Roma Day is a time for reflection and respect, not for changes of rhetoric
“Cursed be he who ever and somehow said that Gypsies are happy and carefree people”, this is how the book “Heavy tears“ by Gospodin Kolev begins. Gospodin Kolev is the only Roma who used to be a member of the Central congress of the Bulgarian communist party. Kolev is not alive anymore, but his writings still carry the suffering he experienced in the name of Roma. This thought is not accidental. This is the wisdom that Kolev derived from attempts to push forward policies for Roma during Communism. His attempts have met with the frivolous treatment of actions coming from a happy and carefree person, a behavior of the state that has consequences today.
The International Roma Day is a historic day with a different meaning for each person. However, its message is more than clear: it is the Day of Remembrance for the Roma murdered during World War II.
The lives of Jews and the Roma had been threatened by the Hitler regime, and their slaughter happened without clear motives. Before leading Germany, Hitler had been on missions in Tibet and Pamir. He was well acquainted with the fact that Gypsies are part of the Aryan race, which he considered superhuman. However, the restrictions in place for Jews also applied to Gypsies. An avalanche of military operations ended the lives of many innocent Roma. Nearly 700000 Roma children, women and men had been killed at that time. For instance, in wartime Yugoslavia, 11 Roma were killed every day on average by the Black Legions. The Yugoslavian Roma Žarko Jovanović mentioned that in the Roma anthem, whose words he composed and set to a traditional melody in 1949:“…Vi man sas ek bari familiya, Murdadas la e kali legiya / I once had a great family, The Black Legions murdered them…”.
Between 8 and 12 April 1971, the first World Romani Congress with representatives of Roma from all continents was held on the outskirts of London. On that date, the Roma gathered with the aim of consolidating their efforts in Europe in order to attract world attention on their daily problems. The Bulgarian Representative was a teacher from the city of Sliven, Dimitar Golemanov. The Bulgarian party leadership feared that the Gypsy question might complicate international relations, so this is why it didn’t send a Roma representative to the Congress. As a result, Golemanov took part in the first World Romani Congress without the permission of the Communist Party.
“Todor Zhivkov and his entourage had already discussed the gypsy problem, but didn’t make the solutions public. I personally heard a number of times that the “Gypsy problem does not look like and should not be confused with the Turkish or the Armenian one. The Gypsy problem is our domestic problem and we will solve it with other methods than are specific to it”, Gospodin Kolev wrote in one of his articles.
The Roma flag and anthem were adopted at the event in London. The flag depicts a blue sky, the green land and the red wheel symbolizing the perpetual motion of the Roma. The green recalls the fields and forests, while the Blue symbolizes the cosmos and the infinity. The Red Wheel is called Chakra – destiny.It consists of 16 spokes and each of them corresponds to a part of the chakra. As their anthem, the Roma have chosen the song “Dzhelem, dzhelem” of Zarko Jovanovic. The date of begining of the Congress, April 8, was declared the International Roma Day, a day when people have to pay tribute to the Roma killed in Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers.
Well, the truth about Hitler and the decisions of the Romani Congress in 1971 should be repeated as often as possible, because there still are non-Roma and Roma who live in warped understanding of this date, “8 April, a Roma Holiday Day.” Almost every year, April 8th gives some people the opportunity to organize banquets, take part in competitions and games, to dance and participate in all kinds of festive events. However, organizing concerts and other fun activities in memory of the people killed is sad, if not almost ironic.
And unfortunately, the meaning of 8 April dulls with every passing year. The message is neglected. This day is not a day for dancing and playing competitions. On this day, Christian Gypsies should light a candle in the church for the eternal peace of the souls of the victims. Muslims Gypsies should give their due respect through prayers in the mosque.
The Bulgarian state should also honor the memory of the Roma killed through a message delivered by the heads of the country, given that the Roma are the largest minority in Bulgaria.
I have spoken with the writer Dimitar Atanasov-Kabul, who is author of the book “The World and the Gypsies”. Kabul is spiritually free, openminded and extroverted. He has lectured at several foreign universities on Roma related topics. He is in touch with Roma around the world, and is one of the artistic types who can still bring spiritual vitality to the Roma of Bulgaria. His spoken and written words are equally sharp and real. „We cannot avoid talking about the Roma issues on this day. There are many, but most of all it is important to say that the state cannot expect civil organizations to take entire responsibility for Bulgarian Roma citizens. This is because such organizations are not the state and as such lack in legislative, executive and judiciary powers. The media should also be an impartial and moral watchdog delivering ” electrical shocks“ to the state and its citizens to remind them about their responsibilities, which come with every authority and right, Atanasov said about the Roma integration.
We talked with Atanasov about the times when he was a child and about the attitudes of those around him to Roma. „In the 1950s, when I was a student, there was no segregation of Gypsies, Bulgarians, Turks and Jews as it is nowadays. There were no Neo-nazis and racist political leaders as there are nowadays – Volen Siderov, Krasimir Karakachanov, Vladimir Rasate and etc. You wouldn’t hear”Hey, mango (“mango” is insult in Bulgarian, which could be translated as “negro” in English). We lived properly. Nobody called me a dirty Gypsy, because they had where to learn from“ says the writer and adds ethnic disunity explains the rise of political puppets. „When collisions occur, the predominant ethnic group – political, economic and social, is always the first to put a muzzle on freedoms. The Bulgarian Communist Party began by creating an artificial division in the 70s, which continues to be supported by our democratic leaders“.
Atanasov said that the Bulgarian Roma are considered rootless people, which dims the fact that they belong to Bulgaria. „Roma inclusion isn’t happening in the present. It will not happen tomorrow, if the Roma and the state continue to be passive. The method “there is a problem – there will a project” does not work, because the desire of the project designers to steal is greater than their desire to do the job, when big money is involved”, thinks Kabuli. If we leave aside his opinion, however, there are many NGOs that work, and the effect is visible. Another issue is that the government consciously or unconsciously disregards their efforts.In order not to blunt the meaning of the day of the Roma, we will stop talking about such problems on this occasion.
If, however, on April 8, you see the Roma dancing to wedding music and playing with each other, do not wonder. Society expects Roma dances, and many of the Roma fail to leave the cycle of music and dance, because they are afraid to undermine the expectations of others. Roma, and many other nations, are preordained to not know their history. Why? Because it is much more difficult to open the dusty and bloody pages of the history than to celebrate it in such a simple way. So, let’s dance once more in the memory of Roma murdered by Hitler. At least that everybody could do it – „At the end of twentieth century Bulgarians learnt to dance kuchek (a traditional Roma dance)…”, as the Roma journalist Valeri Lekov writes in his poem „A confession on integration”.