The Finnish Romani: History, Culture and Dilemmas
Ilona Rytilahti, Spring 2012 (GB)
A FAST-FIN-1 (TRENAK1) Finnish Institutions Research Paper
FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
The Romani1 are one of the oldest ethnic and cultural minorities2 in Finland. They are also one of the most controversial minorities: over the centuries, they have been among the most despised and discriminated people all over Europe. Finnish Romani are often viewed as uneducated petty criminals who cause trouble to the rest of the society. Most people in Finland have been influenced by such common misconceptions about the Romani, but there usually seems to be very little actual knowledge of their culture or what it is like to be part of this minority in present-day Finland. Indeed, the lack of factual information has created many misunderstandings of Romani society throughout history.
A travelling Romani family in Punkaharju, Southestern Finland in 1896.
Image source: Harry Hintze, National Board of Antiquities and Historical Monuments
Finland's newly gained autonomy brought other positive aspects as well. In the Swedish Kingdom, there were laws aiming at expulsion, control and assimilation of the Romani. The Russian Empire did not banish the Romani, but they, too, had laws to assimilate and control them; the main goal for Russia was to have the Romani abandon their nomadic lifestyle and settle down permanently. In the Russian Empire the Romani had a better chance to start settling down, due to the fact that Russia had less legislative power over them. The vagrant lifestyle gradually decreased during the 19th century (Pulma 18).
The Romani and Independent Finland
Finland's newly gained independence in 1917 meant harder times for the people living in Karelia, especially for the Romani. Previously, they had been able to spread their travels to Russia, but now making a living was restricted to the borders of Finland. Therefore, competition for food and money was tougher than ever (Pulma 22). However, in the 1920s and 1930s Finland's agriculture began to develop rapidly. Horses had always been important to the travelling Romani people, and horse management was indeed their strong suit. The animal was also widely used in the field of agriculture. This offered new job opportunities for the Romani: many of them were hired by farmers to care for horses and help with harvests and other seasonal work (Pulma 22-23). In fact, the 1920s and 1930s were considered to be a 'golden age' for them because of the many job opportunities and a good social situation (Pulma 25).
The Winter and Continuation Wars against the Soviet Union from 1939 till 1945 took a toll on the Finns. Nearly a thousand Romani men took part in the wars (Markkanen 45) and at least 50 of them died (Muistohetki; Korpela). Finland in general lost 90,000 men in the wars (Talvisota; Jatkosota), making the percentage of fallen Romani men seem very small. However, considering that even today there are only 10,000 Romani in Finland (Markkanen 43), this percentage is bigger than it appears to be.
Although participation of the Romani in the wars made them 'more Finnish' in the eyes of the rest of the society, the wars still had a devastating impact on the Romani. Finland lost many eastern areas to the Soviet Union. Among them was Karelia, an area which was then populated by many Romani. The Karelians were forced to move out of their lands that now belonged to the Soviet Union and settle in new towns and villages in Finland. Nearly half of the Karelian Romani were evacuated. The resettlement failed miserably: they were not wanted in their new residences, they were abandoned and forgotten by the state and their social status deteriorated (Pulma 25-26). In effect, the situation of the whole Romani community in Finland worsened drastically after the resettlement of the Karelian Romani; it remained like that for a long time (Markkanen 87).
In the 1950s, Finland's social structure and agricultural life went through rapid and drastic changes. Part of the population in Finland, including the Romani, began to migrate from rural areas into towns in southern Finland and Sweden. Farmers began to rely on machinery rather than people and horses. Urbanisation and industrialisation had begun. It was difficult for the Romani to adjust to the demands of the new society. Their previous means of subsistence were no longer profitable, and their lack of education forced many of them to live on social security. Finnish society now considered the Romani to be a sociopolitical problem whose difficulties were caused by their nomadic lifestyle and culture, even if their lifestyle was more of a reflection of the serious housing shortage at the time (Pulma 26, 28).
Assimilation of the Romani was still the main goal of the state of Finland. A change in the social status of the Romani began in the 1960s. There had already previously been interest by other Finns in improving the societal position of the Romani. For instance, special state committees on Romani affairs published reports first in 1900 and then in 1955 favouring assimilation. However, the guidelines and recommendations of these committees made very little or no difference at all (Grönfors, Finnish 148).
In the 1960s, the concept of racial discrimination was acknowledged both internationally and in Finland, and for the first time, the Romani began taking an interest in their own affairs and improving their status and living conditions (Pulma 28). They were now defined by the society and themselves as victims of racial discrimination as well as being an ethnic minority, which gave them for instance the right to develop their culture and protect it with the help of the state. Eventually they also received official recognition of being a cultural and linguistic minority by the legislations of both the European Union and the State of Finland (Pulma 31), but not until in the 1990s (Markkanen 43). Assimilation politics was history.
Cultural Features of the Romani in Finland
Relationships and Family
The Romani have always been outcast to some extent; all host populations have at best only tolerated them. Discrimination has caused the Romani to withdraw from other people and seek security within their own group. This is one of the main features of Romani societies all over the world, including Finland: they value kinship, family and absolute loyalty to the group far more than many of their host populations. The emphasis is on collectivity, not individuality (Grönfors, Finnish 150, 153).
The Romani idea of family is not necessarily the same as that of the majority of Finns. A Romani family can include immediate family members, such as siblings and parents, but also more distant relatives. The Romani typically have more than one home. If conditions in their own family are not good, they can look for a group of relatives and be accepted in the relatives' family, too. A Romani family becomes weaker if it loses one of its members. That is why Romani families are often keen to, for example, delay the day when a daughter will start her own family (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 48-49, 53).
Marriage is not highly respected within Romani society. However, many Romani are officially married, that is in a church or registry office, in order to receive certain legal and social benefits and rights. Some Romani also marry because of their religion, but the importance of marriage in general is low and it is even sometimes considered 'shameful' (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 54). A Romani marriage is exogamical, meaning that the spouse should be chosen from another Romani family. The Romani are always expected to be loyal to their own kin, but in a marriage, respect and loyalty are supposed to be shown towards the spouse's family, too: this may create contradiction and collision between the two Romani families, and is therefore shameful (Grönfors, Suomen romaniväestö 159).
The idea of collectivity creates a clear structure of relationships within the community. Shame and respect are concepts that have a great impact on these relationships. Being 'shameful' often means showing respect; these concepts are in fact synonyms rather than opposites. Therefore, being 'ashamed' includes the idea of dressing up decently, behaving modestly and moderately, cherishing cleanliness and avoiding pollution, as well as avoiding inappropriate topics, such as sexuality or bodily functions (Kulttuurit).
Although Finnish Romani communities do not have a clear hierarchy, men usually have more power than women and they are often the highest authority (Grönfors, Finnish 156). Older women have power and authority over younger men, but never to the same extent as an older man would (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 69-70), but young Romani people in general are expected to show respect for their elders. The two most important characteristics defining one's position within the group are therefore age and gender. Other attributes, such as wealth or mental capacity, are not as appreciated (Grönfors, Finnish 153-154).
There are many strict moral codes concerning Romani women; most Romani behavioural rules apply only to women. A woman's sexuality, menstruation, childbirth and relationships with men are taboos that are surrounded by the most complex system of rules (Markkanen 23). Men do not have to obey the same rules as women; they may even have quite opposite codes. For instance, a single man is seen more masculine if he has relationships with many women outside the Romani community. Men are not controlled to the same extent as women, but they are expected to provide for their families, behave well and be economically successful (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 62, 67).
Despite these rigorous rules, women still have some important responsibilities, such as driving the family car, although Romani men sometimes drive it too. In general, the literacy rate is often higher among Romani women than men; this entails that it is easier for women to obtain a driving license. Also, in the past women were not allowed to be involved with horse management, but these rules do not concern cars. Driving a car has indeed turned the tables: men are now more reliant on women than before, which has meant more economic freedom, independence and responsibility for women (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 71).
Work and Education
There are two main principles regarding work, both of which reflect the philosophy of the Romani. A Romani should never be dependent on nor subordinate to another Romani. In practice this means that a Romani should not be employed by another Romani and should not trade goods with other Romani, that is make a profit off them. Obligations of work should never be of more importance than obligations towards family. These two principles have always defined the working life of the Romani. Historically, women have been fortune-tellers and men horse-traders. Their vagrant lifestyle made it profitable to sell and trade other articles, too.
Nowadays, these occupations have been superseded by the buying and selling of racehorses, selling second-hand furniture, antiques and used cars as well as trading goods (Grönfors, Finnish 154). Stealing and other illegal activities have been considered a universal 'occupation' of the Romani, although not much empirical evidence of this has been found in Finland. Yet, when talking about the Romani, the general opinion of the people and authorities usually includes the idea of petty criminality (Grönfors, Finnish 153).
The Romani have always hoped that their principles regarding work, family and clothing would be respected and taken into consideration at their work places (Grönfors, Finnish 153). They are often discriminated against when applying for a job or practical training place because they look and dress different and have different attitudes towards work. Finnish people often mistake their work principles as negativity towards the society (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 13). Mertsi Lindgren, a young working Romani man interviewed for the book Varokaa mustalaisia! Väärinymmärryksen historiaa. Suomen romanien vaiheita ja kulttuuria [Beware, Gypsies! History of Misunderstanding. Phases and Cultural Features of the Finnish Romani] articulates his thoughts as follows: 'I hope that in the future the Romani will be able to integrate into the society even better and on every level. There could be more sensitivity municipally and nationally when it comes to our cultural features' (109).
Education is one the most crucial tools to prevent social exclusion. Ironically, according to the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (3), it has traditionally been seen as a threat to the Romani culture and as yet another attempt to assimilate them. Many children leave school at an early stage, even before upper secondary education6 , and have therefore insufficient knowledge and skill levels, which hinders entering the working world and starting a career.
The Finnish National Board of Education conducted a survey in 2010-2011 about the Romani in Finland's educational system. They interviewed principals of primary and secondary schools and Romani parents and pupils. The results show that an increasing number of Romani children are taking part in preschool education, and the children's parents have understood its importance. Also more Romani pupils are finishing secondary school than before. The number of Romani pupils continuing to vocational schools has doubled over the past decade. The biggest problem has remained the same: some Romani pupils have a high number of absences from school; more worryingly, their parents are still not taking this problem seriously enough. The most positive aspect of the survey is that more and more parents are willing to cooperate with the schools (Yhä). The significance of proper education and work has grown, and it has been highlighted ever more within the Romani communities (Markkanen 13-14).
Hygiene and Pollution
The Romani have a complex system of cleanliness rituals and pollution taboos. Decent and indecent, clean and dirty, appropriate and inappropriate, moral and immoral are never to be mixed. There is not an absolute line between physical and ritual cleanliness; rather, they go hand in hand. If something is considered ritually dirty, it also becomes physically dirty (in Grönfors, Finnish 155). Also, if a clean object or surface is polluted, it can usually not be cleaned again and is thus regarded as dirty (Kulttuurit).
For example, the upper body and everything related to it, such as hats, pillows, hands and mouths, is considered clean. On the contrary, the lower body, genitals, underwear, shoes, trousers, and so on, is dirty. Also, upstair rooms and saunas are always clean; restrooms, downstairs and basements are polluted (Kulttuurit).
Everything related to food or drink, no matter how directly or indirectly, is clean and should be kept unpolluted. For example, tables are clean because pots, plates, cutlery and the food itself are placed on them (Grönfors, Finnish 155). Young people and non-Romani are dirty, whereas children and elderly are clean. As a means to avoid pollution, the Romani wash their hands after having touched something dirty, and keep clean and dirty things apart (Kulttuurit).
Based on the concepts of shame and respect, these taboos and rituals have a practical function as a means to avoid diseases as well as to mark out the relationships in the community. When the Romani were still nomads travelling through Europe, it was merely common sense to avoid handling anything that may have been polluted or unclean (Grönfors, Finnish 155).
The Distinctive Romani Clothing
The Finnish Romani are the only Romani in northern Europe who have held on to their national costumes in everyday life. Especially Romani women's dresses are very different from those of the non-Romani Finnish women. The clothing highlights their ethnic background; it is their most important distinctive, external feature (Huttu 64).
Historically, not much is known about the development of the Finnish Romani clothing before the 20th century. Yet, is is clear that their clothing has always been distinctive, and that the women especially used flamboyant details and brighter colours than the majority of Finnish women. Romani men's clothing has changed less throughout the centuries, though, than women's (Huttu, 64,67).
Before the 20th century, Romani women dressed similarly to the rustic style of peasants' wives. After 1900, the majority of women started following constantly changing fashion trends, whereas Romani women remained faithful to their own, now unique style. Throughout the 1900s, there have been many subtle changes in their dresses, but they are still very distinctive from the Finnish majority. Nowadays, typical features of Romani women's clothing are high heels, heavy, full-length black velvet skirts, colourful jackets with sequins, lace and other details, and earrings. Romani men, as in the past two centuries, still wear straight black trousers, neat white or colourful shirts and ties, silk jackets, cardigans, and black brogues. Nowadays, though, the men no longer tend to wear tall boots nor brimmed hats (Huttu 70, 73-74, 79).
For a Romani woman, wearing the traditional dress is an important part of being a Romani. It is also a strong sign of belonging to the Romani community and a transition from childhood to adulthood (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 57). Wearing it is a way to express respect for Romani elders, and also for cleanliness, purity and modesty (Huttu 75-76). The dress is in line with the other strict chastity and modesty rules set for Romani women: it is meant to conceal their womanly shapes and curves as much as possible (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 59).
The dress should be worn for the first time between the ages of 17 and 20. After the first time, it is highly recommended to continue wearing the dress, at least in the presence of elder people. However, it is not compulsory to begin wearing it. If a Romani woman chooses not to wear the dress, she is still expected to dress up decently in long sleeves and knee-length skirts.
Nowadays, however, the women are under pressure because of the dress: they feel it is more difficult to find work if they make the decision to wear it; also, it is usually nearly impossible to wear the dress at work due to hygiene and safety regulations set by employers (Huttu 70). The Finnish Health and Safety at Work Act 2002 obliges employers to ensure that their employees are not at any kind of risk at work, which in practice means that many jobs require workers to wear appropriate clothes and outfits (Työturvallisuuslaki).
The Romani People's Romany Language
The Romany7 language is a Sanskrit-based language that originated in India. It is part of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. In Finland, the Romany language has been spoken for 450 years (Granqvist 47).
Finns have always taken an interest in the Romany language. The first documentation of the language dates from the 1700s, and the first dictionary was published in the early 1800s. Arthur Thesleff, who spent his life studying both the culture and the language of the Finnish Romani, published his Romany dictionary in 1901 where he included some parts from the first dictionary (Grönfors, Finnish 149).
Romany has several loan words from other European languages, such as Armenian and Modern Greek. These words draw a clear picture of the movements and paths of the Romani people through Europe. The Finnish Romany has naturally taken words from Finnish, Swedish (Grönfors, Finnish 149) and Russian (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 30). The language has evolved independently from the rest of the Romany languages in Europe due to centuries of isolation. Today's Finnish Romany speaker can only be understood by another Finnish Romany speaker, but as it happens, there is not a Romani in Finland who would speak the language as their mother tongue nor even be able to conduct a conversation using only Romany (Grönfors, Finnish 149).
The state of the language deteriorated drastically after the Winter and Continuation Wars. In 1954, 60% of adult Romani said they had a good or a very good command of Romany and 89% said they could manage with it fairly well. According to recent estimates, however, only 60% of Romani have a satisfactory command of the language, and less than 10% say they speak it very well (Granqvist 48).
Starting in the 1980s up till today, there have been attempts to revive the language and raise awareness of its state by setting up working groups, publishing reports and organising language courses aimed at Romani people. Some Romani have tried to increase the use of the language in media, church and administration (Granqvist 50, Grönfors, Finnish 149-150). Romany language has been taught in primary and secondary schools since 1989 (Ministry 7), and in fact, within the last 10 years the number of Romani children studying the language has doubled. There are now between 150 and 175 children out of 862 who are taking Romany classes in Finnish primary and secondary schools (Yhä). The growing interest in the language shows also in the number of Romany-related books published: after the mid-1990s an ABC book, and both Romany-Finnish-English and Finnish-Romany dictionaries appeared in print (Markkanen 62). As recently as 2011, a new grammar book of the Finnish Romany language by Kimmo Granqvist was published online (Lyhyt).
Romany has always been closely connected with the Romani society. It has been a language spoken at home, a cipher when dealing with authorities or business partners, and an important symbol strengthening cultural identity. It has been used to draw a line between the Romani and the rest of the Finnish society. These are some of the reasons why many Romani object to using the language in media or church: the language is considered as something that belongs exclusively to the Romani. Also, they have faced negative attitudes and hostility for speaking it in public, which has made it more difficult to expand the range of usage (Granqvist 49-50).
However, the state of Finland began financially supporting the teaching of Romani culture and language in the 1980s, which in general has brought more visibility and improved both their status within the Finnish society. For example, Romany teachers are now trained, and Romany textbooks are being published. Also, it is possible to go to religious services held in Romany (Ministry 7). Romano Missio, an organisation advocating the rights and benefits of the Romani, publishes a Romani newspaper four times a year both in print and online (Romano Boodos). The paper's articles are mostly in Finnish, but sometimes there are articles written in Romany as well. In addition, the Finnish National Broadcasting Company, YLE, broadcasts a weekly Romani radio programme which includes news in the Romany language (Romano Mirits). All these measures have affected positively the development of the language (Ministry 7).
Blood-Feuding Among Romani Families
Blood-feuding, or inter-family revenge, is a form of social control (Grönfors, Finnish 156) that is possibly one of the best-known aspects of the Romani culture in Finland. It yet again reflects the influence of their other cultural aspects, such as family being their first priority. If a Romani has been killed in a fight, the family of the victim should avenge the death by murdering a family member of the killer or the killer himself/herself. However, the violent form of blood-feuding physically harming or killing someone is not favoured; a more essential part of blood-feuding is so-called 'avoidance behaviour'. This means primarily that the disputing families are to avoid each other, but also that the party who caused the dispute, or is to be blamed for it, is expected to move further away from the other family. Thus, they avoid revenge and admit their wrong-doing (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 103-104, 117).
The Finnish Romani solve disputes between different families among themselves. They have never had any 'central administration' or other social institution to help with reconciling conflicts. Therefore, families have always played a significant role in solving feuds. The physical power of a family is the most important factor, for Romani families do not have political or economical power over each other. Revenge and physical strength are thus the most logical means to resolve differences. These institutions of blood-feuding and avoidance are the principal means for the Romani to maintain their social order (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 103, 105, 107).
Reasons Behind Social Exclusion and Poor Social Status
In most of the countries where the Romani initially arrived, they looked and sounded strange compared to the host populations, which created suspicion towards them. In addition, they did not seem to belong anywhere (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 21). Many European societies viewed the Romani culture as sinful, antisocial and something that created friction between the Romani and the majority (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 24). They have never been totally accepted by any host society they have lived in due to their nomadic nature, different lifestyle and culture. This has led to a continuous battle for their independence and identity. They have encountered hostility, discrimination and racism, to which they have traditionally responded with their own hostility. This cycle has throughout their 500-year history in Finland caused many Romani to withdraw from the society, which again has contributed to the lack of information on their culture and therefore, lack of understanding it.
All the racism, misunderstanding and withdrawal have created a state of xenophobia, or fear of the unknown, which still seems to exist between the majority and the Romani. Even today the same misconceptions that were common decades ago are transferred from generation to generation. Breaking the cycle of false truths requires even more interaction and openness. It is crucial for other Finns to remember that the Romani are not a homogeneous group who would all be the same or behave the same. Therefore, the whole Romani community cannot be defined by an individual's acts only or be held responsible for an individual's crimes and misdeeds.
There are at least five reasons contributing to the inferior social status of the Romani. Firstly, prejudice and racism towards the Romani by the host population have not been due only to insufficient information and lack of knowledge of the Romani culture. Secondly, the Romani have gone through major changes within their society during the 20th century: their traditional occupations turned unprofitable, they settled down and moved from the countryside to urban areas, and in the 20th century they became more dependent on the majority of the population. Thirdly, they do not have a geographical area, a land they could call their own nor is there an academic Romani elite to defend their rights and position (Grönfors, Suomen mustalaiskansa 195-197).
Fourthly, there seems to be more unemployed people, criminals, alcoholics, school drop-outs and other socially underprivileged among the Romani than the majority of Finns, although very little research on this has been carried out (Tervonen 86). Airi Markkanen notes, however, that for example criminality is not more common among the Romani than among other Finns in the same social, economical and societal situation (53).
The fifth reason for their poor social standing is that there is a great deal of peer pressure inside the Romani communities, which can be traced back to their cultural features and the definition of a 'true' Romani. Peer pressure may complicate the educational path of a young Romani; it is a means to tightly bind an individual to the Romani society.
Their culture has indeed to many become something that cannot or should not be criticised; aspects that may be morally questionable are right because they have always been practiced and it is tradition. Culture has become an excuse and a justification to silence dissidents and minorities, such as sexual minorities, within their own community. It has become a justification to some of the distinct practices such as the national costume, avoidance behaviour and blood-feuding. These are traditions that restrict the rights of an individual and separate them from the rest of the society.
The Romani are thus in a vicious cycle; drawing a clear line between themselves and other Finns is one of the most obvious root causes to their poor position in the working world. Lack of success in the working world leads to seeking security in their own group, which again easily leads to social exclusion from the Finnish society. Maintaining cultural boundaries is ultimately impossible for human beings are never naturally divided into certain groups, but there are always those who cross the boundaries. The demarcation line between the Finnish and the Romani cultures is a very thin line (Tervonen 86-88).
Present Situation and Future Dilemmas
Nowadays there are nearly 10,000 Romani in Finland and 3,000 Finnish Romani living in Sweden (Markkanen 43). Most of the Romani live in the southern parts of Finland; there are particularly many of them in the Metropolitan Area of Helsinki8 (Pulma 32). These are only rough estimates, though, due to the fact that Finland's legislation does not allow compiling statistics according to ethnic background (Markkanen 43).
Assimilation was for a long period of time the basis of politics regarding the Finnish Romani. The 1995 Basic Rights Reform, which was part of the Constitutional Reform that came into effect in 20009 , guaranteed the position of the Romani and granted them a right to 'maintain and develop their language and culture'. The European Union requires its member countries to take measures to prevent ethnic discrimination and racism. These actions, along with many other legislative reforms and international agreements, are a means to help develop the Romani's societal position and improve their relationship with the majority. However, these laws do not offer them sufficient protection. In practice they encounter discrimination in daily situations and everyday life. For example, Romani women have to face 'triple discrimination' for their gender, ethnic background and the traditional Romani dress (Ministry 5-6). It is a slow process to weed out racism and negativity; therefore they may remain an issue for a long time to come.
Together with discrimination, today's battles still revolve around education and work, finding appropriate housing and most significantly, the clashes between the Finnish and the Romani culture. What should be kept in mind is that the Romani have a strong sense of double identity, being both a Romani as well as a Finn (Ministry 3). They are a minority in a constantly changing world where they have to keep asking themselves what the essence and most crucial elements of their culture are today.
However, the situation in the Romani society has already been changing. According to the journalist Ville Juutilainen in his July 2007 article in Helsingin Sanomat [Helsinki Times], the traditional respect for elders has drastically deteriorated, intoxicants and criminality are spreading and families no longer share responsibilities as they used to (Juutilainen). This may possibly remain a future problem, too, and as it is pointed out in the article, for a minority it is more difficult to tackle problems like these than for a majority.
For the Romani to be a truly enriching asset in the Finnish society, they need support to maintain their cultural aspects. The world changes constantly, and for the Romani to be a functioning part of it, they need to keep redefining their culture time and again. Cooperation with schools, employers and authorities, such as the police, along with proper education are means to avoid social exclusion and discrimination. Open-minded, unprejudiced dialogue between the Romani and the majority is a crucial element in the process of dissolving cultural misunderstandings and misconceptions.
Caught in Tradition and History, Struggling to Adapt to the Future
The Romani arrived in Finland through Sweden 500 years ago; they have been a disputed ethnic minority ever since. Throughout their history in Europe, they have had to battle discrimination in nearly every area of life. Under Swedish and Russian rule, there were several attempts at control, assimilation and expulsion. Assimilation politics continued in Finland too, until the 1970s-1990s, when laws preventing discrimination and granting rights to minorities came into effect.
The Romani have many cultural features that differ from the culture of the Finnish majority, including their concepts of cleanliness and pollution, shame and respect, blood-feuding and their national costume. Due to these distinct characteristics they have encountered hostility and prejudice, which has contributed to their social exclusion and poor social status. Centuries of hostility have created a vicious cycle of withdrawal from the rest of the society as well as a habit of seeking security from within their own group. Rapid changes in the last century, a lack of their own land and the lack of an academic elite to defend their rights, as well as peer pressure, are also factors affecting their inferior social position.
Nowadays, there is a fear of losing some of the most essential parts of the Romani culture, such as respect for elders and caring for family members. Despite various laws and agreements, the Romani still have to encounter racism and social exclusion in daily situations. How to improve their social status, education, work and housing situations as well as cope with both internal and external cultural clashes remain the burning questions of today.
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