Knowing Our History and Culture Helps Us Build a Sense of Pride: Part 2

I always thought I had a strong Roma identity until I was asked what it means to be Roma. I didn’t know how to reply; I didn’t have an explanation.
Galya Stoyanova

Understanding who we are is maybe one of life’s biggest questions. For young Roma who can face prejudice and stigma, feel shame and inferiority or are unaware of the depth of their culture and history, answering this question is not easy. In July this year, the second ever Barvalipe Roma Summer camp took place in Hungary. Young Roma between the age of 18 and 30 years old from Spain, Romania, Macedonia, Turkey, Hungary, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Albania came to take part.

Barvalipe is about building Roma identity; Barvalipe is encouraging commitment by Roma for Roma; Barvalipe is learning Roma history and language; Barvalipe is forging ties between tomorrow’s Roma leaders; Barvalipe is nurturing civic duty and social responsibility; Barvalipe is discovering Roma achievements and role models. Barvalipe is Roma pride.

In these interviews, Galya Stoyanova and Anna Daroczi, two participants from this year’s Barvalipe, discuss their experience.

An Interview with Galya Stoyanova

Tell me about yourself.

I come from a very assimilated family; for a long time I didn’t know I was Roma. I didn’t know anything about the culture. It was only when I began studying primary pedagogy and foreign languages that I found out there was a Roma language. I decided then to study the Romani language and culture, and I specialised in this. I graduated in 2009.

After my Bachelor of Arts, I went on to Military University in Bulgaria and studied national security there. I graduated in 2011 Master of Arts. From 2006, I’ve been studying law part-time; I hope to graduate next year.

And now I have just finished an internship with the European Commission.

Discrimination continues to be a huge problem in Bulgaria. Many Roma parents are choosing to assimilate their children to protect them. They are frightened about how difficult it will be for their children. My parents didn’t stop me from pursuing my Roma heritage; they are proud I have done so.

What did you expect from Barvalipe?

I always thought I had a strong Roma identity until I was asked what it means to be Roma. I didn’t know how to reply; I didn’t have an explanation.

What is Roma identity, why is it strong, what makes it strong, what is connecting us Roma people between cultures, centuries, countries; what connects Roma around the world?

I live in an assimilated area so I don’t have the chance to communicate with Roma. Coming to Barvalipe allows me to meet the other Roma participants; it’s fascinating, new and exciting.

What has been the most memorable part of Barvalipe for you so far?

On the first day I was a bit upset actually, I felt like I knew so little compared to other participants. In the end I think Barvalipe is like a puzzle. It takes time to absorb all the information and to put the different pieces together on what we’ve learned and what we’ve done.

Of course we can’t talk about identity for ten days, but Barvalipe gives you the hunger to continue, to keep building your knowledge. I want to know more and more and more. I’ve found a lot of the thinking here at Barvalipe very provocative.

Of course we will all stay in touch; we have shared our personal stories, our professional stories. We share a common outlook on how we can do better for Roma in the future.

I don’t believe that borders are a reason to separate people.

How will you use this experience in the future?

I’m going to go back to my community and start doing the same; the knowledge we’ve gained here is priceless. I want to share this information, what Roma identity means, the problems, and the history, all of it.

We have all this knowledge collected here and I really wanted to share it, go to high-schools and motivate other people to know who they are.

An Interview with Anna Daroczi

Tell me about yourself.

I come from a mixed marriage; my father is Roma and a Roma activist.

I graduated as a social educator in 2010. I also studied Intercultural Psychology and Education for a year. I hope to pursue Gender Studies in university this year. I’m interested not just in Roma rights but in women’s rights as well. Maybe Roma women’s rights are something I can get involved in in the future.

What did you expect from Barvalipe?

I had heard from former participants that it was very useful for learning about history and identity, and also that it was fun. I wanted to find out more about my own identity. We are very different Roma all of us here at Barvalipe; we have participants from Spain, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria to name a few. I wanted to find out what we have in common, what connects us.

My Roma identity was totally natural growing up; my father was always talking about it. I introduce myself as Roma, and yet I never knew what it really meant.

What has been your most memorable part of Barvalipe so far?

The Auschwitz trip was the most powerful; it’s totally different walking among these buildings, you read about it but it’s not the same.

What was particularly shocking was seeing how professionally built the buildings there are; the organization and formality to it all was very shocking.

Why do you think it’s important to know about your history and culture?

I was never so fond of history; I was always failing history throughout my studies. The national curriculum uses specific elements and events from history; the aim is to create a national identity, a belonging; all very important for sure. But of course our own history is not told in this mainstream history. I didn’t know that Roma children were the first on whom Nazis experimented. I would like these stories to be included in the mainstream school curriculum.

We learn about a white middle-class history written by the victors but not our own. It’s the responsibility of Roma groups to make sure their history is remembered.

How will you use this experience at Barvalipe in the future?

The strongest element of Barvalipe was the different Roma people from all around Europe who are struggling with the same questions, the same dualities in their lives.

Outside the specific activities, sharing experiences in the margins, finding things in common, in our outlook, in our “cosmo-vision”, this was hugely important.

I also liked the debate part—I thought debate teaches you how to lie, but now I realise it shows you how to be argumentative, how to collect arguments to convince someone of something. It’s a skill I’m sure I’ll need.

Add your voice