Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Roma in Novi Becej and Vranjevo

Roma are of Asian origin, and their ancient homeland is believed to be India, from which they left between the ninth and eleventh centuries. Before arriving in Europe, they lingered in Persia, Asia Minor, and Syria. They entered Europe during the fourteenth century: some through North Africa to Spain, and others through Asia Minor to the Balkans. They appeared in Crete in 1322, in Corfu in 1346, in Wallachia in 1370, in Zagreb in 1378, in Hungary and Germany in 1417. From Europe, they spread to other continents.

It is estimated that there are a total of five to six million Roma. In Serbia and Vojvodina, there are around 60,000 of them. The majority arrived during the Turkish rule. After the expulsion of the Turks, many came from Romania. Thus, the language used by the Roma in Vranjevo is mostly Romanian, while the Roma in Novi Becej spoke Romani. During the Austro-Hungarian period, some of the Roma from Vranjevo even declared themselves as Romanians. For example, in 1821, during the census in Vranjevo, alongside Serbs, there were recorded eight Greeks and as many as eighty-eight Romanians. Similarly, in Kumane, one hundred sixty-two were recorded, and in Taras, twenty Romanians.

They are called Gypsies by Hungarians, Romanians, Germans, Italians, and all Slavs. They are also referred to as Gurbet (derived from the Arabic garib, meaning foreigner). In Serbia, they are sometimes called Farauni (from the word Pharaoh), and the Turks, Greeks, and English refer to them as Egyptians. They themselves call each other Roma (Rom means human).

Although Roma have always had a high birth rate, as young people get married, we cannot observe a significant increase in their numbers. This is not only due to high mortality, especially among children, but also because of their living conditions, resulting in a shorter average lifespan compared to the rest of the population. Some identified themselves as Hungarians or Serbs based on circumstances. These are the ones who managed to integrate into normal life and work. Once they succeeded in moving out of their settlements (Gypsy neighborhoods) or what is called "cigan-male" in Serbia, they tried to shed their Gypsy identity.

It is noteworthy that the Roma in Vranjevo, until World War II, differed from those in Novi Becej. They mostly acquired work habits and skills and worked as day laborers or servants for wealthier farmers, construction workers, cattle herders (boytari), and some even had land they cultivated. Only a small number begged or lived by collecting leftover crops in the fields. Most Roma in Vranjevo lived in their settlement below the Begej River, but there were also some who settled in modest houses in nearby streets where Serbian or Hungarian populations lived. The exact number of Roma in Vranjevo is hard to determine, but it was consistently around two hundred to two hundred fifty.

Novi Becej Roma were mostly unemployed and survived by begging and collecting leftover food at the market or scavenging corn from fields. Only a small number were employed or had carts and horses, providing services and earning a living that way. They lived in an area called "Ciganska ledina" near the railway tracks in the southeastern part of Becej. Determining their exact number is difficult, but it was around one hundred souls.

Regarding the Roma in Novi Becej in the 1930s until World War II, it is essential to mention a group of Roma musicians who came from Stari Becej and settled in Novi Becej. They did not associate with other Roma in Novi Becej or Vranjevo, and they spoke Hungarian. They were top-notch musicians for Novi Becej standards and played in the finest restaurant at Hotel Vojvodina. There were around thirty of them, including the unforgettable violinists Pišta and Miša, cimbalom player Đula, and the younger standout double bassist Đula. Besides being an excellent musician, Đula was exceptionally handsome. When the Novi Sad radio orchestra was formed, Đula became a member, but his desire and obligation to his community brought him back to Stari Becej.

In summary, in Novi Becej and Vranjevo, including these Roma musicians, there were around three hundred to three hundred fifty individuals. Unlike other parts of our country, World War II brought great misfortune to our Roma, but, unlike other regions, those in Novi Becej and Vranjevo were spared physical destruction by the German occupiers.

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