East European Immigration

East European Connections

The historical connections between Scotland and Eastern Europe are well established, mainly through trade. By the 17th C there were 40,000+ Scots settled in Poland/Lithuania with a whole district of Cracow set aside for them, and there is a part of Gdansk called Nowe Szkoty. Scots were also the main group of peddlers- hawkers selling all kinds of goods. The word “Szot” means both Scot and a busienss traveller.

They were not always well received. Jews and Scots were frequently grouped together as people to tax and look down upon and the Scots were accused of undercuting local traders. “These people have, like a cencerous ulcer, grown and festered” said the Duke of Prussia. But they gradually integrated and became part of Polish society”


By the 19th C the flow was the other way with a steady stream of Polish, Lithuanian and other East Europeans arriving to work in the coal mines and iron works. – and big increase as a result of WW2. In 2004 many new countries joined the EU and then began the migrations we know today.


In Govanhill the concentration is of Roma from Slovakia and more recently Romania. This is a specific migrant group estimated at about 3,000, living mainly in the Westmoreland and Allison Street area where there are easliy accessible privately rented flats.


For a Better Life

The pattern of migration to Govanhill by Roma has been similar to that of of the Irish, Jewish, Italians and Asians with the “pioneers” settling in and friends and families joining them later. This also means that the links to the home country remain strong. The Slovak Roma are mainly from a collection of villages in the eastern part of the country, such a Pavlovce (street photos below). The Romanians from areas round Arad.



Although work and a better life has been the main motive, the Roma, like the Jews from Russia a century before, were also escaping historic discrimination and racism. As a migrant to Govanhill from Pavlovce said

We Roma have always been humiliated by non-Roma’ but now ‘Migration gave us a chance. I’m going up (dzˇav opre) (to the UK). . . . To earn money . . . What would I do here?! What else is left for us? Here there is nothing to do. (J Grill, 2012 )

After the fall of communism many lost their jobs. Education levels were also low partly due to state discrimination. In eastern Slovakia Roma children have been routinely segregated into “special schools” with poor teaching.

At school in Slovakia, Marcela Adamova’s pale skin and blue eyes qualified her for a seat at the front of the class with the white pupils – while Roma children were pushed to the back. Marcela recalls: “The other children would say, ‘You are white, you are like us, not like them.’ But they were wrong. I am Roma, they just didn’t know it.” .

Roma in Romania were enslaved until the middle of the 19th Century and sent to concentration camps during 1939-45. It is estimated that up to half a million Roma across Europe were exterminated.

Although the new life in Govanhill remains a struggle for many, it has offered a chance to find work and go to school on an equal basis with everybody else, like these children from  Annette Street Primary  .


Formal community life is developing. There are a number of church organisations, a support group (Romano Lav) and each year now in April a celebration of International Roma Day (below) .


On the Streets

Here is an essay about street life in Govanhill by Jan Grill (The making of Roma/Gypsy migrants in post-industrial Scotland). He calls it Poundhill

The main artery pulsing through the Poundhill ( GovanhIll) area today is Belhaven Street, (Allison St ) interconnecting the two major roads that delineate the borders of this urban space. It is on Belhaven Street thatmost business and social interaction take place. It offers a variety of ethnic fast-food outlets,greengrocers, confectioners, butcher shops, barbershops, non-stop convenience stores, betting shops, pawnbrokers and off-licences. As with other areas where large numbers of migrants live, here too there are several travel agencies fused with Western Union branchesand exchange offices.

The Nelson pub (Neeson’s), usually filled with predominantly middle-aged and older white Scottish residents lies at one of the street’s corners. A diversity of smells and textures merges with the drifting aroma of kebab and of green groceries and animates the sensory experiences of passers-by. The street epitomizes the “cultural diversity” that is seen as one of the most distinctive features of Poundhill by its residents and by others. Traces of litter are scattered around, which all residents, regardless of their social and ethnocultural backgrounds, view as one of the major recurrent problems for Poundhill.

Only one hundred meters down Belhaven Street, on the corners of crossing streets, many Roma migrants hang out and talk throughout the day and evening. Leaning against the iron rails many interrupt their errands or simply stop here for a short chat. The Roma migrantsmake small talk and tease each other but also circulate important knowledge and tips for daily survival strategies. They talk and shout across the street or limit themselves to observing and occasionally commenting on the folkpassing by. In a way, these meeting places serve as a substitute for doorsteps in rural Slovakia, where Roma habitually sit on benches, hangingout, chatting and visiting neighbors. Roma often said that they miss the ability to do this in Britain.

This was especially true for youngermen and teenage boys as they consider it boring to stay at home in usually crowded housing. It is outside, on the streets, where their masculinity is negotiated in the company of their malepeers. This contrasts sharply with girls whose movement outside the home is more controlled. Girls who spend too much time outside or who hang out with groups of teenage boys are often criticized by other adult Roma on the grounds of having loose morals.The Roma sense and use of public space does not fit in easily with local practices and understandings. For Roma, spending time in the street is simply part of their daily habitual sociability,but it is also a practice that makes them highly distinctive in Poundhill.

The aesthetics of this sociability stands out in the urban space because of the intensity of interactions, level of noise, and the large crowd of people assembling together. This practice differentiates the Romafrom other Eastern European migrants who only rarely appear to be visible on the streets.

Clearly, some of the locals from more established white and South Asian residents find large numbers of Roma men crowding the streets an unwelcome and even intimidating sight. For example, one afternoon in August 2007, two short Scottish working-class lads were passing by a group of Roma migrants. Because of the jokes and intensive flow of conversation, most of the Roma migrants paid little attention to freeing the way for the passing guys. Making their way through the knot of people, the Scottish lads were apparently annoyed and intimidated by the number of Roma men and their incomprehensible language. Quietly commenting to each other, the Scottish youths turned annoyed looks toward the Roma crowd. Practically none of the migrants paid any special attention to the rancor ingrained in the look of the passing lads, but for some of the local Pound -hill people, these large and noisy gatherings of Roma migrants represent a symbolic encroachment upon the place and obstruction to the movement of long-standing residents within their own neighborhood. “They took over” was a phrase that I frequently overheard white Scots utter in their complaints about the Roma—and other migrant groups—on Poundhill streets.

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