Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians in Kosovo (2006)
MRG, 6 July 2006, pp.8-9:
- The acronym RAE (Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians) comprises various groups with different linguistic and religious traditions and the clear division among these groups can be observed from the 1990s
- Roma speaking Albanian as their first language identified themselves as Ashkalia (sometimes spelt Ashkaelia) or Egyptians, the Egyptians trace back their ancestry to Egypt
- Those who consider themselves Roma in Kosovo today generally speak either Romany or Serbian as their first language
- The three groups have been recognized by UNMIK, for example with regard to representation under the electoral system
- In the 1991 Yugoslav census, the number of Roma in Kosovo was calculated at around 43-45,000 but many did not register as such
- By some accounts, up to 25,000 Roma were still living in Kosovo as of end of 1999
- Roma are concentrated in the Eastern Plateau, in Pec/Peje, Djakovica/Gjakove and Prizren municipalities in the west
“The Roma are believed to have entered the Balkans in the 13th century CE and have remained there ever since . They were found across Kosovo, many becoming sedentary early on. Some adopted Islam, some became Orthodox Christians. Some (largely Muslims) adopted Albanian as a first language, some Serbo-Croatian, with others retaining Romany as a first language. However, as in the rest of Europe, all other communities generally treated the Roma with ‘social contempt’ . At least 1,000 Roma from Kosovo were killed during the Second World War, as part of the Porajmos, the genocide of the Roma.
Roma, however, have often expressed loyalty to the post-Second World War Yugoslavia that they saw as giving them more freedom than ever before. The number identifying themselves as Roma increased from 11,000 post-war to 43,000 in the 1991 census. The latter is certainly a major underestimate, as Roma have often identified themselves officially as Albanian, Serb or Turk. With the mass dismissal of Albanians from state employment in Kosovo at the start of the 1990s, some of their positions were taken by Roma. Roma were used by Serb authorities during the ethnic cleansing in 1999 to bury the dead . Among some Albanians, there was an image that Roma had been ‘collaborators’ with the Serb authorities.
From the 1990s onwards, there has been a clear division of the Roma into three self-identifying groups. Those who largely spoke Albanian as a first language identified themselves as Ashkalia (sometimes spelt Ashkaelia) or Egyptians. The Egyptians consider themselves a group whose ancestry is traced back to Egypt . Both groups have a close affinity with Albanians, but have been largely rejected by Albanians . Those who consider themselves Roma in Kosovo today, however, generally speak either Romany or Serbian as their first language.
After some disputes, the right to self-identification has been acknowledged and the three groups have been recognized by UNMIK, for example with regard to representation under the electoral system. Sometimes the term RAE is used to refer to all three groups together. All three groups can be said to be in the worst position in Kosovo, with the worst education, highest levels of discrimination in the workplace and almost certainly the highest unemployment rates. Within the three communities, the Roma are in the worst position of all.”
OSCE, 2000, chapter 20:
"The several groups generically described here as Kosovo 'Gypsies' (Maxhupet) have different allegiances and different linguistic and religious traditions. The groups identify themselves quite distinctly.
The so-called 'ethnic Roma', identify themselves as Roma and use Romani as their mother tongue, and also speak Albanian and Serbian. They have proud cultural traditions and align themselves with Roma communities in other countries (they include a small Catholic Romani community living near the Kosovo Croat communities in Lipljan/Lipjan municipality, as well as one group which has a nomadic lifestyle, known as the Cergari, who follow the Orthodox faith and speak Serbian).
The Ashkaelia are Albanian-speaking and live close to the Kosovo Albanians with whom they have always been identified.
The Egyptians, whom many consider to be Ashkaelia, speak Albanian but claim to have originally come from Egypt. They are perceived by Kosovo Albanians to be Maxhupet for whom a separate identity was created roughly 10 years ago by the Yugoslav regime in order to further the image of a multi-ethnic, rather than an Albanian-dominated Kosovo. It is also believed to be an effort of self-identification in order to escape the derogatory qualification of Maxhupet in Kosovo and to differentiate themselves from the Romani-speaking "ethnic Roma". Both the Ashkaelia and Egyptians follow the Muslim faith.
Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs alike generally treat the 'Gypsy' (Maxhupi) population and groups as separate from themselves, despite their varying levels of integration. As is the case with majority populations in other central and east European countries, the Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs consider Maxhupet/Cigani as second-class citizens."
OSCE, 2000, chapter 20:
"Although it is difficult to assess the exact numbers of Roma/'Gypsies' living in Kosovo before the conflict and up to early June 1999, it was estimated by some Romani refugees from Kosovo and Serbia living in third countries to be around 100,000-150,000 people. In the 1991 Yugoslav census, the number of Roma/'Gypsies' in Kosovo was calculated at around 45,000. Many did not declare themselves as Roma/'Gypsies' in the census either because of a feeling of being fully integrated in the Kosovo Albanian or Serb communities, or because their registration as Romani/'Gypsy' could prevent their integration within the community and therefore deprive them of their basic rights. Based on data from the 1991 census, Romani/'Gypsy' communities could be found in almost all municipalities of Kosovo."
USCR, April 2000, pp. 2-3:
"The numbers are disputed. The Kosovo Serb National Council claims that about 100,000 Serbs are still living in Kosovo. By some accounts, up to 25,000 Roma are still living in Kosovo. By some accounts, up to 25,000 Roma are still living in Kosovo. The sum of Serb s and Roma who reportedly have fled (230,000) and those who reportedly remain (125,000) would be a larger number than the estimated 250,000 Serbs and Roma living in Kosovo before the war, casting doubt on the accuracy either of the past-war count or of the pre-war estimate."
UNHCR/WFP, 5 February 2000, sect. 6:
"Typically, the Roma have made a living as casual labourers and itinerant market traders. Geographically, they are concentrated in the Eastern Plateau and Mediterranean food economies (Pec/Peje, Djakovica/Gjakove and Prizren municipalities in the west), areas where there has traditionally been a demand for agricultural labour.
For the Roma, questions of identity, which before the war were of relatively little importance, are now paramount. This is because many Roma are believed to have sided with the Serbs during the recent conflict, taking part in the widespread looting and destruction of Albanian property (Roma communities were themselves generally spared the widespread displacement and destruction suffered by other groups).
Most of the Roma remaining within the province are recognised by their immediate neighbours as being innocent of any direct involvement in looting and destruction. However, they are likely to encounter hostility from Albanians that do not know them personally, particularly if they move outside their local area. Most identify themselves with the majority Albanian population, generally referring to themselves as 'Askali' in the east and 'Egyptians' in the west."
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