Encyclopedia of Europe: 1789-2004
John Merriman and Jay Winter, eds.-in-chief.
New York: Charles Schribnerâs 2006.
The 19th Century was of particular significance in European Romani history.Â Although the quest began during the Enlightenment to provide a legitimate history and identity for that population, ironically the same period saw the establishment of the romantic âGypsyâ image that remains so firmly in place to this day.Â At the same time, the mid 19th century saw the abolition of Romani slavery and the exodus of thousands of Romanies from the newly-created state of Romania out into the rest of Europe and to the Americas, as well as the emergence of scientific racism which led ultimately to the attempted destruction of the Romani people in Hitlerâs Third Reich.
Romanies had arrived in the Balkans from Asia by 1300 CE, and within two centuries had fanned out into almost every European country. In Ottoman controlled territories their artisan skills, particularly in metal-working and weaponry, ensured a place for them in the economy, a status that by the 15th century have become institutionalized slavery in the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia.Â Elsewhere in Europe their foreign appearance and behavior, together with their being associated with the Islamic threat to Christendom, lay the foundation for an enduring antigypsyism, which was to emerge so virulently in post-Communist Europe at the end of the 20th century and trigger a new migration to the West. Â Yet another factor was the lack of an identifiable homeland.Â In 1810 the German nationalist Jahn wrote that âa Volk without a state is nothing, a bodiless, airless phantom, like the Gypsies and the Jews.â Non-territoriality marked both peoples as asocials, populations that didnât belong. Even Charles Darwin, writing in 1871, contrasted Gypsies with âthe territorially settled and culturally advanced Nordic Aryan race.â
When the Romanies first arrived in Europe they were able to tell people that they had come there from India; but this did not become general knowledge and in time was forgotten by the Romanies themselves. At the popular level various hypotheses spread, some quite bizarre; they were thought to be survivors of a prehistoric race, Druids, Nubians, dwellers emerging from the hollow Earth, visitors from space, or simply a population recruited from the fringes of European society that artificially dyed its skin and spoke a concocted jargon for purposes of criminal activity.Â Never referred to by their self-ascription Romanies (from an Indic root meaning âpersonâ), many other names were given to them, most commonly Gypsies, Gitanos, Gitans (i.e. Egyptians), and Zigeuner, Tsiganes and Cingaros (all from Greek UJF (i.e. âuntouchables,â from their perceived aloofness from the non-Romani populations).Â Stealing became associated very early on with the Romanies who, forbidden by law from taking up residence in a township, and refused service by shopkeepers, resorted to subsistence theft in order to survive.Â Measures taken to keep Romanies at a distance, even to destroy their existence, were sometimes surprisingly harsh; in 1830 the Nordhausen city council attempted to bring about the eventual eradication of the Romani population by taking children away from their parents for permanent placement with German families. A Reinland hunterâs diary from 1835 recorded the murder of âa Gypsy woman and her suckling babyâ for sport in his list of kills, and whole forests were set ablaze during the same period to drive out Romanies camped there.
In the mid-18th century a student at a Dutch university observed that words in the Romani language (some of which he had learnt from laborers on his familyâs estate in Hungary) resembled Indian words.Â This fact eventually found its way into a Vienna newspaper, and by the 1780s the first full-length book on the subject, Heinrich Grellmannâs Die Zigeuner, was published.Â This coincided with Sir William Jonesâ famous lecture on the genetic (rather than random) relatedness of languages, which initiated the eventual emergence of linguistics as a scientific discipline.Â
Because European scholars gave special status to the âclassicalâ languages, and because Sanskrit was one of these, and because Romani was demonstrably descended from Sanskrit, ascertaining the precise origins of the Romani people and their language occupied a number of scholars throughout the 19th century.Â The prevailing theory regards Romanies as being descendants of a mixed ethno-linguistic Indian population who were assembled as a military force to resist, but who were ultimately defeated by, the 11th century Ghaznavid invasions, captives who were in turn appropriated by the Seljuks, who defeated the Ghaznavids in 1038 CE and who went on to occupy Armenia in 1071 CE using, inter alia, those same Indian troops and to establish the Sultanate of Rum in the region of modern Turkey.Â Here, under influence of Byzantine Greek language and culture and through in-marriage, the formerly occupationally defined population became an ethnic one and their military lingua franca crystallized into the Romani language.
The 19th century European domination of its overseas colonies and the prevailing urge to convert âheathenâ peoples to Christianity led to notions of the biological and developmental superiority of Europeans over other human groups.Â Combining these socially motivated attitudes with the models provided by the new sciences of botany and zoology, a hierarchy of âracesâ emerged along with ideas of âracial purity.âÂ Race mixing was seen as necessarily debilitating.Â At the same time, it was recognized that the Romani gene pool included a considerable European component, and that the number of True Romanies as the literature of the day referred to them, meaning individuals of presumed pristine Asian descentâwas small. There are no Romanies anywhere today of unmixed Indian genetic ancestry; those criteria were mainly based upon physical appearance and way of life.
The ubiquitous âGypsyâ image was a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. By the mid 19th century social changes had scarred the land with coalmines and railways, and had populated the cities with an underclass of urban poor, grimly described in the novels of Charles Dickens and others of that period.Â Artists and writers began to idealize the bucolic, cleaner pre-industrial days, and farmyards, meadows and shepherdesses became artistic themes.Â âGypsiesâ were increasingly being portrayed in the literature as having been unaffected by industrial blight, living as they always had in the countryside, subsisting on nuts and berries and the occasional stolen rabbit or chicken, mischievous but harmless and colorful children of nature. Being a closed, non-literate society, the Romani population itself remained unaware of this, and was not easily infiltrated by inquisitive outsiders, who as a result relied heavily upon their own imaginations to supplement what they wrote.Â Few people were in a position to refute the portrayal of Romanies by such writers as e.g. George Borrow or Charles Godfrey Leland, and thus the fictional stereotype became entrenched. This has grown to become so much a part of the contemporary popular image of âGypsiesâ that it now constitutes a serious barrier to the recognition of legitimate Romani civil and political effort.Â
While the elusive True Romany was taking on a life of his own in the pages of various Victorian publications the actual Romanies, most of whom differed little physically from western Europeans, were regarded as degenerate âhalf breedsâ contaminating Europe.Â It allowed a non-existent category of ârealâ Romanies while justifying negative attitudes towards their mixed offspring who were, in fact, the actual population.Â In 1835 Tetzner referred in print to Romanies as âthe excrement of humanity,â while in 1850 Robert Knox, in his Races of Men described Romanies as the ârefuse of the human race.âÂ In 1863, Liebich described them as worthless life, a phrase which was applied to them by Kulemann six years later, and which was to have ominous significance in Hitlerâs Germany.
Basing his ideas on Darwin, Cesare Lombroso published his influential work Lâuomo deliquente in 1876, which contained a lengthy chapter on the genetically criminal character of the Romanies, whom he described as âa living example of a whole race of criminals.âÂ In the United States, immigration policies dated 1883 and 1885 forbade the entry of Romanies into the country.
In 1886, a directive issued by Chancellor von Bismarck led to the creation of policies designed to deport non-German-born Romanies.Â In the early 1890s, the Swabian parliament organized a conference on the âGypsy Scumâ (Zigeunergeschmeiss) at which the military was empowered to control their movements.Â
In 1899 Houston Chamberlain published The Foundations of the 19th Century supporting the German philosophy of its own racial superiority and arguing for a ânewly-shapedâ and âespecially deserving Aryan race.â This was regarded as complete academic justification for actions directed at the Romani minority throughout the German-speaking territories. An information agency was established in Munich under the direction of Alfred Dillmann to consolidate reports on the movement of Romanies throughout German lands, and a register of all Gypsies over the age of six began to be compiled. This led in turn to the appearance of Alfred Dillmannâs Zigeuner-Buch (the âGypsy Bookâ) in 1905, which lay the groundwork for what was to come twenty eight years later. It maintained that the German people were âsufferingâ from a âplagueâ of Gypsies, who were âa pest against which society must unflaggingly defend itself,â and who were to be âcontrolled by the police most severely,â being âruthlessly punishedâ whenever necessary.Â The notion of the particular dangers of a mixed Romani and white gene pool, which Dillmann considered to characterize almost the entire Gypsy population, resurfaced in Nazi Germany, leading to Himmlerâs 1938 directive referring to the endgĂŒltige LĂ¶sung der Zigeunerfrage â the Final Solution of the Gypsy Question.
While the major episode in Romani history during the preceding century was the abolition of slavery in Romania and the resulting massive out-migration from that part of Europe to the rest of the world, the 20th century was marked by two main events: the Holocaust and the collapse of Communism in Europe.Â It also saw the emergence of organized Romani political activity, which flourished following the end of the First World War in Eastern Europe. In Russia however, all Romani activism was quickly suppressed by Stalin, who later also forbade speaking the Romani language.
Unlike the Nazi policies of the Third Reich, The First World War saw no specific actions anywhere taken against Romanies, although they suffered considerable losses in combat.Â This was particularly so in the conflicts between the Austro-Hungarians and Serbia, for which country Romanies fought loyally and for whom a monument was later erected in Belgrade âin recognition of the Romani heroes who died or were killed during the 1914-1918 war.âÂ
In 1920, employing in its title a phrase describing Romanies coined by Richard Leibich in 1863, a book by Binding and Hoche, On the Disposition of Lives Unworthy of Life, appeared in Germany that recommended euthanizing those with âincurable hereditary diseases.â On May 26, 1933 the new Nazi government introduces a law to legalize sterilization; on July 14 Hitlerâs cabinet passed a law against the propagation of âlife unworthy of life,â using Liebichâs phrase.Â It was âthe law for the prevention of hereditarily-diseased offspring,â and operated against certain categories of people, âspecifically Gypsies and most of the Germans of black color.âÂ Perceived âcriminalityâ was interpreted as a genetic, i.e. racial, defect characterizing Romanies, and as such an incurable disease. In Nazi Germany from January 1934 onwards, Romanies were being selected for transfer to camps for processing, which includes sterilization both by injection and by castration.Â Camps were established at Dachau, Dieselstrasse, Sachsenhausen, Marzahn and Vennhausen during the next three years.Â
In 1922 in Baden, all Romanies began to be fingerprinted and photographed, and in Switzerland in the following year, the Pro Juventute organization began the forced permanent removal of Romani children from their parents, a practice that lasted until 1984.Â In 1926 a law was passed in Bavaria to combat âGypsy nomads,â while in Romania, The General Association of Gypsies of Romania was founded by Gheorghe Nicolae, who organizes a conference in Bucharest called âUnited Gypsies of Europe.âÂ He sought to establish a national commemoration of the abolition of slavery each December 23rd.Â His organization also envisions a Romani hospital and university, and pushed for better communication and cooperation with Romani populations outside of Romania.Â It was at that conference that the official green and blue Romani flag was adopted.
In Prussia in 1927 Romanies were required to be photographed and fingerprinted and to carry identity cards, and in Bavaria none were allowed to travel in family groups or to own firearms. Those over sixteen were liable for incarceration in special work camps. A group of Romanies was tried for cannibalism in Slovakia, and a Norwegian law forbade the entry of Romanies into that country.Â A year later in Germany, Romanies were placed under permanent police surveillance, in direct violation of the constitution of the Weimar Republic. In 1929 the Munich municipal government jointly established the Division of Gypsy Affairs with The International Criminology Bureau (Interpol) in Vienna.Â Working together they imposed up to two yearsâ detention in ârehabilitation campsâ for Romanies aged sixteen years and older.
The late 1920s also saw the emergence of a Romani âroyal lineâ in Poland, where it was particularly attractive to members of the Kwiek family, descendants of slaves liberated in Romania seventy years before. A number of Kwieks had been able to establish a dynasty and be recognized as âkingsâ by local police and government officials, who even endorsed their elections. Michael Kwiek II, who succeeded his father King Gregory in 1930, held court regularly. In 1934, he announced his aim of creating a Romani state on the banks of the Ganges in India, the original Romani homeland. This far-reaching plan was terminated when he was forced to abdicate and leave Poland by his successor, Mathias Kwiek. Mathias made a number of proposals to the Polish government for civil and social reform for the nationâs Romani population, but general antigypsyism, and tensions within the Romani community over competition for the throne, resulted in little being accomplished.Â Among those contending were Joseph Kwiek, who had his own plan for a Romani homeland in South Africa, and Basil Kwiek, who had helped to depose King Michael. It was not until 1937 that Janusz Kwiek successfully petitioned the Archbishop of Warsaw to recognise him as king of the Romani people in the country.Â As a consequence, invitations were sent to various European heads of state, and he was crowned Janos I on July 4 of that year. He approached Mussoliniâs fascist government to ask that Romanies be allowed to settle in an area between Somalia and Abyssinia. The following year, however, Portschy in Nazi Germany recommended that the Romani population be eliminated, rather than simply removed from Europe, and sterilization measures were immediately stepped up. The establishment of a Romani colony in Africa never materialized, but Janosz Kwiekâs dream of representation in the League of Nationsâor as it is today the United Nationsâdid materialize in the 1970s. With the Nazi invasion of Poland and the policy of extermination of the Romanies, Romani unity was critically disrupted. Kwiek, as leader, was ordered to collaborate with the death squads, but refused, and was executed.
Meanwhile, some members of the Kwiek family had moved to France, where their talent for stimulating Romani political activity helped to establish a new organization, The World Romani Community.
Two laws issued in Nuremberg in Hitlerâs Third Reich in 1933 forbade Germans from marrying âJews, Negroes and Gypsies.âÂ Starting on September 15, 1935, Romanies became subject to the restrictions of the Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which forbade intermarriage or sexual relations between âAryanâ and ânon-Aryanâ peoples.Â Romanies were no longer allowed to vote, and a policy statement issued by the Nazi Party stated âIn Europe generally, only Jews and Gypsies come under consideration as members of an alien people.â
In March 1936, the first document referring to âthe introduction of the total solution to the Gypsy problem on either a national or an international levelâ was drafted under the direction of State Secretary Hans Pfundtner of the Reichs Ministry of the Interior, and the main Nazi institution to deal with Romanies, the Racial Hygiene and Population Biology and Research Unit of the Ministry of Health, was established in Berlin.Â Its expressed purpose was to determine whether Romanies were âhumansâ or âsubhumansâ (Untermenschen).Â Romanies were cleared off the streets of Berlin and put into a camp because of the upcoming Olympic Games.Â In 1937 a Nazi law was passed which stated that a person could be incarcerated for being inherently, as well as actually, a criminal.Â
The first Nazi documents to mention The Final Solution of the Gypsy Question (âdie endghltige L`sung der Zigeunerfrageâ) specifically were issued on March 24 and December 8, 1938 signed by Himmler.Â Between June 12-18 that year, âGypsy Clean-Up Weekâ (âZigeuneraufr@umungswocheâ) was in effect, and hundreds of Romanies throughout Germany were rounded up and incarcerated.Â Hitlerâs Chancellery received a report stating that âGypsies place the purity of the blood of the German peasantry in perilâ. The following year, the Office of Racial Hygiene issued the statement that âAll Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick; the only solution is elimination.Â The aim should therefore be the elimination without hesitation of this defective element in the population.â
In January or February 1940, the first mass murder of the Holocaust took place in the concentration camp at Buchenwald, when 250 Romani children from Brno were used as guinea pigs to test Zyklon-B, later used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.Â In Czechoslovakia, special camps for dispatching Romanies were built at Lety and HodonĂn.
On July 31 1941 Reinhard Heydrich, head of The Reich Main Security Office and the leading organizational architect of the Naziâs Final Solution, ordered the Einsatzkommandos âto kill all Jews, Gypsies and mental patients.âÂ Romani children were forbidden to attend school.Â In Slovakia, the âDecree on the Organization of the Living Conditions of the Gypsiesâ ordered that Romanies be physically separated from the rest of the population.Â
In Croatia in May 1942, the government and the UstaĆĄi police jointly ordered the arrest of all Romanies for transportation to the extermination camp at Jasenovac.Â Their personal valuables were sent to the Vatican, where they evidently remain.Â On July 31 the Ministry of the Eastern Occupied Territories reaffirmed to the Wehrmacht that Romanies and Jews were to be dealt with identically.Â Justice Minister Otto Thierack stated âJews and Gypsies should be unconditionally exterminated.âÂ At this time the Nazis were beginning to compile data on Romani populations in Britain and elsewhere in anticipation of the eventual takeover of those countries.Â On December 16, Himmler signed the order stating that â[a]ll Gypsies are to be deported to the Zigeunerlager at Auschwitz concentration camp regardless of their degree of racial admixture,âÂ marking the actual implementation of the Final Solution of the Gypsy Question.Â On the night of August 2nd-3rd 1944, 2,900 Romanies were gassed and cremated at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in an action remembered as Zigeunernacht
At the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in October 1945, former SS General Otto Ohlendorf stated that in the killing campaigns âthere was no difference between Gypsies and Jews,â although no Romanies were called to testify in their own behalf.Â Current estimates now place Romani losses in the Holocaust as high as one and a half million.Â In 1950 the Whrttemburg Ministry of the Interior denied war crimes reparations claims by Romani survivors, stating âGypsies were persecuted under the National Socialist regime not for any racial reason, but because of an antisocial criminal record.âÂ In 1980, West German government spokesman Gerold Tandler called Romani demands for war crimes reparations âunreasonableâ and âslander[ous].âÂ The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council was established in Washington, but no Romanies were invited to serve on it.Â Its Chairman later told the press that Romani demands to be represented were âcockamamieâ and that Romani activists are âcranksâ and âeccentrics.â
During the years following the war, the Romani population in Europe was numb.Â Political activity was minimal and Romanies were reluctant even to identify their ethnicity publicly or draw attention to it through group effort.Â Â No reparations had been forthcoming for the Nazi atrocities committed against them, and no organized attempts had been made by any national or international agency to re-orient the survivors such as were being put into large scale effect for survivors of other victimized groups; instead, preâwar antiâRomani legislation continued to operate against them. Â Â In Germany, until as late as 1947, those who had come out of the camps had to keep well hidden, or risk being incarcerated once again, this time in labor camps, if they could not produce documentation proving their German citizenship.Â Â
This began to change in 1959, when Ionel Rotaru, a Romanian Romani living in France established The World Romani Community. His endeavors gained support from as far afield as Poland and Canada; he drew up elaborate, nationalistic plans for the Romanies, including the creation of an autonomous territory within France, and a homeland in Somalia. He sought schooling, the repeal of anti-Romani laws, the development of Romaniâlanguage literature, and war crime reparations from the German government.Â He founded the Romani Cultural Centre in Brussels and went so far as to have Romani passports printed.
His utopian ideals proved to be a threat to Charles de Gaulleâs government, said to be embarrassed by Romani claims for war crimes reparations and which, in 1965, made The World Romani Community illegal. Rotaru continued to fight, however, and the notion of a geographical homeland, Romanestan, remained uppermost in his mind. It was important, he said, to have âa territory which would serve as a refuge in the event of persecutionâ.Â In that year also, and in response to De Gaulle, a new organization called The International Gypsy Committee was created to replace it. Its leader was the French Romani Vanko Rouda (Jacques Dauvergne) whose more pragmatic approach concentrated on issues such as war crimes reparations rather than Romani passports. It stimulated the creation of affiliated bodies in other countries, such as The Romani Council in Britain and The Nordic Roma Council in Sweden. Within six years, twenty-three international organizations in twenty-two countries had been linked by the International Gypsy Committee. In 1971, it organized the first World Romani Congress, an event funded in part by the World Council of Churches and the Indian Government and attended by representatives from India and some twenty other countries. At the Congress, the green and blue flag from the 1933 conference, now embellished with the red, 16-spoked chakra was reaffirmed as the emblem of the Romani people and the national anthem, DĆŸelem DĆŸelem, since sung at all congresses, adopted. The International Rom Committee became the permanent secretariat and executive authority presiding over the congress.Â From it, negotiations were successfully initiated with the Council of Europe (primarily in connection with anti-Romani legislation and free passage), and with the government of West Germany (in connection with war crimes reparations.
The second World Romani Congress took place in Geneva in April, 1978 attended by sixty delegates, and observers from twenty-six countries. This time, the Indian links were more heavily emphasized and better represented: the Prime Minister of the Punjab, and his Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Education, as well as a number of other dignitaries from India came, and were instrumental in urging the Congress to apply for nonâgovernmental status within the United Nations. Â A petition was drawn up and in November 1979, presented in person to the NGO bureau of the United Nations in New York. Making the formal request for consultative status was a delegation led by Honorary President of the Romani Union, the late Yul Brynner.Â By the following February, this had been granted. An earlier petition seeking recognition of the Romanies had been sent to the UN Commission on Human Rights by the International Romani Committee in 1968 but was unsuccessful. In 1993 the United Nations in New York was successfully petitioned for elevation from Observer to Special Consultative (Category II) status for the International Romani Union, which is now registered in the Economic and Social Council, the Department of Public Information, UNICEF and as an NGO.Â At the Geneva congress, a committee called the International Romani Unionâ whose name has gradually come to stand for the International Rom Committee itselfâhad been created to plan the third world congress. That took place in GĂ¶ttingen in 1981, with 300 delegates from over twenty countries participating.
Between April 4-13 1990, the Fourth World Romani Congress took place at Serock on the outskirts of Warsaw, Poland, sponsored in part by UNESCO and in July 2000 the Fifth World Romani Congress was convened in Prague, in the new Czech Republic.Â The Sixth took place in Italy in 2004 and the Polish Romani journalist Stanislaus Stankiewicz elected as its new president.
The overriding theme of the Geneva congress in 1978 had been the fate of Romanies in the Third Reich, but while numbers of survivors of the Baro Porrajmos (the Romani Holocaust) testified and the resolution was made that the issue of reparations be tackled headâon, the German governments still remained intractable in their position not to give full acknowledgment to Romani losses under the Nazis. Four years later, one German newspaper wrote that Romanies had âinsulted the honorâ of the memory of the Holocaust by wanting to be associated with it. In 1988 the East German government announced its resolution to pay $100 million in war crimes reparations to Holocaust survivors, but refused to include Romanies as recipients.Â Thousands of Romani refugees were expelled by the German government in 1992, which paid Romania $20,000 to take them back.Â In response to the rising tide of antigypsyism, the UN Commission on Human Rights passes a resolution that same year to protect Romanies.Â In Barcelona, Spain, Romanies were cleared from the streets by police and confined to El Campo de la Bota because of the forthcoming Olympic Games, just as the Nazis did in Berlin in 1936.
In Bradford, England, apartheid laws were introduced forbidding Romanies from entering that cityâs limits without a permit. In October the next year, the U.S. Congressional Caucus on Human Rights sent a petition to the government of Czechoslovakia protesting its policy of the coercive sterilization of Romani women and the forcible permanent removal of Romani children from their families. In Hungary, street gangs were reported as beating up Romanies, but âpolice [we]re giving violence against Gypsies low priority.âÂ
The collapse of Communism in 1989 brought major changes to Europeâs ca. six to eight million Romanies.Â The resulting rise of ethnic nationalism led, in its extreme form to âethnic cleansing,â particularly in the Balkans, causing non co-ethnics to be forced out of the new nations, and even killed.Â Romanies, with no country of their own in which to find refuge, suffered particularly harshly.Â Refugees from central Europe began seeking asylum in the West, particularly Canada and Britain, making headline news.Â Responses have included the creation in 1995 of an advisory council on Romanies by The Council of Europe and of the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest in 1996. A conference entitled The Prevention of Violence and Discrimination Against Romanies was held in Romania in 1997.Â Â Â In 2001, a delegation of Romanies from many countries attend the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, and deliver a petition to the United Nations asking that they be recognized as a non-territorial nation with a permanent seat in the UN Assembly.
The situation does not seem to be improving; at the beginning of the 21st century The Economist was able to report that throughout Europe, Romanies were âat the bottom of every socio-economic indicator: the poorest, the most unemployed, the least educated, the shortest-lived, the most welfare dependent, the most imprisoned and the most segregatedâ.Â A World Bank report dated 2003 stated âRoma are the most prominent poverty risk group in many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.Â They are poorer than other groups, more likely to fall into poverty, and more likely to remain poor.Â In some cases poverty rates for Roma are more than 10 times that of non-Roma.Â A recent survey found that nearly 80 percent of Roma in Romania and Bulgaria were living on less than $4.30 per day . . . Even in Hungary, one of the most prosperous accession countries, 40 percent of Roma live below the poverty line.
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