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The Stigmatized Roma People of Greece

Roma people Greece
Roma children playing. Credit: AMNA

The issue of Roma people in Greece remains controversial to this day, as they prefer to live in the outskirts of society, refusing to integrate.

Roma — or Romani or Romany — are stigmatized because their way of life is far away from the social norms in most European countries.

The stigma comes mostly because it is often that Roma commit serious crimes such as grand theft, robbery, drug trafficking, even murder in some cases.

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Also, panhandling is very common among Roma people in Greece and the rest of the world, while petty theft is a common activity of Roma.

At the same time, there is a romantic view other people have of them, as they see them as people who live free and move wherever they please without compromise.

Most people refer to them as gypsies, while Greeks also call them tsigganos, probably from the Hungarian cigany, or gyftos (pejorative), a word that derives from Egyptios (Egyptian) because of the brown color of their skin.

Roma people origins

Even though there is a general belief that the Roma origins are from central Europe, genetic findings suggest an Indian origin for the particular people.

Since Roma groups do not keep chronicles of their history, most hypotheses about their migration early history are based on linguistic theory. There is no record of a migration from India to Europe from medieval times that can be connected to Roma people.

However, most Roma speak some form of Romany, a language closely related to the modern Indo-European languages of northern India, as well as the language of the country in which they live.

It is generally agreed among researchers that Roma started arriving in southeastern Europe by the beginning of the 14th, and in western Europe by the 15th century.

By the second half of the 20th century they had spread to every inhabited continent. Roma people started arriving in Greece in the 15th century.

Roma people in Greece

The name gypsy (gyftos) was first given to them by the Greeks, who supposed that these brown-skinned people were Egyptian in origin.

Due to their nomadic nature, they are not concentrated in a specific geographical area, but are dispersed all over the country. The majority of the Greek Roma have Hellenic nationality and follow the Christian Orthodox faith.

They do, however, speak the Romani language in addition to Greek. There are also Roma who live in Western Thrace and are Muslims. Most of them speak a dialect of the same language

The Greek government is making attempts to assimilate Roma and improve their living conditions, without much success, though.

A state-run program to improve their quality of life started in 2010 with the issuance of some bank capital that would help the Roma fight social alienation. However, the economic crisis put a stop to that.

Government and humanitarian group estimates say that 200,000 – 300,000 Roma people live currently in Greece, with half of them being active members of Greek society.

In fact, some of them try to integrate in Greek society holding permanent job positions, while the majority do not even attend elementary school.

Roma settlements

The Roma people in Greece live all over the country in about 70 settlements, mainly in the poorer outskirts of big cities. In Athens they can be found in the Ano Liosia, Agia Varvara,

Zefeiri, Kamatero neighborhoods.

A large population of Roma also live in Thessaly near the town of Farsala, outside Corinth and other cities and towns of the Peloponnese.

Some of the most common problems the Roma communities face in Greece include high instances of child labor and abuse, low school attendance, police discrimination, drug use, and drug trafficking.

The majority of Greeks do not have a favorable opinion of the Roma, mostly because of their criminal activities. In a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, 72 percent of Greeks seem to dislike the Roma way of living and distrust them because of occasional criminal activities.

Many Roma live in tents and makeshift houses, mostly on properties that don’t belong to them. This makes it easier for them to move around as they see fit.

Famous Greek Roma artists and soccer players

While many Roma are being accused of illegal activities, like gun smuggling and drug trafficking and many live in poverty, there are several examples of Romani individuals who are excelling in Greek stardom:

Manolis Angelopoulos – (1939-1989) a Greek singing legend who earned the love and respect of his colleagues. Born in Kavala to Roma parents, Aggelopoulos recorded his first song in 1957. Always proud of his origin, he gained popularity during the 1960s singing about love but also about Greek refugees.

Kostas Hatzis (1936) – a famous guitar player and singer, who has been recognized as a major artist and innovative creator of “social message” songs. He launched the “troubadour with his guitar” style in Greece.

Makis Christodoulopoulos, a famous singer of laika. Born in 1948 in Amaliada to a poor Roma family, Christodoulopoulos worked his way up to become a successful singer and performer.

Vassilis Paiteris, a musician and singer from Drapetsona who was also elected to the Greek parliament. Born in 1950, Paiteris began his professional singing career at the early age of 13.

Helen (Lavida) Vitali is considered one of the most important female voices of the past 20 years in Greece. She was born in Athens, to a musically inclined family, and grew up wandering around with her parents.

Irene Merkouri, a pop singer, whose mother is of Roma origin. Born in Athens in 1981, Merkouri has been pursuing a professional music career since 2002 with success.

Christos Patsatzoglou (1979), a soccer player who played for Olympiacos and the national soccer team.

Dimitris Limnios (1998), a soccer player who started in PAOK Thessaloniki and now plays for Twende in the Netherlands. He has also played for the Greek national team.

Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (1986), a record man who has played for all the Big Four of Greek soccer (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK, PAOK) and the national team.

Giorgos Giakoumakis (1994), now playing for Celtic in Scotland, the Greek striker also played for the national team and AEK.

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