Rom vs cigan (cikan)

During my visit to the Czech Republic in December 2017 I have given an interview to Seznam.cz (see HERE). The interview was named as “I consider the word ‘cikan’ as a derogatory word”.

The interview had sparked a debate, with a majority people expressing their wish to be named ‘Roma’ rather than cikan. However, there are still lots of people that disagree and are of the opinion that all Roma should be called cikan, because that is what they have always called us.

It is therefore important to explain the exact meaning and the wrong use of the word ‘cikan’ (sometimes mistakenly translated as Gypsy).

Since the 12th Century, Roma in Europe have been called ‘cikani’. The word ‘cikan’ comes from Greek word „Athinganoi“. This name was originally used to name members of marginalised christian sect, believed to be involved in black magic. The word has always had a pejorative character. In Romani language there is no word ‘cikan’, we have always called ourselves Roma (translated as a man or a human). As such, the word ‘cikan’ is an exonym that with pejorative connotation.

Since then the word ‘cikan’ is connected with people that are living nomadic lifestyle, are stealing, begging or are considered maladjusted. In Otto’s dictionary, the word ‘cikan’ is equivalent to a liar, thief and bandit.

In 1971, Roma from all Europe met at the first Romani conference in London. During the meeting Roma agreed that in official language we shall be named as Roma.  

Throughout the history, societies have adapted to changes and depending on social or political situation changed names of geographical places or ethnic groups. Here are some examples:

  • During the 1950s and 1960s, Malcolm X objected to the word ‘Negro‘ because it’s association with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second class citizens, or worse. Malcolm X preferred Black to Negro, but also started using the term Afro-American.
  • Romanians used to be called by German word ‘Vlach‘ but the exonym has never been accepted by native Romanians.
  • Hungarian retreated from using pejorative exonym ‘Tóth‘ and call Slovak people with their endonym Szlovák. Slowly it became more of a slang term for a person who doesn’t understand or who’s stupid.
  • Although the name ‘Eskimo’ is commonly used in Alaska to refer to all Inuit and Yupik people of the world, this name is considered derogatory in many other places because it was given by non-Inuit people and was said to mean “eater of raw meat.”

So why should I allow to be called cikan?

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