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"Life is not a Movie"
In
Selides, December 11, 1998
by Tonia Stavrinou

(Translated from Greek by Dora Noussios)

 
"The Gypsies make good money, but you will see them going around dirty, with old shoes," says Nicos, the owner of a shop in Limassol [Cyprus]. He [Nicos] is a Gypsy with Greek citizenship. He supplies merchandise to all those of his race living in Limassol whose job it is to go around selling goods.

Every day Romides (as they call themselves) go around the cities in a mini-bus selling their products from door to door. They never "work" in the city in which they live. The market of Limassol is covered by Gypsies who live in other cities.
Cyprus is a "virgin" market for the Gypsies who came from Greece in recent years. They live in rented apartments. The appearance, the language and the natural cleverness of their race helps them to easily find the buyers of their products in the different houses to which they go. Lately there are not as many coming to Cyprus. The "open market" of Linopetra (in Limassol) and "Telemarketing" have hit them. They do not interact very much with the native people of Cyprus. They deal only with certain people such as the gas station attendant, the grocer, the electrician, etc. And, they do not allow anyone to take pictures of them.

Nicos finished only elementary school. Since his childhood he has seen the others earning their money from going around selling their merchandise. Why would he need the school? Today he owns a Mercedez!

The appearance, language and inborn slyness of the race helps them to find easily buyers at the different houses they visit, though lately there are fewer buyers. The open market of Linopetra and "Telemarketing" took many of their possible customers.


They come to Cyprus with their families. They stay for some months and then they leave again. Their Greek citizenship makes it easy for them to stay without any special permission. According to the chief police officer of Limassol, they are not illegal. They start having problems with the police only when the police have proof against them for fraudulent trading. Another unwritten law of the race is for them to solve their own differences without the intervention of the authorities. They never call the police because they consider that interference by outsiders with their way of life.
Nikkon Cameras

Every Gypsy's dream from childhood is to become a merchandise supplier. Every group has someone who manages to open a shop and import-usually from Korea-products, which he sells to the customers. The products are watches, tape recorders, household linen and clothes. The prices of these products can drop to a third of the original asking price or lower. A leather jacket is usually an imitation and a customer who suspects this will not give CYP 100 but about CYP 20 to have it. The cameras that they sell as Nikkon, after a closer inspection are "Nikkol" or "Ntikkon." As for the tape recorders, usually they put a sticker "Pioneer" on them. Often they tell of various sicknesses-usually of their children-in order to take money from their unsuspecting clients.
They Still Kidnap Their Brides

A tradition that is still kept is the kidnapping of the bride. Gypsies get married at a very young age (14 or 15). Even today the men kidnap the girl they want to marry. Sleeping with her is something that forces her family to accept him as their son-in-law. The Gypsy women take care of their homes and have all the control in it. The woman's position in Gypsy society is still obviously low, but most of them work-selling goods-and are equal with the men when it comes to amusement.

Romani, their language, is only verbal. All of them speak it as well as the language of the place they live. Romani has Sanskrit roots and includes words from Armenian, Persian and even Greek. Similar dialects can be found even today in some areas of India, from which it is believed they originally came.

Hierarchy is determined again by unwritten laws. The older in age is the most respected. If someone says, "I have grandchildren," the others will listen to his words. Every now and then the most successful and those who have money, or expensive cars become "leaders." The leaders are usually people who can be the connection between the Gypsies and the outsiders (balamos). In Greece, those of them who managed to attain some status and become famous-mostly in the area of music-became the pride of their race. Except for Paiteris, Christodoulopoulos, Chatzis and Angelopoulos, who were proud of their Gypsy origin, there are also many more "hidden Gypsy" artists. Nicos Papazoglou and Nicos Xiolakis, are not ashamed of their race, but not many people know that they are Gypsies.
"I have nice things, madam"

The Gypsies of Cyprus left their areas during the Turkish invasion in 1974. According to information that reached the free part of Cyprus, some years ago, the Gypsies of Cyprus now live in the city of Morphou in shacks. Cypriot Gypsies were always closer to Turks. The first official report regarding their existence comes from the British invaders in 1878. The fact that their names were Turkish reinforces the possibility that they came with the Turks in 1570 when they occupied the island.

According to another opinion, the Gypsies (Tsinganoi or Koulloufoi or Kkilintziroi) were nomads who came to Cyprus from the surrounding countries during the Turkish occupation. Older people remember their feasts and customs, as well as their "services" in telling the future, warding against evil, selling herbs and amulets. Every Sunday they organized rooster fights with Indian roosters in their camps-especially in the Turkish area of Limassol. This "sport" brought big profits to the Gypsies.

The women used to go around the houses selling homemade medicine, herbs, and household linen or telling the future. The bright colors of their clothes, the jewelry and the golden teeth were their main characteristics that showed their beauty and their wealth. For the Gypsy women the older Cypriot people used the word-wrongly-"fellacha" which is a word used for a nomadic race in Egypt.

The music of Bregovitz and the magic pictures of Coustourista are written in our hearts totally changing our ideas about the Roma. Years later television came along with "Whispers of the Heart" to play on our sentimentality. Of course the reality, as always, has very few similarities with the cinema, though sometimes it has proven more exciting and more interesting.


When Racism Becomes Jealousy

The "wall" that kept Gypsies separated from the "civilized world" was supported for centuries by the church, the government rulers and by superstition.

Gypsies can be considered "aliens" for one and only one reason: Because they never became one with the Europeans-not because they didn't allow them to, but because of their pride-they managed to survive through the centuries. Fortunately today they do not have fanatic persecutors, but neither do they have protectors. In most countries where they live they are merely tolerated.

What makes them special is what makes them different from other people. Their way of life is far away from Christian ethics, so they are immediately considered "blameworthy". But at the same time if we look at their freedom, their way of enjoying life, and their traveling nature, they are enviable. After we watch a movie or hear a song that exalts their unbridled life and their passion we think of them with a dose of jealousy and sympathy. When a film production company decides to make a movie about Gypsies the result is always a romantic story that makes us forget all those unpleasant things that separate them from "us". The rest of the time they just bother us, create disturbances, steal and are dirty deceivers with their imitation products, herbs and fortune telling. If we cry for the pain of the Gypsy character in a film it is nothing. It's just a film that will soon be over.
The Origin & the History of the Rom: Like a fairytale without an ending

Gypsies are the only descendants of Adam and of a woman who existed before Eve. This is what a Gypsy legend says according to which their race does not have the stigma of the sin of Adam and Eve. So, Gypsies are not obliged to work like all the other people - or to endure the punishment that God gave to the human race because of Eve's sin. . . The Romani or Romides never tried to find their "promised land" or to write down their history. They leave this job to the gkatze (people who do not belong to their race).

A Persian legend mentions Gypsies as traveling musicians that came from India after the Persian leader invited them to come and entertain his people. The generous master sent them in different areas of the country and gave them wheat, cows and a piece of land to work as farmers. But, as the original story says, Gypsies spent his gifts without much thought and in a year they had nothing. "The king then gave them an order: They should take their donkeys and travel every year throughout the country to entertain both the rich and poor by dancing and singing. The Luris (that is, the Gypsies in the Persian text) accepted gladly his command and since then they travel around the world. They seek work, they become friends with dogs and wolves, and they steal day and night." It is believed that Gypsies came from India to Persia around 430 A.D., but Arab invasion forced them to leave before the middle of the seventh century, primarily for Armenia.

Byzantium of Greece

The Turkish invasion of Armenia in the middle of the eleventh century led Gypsies to western Byzantium in Constantinople and Thrace from where, later on, they spread to the Balkan countries and Europe.

The Greek language had an influence on Romani long before they passed through Dardanelle. On the contrary, the Turkish language didn't have any influence at all on European Romani, with the exception of some words.

The first report about their existence in Constantinople comes from a Georgian writing about the life of St. George the Athenian, which was written in Agio Oros around 1068 A.D. According to this text, around the year 1050 A.D. the king asked the help of Samaritan people, descendants of Simon the magician under the name of "Atzingani" who were known for their magic and divination, to help with the wild animals that were killing the domestic animals and the animals they hunted.

The word "Atzingani" is the Georgian pronunciation of "Atsingani" or "Athingani," a term which had been often used by the Byzantines for the Gypsies. Later this name predominated over others in different languages. The Gypsies are referred to again in written texts around the twelfth century in Canons of the Synod of Troullos, according to which any member of the church who takes advantage of the public doing shows with bears or other animals for fun or tells the future would be excommunicated for six years. The Church also pointed out that people should not be associated with "soothsayers, bear trainers and snake trainers" and especially not let the Athingani come in their houses because they will teach them "satanic things."

By the fourteenth century Gypsies were found in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and later in Hungary, while by the Middle Ages they were all over Europe.

From Acceptance to Persecution

Gypsies were accepted with suspicion by all countries, but they quickly managed to earn people's trust by using a variety of techniques. They would present themselves as poor worshippers who needed to stay in an area to worship for seven years. Of course, their seven years never ended.

Germany was the first country which officially held a hard-line position against Gypsies who were living on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire referring to them as "thieves," "scum of the earth," "the bad element that had boiled to the top." Gypsies who refused to leave the country were arrested and put in prison or were put to death by hanging.

From the second half of the sixteenth century until the end of the eighteenth century countries in Europe put into practice a similar reaction against Gypsies. If their laws had been kept, the Gypsies would have disappeared from Christian Europe. The extreme measures that were taken against them brought huge changes in their lives. In order to survive they had to adjust. Some of them compromised with the customs and laws of the countries in which they had to live. Other Gypsies created groups that committed robbery and crime. They developed malicious ways of misleading. They took advantage of the problems between countries, or moved continuously in order to survive.

The Cinema that Loved Them

On the lonely road of the Gypsies with the hardships and sufferings the cinema comes to add a poetic dimension. In 1958 Melina Mercouri played the leading role in the film of Josef Loouzi, "The Gypsy Woman and the Gentleman". With her warm temperament the Gypsy woman lead the reputable "Balamos" (non-Gypsy) to a passionate love while the viewers put some "fairy dust" on the Gypsy life.
The movie "Magician Love" of Carlos Saoura (1988) presents an excellent and poetic Gypsy love story in Spain. The passion of the race was the beginning and the end of the film.


The Greek film director Menelaos Caramaggiotis made the documentary film "Rom" in 1988 about the Gypsies in Greece. The music of the film became very famous and it led to a "Gypsy- mania." In the same year the Englishman Bob Hoskins made the movie "Gypsy Witch."

In 1992 Emir Coustouritsa with his movie "The Time of the Gypsies" presents a realistic and poetic story about the life of the Gypsies in Yugoslavia. The movie became very famous internationally. The sound track in Goran Brekovitz music is in great demand, and in Greece Alkisti Protopsalti sings it. Gypsies are now in fashion! Dalaras, Arvanitaki, Tsaknis and many others sing about Balamos and Rom. The movie titled "There are Still Laughing Gypsies" with Tony Gatlif directing, was the last one that was made about the Gypsies (1997).


But a new push in the Gypsy fashion was given all over Greece by a TV movie "The Whispers of the Heart" by Manousos Manousakis - really a well made film - broke all the viewing records. It is about a touching fairy tale (unless we accept that a modern man in Greece like Antonis with the looks of Gletsos can loose his mind for a Gypsy woman, even if she is like Anna Maria Papacharalambous). But the movie has all the ingredients for success: beautiful actors, action and passion. Who cares if it is only a fairy tale.

Symbols of Non-conformity

The change comes at the end of the eighteenth century when a new wave of freedom swept across Europe. Famous writers wrote about the Gypsy life in contrast to the hypocritical life of others. Gypsies became symbols of those who deny the comforts of life and by the end of the nineteenth century the race which was considered outcast became identified with the supernatural and the mystical.

People began to write about their origin and their way of life. Their music effected the folklore music of the Europeans and earned the respect of the most famous composers.
By 1933 when the Nazis came to power in Germany things changed again. Gypsies suffered the cruelest persecution of their history. Jews and Gypsies were actually the only national groups that Nazi ideology sought to exterminate completely. The Nazi persecution of the Gypsies took the form of genocide. More than five hundred thousand Gypsies were killed during that period. At the end of World War II the survivors of the Gypsy population of Europe were divided up into groups. They preferred to live at the fringes of different countries. Many groups were found in communist countries. In some cases this helped improve their lives as the goal of the new governments was to help the undeveloped groups of people. For the sake of this "improvement" they found themselves sometimes in very bad situations obliged to work in the workers unions of the country. Though they managed to survive all these years through persecution and holocaust, today they are "in danger" from the system of universal conformity. Their refusal to conform to laws and orders brings them face-to-face with the European movement towards common money, common borders, electronic identification cards and the registration of all citizens.

Gypsies are the only descendants of Adam and a woman who existed before Eve. This is what a Gypsy story says which also explains that the race does not carry the stigma of the original sin of Adam.


Bibliography for more information: "Gypsies," Konstantinos Komis; "Balami and Roma - the Gypsies of Ano Liosia," Anna Lydaki; "The Gypsies of Greece," Miranta Terezopoulou; "These are the Gypsies," Giorgos Exarchos; "The Gypsies," Angus Fraizer; "Gypsies," Alexandros Pouskin.
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  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of each individual author. The views and opinions do not represent those held by the Dom Research Center.

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