During January 2016, worrying reports began to seep through the veins of the UK’s Gypsy and Traveller communities. The news was concerning local Government officials who were beginning to collect personal data from Travellers with regards to how and where they conducted their personal and professional lives; in a nut-shell, the Councils wanted to know if, when and where, Gypsies and Travellers were travelling. But why the worry and concern?
The answer is two-fold. The first, and immediate answer can be found in the Conservatives’ drive to illegalise and eradicate Traveller and Gypsy culture from the face of British society. The previous coalition Government initiated a drive to change the ‘status’ or definition of what it meant to be a Traveller or Gypsy. Numerous one-sided debates and investigations took place, devoid of a Traveller voice, which resulted in a decision during 2015 that essentially said, ‘if you’re not travelling – you’re not a Traveller or Gypsy’. Bereft of funding under an austerity-obsessed Government, local Councils soon realised they could kill two birds with one (racist) stone; implement the new definition and less money will have to be spent on Traveller pitches and housing…meaning more money in the pot, and less Gypsies in the area. And so, as the opening paragraph reveals – this renewed attack on Traveller culture has begun to be implemented.
The second answer of why there should be worry and concern over these ‘investigations’, is arguably even more disturbing – sinister even, and requires one to look a little further back than the back-door decisions of 2015…
It is no secret that Europe’s many nations are beginning to build voices that shout of national pride; partly in response to waves of immigrants and refugees entering Europe’s borders, and partly because of a rejection of the failing EU system and the currency of the Euro. Nationalism is back. History, and perhaps more-so, European history, has an incredible habit of repeating itself. We have to cast our attention back to early 20th century Europe, to witness what this looks like in a modern context. Germany, as we know, was leading the way.
Make no mistake – national pride is one thing – but nationalism? Nationalism is something more concerning, and it often goes hand-in-hand with racism. German nationalism however, was not as one would expect; it did not come out of the mouths of football hooligans or angry racist pensioners. No. It came from scientists, sociologists, the Press, and of course – politicians. Respected individuals such as Arthur De Gobineau, Hans F. K. Günther, Ernst Rüdin, and of course Heinrich Himmler, led the way.
By the mid 1930’s, as a direct result of these ‘scientific’ and Government-led directives, the German authorities (local Councils, the Police etc.) had built up an extensive information database on the nations’ Gypsies (known as Porajmos). Anything from family makeup and travelling habits, to facial measurements and collection of medical records were taken. By1936, Gypsies were forced to stay at the edge of towns and cities (where they were still monitored), facing ‘legal’ exclusions because of who they were. By1938, they were beginning to enter the concentration camps…
If todays’ Travellers and Gypsies ignore these current changes and fail to acknowledge the past, then they do so at their own peril. This isn’t scare-mongering or worry-porn – this is reality. As humans, we often find ourselves detached from the suffering of others or the sins of days gone by. A quick donation to the earthquake fund helps us get over the suffering we see on the news reports, and a memorial day here or there, does wonders to make us feel better about sacrifices and tragedies. Often we are too late to deal with national problems when they happen – not because we don’t care, but because we didn’t think they would ever happen to us. Well, this is happening; monitoring and tracking of Gypsy activities and lives is being documented right now – all under the (legal and Government-approved) banner of a denial that the Gypsy and Traveller race even exists.
Now is not the time to retreat and to seek solace in the company of the ones we know – now is the time to make the Traveller and Gypsy cause known! There is a small window of opportunity where there is still hope, still time, still an opportunity for change. But it will not seize itself. It must be grasped by the hands of protest, by the grip of Traveller-led articles and reports, by the voices of Gypsy men and women, and by a renewed drive to tell the children who they are, where they came from, their heritage, their ancestry, their roots, their racial foundations.
For over 600 years, Gypsies have called this land their own. Their heritage runs deeper than most who would claim this nation for themselves. To lose the UK’s Traveller populous to Governmental policy would be a travesty and a betrayal of Gypsy and British heritage. But it will take more than words or directives to end our chapter in the history books…Mr Cameron, you have no idea what you have initiated. For our history shows, that in times of trouble – we thrive, in moments of hopelessness – we hold on, and in times of hostility – we come back stronger than ever. We know our history, we know our heritage, and we know our identity. Mr Cameron, we are the Gypsies.