For and against Romanistan

Nicholas Xenos

  • Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey by Isabel Fonseca
    Chatto, 322 pp, £18.99, October 1995, ISBN 0 7011 3851 3

Before 1914, Europeans could cross national borders without a passport and without much noticing that a border had in fact been crossed. The Great War changed all that, or rather the postwar settlement did, redrawing the map of Central and South-East Europe along supposedly ethnic lines, based on the Woodrow Wilson principle of national self-determination. That these same treaties codified the rights of minorities was only logical, since it was the creation of these nation-states on the basis of dominant ethnic groups that had the instant fleet of establishing such ‘minorities’. Many of these – Hungarians and Germans in Czechoslovakia and Romania, for example – belonged to ethnic groups whose states were somewhere else, which created split political personalities of a new and unstable kind. In 1923, the Turkish and Greek Governments, acknowledging the need permanently to resettle refugees following their three-year-old war, exchanged one and a half million people, sending them ‘home’ to their ‘proper’ nation-states: the destabilising consequences of such genetically engineered map-making soon became evident. Borders that had hitherto been vague transitional zones became firm markers of personal and collective identity.

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