JOKES can serve not only as a source of entertainment, but can also provide an excellent look into the mentality, opinions, and attitudes of those who tell them - and of those who find them funny.
They resonate with audiences because they effectively address issues that interest them - ones they often find difficult to address seriously.
The case of Roma jokes is no exception. A careful look at the way Slovak jokes depict the Roma community and its life therefore reveals the beliefs many Slovaks have about the Roma. Due to their explicit nature, it is not too difficult to decipher the messages they bare.
It is especially important for foreigners to be aware of these stereotypes; otherwise, they just might not get the punchline.
The following are a set of stereotypes about the Roma, which keep repeating themselves in various forms in most Roma jokes:
Number one - the Roma are actually not the 'Roma'; they are Gypsies. In cases when the word 'Roma' is used, it is meant with a sarcastic undertone and what it really means is - Gypsy.
Number two - the Roma have little or no understanding of hygiene; they wash rarely and live in filth. This belief is often reinforced by the images of the worst Roma settlements on Slovak television. Interestingly, these are also the places where foreign representatives are taken when interested in the Roma issue.
Number three - the Roma never work, they were born to despise any form of labour, and their income is made up entirely of child support, goods taken from Slovaks, stolen potatoes, and unemployment benefits. In short - they are all criminals, or, at best , parasites.
Number four - incest is the rule among the Roma, who all start having sex, and usually children, before becoming teenagers.
Number five - Slovakia would be a better place with Roma out of the country, either sterilised or dead.
The way the "Roma problem" (to which the Roma community is often reduced) is depicted by Slovak media does little to help change these attitudes. If they continue to live in the minds of the people, the "Roma problem" may indeed be very difficult to solve.
The fact racist jokes still attract rather than deter the masses, clearly illustrated by the fact they continue to be presented by large companies and the media, who usually know very well what their customers want, shows how deeply rooted these beliefs are. And how hard it will be to do anything about them.
8. Sep 2003 at 0:00