Struggling for Ethnic Identity

Czechoslovakia's Endangered Gypsies

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The Roma people, commonly known in English as Gypsies, have been misunderstood ever since their migration from Northern India sometime around the 10th century. Ignorance of their origin initially led to a widespread belief that they were spies, arsonists, and hooligans. Some nations mistakenly called them "Gypsies," assuming they were from Egypt. In Czechoslovakia, as in many other European lands, they are called Cikani (pronounced tsigani), a pejorative term that is thought to have originated from a mistaken belief that they were Athinganoi (in Greek, this means "untouchables"), a Persian sect of magicians and fortunetellers that came to Greece in the eighth century. This report begins with a brief overview of the history of the Romanies since their arrival in what is now Czechoslovakia. In the following chapters, past (when relevant) and current conditions of Romanies in the areas of education, housing, employment, relations with the police, cultural and linguistic rights, health care, access to services, and media portrayal are discussed. The chapter on International Law describes the obligations of the Czech and Slovak Federal Government under international law. The final chapter summarizes our recommendations to the government of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.