Veerendra Rishi, prezent și la Congresul din Belgrad al IRU


By Grattan Puxon

23/04/2012 – FOR SEVENTY YEARS Roma of

former Yugoslavia have wanted

to see a world congress held in

Belgrade. At the weekend that

wish was fulfilled in the prestigious

setting of the Serbian Parliament


    While the event, staged by the

World Roma Organization, had all

the trappings that could be desired,

it was unable to bring under one

roof all representatives of what is an

expanding and far-flung national civil

rights movement.

    Nevertheless, its initial statement

it echoed what everyone of us feels:

„Behind the facade of an image in Europe

and the world [there] is still apartheid.”

   The organizers went on to compare

the present liberation struggle of the

Romani people with that of Black Africans

in the second half of the 20th century.

    We are not short on common purpose.

That was demonstrated two weeks ago

when Roma Nation Day was celebrated

around the globe. There is a growing

„8 April” movement, vociferous on the

internet and spilling increasingly onto

the street.

    Yet the grass-roots, to be met with

not far from the WRO Congree location

at the Belvil shanty-camp, have been left

largely disconnected from the leadership.

Scared and confused, families at Belvil

count on NGOs to protest their condition.

    In the run-up to Roma Nation Day

commentators reminded us that much

is owed to the lst World Romani Congress

back in 1971. That congress has become

a legend and a myth. Its programme

included local protest action over the

death of three children in a caravan fire.

    Moreover what this congress lacked

was the mantle of a clear mandate. The

last world congress, admittedly an

unsatisfactory affair, was held four years

ago down the road in Zagreb, capital of

Croatia. The two leading cities of former

Yugoslavia are joined by a Tito-era highway

once named the Road of Brotherhood and


    A handicap for the Belgrade event was

that such a spirit is wanting. The IRU

did not officially back this congress. Leading

members stayed away, some members joined

  1. One can argue that the IRU, due to hold

its 8th Congress this year, left a political

vacuum which the WRO stepped in to fill.

    It may be noted in the context of

Serbian politics that Slobodan Berberski,

the first congress president and himself a

legend with  a street named cafter him,

was of a different hue from WRO president

Jovan Damjanovic, a deputy in the present

Serbian Parliament.

    Berberski was an anti-fascist and member

of the Yugoslav League of Communists. He

fought for an upgrading of Roma from that

of an ethnic-group to a nationality (narodnost).

This was not achieved in his time. It was

enhanced, though not entirely accepted by

the broader movement, at the mile-stone

5th Congress in Prague when the definition

„nation without territory” was adopted.

    Whether the WRO reference to Blacks in

America (another nation without territory?)

means that Damjanovic supports this concept

is yet to be seen. The clear reality, in terms of

daily life, is that since the end of the Cold War

Roma in their millions are more dispersed and

down-trodden than ever.

     Two essentials are required to get us

out of the present hole: more protest action

and more democracy. Both depend on building

at the grass-roots. A nascent „8 April” movement

is appealing for co-ordination of mass protests.

Voter-registration would bring empowerment

at state and local level, as well as providing a

voter-base for the movement itself. This has

been exemplified in Serbia with the registration

of 60,000 voters for the election of the

state-sponsored Roma National Council.

    Meanwhile, across Europe rank-and-file

activists face a choice of four overlapping

international organizations, namely the IRU,

the ERTF, the ERU and now the WRO.

Whether this plurality must continue or not,

mass mobilization and protest is as necessary

to effective leadership as oxygen to the human

body. The voice in the street will magnify

our voice in Brussels and Strasbourg, and even

in that forum for family-squabbles the UN.

veerendra rishi

Jovan Damjanovic – President of Word Roma Organization,

Veerendra Rishi, Indian Institute of Romani Studies (left)

and Dr Shyam Singh Shashi.


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