The Pariah Syndrome
VI.  Treatment Elsewhere in Europe:
Transylvania, Hungary and Russia

Chakra
The instituionalized Oppression of Gypsies existed in other places besides Moldavia and Wallachia; Wlislocki has written about the "appalling and unmentionable punishments" inflicted upon Gypsies in Transylvania (also part of greater Rumania) "not only for attempting to escape, but for such trivial offences as stealing [a piece of fruit]"; another incident, also from Transylvania and recorded in 1736, is found in the journal of a landowner who entered the details of the recapture of an escaped Gypsy slave as follows:
At my dear wife's request, I had him beaten with rods on the soles of his feet until the blood ran, then made him bathe his feet in strong caustic.  Afterwards, for unbecoming language, I had his upper lip cut off and roasted, and forced him to eat it (Anon., 1912:45).

The case of a free Gypsy in Transylvania selling himself for life to one General Farkas Macskasy for "fifteen florins, a horse, three and a half bushels of wheat and four cups of wine" is on record from 1755 (Ursutsiu, 1974).

When Gypsies first reached Hungary, their experience was similar to that in Moldavia and Wallachia. King Mathias authorised the City of Harmannstadt to employ them as slave labor in 1476; since they were slaves of the Crown, they were distributed in this way throughout the land, most often employed in blacksmithing and the manufacture of weapons and implements of torture.

In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Gypsies were also made the property of the landowners. Certain individuals were given administrative positions by them, as shown in the following document, a letter originally written in Hungarian and dated October 25th, 1776, which permitted its bearer to collect taxes from other Gypsies. The original remains in a private collection in Nashaud, in Rumania:

You are strictly enjoined by the present letter that such State Gypsies as have hitherto been under your authority, and in addition the Gypsies Dombi Stoika, Adam Stoika, Samu Stoika and Adam Cuka, shall remain under your command. It is your duty also to collect tax-money for haymaking and the quota which in virtue of the conscription list is due to His Majesty ... the holder of this document, Dimitru Borcza, Gornik ... must not impose anything on, nor exact anything from, the four guilder Gypsy tax (Lebzelter, 1933: 213-214).

[Illustration with caption]
"Imagination will easily conceive how dismal and horrid the inside of such Gipsey huts must be to civilised humanity. Air and daylight excluded, very damp, and full of filth, they have more the appearance of wild beasts'dens, than of the habitations of intelligent beings. Rooms or separate apartments are not even thought of, all is one open space: in the middle is the fire, serving both for the purpose of cooking and warmth; the father and mother lie half naked, the children entirely so, round it. Chairs, tables, beds or bedsteads, find no place here; they sit, eat, sleep on the bare ground, or at most spread an old blanket or, in the Banat, a sheepskin, under them. Every fine day the door is set open for the sun to shine in, which they continue watching so long as it is above the horizon; when the day closes, they shut their door and consign themselves over to rest.  When the weather is cold, or the snow prevents them opening the door, they make up the fire, and sit round it till they fall asleep, without any more light than it affords. The furniture and property of the Gipseys ... consist of an earthen pot, an iron pan, a spoon, a jug and a knife; when it happens that everything is complete, they sometimes add a dish; these serve for the whole family" (Grellman, 1807:34-35).

During the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780), daughter of the Hapsburg King Charles VI, measures were taken to settle and assimilate the Gypsy population: they were conscripted into the army, and forbidden to speak Romani or call themselves Rom (they were instead referred to as Uj Magyar, "New Hungarians"). The children were sent to school, and their parents were no longer allowed to pursue any of the traditional occupations. The means of achieving this were sometimes quite cruel and ruthless; no regard was paid at all to Romani values or culture, and the forced assimilation was seen by the Gypsies themselves as an effort to exterminate them as a distinct people. Violent anti-Gypsyism from the Hungarian people continued to be a fact of life, however, and Gypsies increasingly became scapegoats for the most insignificant of charges. The more imaginative crimes of vampirism and cannibalism were also attributed to them: In 1782 some forty were broken on the rack and cut into pieces because they were accused of roasting and eating several dozen Hungarian peasants, even though Maria Theresa's successor, Joseph II subsequently proclaimed that the charges were baseless. The policy of assimilation was not a success.

The government of Catherine the Great of Russia during this same period (1729-1796) passed laws to make Gypsies Slaves of the Crown (Clébert, 1963:74)*. The earliest, and most complete firsthand account of Gypsies in Europe two hundred years ago is found in the works of Edward Daniel Clarke, who describes the Gypsies in Russia thus:

In their dress, they lavish all their finery upon their heads. Their costume in Russia is very different to that of the natives. The Russians hold them in great contempt; never speaking of them without abuse; and feel themselves contaminated by their touch, unless it be to have their fortunes told. Formerly they were more scattered over Russia, and paid no tribute; but now they are collected, and all belong to one nobleman, to whom they pay a certain tribute, and work among the number of his slaves (1800:208).

The circumstances of the post-abolition migration of the Russian Gypsies to the Americas is discussed in Chapter XIV.

While the eastern European states were enslaving and otherwise making use of Gypsies as a source of labor within their own territories, countries in western Europe were attempting to rid their soil of Gypsies altogether.

*The name for these slaves is given as Slaves of the Crown. Professor Victor Friedman tells me, however, that this is a religious term in Russian for "human beings" (lit. "slaves of the lord").



Chapter VII
Table of Contents
Return to Patrin Web Journal

Copyright © 1999-2000 by the Patrin Web Journal. All Rights Reserved.
URL:<http://www.reocities.com/Paris/5121/pariah-ch6.htm>
E-mail:<etext@patrin.com>


This Page Hosted by GeoCities