The Gypsy List

By • on February 21, 2012
The Hungarian Gypsy List contains 24 portraits of Roma people who made their destiny. The original title in Hungarian contains a provocative reference to the American  The Black List by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell. “Here you are. This is a series of photos of our Gypsies, all of then in a row, showing their faces. They are our prides, all these 24 Hungarian fellows. Because who could possibly doubt that they are Hungarian?”(p. 7.), ask the authors in the preface of the book.


It is rather difficult to translate the very title of the book: „One row of Gypsies“. It alludes to the last verse of a recent folk chant evoking the racially motivated murders committed against Roma in the past couple of years. A rhyme was born on people’s lips, four lines of intolerant cruelty: „One row acacia – One row willow – One row of gypsies – And a volley.“ Most of our country mates must be ashamed of it.

The authors of the book declared that they had chosen the third row of the rhyme as a title because they wanted to answer the challenge posed by this cruel chant, among other reasons. The book waspublished at the end of 2011.

The famous ethnographic writer Pál Závada is the author of the text in collaboration with Péter Korniss, a renowned photo artist. And here you have a row of successful and lovable persons. The list of the talented Roma was compiled by the Summa Artium non-profit organization.

In this book, ethnographic writing combines sociological report and literature, science and art. The book contains the life stories of 24 different persons – eleven women, thirteen men. Their age ranges from 24 to 77 years. The scale of their occupation is wide: policeman, engineer, physician, musician, pastor, artist, poet, actress, biologist, social worker, dancer, band transmission specialist, teacher, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and so on. Some of them live in the capital, some of them in towns, and some of them in villages.  All of them are of Roma origin, all of them are successful, even famous in Hungary. What makes their stories aesthetically relevant is their audacity of declaring: „This is my name, this is my profession, and I’m Roma.“


The portraits are plain: modest smiles with closed lips, open looks straight into your eyes, and American plans in front of a pearl-grey background. The clothes represent either the profession, or the characteristics of the personality. While the soldier and the policeman wear a uniform, the designer wears a self-made dress, the musician a shirt and a suit, and the Buddhist teacher a colorful, hippie-style shirt. Their hands are also talkative, and just seeing them suggests that t characters play with open cards.

The life stories of the women and men in the book do not represent the everyday life of the average Roma in Hungary. While reading the portraits you realize that these women and men  have had, in most cases, a wealthy and inspiring family environment, or an inspiring teacher behind them (or in some cases a restraining teacher the resistance against whom proved to be fruitful). They managed to succeed due to their motivation, hard work, as well as some luck, but now they are worried about their children’s future.

Mária Karcagi, the 50 years old social worker says: „Sometimes I feel helpless. I do not know what could be the solution for the key problems of the Roma. The situation worsened in many respects. I’m lucky, my daughter attends a high school where she performs well; she is a motivated student who is going to continue her studies at a higher educational institution. But if I am to be honest: what for? What will become of her? We had been offered a lot of possibilities for learning, getting a scholarship, and working. But for our kids graduating in the present situation it will be very difficult to make a career, even for the  well-motivated ones as is my daughter, let alone for others.“ (p. 35)