If This Is A Rom – Lorenzo Renzi
by Lorenzo Renzi, Professor of Romance Philology, University of Padua
English translation by ProvenWrite
Rom and Romanians await expulsion from Italy.
Are gypsies thieves? Are they dangerous? Sometimes, yes. But as Guido Ceronetti wrote regarding the gypsies in Sole 24Ore (May 11, 2008): the manner in which the law’s “iron fist” falls cannot be separated “from an understanding of the spiritual mystery that has always accompanied the races maudites of our strange planet.” Just to underscore the obvious, I would add that it cannot be separated from fundamental human rights either.
Though Ion Mailat, a Romanian gypsy, killed a woman on October 31, 2007 in Tor di Quinto, a neighborhood in the north of Rome, we cannot permit ourselves to say that all gypsies are murderers. We know that Mailat acted alone, without accomplices, and we know that his crime was reported to police by another gypsy from Mailat’s own encampment. But in the public imagination (a sensibility either feared or shared by many politicians), Mailat’s actions have become the crime, emblematic of the presence of the Rom and of Romanians in Italy. It is a sin that requires the punishment not of an individual, but of an entire nation.
In its report describing the status of the Romanian Rom in Italy, the Community of Sant’Egidio, the influential, Rome-based lay-Christian community, reminds us that, in the 1950s, juvenile court judges in Switzerland debated the elevated number of crimes committed by young Italians. “As a result,” reads one of the sources quoted in the report, “one may well ask whether there is not a cultural propensity toward thievery among the Italian people. Such an idea is corroborated in much European literature.”
The debate died out as soon as Italians began to open stores and restaurants and acquired improved social standing. Italian crime diminished, but the identical suspicions were quickly aimed at subsequent newcomers: the Portuguese, then Yugoslavians, and finally the Turkish.
We don’t know whether Romanians, both Rom and non-Rom, will ever improve their social standing (today often marginal) in Italy, or whether, as is being contemplated, they’ll be expelled first. If that should come to pass, the only thing left to wonder is who their successors will be.
We might also wonder, however, what action Italy took in the face of the arrival—well anticipated—of thousands of Romanian gypsies after January 1, 2007. As was revealed in discussions between Italy and Romania following the Mailat murder, Italy had never even applied for the European funding that is available to member nations to assist gypsies. Six months later, it appears, the City of Genoa is still considering ways to provide housing for the Romanian Rom in its area—using European funds assigned to … Romania. It fell to Dana Varga, the Romanian Undersecretary for the “Rom question” (who is herself Rom), to remind the authorities in Liguria that European funding exists and is available to Italy for just this purpose.
In the interest of fairness, we might also recall that, even before the arrival of the recent anti-Rom decrees, the basic rights of Romanian gypsies had been violated repeatedly in Italy. Between 2007 and 2008, in Rome, in Milan, and, I fear, in many other civilized Italian cities, bulldozers were deployed to eliminate Rom encampments. In Milan, after the Bovisasca encampment was destroyed, gypsies were pursued and scattered, just as has happened in other places. Were it not for the protests of the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Tettamanzi, the news would never have made it off the local pages of the newspapers.
So are we the first—we European Italians in the twenty-first century—to persecute a people that has lived among us for at least six centuries? The first in the new century, certainly, but not the first in absolute terms. In 1933, Nazi Germany deprived the gypsies of all rights and then consigned them to the crematory ovens where, it appears, some five hundred thousand perished.
“Rom,” in the Indoeuropean language of the gypsies, means “man.” Do you recall Primo Levi’s words? “If this is a man.…”
Posted on 27 May 2008, in Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order), Translation ... sometimes it is a beautiful thing..... Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.