Stereotype No. 2: nomadism
Roma are often perceived as carefree nomads with no significant worries: free to do whatever they want, freedom loving and easy going, living in tents or in caravans and dancing around fires every night. When they are hungry they just steal a chicken from a local peasant.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Roma were often mistaken for Muslims and encountered the hatred of the Christian Europeans. They were not allowed to settle down or work in many countries and thus had to find other ways of making a living. Finding a place to stay, a home, is a common theme in Roma folk tales. During the Holocaust, the Roma were one of the primary targets of the Nazi regime and were sent to concentration camps all over Europe. After the end of communism many Roma fled from ethnic persecution. Again this was conceived as nomadism rather than an attempt to save their lives. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, countless Roma in eastern and South-Eastern Europe have fallen victim to violent attacks, evictions, destruction of property and even murder.
Throughout the centuries, settling down often meant having to abandon Roma traditions and culture. Many Roma did this, thus choosing the path of assimilation. Most of those who would have preferred to maintain a nomadic way of life were subjected to forced assimilation policies as early as the 18th century. Under communist regimes, the majority of the remaining nomads were settled by force.
This almost romantic picture of Roma life is very far from reality. Only 20% of European Roma today are still nomadic, almost exclusively in western Europe. In previous centuries nomadism was almost never a matter of free choice but of persecution. Continuous expulsion is a main feature in Roma history. Thus, nomadism was mistakenly interpreted as a cause of “inadaptability” of the Roma in modern society. Behind the concept of “adaptation”, promoted by non-Roma authorities, is not only ignorance and the failure to recognise cultural values and the tendency of ethnic assimilation, but worse, a deeply racist view, where the main issues dealt with are poverty, diseases and education, thus issues related to the social side, not ethnicity.