Life As a Gypsy's No Walk in the Park
On Easter Sunday, while you were busy celebrating Jesus's annual rise from the grave by feeding lizards' eggs to infants, I went for a walk through Hyde Park in London with a band of angry Gypsies.
They were there to mark Roma Nation Day, when the Gypsy community celebrates its heritage and culture. But with Europe's fascists banging their drums again and traveler camps like Dale Farm getting evicted by NIMBY councils in the UK, Gypsies and travelers don’t have much to party about at the moment.
Sitting on the train on the way to the protest, I wondered what I would find. Would I be greeted by a bunch of gaudily dressed tweenagers showing way too much skin? Ex-Big Brother winners holding up traffic with their ears hanging off? Or are our pop-cultural references to Gypsies just a toxic mix of sensationalist stereotyping and casual racism?
While the answer to that last question is a big, capital-letter YES (did you see those fucking subway ads?), unfortunately what I didn’t find was anybody from Dale Farm. In an irritating diary clash, the Irish Travellers—who are pretty solid with the Roma, but not ethnically the same—had decided that they couldn’t let Jesus down, so they were all in church. But there were some Bulgarian Roma accompanied by a lot of activists, many of whom had been there at the Dale Farm eviction.
Most of the Bulgarians didn’t speak much English, but I managed to corner a student named Peter who did. He told me that the reason the Roma are discriminated against is because they don't have their own country. So did that mean they wanted one?
"No, Roma are citizens of the world," he said. "We don’t understand the connection between territory and ethnicity. Others are coming around to this. But we need more help from the EU."
Before long, the march set off. This guy led the charge, flanked by the Bulgarian Roma, some out of work Hollyoaks extras, and a crusty playing panpipe music on a truck he was pulling from his bike.
After some confusion about how to get there, including a few minutes spent in the middle of the road getting called wankers by white van men, we finally arrived at the first stop on the tour: the Holocaust memorial.
People laid flowers and pictures of Gypsies who were murdered by the Nazis. Estimates about the numbers of Roma murdered in the Holocaust vary wildly. The man in the hat—Grattan from the International Romani Union—put it at half a million in his speech.
Memorials are never much fun, but this one was particularly poignant as it wasn’t merely an exercise in historical reverence. In broken English, a Bulgarian compared the situation faced by the Roma in Europe to the experience of black South Africans under apartheid.
That might seem a bit extreme to you, but on the mainland Gypsies aren't being sweet-talked into starring in TV documentary series, they're being murdered by Nazi fuckheads—that's a list of 21 Bulgarians who've been killed in racially motivated attacks recently.
Luckily, for those of us who aren't fans of being thoroughly bummed out, we didn’t dwell on genocide for long. It was soon time to go and protest outside the embassies and consulates of countries in which the Roma have been having an especially bad time as of late.
First in the firing line were the French, who have been deporting Roma people since 2010. The embassy was subjected to a whooping and hollering that its staff would never have forgotten, had they not been at home surrounded by empty bottles of Blood of Christ 2006 on Sunday afternoon.
Next up for a jeering was the embassy of Bulgaria, where last year thousands took to the streets to shout things like “Gypsies into soap, Turks under the knife!” A speech was made in Romani, from which I could only decipher the words “Hitler” and “propaganda.”
The Gypsies looked incongruous walking through the gentrified streets of Belgravia. Old men in tweed and people driving Minis with personalized license plates stopped to stare as my new friends and I bowled up to the Italian Consulate.
We were here because, according to the protesters, a Gypsy camp in Milan was burned down on Wednesday night. They also still haven't forgiven Italy for being led by Silvio Berlusconi, who loved nothing more than to slag off Gypsies in between thrusts. And there was more scorn for Hungary, where a particularly gnarly mix of the far-right Jobbik Party and paramilitary vigilante groups have been making life hell for the large Roma population.
With our condensed tour of Europe complete, it was finally time for our abuse to get domestic.
After a long walk, eventually we ended up staring at this guy outside the Department for Communities and Local Government, the ministry most closely involved in the eviction of Dale Farm.
After a few more speeches that ran along similar lines to the day's other speeches (I guess variety's not your friend when you're trying to get a coherent message across), it was time to go back to my home which nobody is spending millions of pounds trying to drive me out of.
Follow Simon on Twitter: @simonchilds13