True Lithuania

Gypsies (Romani people)

Unlike in many southeastern European countries, Gypsies make up only a small portion of Lithuanian population (2 500 people) but they are very visible for those who seek. Next to Vilnius international airport there is a unique Gypsy district ("Taboras") full of illegally constructed wooden shacks whose owners refuse to pay any taxes.

This favela-like district (the only such in the Baltic States) of some 500 people is a major drug dealing spot and all attempts to curtail this activity or to resettle the Gypsies into social housing have failed so far (and there were many).

Due to the participation of a large part of Lithuania‘s Gypsies in criminal activities as well as the self-isolation of this community, the opinion polls usually show that the Gypsies are the least wanted neighbors.

Gypsy ethnicity formed after their ancestors departed northern India at 300 BC for reasons unknown. They reached Lithuania in 15th-16th centuries AD through Persia (passed by in 11th century) and Byzantium. Being the last nomads of Europe Gypsies used to migrate regularly with their entire villages ("Taboras") of related families, led by a baron or a king. Under the Soviet rule all Lithuanian Gypsies settled down and many traditional authorities disintegrated although the informal Gypsy law court still takes place.

Children playing at the Čigonų (Gypsy) street in Taboras of Vilnius. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Many Lithuanian Gypsies self-style themselves Christian but are not practicing. Unique unwritten moral code with its own taboos supplants both religious and secular morals. Exotic to an outsider it (for example) permits Gypsies to steal yet forbids them to have a toilet inside their home.

The family is of utmost importance and Gypsies have more children than any other Lithuania's community. Unregistered teenage marriages (14-16-year-old girls) are common. Some children attend school yet others do not as education is not valued. Money is however held in high esteem and the more affluent a Gypsy is the more honorable he is considered by his peers (disregarding the source of wealth). Most Gypsies are officially jobless although a few have successful musician careers.

Lithuanian Gypsies consist of traditional (pre-1940) communities and Soviet-era migrants from Ukraine and Moldova. These two groups speak different dialects of the Romany language. Taboras of Vilnius houses a quarter of total Lithuania's Gypsy population, the remainder spread among smaller communities in other cities and some towns.

After Lithuanian accession to European Union (2004) and the abolition of border control additional Gypsies immigrated from Southern Europe, some of them nomadic and seasonally moving between EU member states.

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