The streets of Oslo (and other European cities) are filled with beggars. Only a decade or two ago they consisted of ninety nine percent drug addicts, because I am lucky enough to live in a country where it is almost an impossible task to die from starvation or other consequences of extreme poverty. The system catches you long before it comes to that.
Now though, a great portion of these beggars are Eastern European immigrants, also known as Gypsies, Romani people or Roma, all depending on how politically correct one wishes to be; the term Gypsy is by many Romas considered discriminating (like the n-word), as it often contains negative connotations connected to thievery and crime.
First, a little history. Most countries have their own branches of Romas, as does Norway. Those however are few and even fewer still practice their traditional traveling lifestyle. In Britain a big part of the nomadic people call themselves Irish Travellers, and are of Irish origin, unlike the Eastern European, who descend from India.
As you may or may not know, along with the Jews, (all branches of) the Roma people were also victims of ethnic cleansing throughout WWII. During these years between 220 000 and 1, 500 000 Romas were executed by the nazis, – quite an unclear number, which again, in my opinion, demonstrates the general lack of knowledge on the Roma genocide.
However, the seemingly endless mistreatment of the Romas did not stop in 1945. Governments in Czechoslovakia, along with those of several Scandinavian countries (Norway amongst them) initiated a systematic (and obviously forced) sterilization of Roma women in order to reduce their population. In Norway specifically, people of Roma ethnicity were denied entry by law until 1956. Since then the Norwegian government also systematically removed Roma children from their families (estimated to between two and three thousand children) and placed them in orphanages and foster care, up until the late seventies. The practice was not officially abolished until 1986.
In 1951 a law was passed that forbid any branch of the Romas to own horses, effectively robbing the travelers of their traditional way of living. According to the Norwegian Holocaust center, there are well documented cases from Norway’s most famous psychiatric hospital, that prove the sterilization, castration and lobotomization(!) of people of Roma descent.
Still, it continues. In a society that no longer puts up with racism and discrimination, the hatred towards the Romas never ceases to exist. Unfortunately we no longer see them as musicians and craftsmen, like they once were (and often still are), but as an annoying burden, giving our perfect welfare state a filthy stain. You don’t have to look far. Read the comments in social media. Raise your eyes to see how people talk about (and to!) the beggars that are not Norwegian drug addicts. Why are the Romas the last minority it is socially acceptable to discriminate solely based on their ethnicity? (Enhancing the last sentence, as it is the most important message in this article.)
In early 2017 the Norwegian state broadcasting channel, NRK, launched a documentary claiming to prove that the Roma beggars on our street corners are massively involved in drug and prostitution crimes. The documentary was later proven to have used several photographs from unrelated sources, showing these off as “evidence”, until the public learnt the truth.
Yet, the documentary once again kindled the debate on whether or not Norway should make begging a crime. Or, as I like to put it, if we should make it illegal for the poorest to burst our perfect bubbles of wealthiness with the presence of their misery. If we should force them to take their misfortune elsewhere.
It is an utter mystery to me that Norway, with its exceptionally ugly history regarding this minority, still lacks the decency to treat them, as anyone else, like human beings. This does not only apply to the government (actually, the current prime minister officially apologized to the Romas in 2015, praise her for that), but to the general public.
A common argument is that the beggars don’t get to keep the money they earn, that they are part of organized begging circles where the bosses control them and end up with the profit. I have no evidence to show whether this is true or false, but I do know the following;
– No matter who gets the money you earn, you have to be beyond desperate to endure Norwegian winters, sitting on one spot in temperatures way below zero, day after day for hours at the time. Apply the fact that most people who pass by despise you. Does it still sound attractive?
– It makes no sense what so ever to glance upon the most vulnerable minority in our society and think that the solution is to push them down even further. I cannot think of any other group where this is being done, or even suggested.
– Nobody is asking you to contribute. If you don’t believe in it, let it be, but be civilized about it. Take another look at history, and ask yourself if you really want to continue that history in the same manner.
– However, sharing a little of what we have might contribute to less crime. Desperate people will act accordingly, and I think we can all agree that begging is better than theft. (This is just one of my own reflections, but it can be applied to everything from the need of drugs to the wish to feed your child, regardless of ethnicity.)
For some reason the Romas fall outside of the common moral rules on how to treat one another. It is not a matter of giving them money or not, but a question of what level of integrity we want to have as a country and as individuals. Still there are Romas that keep their origin secret in fear of the consequences, and we are living in 2018.
It also saddens me deeply that the Roma culture and talent always have been overshadowed by the prejudice and fear of people living life in a different manner. There are countless Roma musicians out there with skills that match any so called professional, that never receive the recognition they deserve as a part of Roma culture in the eyes of the general population. The loss is ours, and it is a perfect example of how we blindfold ourselves and hence rob ourselves of what could also be enjoyed by “us”.
I would like to finish with this beautiful Roma saying that has stuck with me for one and a half decade; Bury me standing, I’ve been on my knees all my life.
(Below you can find links to a few of the most amazing music pieces by Roma musicians)
Sources: Wikipedia.org, Aftenposten.no, Spotify