Between Expulsion and “Forced Settlement”
In spite of intensive persecution, small groups of refugees remained in the several regions of Western Europe. Because they were not welcomed in many places, but had no other place of refuge to go to, many were forced to hide in the woods and earn their living as moving traders and workmen. This way, the different regions of refuge became a home for certain groups after all, and various people of descendants of the Roma slaves formed in the several countries and regions of Europe, like the “manush” in France, the “gitanos” in Spain or the “Cinti” in the German-speaking countries.
The governmental policy towards them remained contradictory for a long time: On the one hand, edicts kept coming up that forbid the Cintis and other groups to move into cities and municipalities. On the other hand, the authorities criticized the “nomadic lifestyle”, to which the whole ethnic group was forced to by the edicts in the first place, and demanded that the “gypsies should be forced to settle”. To those infamous measures belong the decrees of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and Hungary in the second half of the 18th century. For the Empress, “forced settlement” did not just mean the permission of residence. She forbid the Roma in Hungary to use their language, allowed only few marriages between Roma and ordered that Roma children should be removed by force from their parents to be adopted by Hungarian parents instead. The aim of these measures was the forced assimilation of the independent Roma.
In many regions of Germany, Maria Theresia’s “Gypsy Policy” was copied in the 18th and 19th century. For the Roma, this meant that every attempt of settlement now included the danger of being separated from their children and give up their language and family structures. The descendants of those who sought refuge from serfdom did not find peace.