The Stigmatized Roma People of Greece

Roma people Greece
Roma children playing. Credit: AMNA

The issue of Roma people in Greece remains controversial to this day.

Roma — or Romani or Romany, the people formerly known as Gypsies — are stigmatized because their way of life is far from the social norms in Western countries.

The stigma comes mostly because it is so often that Roma commit serious crimes such as grand theft, robbery, drug trafficking, even murder in some cases.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

Also, panhandling has historically been very common among Roma people in Greece and the rest of the world, while petty theft is also a common activity among them.

At the same time, there is still a romantic view other people have of them, as they see them as people who live freely, outside of social constraints, and move wherever they please without compromise.

Most people refer to them as gypsies, while Greeks also call them tsigganos, probably from the Hungarian cigany, or gyftos, which is a pejorative word that derives from Egyptios (Egyptian) because of the tan color of their skin.

Roma people origins

Even though there is a general belief that the Roma origins are from central Europe, genetic findings suggest an origin in India for this particular people.

Since Roma groups do not keep written records of their history, most hypotheses about their migration and early history are based on linguistic theory. There is no record of a migration from India to Europe from medieval times that can be connected to the Roma people.

However, most Roma speak some form of Romany, a language which is closely related to the modern Indo-European languages of northern India, as well as the language of the country in which they live.

It is generally agreed among researchers that Roma started arriving in southeastern Europe by the beginning of the 14th, and in western Europe, by the 15th century.

By the second half of the 20th century they had spread to every inhabited continent. Roma people began to arrive in Greece in the 15th century.

Roma people in Greece

The name gypsy (gyftos) was first given to them by the Greeks, who supposed that these golden-skinned people were Egyptian in origin.

Due to their nomadic nature, they are not concentrated in a specific geographical area, but are dispersed all over the country. The majority of the Greek Roma have Hellenic nationality and follow the tenets of Greek Orthodoxy.

They do, however, speak the Romani language in addition to Greek. There are also Roma who live in Western Thrace and are Muslim. Most of them speak a dialect of the same language.

The Greek government is making attempts to assimilate the Roma and improve their living conditions; however, to this point, without much success.

A state-run program to improve their quality of life started in 2010 with the issuance of some bank capital that would help the Roma fight social alienation. However, the economic crisis put a stop to that effort.

Government and humanitarian group estimates say that 200,000 – 300,000 Roma people currently live in Greece, with half of them being active members of Greek society.

In fact, some of them successfully integrate into Greek society, holding permanent jobs; however, the majority of Roma do not even attend elementary school.

Roma settlements

The Roma people in Greece live all over the country in about 70 settlements, mainly in the poorer outskirts of big cities. In Athens they can be found in the Ano Liosia, Agia Varvara,

Zefeiri, and Kamatero neighborhoods.

A large population of Roma also live in Thessaly near the town of Farsala, outside Corinth, and other cities and towns of the Peloponnese.

Some of the most common problems the Roma communities face in Greece include high instances of child labor and abuse, low school attendance, police discrimination, drug use, and drug trafficking.

The majority of Greeks do not have a favorable opinion of the Roma, mostly because of their criminal activities. In a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, 72 percent of Greeks dislike the Roma way of living and distrust them because of the criminal activities some of them engage in.

Many Roma live in tents and makeshift houses, mostly squatting on properties that don’t belong to them. This makes it easier for them to move around as they see fit.

Famous Greek Roma artists and soccer players

While many Roma are routinely accused of illegal activities, such as gun smuggling and drug trafficking and many live in poverty, there are several examples of Romani individuals who have excelled in their professions in Greece.

Manolis Angelopoulos, who lived from 1939 to 1989, is a Greek singing legend who earned the love and respect of his colleagues. Born in Kavala to Roma parents, Aggelopoulos recorded his first song in 1957. Always proud of his origins, he gained popularity during the 1960s singing not only about love but also about Greek refugees.

Kostas Hatzis, who was born in 1936, is a famous guitar player and singer, who has been recognized as a major artist and innovative creator of songs with a social message. He launched the “troubadour with his guitar” musical genre in Greece.

Makis Christodoulopoulos, a famous singer of laika, is another Roma musical star. Born in 1948 in Amaliada to a poor Roma family, Christodoulopoulos worked his way up to become a successful singer and performer.

Vassilis Paiteris, a musician and singer from Drapetsona who was also elected to the Greek parliament is another Roma who has excelled in his field. Born in 1950, Paiteris began his professional singing career at the young age of 13.

Helen (Lavida) Vitali is considered one of the most important female voices of the past 20 years in Greece. She was born in Athens, to a musically inclined family, and grew up traveling around the country with her parents.

The mother of Irene Merkouri, a pop singer, is of Roma origin. Born in Athens in 1981, Merkouri has been pursuing a professional music career since 2002 with success.

Christos Patsatzoglou, who was born in 1979) a soccer player who played for Olympiacos and the national soccer team, is another Roma who has gained success in his chosen field.

Dimitris Limnios, another soccer player, who was born in 1998, started in PAOK Thessaloniki and now plays for Twende in the Netherlands. He has also played for the Greek national team.

Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, born in 1986, has played for all the Big Four teams of Greek soccer (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK, PAOK) and the national team.

Another soccer player, Giorgos Giakoumakis, who was born in 1994, now plays for Celtic in Scotland; the Greek striker also played for the national team and AEK.

Related posts

Three Greek Climbers Found Dead at Peloponnese Mountain


Greek War of Independence: The Unsung Heroes


Quince: Greece’s “Golden Apples” Have High Nutritional Value


The Ten Most Iconic Flowers of Greece


Greece-Italy Ferry on Fire: Hundreds Evacuated on Lifeboats


Indian PM Modi Moved by Greek Students Singing National Song of India