Two Milestones Put Romani Cultural Discourse in the Hands of Roma Themselves

For the Roma movement in Europe, 2015 was a pivotal year. It was the year Roma intellectuals and activists moved beyond “fixes” to employment, housing, health, and access to education, and embraced a more holistic view of the Roma situation. We took a wider look at majority societies and raised the crucial question: What is wrong with European democracies that they exclude more than 12 million of their citizens at different levels? From segregating Roma students in special schools to forcibly sterilizing Roma women, how can Europe keep blaming Roma for their disadvantaged situation?

This critical approach to Roma inclusion took concrete form last year in two major milestones: the growth of a Romani studies summer session at the Central European University in Budapest, and the establishment of a European Roma Institute to honor Roma contributions to society. Both were landmark advances in letting Roma define who Roma are.

The CEU summer session is an important step towards Roma intellectual emancipation. Though the first course in Romani studies was launched in 1998, the 2015 session represented a major advancement for the program, not only because most of the faculty members—Dr. Ethel Brooks, Dr. Nicoleta Bitu, Dr. Iulius Rostas, and Dr. Mihai Surdu (pictured above)—as well as students were Roma, but also because the academic work promoted a fresh approach to Romani studies.

Academia is not immune to the biases held by the rest of society. Beneath its veneer of neutrality, we often find that scholars and experts harbor familiar prejudices against Roma. Moreover, scholars researching Roma often see them as an object to be studied, rather than a collective living, breathing subject.

Yet whenever Roma scholars have raised their voices to criticize this approach, the traditional reaction from academia has been to write off those critics as activists rather than academics. But the balance of power is shifting. Now we are talking not about isolated Roma scholars, but a collective intellectual movement. The stronger this movement becomes, the harder it will be to sideline us from the debate. 

The other major milestone in 2015 for Roma intellectual emancipation was the announcement that the European Roma Institute will be established. The institute represents a sea change for the role of Roma leadership in Romani arts and culture, which until now has been, paradoxically, very narrow. It is time to create our own discourse about ourselves, rather than let others do it for us, as has so often been the case.

The European Roma Institute will offer a significant space for the curation and dissemination of critical Romani studies. For a long time, many “Roma experts” have focused on the differences between Roma groups, resulting in a fragmented and incomplete picture of us. Those differences are based on our nationalities, cultural backgrounds related to the areas where we are settled, and the influences that other languages have had on our mother tongue.

But those “experts” forget that we are a single people. Yes, our culture is practiced and interpreted in different ways by different Roma groups, but it is always based on a common ground and a shared sense of belonging.

In that spirit, I believe challenging traditional Romani studies should be one of the main responsibilities of the European Roma Institute, from George Borrow and the early years of the so-called “gypsy studies” through today’s debates—the last stronghold of colonial, exotic, and paternalist approaches to Roma issues.

There is reason to hold much hope for the Roma movement in 2016 and beyond. Roma artists, academics, media producers, and activists are ready to lead the way to Roma intellectual emancipation.

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The European Roma Institute as Roma science!

Kind Regardz

Jan Conka
student, FF,UK in Prague

I am interested in learning more about the Roma people as it is my heritage denied to me by my Australian/English mother

Je voudrait faire dénonciation et organisé une structure contre la l'injustice , discrimination et le profites des "gadjes"en France en forment des NGO disent "Tsigane" .
C'est des siècles passé les Gens Du Voyage (RROMS)
sont déboussolé - perdue car ils ne savants rien sur lors histoire et GDV- ("gadjes") prends lors places dans toutes domaines. Merci de reste en contact.
Ass. Ternikano Berno"- Cercle de Jeunesse.

I recommend Ian Hancock's WE ARE THE ROMANI PEOPLE -- see my book-review on amazon.com

His book is absolutely fantastic, I learned a lot from him... also Yaron Matras' book, We Are Lucky People' is excellent!

The same has happened in Native American studies and arts, and even physical remains.

We have thhis 'Special Issue' http://www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org/roma on our website. Dr. Helen Carr WAS our Resource person and wrote this page. She has literally 'disappeared' and we need another person, preferably a lawyer, who could serve in this role. It is aiimed to assist those who are providing legal assistance to persons who are seeking asylum.

If you could serve in this role or have suggestions, please contact me at [email protected].

Szívesen elmennék és a negyed százados munkásságomat a romákról megosztanám egy vita fórumon ,amely Európa legnagyobb etnikum a Cigányságról. Az alábbi témákban : A Cigányság megjelenése Európában . A Cigányság társadalmi szerkezete ,a Cigányság a XV- századtól a XVIV-század és a XX-századból a XXI századba lépés valamint a Cigányság a Többségi társadalom kapcsolatai címmel ! Én magam is Cigány vagyok .

I am interested to continue education, it is braking because must care for two children. Can I apply for scholarship for second year of Pula University Croatia - Kindergarten Educator.

I'd be interested in concrete examples of what the author calls "colonial, exotic, and paternalist approaches to Roma issues" within academia. There is no denying that they exist; but why hide behind vague insinuations rather than tackle them head on? So please, let us know: which authors, and which recent publications by what you call "Roma experts" harbour prejudice, and what this prejudice is. Let me start the debate by offering one: Judith Okely and Wim Willems have questioned the Indian origin of the Romani language. They imply that being Roma is a chosen 'lifestyle', not an ethnic origin. Mihai Surdu, who is cited in the article as a Romani academic, seems to agree with them. In his recent book he overtly critiques the notion of Romani ethnicity. Is that an example of colonial prejudice that is shared by non-Roma and Roma academics?

I visited Europe in 1974 and studied Roma. Also studied Roma culture in India. Recently contributed a paper in Europe on a conference. Recently 25 Postcards I painted and published on their culture:music,dance, and skills to create aware ness.

It is a very good idea to have an academic institution that will hopefully increase the Romas' self-knowledge and will help to inform more the non-Romas about their ways of life, their origins, their culture - - and mainly hopefully increase the involvement of the Romas in the "mainstream" communities - which are already composed of people of different ethnic origins, nationalities...Why did it take to the Romas that long? Maybe it has something to do with their nomadic nature? Or something else? But certainly not only with racial prejudices of the various communities and countries they live in. I come from a North Western town in Bohemia - Usti and Labem and grew up next to Romas neighbourhoods, so I have first hand experience - which is both positive and negative. Unfortunately the negative experiences outweigh the positive ones. My very good friend had been a teacher in the Elementary School of Krasne Brezno, one of the parts of Usti n/L heavily occupied by the Roma people - she explained that teaching Roma children was very difficult for several reasons - their attendance was very irregular, homeworks hardly ever done, they could be quite disruptive, talking to their parents very difficult if not impossible...She could hardly be called a racist, had a very kind heart and a lot patience - she was just "mildly" desperate - because she cared! Nobody was preventing the Romas to get exactly the same education as everyone else in the town - but they chose themselves not to use it. How does this indicates the "prejudice" the article above is generalizing about? Some people using the word "prejudice" and "racism" seem to start believing in what they say, but it has to be based on reality, if not, it is very harmful to both to these who say it and to those about whom it is said. I hope this new Roma academic institution will not become, like some do, detached from everyday reality and involved in pointless "academic" debates - based on own narrowly defined issues just to collect grants from the EU. In the mean time, I believe that the Romas have quite a distance to go...and stopping to blame xternal circumstances on their misfortunes would a very good start. Here is a link about the thousands of Roma beggars that moved to Sweden after the inclusion of the East European countries into the EU - about 4000, according to the article. http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/7782/sweden-roma-beggars

It is heartening to learn about the empowerment of Roma peoples. I attend as many positive cultural events that celebrate the Roma as I can. I also have been researching family history to uncover Roma roots in Bohemia. Thank you for the good work in human rights for all Roma peoples.

Please updates on Roma.

У нас в таджикистане в городе Худжанде проведено одно очень хорошае исследование по тему истоки таджикских цыган, их обычаи, язык было написано диссертация. Очень интересная тема.

Why not read the publications of the author whom some deliberately misrepresent? Okely never denied the Indian origin of the Romani Language. She noted what the English Gypsies used in 1969./1973 which was Anglo Romani i.e. inserting Romani words into an English structure. Matras has written a book about the death of a language. Note in Okely 1983 the citation of Edmund Leach who pointed out that all over the world a form of Anglo Saxon is spoken. that does not mean each speaker is a descendant of migrants from Jutland. Okely NEVER said membership was simply individual choice. The primary factor was descent The Gypsies she lived with insisted anyone calling him or herself HAD to have AT LEAST one Gypsy Parent. If a gorgio married a Gypsy s/he could never claim to be a Gypsy but his/her children could claim the heritage. Why spread untruths on the internet??? Yes the other author, W Willems did argue that the group he studied did claim indigenous origin..Okely did not agree with his generalisations Ironically the people Okely lived with in the 1970s thought is amusing to be told they came from India .They thought the expert was talking about cowboys and Indians... in a few pages Okely suggested more research be done . and asked questions ..Does that make someone who asks for more research a colonialist racist?? Okely has defended these persecuted peoples in court and the first joint authored book in 1975 initially changed the Labour government policy arguing for their rights to resist settlement.. All was OK until the conservatives came to power in 1979 and the ensuing 1994 AcT.
Why make cheap attacks on supporters of the persecuted ? Find your real enemies . But it always pays to attack female academics whom some love to denigrate as wicked Anglo Saxons..Have you done a blood test on the author?

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