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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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This feeling of superiority leads to social values which differ from group to group. The only invariable is the Burgenland-Roma’s position at the lowest end of the scale. This posi­ tion is caused – in the eyes of other Roma – by their being settled and the ensuing loss of Romanipe. This low regard from other groups of Roma has caused a feeling of inferiority of the Burgenland-Roma. They consider themselves "half-breeds", a feeling that was reinforced by their experiences during the Nazi regime: firstly, because the Nazis considered the Bur­ genland-Roma as half-breeds between Roma and the "scum of the majority population" and, as a consequence, as "particularly unworthy life"; secondly, because the Burgenland-Roma were strongly affected by the genocide which destroyed a social structure which could not be restored until now. The Burgenland-Roma are stigmatized twice: once, as "gypsies" by the majority population, and once as "assimilated" by Roma society.

The Sinti, who were also strongly affected by genocide, see themselves in a whole other light: as a rule, they feel superior to all other Roma and think a clear distinction important.

This feeling of superiority is most probably linked with the Sinti’s long presence in the Central European German-speaking area. Just like the Jews who had been living in Germany and Austria for a long time and wanted to clearly distinguish themselves from the more recently immigrated Eastern Jews between World War I and II, the Sinti want to distinguish and con­ sequently distance themselves from the new arrivals from the East. This led to problems in the late 80s, at the beginning of the emancipation movement and in the course of the quest for recognition as ethnic group. Roma organizations which used the term Sinti in their name were under threat of legal sanctions required to drop the term Sinti. Moreover, the Sinti were not willing to open up to the majority population, which became necessary in the course of the emancipation movement and the quest for recognition as ethnic group. This is the rea­ son why in Austria – from a purely legal point of view – the Sinti are subsumed under the term Roma. Additionally, the Sinti are not really interested and involved in the activities of the ethnic groups. There is no organization with a continuity similar to the Roma organizations.

The Vlax-groups – Lovara, Kalderaš, Gurbet, etc. – feel superior to the Sinti and Arlije, and the Burgenland-Roma. The highest position in their scale of values is naturally held by their own group, the second place by other Vlax-Roma, followed by Sinti and Xoraxane, and the Burgenland-Roma at the end. Even though other groups of Vlax-Roma are considered to be quite close and sometimes almost of equal value, there is no real living together among the Vlax-groups, only a co-existence. Not even the Viennese organization Romano Centro which represents – perhaps as only organization in Europe – several groups of Roma, among them several Vlax-groups, can achieve more than a cooperation of individual mem­ bers of different groups. Cooperation of different groups with equal values and equal rights, and plans and measures carried out by all groups together remained impossible to this day.

The self-esteem of the Arlije is quite high, but does not have a discriminatory effect. Be­ cause of their different socio-cultural character - Muslims versus Non-Muslims – the Arlije consider all other Roma and Sinti as Gadžikane Roma, by which they understand Christian Roma who do not belong to them and who have other customs and traditions. Because of their nomadic tradition the Vlax-Roma are also called Čergarja,"tent Roma", by the Arlije;

being settled, and to some extent, urban, and integrated into the majority population, the Ar­ lije distinguish themselves from the afore-mentioned Vlax-Roma.

1.2.4 Attitude towards Gadže Another difference is the individual Austrian Roma groups‘ attitude towards the majority pop­ ulation, the Gadže. Cautious or indifferent acceptance or rejection of the Gadže are closely connected to the amount of time the individual groups spent in the Central European – Ger­ man cultural area. Whereas the Roma who came from the Balkans in the second half of the 20th century are cautious, but indifferent or in some cases even open towards the majority population, the Burgenland-Roma, the Lovara and Sinti, who in some cases have been living in Central Europe for centuries, mistrust the Gadže, and sometimes the Sinti literally cut themselves off from the majority population. The Lovara who immigrated in 1956 stand inbetween cautious indifference and rejection.

The current attitude of the individual groups towards the Gadže depends primarily on their experiences with the majority population. While the immigrants from the Balkans – a stigmatized fringe group in their country of origin – also talk about their relatively good rela­ tionship with the majority population, the Roma who have been living in Central Europe for centuries continue to be outsiders who are discriminated against. Apart from folkloristic-ro­ mantic stereotypes, they are not accepted by the majority population. The negative peak of discrimination and persecution was the genocide during the Nazi time, which particularly af­ fected the Burgenland-Roma, the Sinti and Lovara. The Roma in Serbia were also particular­ ly affected by the holocaust, but contrary to the Austrians, the Serbian majority population participated very little or not at all. In Austria, however, the population did not only accept the internment and abduction of Roma, but sometimes even supported this actively. As a conse­ quence, of about 8.000 Roma who had been registered in Burgenland in the 1930s, only a few hundred survived. The social structure of all three groups - Sinti, Lovara and Burgen­ land-Roma – were destroyed almost completely by the holocaust. This caesura continues to have effects and determines the relationship with the majority population. Furthermore, stigmatization and discrimination did by no means stop after the Nazi regime.

The following fact should get the Austrian population thinking: the Roma’s negative atti­ tude and their mistrust towards Gadže rises in proportion to the length of their stay in the Central European – German cultural area.

The individual groups of Roma are subject to stigmatization and discrimination in varying degrees, but their history of exclusion and persecution is the most obvious common ground and the most important link between the various groups of not only the Austrian Roma but of the whole European Roma society.

Regardless of this common element – a history of exclusion and persecution – the living together of the Austrian groups of Roma is rather a co-existence than a cooperation. Even though marriages between members of different groups take place, there is no regular rela­ tionship between the individual groups. With the exception of sporadic meetings of a few ac­ tivists, there is little inter-group contact and, as a result, little solidarity. The reason for this is again the Roma’s existence as a fringe group for centuries: on the one hand, it is easier for a minority that is discriminated against to survive in smaller groups, but on the other hand marginalized population groups have no political or economic power, which in turn stops the development of bigger social structures.


In Austria there are no clear linguistic-political concepts concerning Romani; neither on a na­ tional nor on a regional or local level. The starting point of initiatives that try to establish Ro­ mani within the rights provided for in the ethnic group laws are exclusively organizations or private individuals, which are, however, supported by public institutions as a rule. The diffi­ culty in establishing Romani as an equal language of an ethnic group lies in the heteroge­ neous character of the "Austrian Romani", as well as in the little use of that language in the individual groups.

2.1 Linguistic Parameters With reference to Karl Kraus who once said that the only thing separating the Austrians and the Germans was their common language, it could be said that the most obvious socio-cul­ tural common ground of the Roma are their different linguistic varieties.

Romani is a heterogeneous bundle of varieties with a homogenous lexical and morpho­ logical core, but without a homogenizing standard. This lack of a standard is again a result of the Roma’s existence as fringe groups: only societies which can dispose of the necessary power to build political, economic or cultural centers develop a standard which is generally accepted in a particular area because of the existing power structure. The Roma were up to now denied every possibility to build such centers of power, and as a consequence, no gen­ erally accepted standard of Romani could develop.

Thus, the Austrian Roma population is also heterogeneous from a linguistic point of view.

Table 3 offers a survey of the linguistic heterogeneity and discusses both the structural pa­

rameters "classification" and "contact languages", and the emotional parameter "attitude":

–  –  –

2.1.1 Classification The classification of the Roma varieties is in accordance with the latest research. The Austri­

an Romani comprises varieties of four of the seven branches defined by Matras (2002):

Burgenland-Romani and the Southwestern Hungarian Vend variety and the Northwestern Slovakian Prekmurje variety form the Vend-group of the Southern Central Romani subbranch, which also includes the so-called "Rom-Ungro" variety, to be found in Hungary and Slovakia.

Rómanes or Sintitikes, as the Sinti call their variety of Romani, is part of the Sinti-Manuš subgroup of the Northwestern branch.

Contrary to the varieties of the Lovara and Kalderaš, which are part of the Northern Vlaxsub-branch, the varieties of the Gurbet are counted among Southern Vlax.

The Romani varieties of the Arlije form one of the largest dialectal continua on the Balka­ ns. The variety of the Bugurdži, also mentioned in this text, is part of an independent subbranch within the Balkan branch of Romani.

2.1.2 Contact Languages The vertical position of the contact languages in Table 3 reflects the sequence in time of the various contact situations. Apart from this chronological order of the more recent borrowing stratas this table also shows potential multilingualism of the individual groups of speakers.

Multilingualism is only potential, because no group has achieved the complete spectrum of competence.

All Austrian varieties of Romani have the German influence in common; this influence, however, has had different effects, because the length of stay within the German-speaking area varies. Sinti-Romani is marked strongest by German, followed by Burgenland-Romani

and Lovara-Romani; in the latter case, differences between the two subgroups can be seen:

the Romani of the 1956 immigrants is less influenced by German than that of the 1900 immi­ grants. Also, there is very little influence of German on the Romani varieties of the immi­ grants who started coming to Austria in the 1960s.

2.1.3 Attitude towards Romani For the Kalderaš and Gurbet, the two groups with a continuous linguistic tradition, Romani is a natural part of their identity. It does not, however, play a role as a conscious marker of identity. It is one factor among several equally important ones which together make up their ethnic self-confidence.

In the Lovara’s case, things are not so clear: on the one hand, the importance of ones own language for the way one sees oneself and for the group identity is emphasized – pri­ marily by members of the older generations –, but on the other hand these ideas oftentimes remain "lip-service". Romani is not passed on to the younger generations. Some of them are already assimilated as far as language is concerned and only have – if at all – a passive competence of Romani.

The situation of the Sinti is similar. Here, too, a part of the younger generation is de facto monolingual German-speaking. Contrary to the Lovara, however, Rómanes or Sintitikes is, as a rule, a factor of their identity – even if they are linguistically assimilated. This most prob­ ably reflects the attitude towards language that prevails in the Austrian Sinti: for them, Ró­ manes is a taboo in-group-marker which must under no circumstances be "revealed" to the Gadže. This attitude, resulting from the traumatic holocaust experience, can also be found, to some extent, with older Lovara or Burgenland-Roma, but not with the same consistency and consequences. The Sinti, Kalderaš, Gurbet and the linguistically still competent Arlije consider Romani only rarely as "protective language". They have no feeling of resentment against Gadže who show interest in their language and want to learn it.

For the Burgenland-Roma, their variety of Romani is the most important marker of identi­ ty; even for those members of the group who – according to their own assessment – have only little or passive linguistic competence. This attitude is the result of Roma self-organiza­ tion thanks to which representatives of the Burgenland-Roma came into contact with mem­ bers of other Roma groups. It was only the realization that these "other" Roma predominant­ ly use Romani for their group-internal communication, that made the Burgenland-Roma con­ sider the decline in their use of Romani a loss. Then, activities to preserve their language be­ came the main concern in their cultural work, making Romani a primary factor of identity.

It is interesting to see that the importance of Romani as factor of identity rises in correla­ tion to the declining use of it. The only exception to this tendency are groups in which a change of language has taken place; thus, Romani as marker of identity was replaced by the majority language of the individual country of origin, as was the case for the Arlije from Prilep/Macedonia, who will be discussed later on.

2.2 Multilingualism and Language Use Table 4 gives a survey over the linguistic repertoire of the individual Austrian Roma groups, showing multilingualism of the individual groups and the use of individual linguistic varieties

and thus of Romani:2

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