Few people know that there are more Christians in Egypt today than in Bulgaria and Macedonia combined – over 10 million Copts, descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Copts are the largest Christian community in the Near East but they too are emigrating to the West. Projections are that by 2050 there will be almost no Christians left in the lands from which Christianity once emerged around ancient Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria. There is talk of a Christian exodus from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, especially after the wars there began. The Palestinian and Syrian exodus has been going on in parallel and has not stopped. This has to be seen in a wider context of ethno-religious transformation in the Middle East and Europe, which seems to be happening in a planned way. Let’s look at the big picture.
After more than 16 centuries of history in Eastern Europe, millions of Jews were forced to leave or were killed. And this happened mainly in the period from 1933 to 1945. A complete transformation of entire cities in Poland, Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine – where the largest Jewish concentration in Europe was located before the WWII (6 to 7 million). After the war there was almost no trace of them left. This was followed by the ethnic homogenisation of countries such as Poland, where, after the massacre of Jews and Roma and the expulsion of the local Germans, there are practically no minorities left. Most of the Jews who escaped went to the USA or other countries in the Americas, and a smaller number to Palestine, where Israel was established. This in turn led to a domino effect, a major demographic shift and beginning of the Palestinian “Nakba” in 1948.
After nearly 10 centuries of history in Eastern Europe, the great Roma Exodus began in 1989 – the migration of hundreds of thousands of Roma from the former Socialist camp to Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, America. The number of Roma migrants who left their homelands from 1989 to 2023 has probably passed 3 million, and only a fraction of them are returning. The process of de-Tsiganization was stimulated by the economic crisis after the fall of Communism, the growing discrimination and the wars in Yugoslavia, and it continues today during the war in Ukraine. Censuses in Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria show that the proportion of people identifying themselves as Roma is decreasing the most. Here, too, we need to open a parenthesis and clarify something very important from historical and political point of view.
The genocide of the Roma during World War II did not extend to those areas where the Roma were most numerous in Europe. Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey remained unaffected, while a relatively small percentage of Roma in Romania, compared to their total number there, were exterminated (between 15,000 and 20,000). It is debatable whether Greek, Albanian, Macedonian and Slovak Roma were victims of the Holocaust. Most victims were Roma and Sinti from Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Baltic states, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The Roma population of Czechia was almost completely wiped out. In the West, there was no Holocaust in Spain; it remained formally neutral in the war. A comparatively small number of French and Italian Roma, Manush and Sinti were deported to concentration camps. Britain and the Scandinavian countries to the north also retained their Gypsy populations, but they were not as large in numbers. In fact, the Balkans and the Pyrenees, retain most of their Gypsies, Roma, Kale, Gitanos (the exception is Croatia of the Ustasha). The numbers of Roma and Sinti are declining noticeably especially in Germany and the countries around it in the East to Ukraine. These are the territories destined to become part of the “German Reich”, to be colonized by “Aryans” and to provide economic and human resources for the German economy.
Therefore, Nazism destroyed the demographic core of the Jewry in Europe because it fell within the “living space” of the Third Reich, but less affected the demographic core of the Gypsydom, which was on the periphery of Europe. This began to change after 1989, when even countries not affected by the Roma genocide lost a significant percentage of their Roma population to emigration. Thus the demographic potential of the Roma is gradually shifting from East to West and this creates a completely new situation in Europe. Add to this the high rates of morbidity and mortality among Eastern Roma, which in many places are above the average for these countries and not a very rosy picture emerges in this part of the continent. This can be seen in all European countries with large Roma populations except Spain, where the number of Roma is growing due to the influx of migrants from the East. Let us summarise:
– The Jewish question is considered “solved” in Europe from the point of view of the far right, since Jews are no longer an important demographic factor after WWII and in that sense are not perceived as a real threat. It is estimated that today there are fewer than 1,500,000 people in Europe who self-identify as Jewish and they are scattered in various countries. Over 90% of Jews live outside Europe. The great powers have pushed this issue outside the Old Continent, even though it is a European issue in its genesis, and are now playing the role of arbiter in the conflict between Israelis and Arabs, which has been going on for over half a century.
– The Palestinian question has entered a new hot phase in Gaza and it is intricately intertwined with the question of the survival of the state of Israel and the question of the fate of the Middle East in general. The Palestinians number approximately 10,000,000, but over 60% of them live outside the Palestinian territories.
– Christians in the Middle East seem to be in a hopeless situation, only in Lebanon is there still a strong Christian minority with political, economic and demographic importance, but even its role is diminishing. Almost everywhere else in the region, indigenous Christians, speaking mainly Arabic or dialects of Aramaic, are marginalised and excluded from political life. It is estimated that there are currently between 15 and 20 million Christians living in the region defined as the Middle East, which includes North Africa, but over half of them are in Egypt and the rest are scattered in other countries. They emigrate mainly to the Americas where significant colonies of Arab Christians, Assyrians, Copts, Maronites, Armenians have already formed and are unlikely to return.
– There remains the Gypsy or Roma issue in Europe. The Roma in Europe number between 8,000,000 and 15,000,000 people, but they are not a homogeneous group in religious and linguistic terms. Traditionally, the majority of them live in the countries of Eastern Europe. The aim seems to be to gradually rid Eastern Europe of the Roma ethnic element in the same way as it was achieved with the Jewish element. Clearly, something is being planned there. What? Time will tell. We see that refugees from the “Third World” are also almost not allowed in this part of Europe, but are exported to the West. That is where the Roma are going along with the refugees. Most Roma do not leave Europe, they simply move from one end to the other. At the same time, a large-scale process of Evangelisation is taking place – the conversion of a great number of Roma to Christianity. The de-Tsiganization of Eastern Europe is happening in parallel with the re-Christianisation of the Gypsies. The conversion of the Roma to Islam is a less pronounced process, geographically limited, and it is unlikely to have the same long-term consequences. Many Roma, whether they realise it or not, are making an important religious and therefore civilisational choice, because Europe is gradually returning to the days when faith defined identity. The philosophy of multiculturalism and the “open society” is rejected and the “closed society” is rediscovered as a refuge from globalization. More and more Europeans tend to shut themselves in their own ‘ghetto’ and surround themselves with walls. Already in a number of European cities we are seeing the phenomenon of ‘white flight’ (the flight of the “white” population from neighborhoods, settlements, schools where the number of migrants and minorities is growing), and we are also seeing the return of border controls between some EU countries. Subconsciously or intuitively, many Roma understand that their survival in Europe henceforth requires either joining the “proper ghetto” or seceding into their own “ghetto”. Roma will no longer be able to be “mediators” between the worlds and their dualism, syncretism and colorfulness will increasingly irritate the surrounding monocultural and homogeneous majorities.
These are interconnected processes and should be seen as part of a bigger picture of the transformation of the Middle East and Europe. There is a move towards a clearer demarcation between different religious zones. The more these zones encroach on each other, the more the contradictions will increase. Mutual religious and ethnic tolerance decreases. Intolerance of Muslims in Europe is also growing, alongside increasing immigration from Asia and Africa, as a result of wars, economic instability and climate change. Anti-Semitism is resurgent and many Jews around the world who have nothing to do with Israel are beginning to feel threatened. The Roma exodus – Romexodus – will enter a new phase as far-right, neo-fascist regimes are expected to come to power in many Eastern European countries, and there are many signs of this. And even if they initially try to use Roma as labour, voters or soldiers, they will sooner or later reveal their true intentions – dispossessing Roma, disenfranchising them and turning them into refugees without a homeland. The fate of Christians in the Muslim world, the fate of Muslims in the Christian world, the fate of the Jews, the fate of the Roma – all this will come to the surface again in European and world politics. And new solutions will be sought to old questions.

Orhan Tahir, Roma lawyer
and an activist

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