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«Dieter W. Halwachs ROMA AND ROMANI IN AUSTRIA* The Austrian Roma and Austrian Romani can be seen as paradigmatic of the social and linguistic ...»

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Dieter W. Halwachs


The Austrian Roma and "Austrian Romani" can be seen as paradigmatic of the social and

linguistic situation of Roma in the so-called Western affluent society. Just like in many Cen­

tral and Western European countries, the Austrian Roma population comprises several

groups. These differ both in their socio-political status and in their socio-cultural background,

which results in dialectal and sociolinguistic variation. Social heterogeneity and linguistic vari­ ation connected with the self-organization in the course of international developments con­ cerning ethnic minorities have effects on the functionality and the status of Romani; the re­ sults of these processes are outlined in exemplary function for the Austrian situation.


The Austrian Roma, which were officially recognized as Austria’s sixth ethnic group in De­ cember 1993, can only be compared to other ethnic groups to a certain extent. Contrary to Croatians, Slovenes, Hungarians, Czechs and Slovakians, the Roma do not have, among others, a nation-state which – like a mother country – could support their cause and could thus contribute to the preservation of culture and identity. Furthermore, the Austrian Roma do not really have a closed area of settlement – one of the criteria for ethnic groups. Be­ sides, the Roma cannot be regarded as a homogenous group. The individual subgroups within the Austrian Roma differ, among others, in their socio-cultural background and sociopolitical status.

According to serious estimations, at least 25.000 Roma are living in Austria and can be differentiated into at least 5 bigger groups: In the order of their length of residence in Austria, these five are as follows: Burgenland-Roma, Sinti, Lovara, Vlax-Roma – Kalderaš, Gurbet,... – and Muslim Roma – Arlije, Bugurdži... – from former Yugoslavia.

1.1 Demographic Parameters The above-mentioned list does not include those Roma who have come to Austria from the Balkans and ex-communist states in Eastern and Southeastern Europe since the late 80s. A part of them, who had existing social contacts, joined the groups of migrant workers who came from the Balkans from the 60s onwards. There aren’t any demographic statistics on this particular subgroup yet, neither are there statistics on those Roma who came to Austria from other countries, such as Slovakia, Hungary, Romania etc. These are included under the caption "Others" in Table 1, which shows the demographic parameters of the individual


Table 1 Country of Emigration Time of Immigration Area of Settlement Religion Status Burgenland Bgld-Roma Hungary 15./16. century Eastern Austrian Catholic autochthonous

–  –  –

* the article was published in Romani Studies 5; 15/1 (2005), pp. 145-196.

1.1.1 Country of Emigration and Time of Immigration The first immigrants into the German-speaking – Central European culture area were the Sinti, whose presence has been documented since the 15th century. A certain continuity in settlement on what is today Austrian territory can, however, only be proven from the second half of the 18th century onwards. The fact that in Northern Italy and Russia Sinti groups are nowadays called Estrexarja (Austrians) attests to a high mobility of the first immigrants. It is highly probable that the majority of Sinti who are living in Austria today settled here only in the course of the 20th century.

The Burgenland-Roma are the group which has been living longest on Austrian territory:

they have been immigrating since the late 15th century from Central Hungary and have not left the Western Hungarian area (since 1921 Burgenland) since.

The immigration of Lovara in the late 19th century and of the Sinti around 1900 can also be called an internal migration: both the Lovara and the majority of Sinti had come from ar­ eas of what was at the time the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy; the first from Hungary and Slovakia, the second from Bohemia and Moravia, today’s Czech Republic. A few Sinti fami­ lies also came from Southern Germany. Additionally, some Lovara fled to Austria in 1956 in the wake of the so-called "Hungary Uprising".

Due to the migration of workers from the 60s onwards, there has been an influx of Roma from former Yugoslavia: Vlax-Roma – Kalderaš, Gurbet, etc. – primarily from Serbia, as well as Muslim Roma – Arlije, Bugurdži, etc. – primarily from Kosovo and Macedonia. As has al­ ready been mentioned, there are no demographic statistics on the increased immigration of Roma from the former Eastern Block and Yugoslavia from the late 80s onwards. It is howev­ er possible that this last group is the biggest one; then, the above-mentioned total of 25.000 could be doubled. These considerations are more or less well-founded speculations.

1.1.2 Area of Settlement The majority of Austrian Lovara and of the immigrants from the Balkans are living in the Vi­ enna area. Sinti can mainly be found in cities, and there is a gradient from East to West as far as their numbers are concerned. Also those immigrants who came to Austria from the late 80s onwards settle almost exclusively in cities, mainly Vienna.

Solely the Burgenland-Roma are living, in the vast majority, in rural areas or smaller cities, such as Oberwart, which is – due to the murder of four Roma in February 1995 – the best-known Austrian city with a Roma population. Among the Burgenland-Roma, however, there has to be differentiated between those who acknowledge being Roma and those who are merely of Roma origin. The members of the second group who do not declare them­ selves as Roma, have been moving on towards Eastern Austrian cities, particularly towards Vienna, since the 1950s. They are, in the vast majority, assimilated to the majority popula­ tion (which usually knows nothing about their origin), and can thus be counted only partially among the Austrian Roma. This is the reason why they have not been included in the above-mentioned total of 25.000 Austrian Roma.

1.1.3 Religion The Roma’s religious affiliation commonly depends on the majority population in the country of emigration. Membership of more recent Christian denominations has, up to now, only played a secondary role.

The Burgenland-Roma and Lovara are almost exclusively of Roman-Catholic faith, which reflects both their Hungarian origin and their Austrian surroundings. The population of both countries is in the vast majority of Catholic faith. Among the Sinti there are also some Protestants, but it has to be said that for the Sinti in general religion has little significance.

The religion of the immigrants from the Balkans reflects the majority faith of the country of origin. The same is true for the more recent immigrants. The Kalderaš and Gurbet, com­ ing from Serbia are of Orthodox faith, the Arlije and other groups that came from the South­ ern Balkans or Turkey are Muslims, and are thus placed in the Western Rumelian Ottoman cultural tradition.

The Roma’s religious affiliation mainly determines their festive traditions. Religion can be, as is the case with the Austrian Roma, an element of division – among others because of the different calendar. A Džurdževdan-pilgrimage to a Catholic place of pilgrimage in the 90s was the single exception. Not only Catholics, but also members of Orthodox and Muslim faith participated in this event – most probably without the Catholic priest leading the pilgrimage knowing.

1.1.4 Socio-political Status The socio-political status of the individual groups is one more element for differentiation. Ac­ cording to the Austrian law, an ethnic group is defined among others by a common lan­ guage, a closed area of settlement, and by the criteria of whether they are autochthonous.

Long-established, or autochthonous are those groups which have been living on the Austrian national territory for generations; this includes the Burgenland-Roma, Sinti and the Lovara who immigrated around 1900; together with the Roma who came from Hungary in 1956, they make up a maximum of 20% of the above-mentioned total of 25.000.

The Lovara who fled Hungary in 1956 have, as a rule, the Austrian nationality, but are re­ garded as allochthonous by those authorities which interpret the laws "rigorously". The same is true for the migrant workers of the Kalderaš, Gurbet and Arlije, as long as they have the Austrian nationality or a residence permit.

In practice, this differentiation is not carried out consistently. Because of cultural common ground and the same or similar Romani varieties, the status of the more recently immigrated Lovara and Vlax-Roma from the Balkans can be questioned. This is why these groups are tacitly treated as autochthonous Roma by more liberal members of the authorities, and can thus sometimes profit from the ethnic groups‘ rights. The grey area between autochthonous and allochthonous also includes the Muslim Roma.1 The migrants of the late 80s and 90s of the 20th century remain de facto excluded. As a rule, they have neither the Austrian nationality nor a valid residence permit. According to the authorities, they are staying in Austria illegally and thus have no rights arising from the status as ethnic group.

1.2 Emotional Parameters For the living together of the Austrian Roma the demographic parameters play a secondary role. Their living together, or rather their co-existence, results from the mutual attitude to­ wards the individual groups. These do depend to some part on demographic parameters, but

are generally determined by emotional parameters. Table 2 gives a survey of these:

–  –  –

1.2.1 Affiliation Concerning the Roma’s affiliation, the same division as with the other population can be seen: Austrians and Non-Austrians (= immigrants). This differentiation into native and foreign corresponds only partly to the socio-political differentiation into autochthonous and al­ lochthonous: the Lovara who came to Austria in 1956 are considered native, which is partial­ ly a result of the historical paring Austria – Hungary, and of the relatively long presence of Lovara in Austria. Immigrants from former Yugoslavia are, notwithstanding their formal inte­ gration, the Austrian nationality or permanent residence permits, considered as a foreign ele­ ment in the Austrian population; this judgement determines the picture they have of them­ selves: the Roma who came to Austria as immigrant workers in the 60s consider themselves – regardless of their formal integration – foreigners.

A separation into Austrians and Non-Austrians reflects a scale of values which dates back to the monarchy: the Germans, and to a lesser extent, the Hungarians as ruling peoples are contrasted by the Slavic peoples as peoples which were ruled over. Even though a big part of at least the Eastern Austrian population has Slavic roots, this scale of values determines the living together of groups of different origin and ethnic affiliation up to this day; not only for the majority population, but also for the Roma.

The most recently, in the late 80s, immigrated Roma are oftentimes considered foreign­ ers by those groups who came to Austria as immigrant workers. These native Roma, as they see themselves, consider the new ones mainly as economic refugees and spongers; an atti­ tude similar to that of the vast majority within the Austrian population.

To sum up, the emotionally marked parameter "affiliation" results from the origin of each group of Roma or, in other words, from the social status of the majority population of the country of origin as seen by the Austrian population. The criteria "affiliation" is not absolutely

congruent with the socio-political status of the individual Roma groups, but does correlate:

the differences in status of the individual groups as set down by the authorities correspond to the criteria of differentiation in the understanding of the majority population and to the inter­ nal criteria used by the Austrian Roma; this fact has negative influences on the effort of emancipation, as "autochthonous" Roma-representatives use this differentiation as an argu­ ment to keep their share of public funds as high as possible.

1.2.2 Romanipe A further emotional parameter which is, to a certain extent, marked by the folkloristic-roman­ tic picture the Gadže (Non-Roma) have of the Roma, concerns the criteria of "originality", "authenticity", of "being true Roma", the Romanipe. The most important characteristic of this parameter is the dichotomy between nomadic and settled. Those Roma who have been set­ tled for a long time are considered as "assimilated" and, as far as the traveling Roma are concerned, do not respect the traditional customs.

None of the groups that see themselves as representatives and guardians of the true Romanipe are truly nomadic. It is only the memory of partially nomadic professions, such as smiths, horse dealers, musicians etc., that is better preserved in these groups than in others.

Connected to this, however, is the claim for independence, which can mainly be seen by the

efforts of the Lovara, Kalderaš and also Sinti to be as independent of the Gadže as possible:

they prefer self-employment and consequently avoid – if possible – being on a pay-roll.

Within the Austrian Roma society, Arlije and Burgenland-Roma are considered "settled" and thus at least partially assimilated. The common term for the Burgenland-Roma, RomUngri, is pejorative and implies both a long period of being settled and the loss of their Ro­ manipe. Xoraxane, as the Arlije are called by Non-Muslim Roma from the Balkans, signifies "Muslims, Turks" or settled Roma living in the Western Rumelian Ottoman cultural tradition.

1.2.3 Self-Esteem Closely connected to the parameter of Romanipe is the self-esteem of the individual groups.

With the exception of the Burgenland-Roma, all groups of Roma living in Austria consider themselves superior to the others, also including the Gadže.

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