The unique characteristics of antigypsyism


  1. Why do we need social psychology to fight antigypsyism?
  2. Psychological interventions to reduce prejudice
  3. The unique characteristics of antigypsyism
  4. Best practice examples
  5. Recommendations


Antigypsyism is most commonly expressed as blatant prejudice and in the form of prejudice denial. The coexistence of these two forms of prejudice expression may seem contradictory, but they can be explained by the motivation that people would like to appear non-prejudiced, and consider the endorsement of negative stereotypes as justified by personal experiences and not the result of prejudice. Therefore, people may agree with overgeneralised negative statements about Roma people, but would still not consider themselves prejudiced. In fact, the more prejudiced an individual is, the more likely they would deny even the existence of prejudice in society against a group.

Blatant prejudice means the endorsement of traditional negative stereotypes about the lifestyle of Roma people from a moral perspective (depicting them as lazy or as criminals [18, 19]), and depicting Roma people as less than human (i.e. dehumanizing them [20, 21]). The problem with blatant antigypsyism is that on the one hand, it creates a direct obstacle to equal treatment and harmonious relations between individuals, and on the other hand, it promotes explicit social norms in which maltreatment and discrimination of Roma people appear acceptable and justified by the characteristics associated with the group.

In contrast, prejudice denial is a more invisible form of antigypsyism that nonetheless contributes to the maintenance of the status quo. Importantly, prejudice denial not only denies discriminatory practices, it also fuels the idea that Roma people receive too much undeserved benefits whenever efforts are made to enhance Roma inclusion [22]. Prejudice denial might not lead to direct violence, but it can maintain individual and institutional practices and policy decisions that perpetuate inequality. This form of prejudice is invisible for those who are motivated to maintain the current status quo (typically the non-Roma population) which makes it difficult to address the problem by those who are affected by it. Prejudice denial is directly reflected in colourblind policy decisions that also deny the existence of historical disadvantages, structural discrimination and is manifested as attempting to solve problems merely as social issues (for example, addressing school dropout without tackling racism as a reason for this; see Weinerová [23]).

While antigypsyism is prevalent in all countries of Europe, the distribution of blatant prejudice and prejudice denial varies across the continent. Blatant antigypsyism is present all over Europe, albeit to a different degree, but the combination of blatant antigypsyism and prejudice denial, and specifically the idea that Roma people receive too many benefits is only common in East-Central Europe. In these countries Roma people represent a relatively large and growing percentage of the population, and therefore are often perceived as a threat to the welfare of the country [24, 25]. Therefore, prejudice reduction should mainly focus on altering negative stereotypes about the Roma in European countries with a small Roma population where the main obstacle is blatant prejudice, while it needs to address both the issue of negative stereotypes and threat perceptions that derive from the belief in a competition over limited resources in East-Central Europe.

However, antigypsyism has a third element that is equally relevant to address in intervention programs but is less connected to prejudice research which is mainly concerned with negative stereotypes and discrimination. The absence of cultural recognition, or the misrecognition of Roma people creates barriers for inclusion on top of more traditional forms of prejudice. Cultural recognition is not identical to folklorising Roma culture, equating Roma people with an innate talent for music or maintaining a romantic image of the carefree life of “nomadic” Roma people [26, 27]. Even if these images tend to be positive, they tie Roma people to the past and culturally distance them [28, 29]. Cultural recognition, on the other hand, acknowledges the cultural autonomy of Roma people, encouraging, rather than ignoring cultural heritage without assuming identities that they do not identify with, or do not identify with in every context (see Hopkins & Blackwood [30]).

Based on representative surveys in five countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, France, Ireland) we found that antigypsyism contains negative stereotypes, the idea of Roma receiving undeserved benefits, and the absence of cultural recognition ( Although statements connected to antigypsyism are more acceptable in Hungary, Slovakia and Romania than in Ireland and France, the majority of respondents tend to give answers that reflect undecidedness and the lack of strong opinions about the Roma, choosing answers around the midpoint regarding negative stereotypes, the idea of Roma people receiving too much undeserved benefits, and regarding the cultural recognition of Roma people. In addition, there is low level of empathy across the countries, and therefore, indifference is the predominant attitude among the majority populations with a small percentage of people who clearly reject antigypsyism or clearly endorse it.


Normative context and political discourse: What is “normal”, acceptable and accepted when it comes to Roma and Traveller groups

Prejudice reduction interventions are most effective in social contexts in which the positive change is supported by norms. Such support can be offered by authorities that prescribe appropriate behaviours, for example by legal measures and public discourse and by so-called descriptive norms, which is a reflection of what most people think and do [31]. As we have seen, antigypsyism is often expressed in blatant forms, and therefore it creates a non-supportive context for any kind of change. This normative context becomes a unique challenge for interventions in the area of antigypsyism. One study, for example, found that awareness raising can most easily be done through group discussions which is easy to implement in schools. The method works because participants can influence and encourage each other in endorsing positive attitude change and supportive norms for behaviours on behalf of groups in need [32]. However, this method could be less effective in the absence of consensus about values of diversity and the norms of non-prejudice. Therefore, in countries with weaker egalitarian norms and the lack of endorsement of diversity and multiculturalism, such methods may even backfire, as members of a group can reinforce each other’s prejudicial views about the outgroup, which appear as the norm.

Dominant social norms regarding the ways antigypsyism is perceived and enacted are co-constructed in political discourse – the ways politicians and public figures talk about the Roma. Empirical evidence from the PolRom project shows that political and institutional discourses are mostly characterized by open hostility towards the Roma, by an ambivalent form of discourse contrasting the situation of the Roma minority with the situation of immigrants, or by benevolent antigypsyism which communicates a positive and helpful attitude, but reinforces the subordinate position of Roma people in society. In several countries, the political discourse depicts antigypsyism as happening “somewhere else, but not here” and the Roma are used in political communication as a tool to promote political stances. However, even positive discourse does not necessarily promote inclusion. In Ireland, for example, condemnation of the discriminatory comments by politicians indicates support for the Travelling community, but this is not translated into policy and legislation. In summary, dominant forms of political discourse about Roma people in Europe create a social and political climate in which social psychological interventions need to be adopted with caution, considering potential backfire effects and scrutinising their effectiveness for reducing antigypsyism.


Go to the next chapter Best practice examples

[18] Kende, A., Lantos, N. A., & Krekó, P. (2018). Endorsing a civic (vs an ethnic) definition of citizenship predicts higher pro-minority and lower pro-majority collective action intentions. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1402-1419.
[19] Villano, P., Fontanella, L., Fontanella, S., & Di Donato, M. (2017). Stereotyping Roma people in Italy: IRT models for ambivalent prejudice measurement. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 57, 30-41.
[20] Pérez, J. A., Moscovici, S., & Chulvi, B. (2007). The taboo against group contact: Hypothesis of Gypsy ontologization. British Journal of Social Psychology, 46(2), 249-272.
[21] Kteily, N., Bruneau, E., Waytz, A., & Cotterill, S. (2015). The ascent of man: Theoretical and empirical evidence for blatant dehumanization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(5), 901-931.
[22] Kende, A., Hadarics, M., & Lášticová, B. (2017). Anti-Roma attitudes as expressions of dominant social norms in Eastern Europe. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 60, 12–27.
[23] Weinerová, R. (2014). Anti-Gypsyism in the Czech Republic: Czechs’ perception of Roma in cultural stereotypes. Acta Ethnographica Hungarica, 59(1), 211– 221.
[24] Kende, A., Hadarics, M., & Lášticová, B. (2017). Anti-Roma attitudes as expressions of dominant social norms in Eastern Europe. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 60, 12–27.
[25] Kende, A., Hadarics, M., Bigazzi, S., Boza, M., Kunst, J. R., Lantos, N. A., Lášticová, B., Minescu, A., Pivetti, M., & Urbiola, A. (2020). The last acceptable prejudice in Europe? Anti-Gypsyism as the obstacle to Roma inclusion. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. (advance online publication).
[26] López Catalán, Ó. (2012). The genesis of a “Romanian Roma issue” in the metropolitan area of Barcelona: Urban public spaces, neighbourhood conflicts and local politics. Revista de Estudios Urbanos y Ciencias Sociales, 2, 95–117.
[27] Villano, P., Fontanella, L., Fontanella, S., & Di Donato, M. (2017). Stereotyping Roma people in Italy: IRT models for ambivalent prejudice measurement. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 57, 30-41.
[28] Kligman, G. (2001). On the social construction of “otherness”: Identifying “the Roma” in postsocialist communities. Review of Sociology, 7(2), 61–78.
[29] Sigona, N. (2005). Locating “the Gypsy problem.” The Roma in Italy: Stereotyping, labelling and “nomad camps.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 31(4), 741–756.
[30] Hopkins, N., & Blackwood, L. (2011). Everyday citizenship: Identity and recognition. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 21(3), 215-227.
[31] Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A., & Reno, R. R. (1991). A focus theory of normative conduct: A theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role of norms in human behavior. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 201-234). Academic Press.
[32] Thomas, E. F., McGarty, C., & Mavor, K. I. (2009). Transforming “apathy into movement”: The role of prosocial emotions in motivating action for social change. Personality and social psychology review, 13(4), 310-333.


The project “Identifying evidence-based methods to effectively combat discrimination of the Roma in the changing political climate of Europe” (Grant. No. 808062 — PolRom — REC-AG-2017/REC-RDIS-DISC-AG-2017) is funded by the Justice programme of the European Union (2014-2020).

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