UNTIL the end of the 18th century, the origin of Roma people was a mystery to Europeans. Theories about their past were quite different. Some of them tried hard to track down where these nomads came from, others preferred speculation to serious analysis.
At the end of the 18th century priest Štefan Vály from Almáš, near the southern Slovak town of Komárno, resolved the mystery of where Roma hailed from after leaving to study in the Dutch town of Leiden. There he made friends with people from the Malabar Coast in India and was surprised to find that their language resembled the language of Roma from his homeland. In this way, the origins of Roma were revealed. Of course, this discovery made the life of Roma no easier. In western Europe, Roma were ruthlessly persecuted, sometimes even killed, from the 15th century on. Partly because of this many of them settled in what was then the Great Hungarian Empire. Here, they found much more acceptable life conditions, thanks also to Empress Maria Theresa, who tried to assimilate them into society with her decrees. Gypsies were not to be called by this name in Great Hungary anymore, but rather New Settlers, New Farmers, or New Hungarians, as this postcard dating to before World War I states. It depicts a Roma settlement that used to stand in a village that now forms a suburb of Bratislava.
Although Maria Theresa failed in her attempt to assimilate Roma communities, she was the only European ruler of the time who made an effort to integrate Roma into society instead of eliminating them.
26. Jul 2010 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff , By Branislav Chovan