Gypsies - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Gypsies were known for their skill as metalworkers, tinsmiths, woodworkers, carpenters, blacksmiths, horse traders and trainers, and in associated occupations. Many Gypsies, especially in Central Asia, work as drovers for collective herds. Many Kalderari still work as tinsmiths, bringing work home to the small settlements near the cities where they live. Work is usually contracted for an entire group ( vortachi ) and the profits shared.

During the Russian civil war (1918-1921) Gypsies supplied the Red Army with cavalry horses and in the spring of 1925 formed the first Gypsy collective farm, Khutor Krikunovo, near Rostov. In 1926 the party decreed that the Union republics should set aside land for Gypsies who wanted to farm. Numerous collectives were set up all around the country over the next decade. In addition, many small Gypsy artels, or manufacturing collectives, were set up in the cities; an example of these collectives are the Tsygpishcheprom (Gypsy food industries) in Moscow. Most of these were eliminated as national cartels in the late 1930s, and there are now no all-Gypsy collective farms. There are, however, Gypsy cooperatives that make and sell shirts and jewelry. Some women work as fortune-tellers or as street merchants.

Gypsies are known as dancers, singers, and musicians. Gypsy choruses were extremely popular in the nineteenth century, and today many ensembles, which are usually built around a family, make a living playing at urban restaurants and for weddings. Some of these groups tour Europe. The Moscow Teatr "Romen" employs only about seventy Gypsies full-time. Russia's popular cireuses employ many Gypsies as performers and as animal keepers and trainers.

Many Gypsies work at the same kinds of jobs as do other people—in offices, factories, and construction and as store managers and gardeners. There are also several doctors, at least one surgeon, several teachers, and lawyers and academics.

Industrial Arts. Many Roma have found applications in construction and industry for their skills as metal workers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, and woodworkers.

Trade. In pre-Soviet times, nomadic Russian Gypsies, living on the edges of Russian villages and towns, carried on small-scale barter of skilled labor for food and clothing or for payment in money. Today some work as street vendors, selling jewelry, chocolate, cosmetics, cigarettes, and other hard-to-come-by goods at the main bazaars. Such trade— na levo ("on the left": the black market)—was illegal until recently.

Division of Labor. In urban, rural, and nomadic families there are clear-cut work roles for males and females. In the city, men carry out industrial and craft labor, whereas women work as merchants and occasionally as fortune-tellers. Rural and nomadic men are more likely to work with livestock. In urban, assimilated families, women often work outside the home—in industry, construction, medicine, and occasionally as teachers and academics. Like other women in the former Soviet Union, Gypsy women work a second shift at home, doing the cleaning, cooking, laundry, and child care. When a daughter-in-law moves in, she takes on many of the tasks of her husband's mother, allowing the older woman some leisure. Men do much of the shopping.

Land Tenure. Well-defined Gypsy land-tenure patterns are difficult to discern since they were not encouraged to settle or acquire land in czarist times, although there are instances of Gypsy settlement in Ukraine in the nineteenth century. In the first two decades of Soviet power, some Gypsies acquired farms and formed collectives and agricultural ventures.

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