Gunter Grass on Gypsies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Dec 2 07:50:31 MST 2000

"Perhaps we lack the very people we’re afraid of, because they are foreign
to us and look foreign. Those whom, out of fear, we meet with hatred, which
now daily turns to violence. And perhaps those we most lack are the ones we
think of as the lowest of the low, the Romanies and the Sinti, the Gypsies.

They have no allies. No politician represents their case, whether in the
European Parliament or the Bundestag. No state they can appeal to would
support their demands for compensation — pathetic, isn’t it? — for
Auschwitz, or make them national priority.

The Romanies and Sinti are the lowest of the low. ‘Expel them!’ says Herr
Seiters and gets on the line to Romania. ‘Smoke them out!’ shout the
skinheads. But in Romania, and everywhere else, Gypsies are bottom of the
heap as well. Why? Because they are different. Because they steal, are
restless, roam, have the evil eye and that stunning beauty that makes us
ugly to ourselves. Because their mere existence puts our values into
question. Because they are all very well in operas and operettas, but in
reality — it sounds awful, reminds you of awfulness — they are antisocial,
odd and don’t fit in. ‘Torch them!’ shout the skinheads.

When Heinrich Boll was laid to rest eight years ago, there was a Gypsy band
leading the pallbearers — Lev Kopelev, Günter Wallraff, myself and Boll’s
sons — and the mourners on the way the graveyard. It was Boll’s wish. It
was what he wanted to play him into the grave, that deeply tragic,
despairingly gay music. It has taken me until now to understand him. Let
half a million and more Sinti and Romanies live among us. We need them.
They could help us by irritating our rigid order a little. Something of
their way of life could rub off on us. they could teach us how meaningless
frontiers are: careless of boundaries. Romanies and Sinti are at home all
over Europe. They are what we claim to be; born Europeans.

Louis Proyect
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