Living on the Edge
The East European Roma in
Postcommunist Politics and Societies
"You watch your pocket. Gypsies. They don't work, only steal, and make children so the government will give them money every time."
"I am no racist," he said. "But some Gypsies you would have to shoot."
—Jozef Pacai, mayor of the Slovak village of Medzev
The East European communist regimes, in contradiction to their frequently repeated claims, not only did not weed out nationalism in their domains but sometimes attempted to manipulate and exploit it for their own purposes. Nonetheless, since the collapse of communism, the region has experienced a robust resurgence of at times violent ethnic conflicts and racism explained by the simultaneous occurrence of several factors accompanying the postcommunist transition process. These include enduring and profound economic problems resulting in intensifying competition for scarce economic goods; the ideological vacuum left by the decline of Marxism-Leninism; the rescinding of restrictions on free speech and association; the end of Soviet political and military domination; and the tendency to scapegoat. 1
These and a host of related phenomena have resulted in particularly trying times for the region's largest ethnic minority, the Roma (Gypsies). 2 Historically, the Roma have not formed an integral part of the societies in which they have lived and have suffered from particular and systematic disqualifications from representation and participation in state affairs; their ethnic identity has been either unrecognized or threatened; and the state has been markedly less responsive to their needs and desires than to those of other groups. Furthermore, the Roma's history, traditions, culture, language, and appearance are sufficiently distinctive that their integration and assimilation have posed seemingly insurmountable difficulties to them as well as to their fellow citizens.
The underlying argument of this chapter is that the problem of marginality in