ROMA INDEX: Interview concerning the 1st World Roma Congress 1971
[23 March 2019]
1.Зошто беше организиран прв светски конгрес на Ромите?
1.Why the First World Congress of the Roma was organized?
The Congress was organized in an attempt – which proved successful – to overcome the separation of Roma by what Churchill had called the “iron-curtain” that divided Europe. I had been in Jugoslavia as early as 1952, the first year “western” visitors were allowed. The idea of the Congress was discussed in Paris as early as 1965. Vajda Vojvod and others of the Comite International Rom, the predecessor of the IRU, talked a lot about it. I had joined the CIR the year before while in Ireland. Vajda visited our camp, where about 70 families, with horses, wagons and tents were “occupying” a big field called Cherry Orchard. For Travellers (Pirutne, both Pavees and Roma) the issue was about obtaining legal camping places. Education too was a big issue. We had built two small make-shift schools. The first had been burned down during an eviction, one of many from pieces of land around Dublin.
2.Кои беа потребите на ромската заедница во тоа време?
2.What were the needs of the Roma community at that time?
The global need was to unite and have a common voice. The same need we have today. The more local need was to end police harassment of those on the roads in caravans. In Paris, the major issue was the destruction of the “bidonvilles”, the settlements of Roma around Paris, many of whom had come from Jugoslavia. The CIR was also concerned, of course, about the genocide carried out against Roma by the Nazis under their New Order in Europe. We were inspired by the Roma partizans who had fought the Germans and Italians, and I listened avidly to the stories told by Zarko Jovanovic, from Batajnica, and others. Later in the 1970s I heard more about all that from my own parents-in-law in Sutka.
3.Дали Вашите цели и очекувања по оддржувањето на Првиот Светски конгрес се исполнија?
3. After the First World Congress did you reached or fulfilled your aims and expectations?
We were working with a blank piece of paper, if you understand. So it was not difficult to fulfil some of the immediate needs; adoption of the blue and green Roma Nation flag, embossed with the red Ashok Chakra; the national anthem Dzelem Dzelem. For which new lyrics were composed by Zarko during the bus journey to Walsall, near Birmingham, where Congress delegates carried out their first protest action. That was over the death three of three children in a caravan after an eviction. Finally, the designation of Roma Nation Day. As for other aims and long-term expectations, nearly 50 years later are we not still fighting for these?
4.Дали имавте притисоци за сенародно организирање на ромската заедница од било која државна или меѓународна институција?
4. Did you have any pressure from any state or international institution about the international organizing of the Roma community?
Of course. The location of the Congress had to be kept secret because of anti-Gypsy racists and hostility in London. Gypsy were encamped on the roadsides near that location. Those who were members of the Gypsy Council (funded in 1966) attended parts of the Congress. They applauded when at the final session Fajk Abdi announced the word “Gypsy” should no longer be used but instead Roma. Fajk was the most impressive delegate at the Congress. He could connect with the people. Later in Sutka I saw how he led the Phralipe; a combination of discipline and inspiration. I miss him very much. He was my neighbour. We discussed many things at that time, including the possibility of a European-wide political party. I went to Parliament and saw how Fajk operated there. Roma status was being promoted also in Beograd by Slobodan Berberski, the first president of the Congress. That struggle to be raised from ethnic group to narodnost. We were supported by Ales Bebler, Jugoslav representative at the UN. Indian Ambassador Menon visited Sutka, remarking that it was like seeing a part of India.
5.Што е ромски идентитет според Вас? Дали знаењето на химната “Dzelem Dzelem“, почитувањето на ромското знаме како и самоопределувањето кон ромска припадност е доволна да се чувствуваш како Ром? Дали постојат и други елементи за идентификување со ромската заедница?
5. What does the term ‘Roma identity’ mean to you? Is knowing of the anthem “Dzelem Dzelem”, the Romani flag or the self-identification as Roma ethnicity enough to feel like a Rom? Are there any other elements which can identified with the romani community?
You have hit on the most important with the word “community”. Community is our greatest strength. That is why – and how – we were able in recent years to fight back so hard against, for example, the destruction here in England of the Dale Farm community. We held together against all attacks. Defended ourselves with lawyers and with barbed-wire and scaffolding barricades. It took an assault by riot police to break the gates and bring in the bulldozers. I know there are divisions and rivalries. I’m not blind. Political divisions too. Nonetheless, anyone who has attends a bijav in Sutka feels there the sense of togetherness and community. That’s why we are strong. Romani culture, the Romani language grows ever richer and stronger. Blooms in the home, in the street and now on the internet. There is even a kind of virtual Romanistan on the world-wide-web!
6.Кон што треба да се стремат денешните лидери Роми од владиниот и невладиниот сектор?
6. On what should be more focused today’s Roma leaders from the governmental and non-governmental sector?
I believe leaders are focused on the right issues – jobs, education, welfare, housing. The problem is much of the investment by the EU never reaches the intended recipients. Too much funding is eaten up by administration. However, there’s also a mismatch between the aspirations of the people to be recognized collectively as an emerging Roma Nation; a nation that wants to achieve self-emancipation as Fajk said half a century ago. And the view of Governments – more so in western Europe (I include the UK) who want to handle Roma as a social issue only. A people’s sovereignty is at stake here. In a rapidly changing world the declaration of the 5th Congress defining Roma as a nation without territory holds a deeper political potential. Equality in citizenship rights, yes. Integration into a market-dominated society? I say, hold on, let’s examine that.
If Roma are to reach full recognition, there is I believe only one way forward; take the democratic road. Participatory democracy. Meaning to be active and responsible as individuals and as voters. A recent conference in Brussels urged Roma to gain fuller representation through the ballot box. Sutka is unique in being able to elect an MP and municipal council. Serbia has 60,000 Roma enrolled to elect a national council. What we need next is an internal voting system for the global Romani movement. A start has been made to build one. It will help to heal fragmentation, bring diverse communities together; link Roma in some 50 countries; all those parts of an historic Indian diaspora. Taking advantage of the latest technology, voters are enlisting in the Roma Nation Mandate
The Democratic Transition adopted by the 10th Congress in Skopje in 2016 involves offering enfranchisement to all Roma (over sixteen years old). Several thousand have signed up. The system can handle 100,000. The potential is millions. You only need an email address. Send to Romvote@gmail.com I urge anyone reading this to do so. Everyone can help restore the heritage of the 1971 Congress.
Unfortunately, the elections and the Congress itself, planned for London this year, had to be abandoned due to Brexit. I believe there is a motivated younger generation who can carry this through. I’m working for DT and an open, inclusive Congress with direct elections which will bring greater legitimacy, accountability, and political clout. That Jubilee Congress is scheduled for 2021.
7.Како треба да се одбележи 8-ми Април? Со прославување на денот на нацијата или со борба за унапредување на заедницата?
7. How should be marked the 8th of April? By celebrating the day of the nation or by fighting for advancement of the community?
Both. Roma Nation Day was initiated by the 1971 Congress. Be aware, it was not intended to be a lesser version such an “international day of the Roma”. It is a day to celebrate the solidarity of the Roma Nation. It is an opportunity also to coordinate action across frontiers in the fight against anti-Roma racists, against fascist groups; against the killings and violent attacks; against mainstream political policies that have see tens of thousands expelled from France; camps destroyed in Italy; houses bulldozed in Bulgaria. Here in Britain 200,000 migrant Roma face the threat of deportation because of Brexit. In this situation, we in London will be holding protests on “8 April” outside Parliament and at a number of foreign embassies. This we’re coordinating with organizations across Europe, and in America too. We shall come out in the street to raise Roma flags with a common theme. What better way to demonstrate unity; to demonstrate the existence of a vital Roma Nation?
8.Кои се Вашите ставови за понатамошното организирање на ромската заедница на национално и меѓународно ниво?
8. What are your views on the further organizing of the Roma community, on a national and international level?
I have spoken of the Democratic Transition. In addition there is the matter of representation at the United Nations. The IRU obtained NGO status back in 1979. It is hoped to have a delegation in New York around “8 April”. UN assistant-genera secretary Farhan Haq has agreed to receive delegates at the UN building. The plan is to follow this with a bigger meeting in Geneva, seat of the UN Human Rights Council. This would be led by Zoran Dimov, president of the IRU. It may be many years before the Roma flag flies alongside those of other nations. But we are on the way to becoming an accepted member of the family of nations. On a state-level? The circumstances vary greatly; common goals and cross-border solidarity give the Roma movement an advantage, as yet to be fully realized, which other peoples must envy.
9.Кои се Вашите порака до сегашните и идните ромски лидери и млади?
9. What is your message to the current and future Roma leaders and young people?
Work together. Work as a team. Collective destiny must be valued over temporary individual prestige or gain. We need to be professional. Which means overlooking inevitable differences in personality. A better educated generation is now in the vanguard. Yet they too must recognize success rests with ordinary people; communities mobilization for self-help and action. Top down has not worked. The old baro rom-style of leadership must go. With it the fear of confrontation. Insistence on both individual and collective rights, and responsibilities. Has any nation succeeded without a struggle? A Roma Nation hungry for peace, stability and prosperity; but never a pushover.