Romani voices in London
23 September, Human Rights Action Centre, London
Presented by the Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest Amnesty International groups, ‘Romani Dreams 2: A Celebration of Culture in the Face of Violence, Evictions and Discrimination’ celebrated Romani language, poetry, music and stories to raise awareness of the discrimination suffered by many Roma in Europe.
The crack of a traditional Romani whip called the audience to attention as Valdemaro Kalinino, a Romani poet and writer originally from Belarus, began the evening with a reading of his prize-winning poetry. Kalinino’s sense of humour immediately softened the atmosphere, engaging the audience through the Romani language. Accompanied by traditional guitar and violin, he wove Romani and English together, reading and singing his original work. Voices emerged from the audience to join in the traditional Romani anthem: a remarkable moment of solidarity.
Such solidarity amongst the Romani community worldwide is called for now more than ever, with violent attacks, discriminatory policies, and other forms of social exclusion against Roma more prevalent than they have been for many years. As highlighted by a short film about attacks on Romani houses and settlements in Hungary, and as reported by Lucie Fremlova from the minority-rights charity Equality, the situation is shocking. Harassment, violent assaults and killings, and discrimination in schools are threats facing the Roma community everyday in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in particular. Between January and August 2009 alone six people died in a series of Molotov cocktail attacks and shootings, according to Amnesty reports. The governments of these countries have taken no action against such injustice, and other EU countries have disgracefully failed to hold them to account (indeed, France and Italy have enacted their own discriminatory policies).
The evening at the Human Rights Action Centre showcased the struggle of one Romani family to escape persecution in the Czech Republic. Commissioned by ‘Romani Dreams’ organiser Ulrike Schmidt, Ice and Fire, a human rights theatre group, developed a performance piece based on interviews with this family, now resident in the UK. Fleeing discrimination and unemployment in the Czech Republic the family was confronted in Canada and then in the UK by asylum bureaucracy, criminal charges, and, for the father, confinement a detention centre. Their story was dramatised by three actors in the style of theatre reportage – with the actors giving voice to the experiences of the family (who were seated in the front row) and bearing witness to the injustice they had suffered.
‘Romani Dreams 2’ was an evening of cultural synthesis and campaigning, and a powerful inspiration.
At the seventy-seventh PEN Congress in Belgrade PEN International passed a resolution urging the European Union to do more to protect the rights of Roma and sanction those states that are not respecting these rights.
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