|Austria Table of Contents
Austria contains other minority groups that are not defined as such by law but are perceived as minorities by the general population: Gypsies, Jews, and foreign workers. Gypsies and Jews have been in Austria for centuries, although a sizable number of Jews came to Vienna during the nineteenth century from other parts of the Habsburg Empire. The presence of a large number of foreign workers dates from the 1960s.
Roma and Sinti, or Gypsies as they are generally called, arrived in Austria in the fourteenth century. An eastern, nomadic people, originally from India, they wore colorful clothes, had their own language and customs, and exchanged goods for survival. Men usually either made pots and other brass objects or were musicians, while women told fortunes or sold handmade goods and fruits from their wagons.
A Gypsy's life centered on the family and the larger group, with individual achievement playing an insignificant role. Marriage with a non-Gypsy typically meant exclusion by the community. Disapproval or punishment by the community was a much more serious reprimand to a Gypsy than any legal action by the state.
The attitude of Gypsies toward work and saving differed from that of the majority group in that they generally aimed at earning enough to meet "the needs of the day." When food or money were needed, the Gypsy code permitted as a last resort stealing from wealthier people. Preferring to feel free and unhindered, Gypsies attached little importance to the accumulation of property, choosing instead a life of wandering and bartering. Only later during their time in Austria did they build semipermanent dwellings. Even so, Gypsies preferred to live among themselves on the outskirts of towns and cities.
Because of these habits and attitudes, Gypsies were mistrusted by the Austrian population. Gypsies were seen as lazy, disorderly, and dirty, and regarded as thieves, criminals, and prostitutes. In the eighteenth century, laws were enacted that banned their migrant way of life and established "colonies" for them.
By the late 1930s, an estimated 11,000 Gypsies lived in Austria, predominantly in the province of Burgenland. Because of Nazi racial doctrines, more than half of them were deported to concentration camps during World War II. By the war's end, only an estimated 4,500 Austrian Gypsies survived.
At the beginning of the 1990s, as many as 40,000 Gypsies lived in Austria, mostly centered in the provinces of Vienna and Burgenland. Although they more often speak German than the traditional Romany or Sinti languages, they are by no means assimilated into the larger society. Many Gypsies attend Austrian schools, but their academic performance is below average, and they see schooling as a hindrance to freedom. Young men who have completed apprenticeships are described by their employers as hard-working and honest. They generally do not become long-term employees, however, particularly if they are living away from their families. Young women usually work in factories or as kitchen help.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress