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Health, hygiene and Romani assimilation in Austria and Hungary from an intersectional perspective, 1956-1989

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Roma: a history of health care and discrimination

Roma people have a history of being discriminated against. EU researchers documented this history in the field of health care, to better understand and address the roots of this discrimination.


The Roma or Romani people, also referred to as gypsies, are a traditionally (semi-)nomadic ethnic group, living mostly in Europe and the Americas. They originate from the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent. Roma are often vilified as work-shy, poor and criminal, and these persistent negative stereotypes have been used to justify discrimination against them. During World War II, the Nazis carried out a policy of mass-murder of Roma in order to annihilate them all. After 1945 in the communist countries, government embarked on a forceful policy of assimilation. After the end of state-socialism, Roma experienced sky-rocketing unemployment and persistent social marginalisation. Discrimination continues to the present day. The EU recognises that this needs to be addressed and has developed an integration strategy to work towards greater Roma inclusion. The EU-funded initiative ROMA AND HEALTH CARE (Health, hygiene and Romani assimilation in Austria and Hungary from an intersectional perspective, 1956-1989) fills gaps in research on the history of Roma, and the social history of medicine, health and hygiene. The researchers compared health care and health education policies and practices for Roma and non-Roma under two different political regimes: post-war Hungary and Austria. They were particularly interested in the period after World War II up to the 1980s. To do this, the researchers reviewed acts, decrees, ministerial and institutional documents, and medical journal articles, and conducted in-depth interviews with health professionals. This initiative adds to the knowledge of direct and indirect discrimination Roma suffered in health systems, particularly in Central Eastern Europe. For example, the findings show how in East and South-eastern Europe after 1956, health care professionals applied a selective approach to discouraging births among Roma, and how racial stereotypes survived the end of National Socialism. Better-to-do women from the majority population were encouraged to reproduce, whereas women from worse economic and educational backgrounds – such as the Roma – were discouraged from giving birth. In Hungary, the reproduction and “the constantly growing size” of Roma was considered a burden on the state and a danger to the population's “quality”. The researchers' findings provide useful input for policymakers and civil society representatives to deconstruct Roma stereotypes. They do so by identifying the long-term, historical roots of systematic discrimination against Roma within health systems and by health care professionals.


Roma, health care, discrimination, communist, ROMA AND HEALTH CARE, Austria, Hungary, policymaker

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