Gypsies - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Even today the social organization of Roma is very strong. It is different from the organization of Russian society or Soviet hierarchies. Gypsies are perceived by outsiders as being of low status. Roma themselves have a complex sociopolitical structure. Within, for instance, the group Roma, there are subgroups, "nations," or natsiia, such as the Servi, Kelderari, and so on. Within the natsiia there are bare vitsi and tsigne vitsi (large and small clans), which are often named for a founder. The family is the smallest permanent unit. There are also temporary groupings, called kumpaniia or vortachiia, which work or travel together or are settled in the same place.

Political Organization. The choice of the leader of the kumpaniia is as much a matter of social organization as one of political organization. Although leaders emerge as bare roma (big men), their position is not a fixed office. Different leaders may be chosen for different purposes as well. Certain people who are skilled at communicating with outsiders may take up the title of leader, though sometimes this is only for convenience. Gypsies around the world are organizing the Romani Union, in which educated Gypsies are being elected to offices that correspond to those in the governments of other nations.

Important decisions on the community level are made by the kris, or council of elders. Disputes between families or even entire vitsa are also settled there. Women are usually not allowed to speak during the kris, although they may lobby and brief their male relatives beforehand. Women generally gain influence after they are older, especially after they have acquired wives for their sons.

Social Control. Social control is strict regarding matters of hygiene, modesty, hospitality, marriage, and so on. Breaches may result in ostracism for up to a year, longer in extreme cases. The offending party may be labeled marime and shunned. In some cases, rules are different concerning outsiders: for the sake of the group, one must be more careful in contact with them.

Conflict. Strong societal prejudice has always existed in Russia toward Gypsies, although it may have been tempered in the past, when their skills and trading were more essential to a preindustriai society. Soviet laws designed to stop Gypsy traveling were intended to halt what was considered the source of Gypsy social misbehavior. Many Gypsies, however, do not see traveling as a crime but as a means of livelihood. From the other point of view, Gypsies, who have other notions of proper behavior, often consider other groups to be less clean, hospitable, and so on, than they are. Cultural differences have also contributed to mutual misunderstandings.

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