalization and can lead to the escalation of extremism within the concept of nationalism on the national level. The attitudes many people express towards the Romani people on social media have racist undertones and are full of hatred.

A Facebook discussion in the Picture 6 represents an example of such attitudes. Another common thread of such discussions is comparing the Romani people to animals: “Romus vulgaris (Gypsy vulgaris) – a nocturnal animal related to chimpanzee. They have brown complexion and females can have brightly dyed hair. They are afraid of water and have a recognisable stench. They originated in steppe and migrated to towns. They can be found all over Slovakia. This species is migratory; some of them migrate across the ocean to procure food. The female can give birth several times a year. The offspring suck social benefits until death. Gypsy mostly hunts defenceless prey. They attack it in packs. Deleterious, protected by law. (Online: <>, 14:45, 23.02. 2015)

Racism can be defined as a conscious or unconscious perception of one race as superior to other races. This definition presupposes the existence of biological components in race differentiation; however, it has been scientifically proven that such claims are unsubstantiated. The concepts of ‘race’ and ‘racism’ are the results of social interactions and structures throughout history (Online: <>, 17:48, 23.02. 2015).

Nowadays, racism has new forms. On one hand, the population majority is discriminated by Romani people; on the other hand, Romani people are being exterminated. According to Baumgartl and Favell (1995), this act is the main problem and a source of racist attitudes and prejudice within Europe.

The following definition by Marger presents a significant contribution to the discourse around the new meaning of ‘racism’. According to him, racism can be understood as an ideology or a cult comprised of three basic principles:

People are naturally diversified into different physical types and have physical distinctiveness, which is evident and originates from their different culture, personality and intelligence; Based on genetic heredity, some groups of people have genetic predisposition to dominate other people (Vorster, 2002).

Thus, racism is a belief that people are divided into groups that differ congenitally in their social behaviour and intelligence. These groups are seen as ‘subordinate’ or ‘superordinate’ by racially motivated people. This division is perceived as sufficient for the unequal allocation of social benefits, various forms of wealth and respect as well as for restricting access to government positions (Vorster, 2002).

The term “anti-gypsyism” has been coined as a result of racist attitudes of the population majority. The terms anti-gypsyism and romaphobia can be defined as: “...a type of racist ideology. They are interconnected with other types of racism: some of the aspects are shared while other differ. Romaphobia is a complex phenomenon manifested by violence, hatred, mistreatment and discrimination in its most visible form...” (Gallová–Krieglerová, 2008, p.5).

The terms “prejudice” and “stereotype” are also connected with manifestations of racism and discrimination. Prejudice can be defined as unfounded assumptions that can negatively affect the attitudes towards members of a certain social group. The common characteristics are negative feelings, conflicts and stereotyped beliefs that lead to discrimination (Online: <>, 16:40, 12.02. 2015).

Prejudice as well as romaphobia can be based on many factors including gender, race, age, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status and religion. The most widespread forms of prejudice are:

Research based on a national sample from Hungary demonstrates that, regardless of some structural resemblance to other types of prejudice, romaphobia can be seen as a separate phenomenon.

This uniqueness can be viewed as a result of combination of several factors that include a very high poverty level and anticipation of unconventional social behaviour.

What can prejudice lead to?

What can prejudice lead to?

In connection with racism and prejudice, Romani people are often put into a group called “homelessness”. This group can be found in every country. It poses a threat to social stability and, potentially, it could lead to an armed conflict or natural disasters. Homelessness of some groups is usually a result of cultural identity and nationality. These groups, people of the Romani ethnicity and other minorities, voluntarily choose nomadic lifestyle. In the legislation of other countries homelessness is divided into ‘homelessness of families’ and ‘homelessness of individuals’. The etymology of the term ‘homelessness’ is based on two words: ‘home’ and ‘less’ (without). In Slovakian legislation, the term ‘homeless person’ is substituted for a description of a person without citizenship or right for domicile. Homeless are characterised as people without any place to live, as socially weak or maladaptive (Marek a kol., 2012, p.13).

It is commonly known that homelessness of the Romani people is due to their high unemployment. It is estimated that about 70 - 85 % of the Romani people are unemployed, which is approximately 240,000 people.

Another factor is employment discrimination. High unemployment of the Romani people has direct economic consequences; however, even more serious problems pose indirect consequences of unemployment.

Research on poverty as a social institution offers insight into the extent of problems with providing healthcare services for the Romani ethnic group. It is hardly possible to find any data on the Romani people health. They tend to have negative experience with the healthcare system and, hence, not to trust it, which is probably the reason behind the lack of data all over Europe. Many live in cramped conditions of multiple-member households, which can lead to social isolation and serious health problems.

Living with extended family members can also mean higher occurrence of genetic anomalies and mental disorders in children. The Open Society Foundation has recently engaged in research on these problems; however, no statistics are available yet. (Online: <>, 19:10, 23.02. 2015).

Obviously, the Romani people healthcare poses a problem for medical statistics of the state because Romani children die at a young age more often than other children. Medicine professionals assume that children in this minority suffer from more serious diseases than children in the population majority (“gádžo-children”). The causes appear quite straightforward: insanitary living conditions, bad habits (smoking and alcohol consumption), especially during pregnancy, unhealthy diet, etc. (Říčan, 1998, p. 39-40). In other words, the health of the Romani population is worse than that of other people living in similar socioeconomic conditions. Several surveys have shown that children aged 0-2 suffer mostly from influenza, ear infections, gastric flu and various viral infections. In short, poor Romani children have more of more serious health problems than non-Romani children due to their substandard living conditions.

In their research, the Organisation for the Romani Youth came to the conclusion that children from marginalised environments who live solely in Romani settlements with low income, no access to education and high unemployment in the family show high regional child mortality (Online: < >, 17:50, 23.02. 2015).

According to the survey , Slovak government have become aware of the living conditions in Romani villages, which have been compared to ghettos. The Institutions for Social Affairs and Family underline that Romani settlements do not have a sewerage system or fresh water access; moreover, more than one third of all houses there have been built illegally (Online: < >, 18:45, 23.02. 2015).

Social workers in many countries countries are obliged to work in compliance with ethical standards. In Slovakia, however, such ethical standards neither exist nor are adhered to in Romani settlements, except for by social workers of the Romani origin. Organisations and institutions have formed official writing and its role is to provide sufficient material support in marginalised settlements. These are ethical standards of conduct for field social workers include in other countries include:

  • Help individual clients with personal documents and health insurance acquisition. These documents are valid in every country except for Slovakia where the Romani people do not have health records or insurance.
  • Assistance during GP appointments for individual clients. This includes information on the importance of disease prevention, clients´ education and financial support in covering certain services and insurance. They also provide personal assistants who can interpret during GP appointments. In many cases, the Institutions for Social Affairs and Family are obliged to accompany clients to appointments and provide the prescribed medication.
  • Help local health organisations with vaccination campaigns. This should make regular vaccinations of the Romani people in segregated settlements easier (Online: <>, 23.02. 2015).

The most common chronic diseases of the Romani people are: hypertension, migraine, headache, asthma, bronchitis, blood circulation problems, high prevalence of diabetes, scabies, hepatitis, tuberculosis and pediculosis (parasitic disease accompanied by head and genitalia itchiness). Cardiovascular diseases caused by smoking, stress and unhealthy diet are also very frequent. Most of the Romani settlement inhabitants in Slovakia visit a doctor only in case of emergency. Nowadays, some of the Romani living in segregated areas do not even know about their right to receive medical care. They are often discouraged by high prices and balance payments for medication. The research conducted by the field social workers found that the Romani tend to diagnose themselves with common diseases they are familiar with.

Mostly, their diagnoses include basic illnesses, such as fever; they also possess some knowledge of wounds and injuries. These factors combined could partially explain the backward state of the Romani minority (Online: <>, 18:00, 23.02. 2015).

Tab. 4: Romani population with chronic diseases according to disease type and gender (in %)

Tab. 4: Romani population with chronic diseases according to disease type and gender (in %)

Adapted : ( Filadelfiová, Gerbery, Škobla, 2006, p. 32)


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<>, 19:10, 23.02. 2015

Mgr. Tomáš Dunko
Masarykova univerzita
Filozofická fakulta
Ústav slavistiky
Arne Nováka 1
602 00 Brno
Česká republika

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