April 7th, 2011


a repost from zana russell

We are roma and not gypsies

Close your eyes and envision a "Gypsy". What did your subjective mind conjure up? Was it consistent with the present day myth that portrays the Roma as earringed, dark men riding horses alongside a caravan strung with pots and pans, women and dirty-faced children whose laughter echoes through the valleys, villages, and towns of which these exotic and mysterious people travel? Can't you just hear the violins playing in the background? That's probably what you think of and, in all honesty, who can blame you? The "eyes" through which we view the world is a manufactured perspective that serves only one force within society: the dominant one. A dominant force that includes assimilation, stereotyping, labeling, and most of all, its own perpetuation. A faceless, dominating force that devalues the rich heritage found within each ethnicity contributes to the composition of peoples referred to as Canadians. A home for those with enough courage to share their space with people whose views may not parallel their own; a home for the lovers of freedom.

RECENTLY, I STUMBLED onto something extraordinary. During my morning ritual of caffeine and nicotine at a local diner, I came across an announcement that a Roma symposium was to be held that very same day.

At first a chill ran down my spine, and then I became quite giddy with excitement. I rearranged my day so that I could get downtown to this historical event where I sat amongst at least two hundred people whose ethnicity was as diverse as this great nation's. There were more Roma people present at this symposium than I had ever witnessed under one roof. I am also a Romy (a female Roma) from Prague who escaped the Communists during the political upheaval that took place in 1968.

My family and I came to Canada as Czech citizens seeking political asylum, as did thousands of others who had also feared the worst, and have now been a citizen of this country for over 24 years. Not once, however, had I been given the opportunity to embrace my ethnic background-the result of the continuing stream of hideous lies and myths that have followed the Roma since at least the eleventh century when we were labeled "Gypsies". A label that connotes stereotypical images and behaviors, the "Gypsy" is embedded in worldwide mass culture and has kept the true identity of the Roma people hidden, like some dark and evil secret, from the Gadje (non-Roma people) for the fear of racism and persecution.

Not only is the word "Gypsy" a derogatory term to the Roma, but it is also an emblem of sorts, similar to the yellow star of Israel that was placed upon the Jews by the fascist in an attempt to shame the wearers. The term "Gypsy" not only serves to stigmatize the Roma, but also perpetuates their marginalization on a grand scale. However, it fails to denote the fact that the Roma have also contributed to the societies in which they have resided, despite the fact they have been forced to deny their own identity. My uncle for example, teaches at Charles University in Prague, as opposed to breeding horses or stealing chickens, and I have been employed as a department store private investigator, as opposed to shoplifting my wardrobe.

So, as the process of religious assimilation was enforced systematically throughout Europe during the eleventh century, the free-spirited Roma resisted the institutionalized religion of their day-since to agree with the non-Romas on the issue of God would have been similar to spitting on one's own mother. The God of the Roma was quite different from the one proposed by the organized universal 'church' body. The God that the Roma worshipped then, and today, does not force his or her children to walk a certain way, talk a certain way, or even pray a certain way, but rather, the God of the Roma people is cause for sheer celebration since she or he loves everyone without reason. So, due to the Roma resistance against religious enforcement and imposed assimilation put forth by the reigning clergy of the eleventh century, the Roma were rendered "Gypsies". A shortened form of the original word used to plague the Roma people: "Egyptian", which, when read spiritually, means unclean. This is the fundamental reason why the Roma people find the word "Gypsy" derogatory and extremely offensive. Also, in modern times, the word "gypped" has also been derived from the original label or 'emblem' that was placed upon the Roma.

AT THE MAY 26 SYMPOSIUM where the women of the Coast Salish were also welcomed to publicly worship God through the art of the Siem singers and the Ay Ay Mut dancers, Mr. Ronald Lee, the delegate of the International Romani Union of Canada, spoke eloquently both about the history of the Roma, and the present-day political/social climate in Europe that has prompted the recent migration of the Roma to Canada. There definitely appears to be a resurgent and blatant hostility toward the Roma people in countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary. The May 27 issue of The Globe & Mail reports that the Roma "have been assaulted by skinheads, chased out of their homes when they moved into non-Roma neighborhoods, and harassed by police." Within this same article, Mr. Ronald Lee also states that only a "few Roma can afford to come to North America" in order to find relief from the violence of racism.

And while my reactions to the atrocities that Lee talked about are could be characterized as indignation and outrage, I also felt a sense of hope. Here was the delegate of the International Romani Union of Canada speaking with distinct passion and concern for the Roma in a country where there is genuine concern for the disenfranchised and alienated-a point which became evident when questions were opened up to the floor. I saw concerned Canadians standing up to find out how they could assist the persecuted Roma that had managed to migrate to Canada, and also, how they could better educate themselves about the Roma peoples in general. Two of the books suggested by Mr. Lee which went beyond the myth of the "Gypsy were Goddamn Gypsy, his own autobiography, and Ian Hancocks' The Pariah Syndrome.

MR. LEE ALSO SPOKE OF the rights and freedoms that have been achieved by concerned Roma and non-Roma advocates for the Wandering Nation's plight. At the symposium I learned a vast number of facts that had somehow been kept from me and the other Roma that filled the McGill Theatre. For instance, since 1979 the Roma have been recognized as an authentic people, with rights to language and culture, by the United Nations. It was in 1979 when the International Romani Union was granted NGO status. The NGO serves as an umbrella organization which represents national Roma organizations at various UN bodies and committees, and has consultative status with the UN. Also, as of 1971, the Roma people now have both a national flag and an anthem called 'Djelme, Djelme', or 'I have traveled, I have traveled', which I heard for the first time on this memorable night. Needless to say, the experience of being 'open' as a Romy and amongst other members of my people in a setting filled with concern over the plight of the Roma was life-changing and inspiring.

THE HOPE AND courage that all the participants of the "beyond the Myth" symposium displaced that evening gave me the courage and hope that I had almost thought was inappropriate for a Romy who has practically assimilated entirely into Canadian society. I do not speak the Mother Tongue(which is how some historians refer to the language of the Roma peoples), yet I understand it fully; as I do not have a single Romani friend outside of my immediate family. I also commend the Coast Salish women who had given those present the privilege of experiencing the power of their spirituality which not only demonstrated their deep passion for the Creator, but also contributed to a serious yet joyous evening. An evening that celebrated the survival of the Roma, the spirituality of the Coast Salish, Aboriginal women, and an evening where a theatre of a couple of hundred people shared the same heart in regards to the ongoing plight of the Wandering Nation: the Roma.



This years celebration of the International Roma Day, 8th April, takes place at a time of important change. Recent events in North Africa and the Middle East have forced many of us to think again about our attitudes, encouraging us happily to believe once again that anything is possible. The Spring revolutions are a thrilling and uplifting example of the irresistible force of people eager for change and with nothing to lose. The images of the thousands of people demonstrating for their basic human rights had a resonance far beyond their national boundaries. As Roma, we need the spirit of the spring revolutions right here in Europe. The time for change is now.

The past four decades have seen enormous changes confronting both the Romani people, and those who study us and work with us. For so many Roma, these changes have meant adapting once again to new and typically hostile surroundings, seeking security in employment, education, housing and in health and legal care. For the non-Romani world it has meant making room for newcomers who arrive with a complex baggage of stereotypes and a legacy of persecution.

Anti-Roma hate speech and violence stir dark memories of events more than 70 years ago which brought this continent to the brink of the moral abyss. Extremism is once again finding its range and its voice, bringing a poisonous cocktail of ancient gossip, medieval superstition and callous discrimination into mainstream politics.

“We must stand together as believers in common decency and the fundamental values of human rights and the rule of law and condemn in the strongest terms those whose only purpose is division and discord. Politicians and media organisations should not have license to use their bully pulpits to whip up anti-Roma prejudice.” said Mr. Rudko Kawczynski, President of the European Roma and Travellers Fourm.

In order to succeed in eliminating discrimination, it is crucial for everyone to understand that it expresses itself in many different forms. It is not only the most overt examples, such as the use of racial slurs or hate graffiti. Nor is it just the denial of employment, housing or education due to ethnic or cultural background. Discrimination can also take on much more subtle forms, and involve systemic barriers to access leading to real exclusion.

‘I call upon all States to honour their legally and politically binding obligations, including commitments, for those in a position to do so, to give the Roma and Traveller communities equal opportunities and assistance. Today, I encourage all States which have not yet done so, to accede to all these legally and politically binding documents as soon as possible.’ said Mr. Kawczynski.

There are enormous challenges ahead in the quest for a equal opportunities for all -- from achieving more effective coordination and mobilization of resources at the international level, to building better capacity at the national and local levels. All of us can play a part in raising awareness of these challenges; all of us can play our part in overcoming them.

Roma hunting season set to continue

Someone please explain to me the difference between the Jobbiks and the early Nazis, because I am just not seeing it.

"On 6 March, Jobbik’s national leader, MP Gabor Vona, arrived to address a crowd of 1,500 paramilitaries, most of whom were kitted out in the black uniform of Szebb Jövoert ("For a more beautiful future"), an organisation that is covered by the legal umbrella of village self-defence militias. There were also a number of particularly aggressive looking individuals sporting combat fatigues and skinhead haircuts, who were armed with axes, whips and accompanied by pitbulls. When the patrols began, Roma families were too terrified to send their children to school."