We must never lose our Romany spirit, language and culture

Jan Horváth Sr.August 2000Studénka
Mrs. Elena Lacková is one of our most important Romany personalities and one of the most important Romany writers.
She was born in March 1921 in a Romany community in eastern Slovakia to the family of a Romany first violinist and vaida – mayor of the community. She was the only girl in the community to complete primary school. She experienced the horrors of fascism first-hand, when militiamen invaded the settlement and set it on fire. On her escape to the forest, one of her twins died in her arms. She later described these horrors in her play Gypsy Camp Aflame, which she staged with an amateur troupe and toured the whole of Czechoslovakia after the War. She also worked as an educational worker in the Presov region, helping the Roma in their unhappy lot. She was always where she was needed. But she was most active as a writer. She has written dozens of plays about the lives of Roma in Slovakia, fighting against ignorance, lies and prejudices. She is an author of many beautiful Romany fairy tales, published as books. Recently in the Czech Republic the Movement of Co-Operating Schools "R” has published her fairy-tale collection Romane paramisa – Romany Fairy Tales. At the age of forty-nine, a grandmother of nine grandchildren, she started to study education and journalism at Charles University in Prague, and successfully graduated. She would travel hundreds of kilometres to Prague from her home town of Presov in Slovakia: nothing could stop her.
Mrs. Lacková is still one of the leading writers and personalities. Throughout her life, she has been fighting for Romany rights and for the integration of Roma into society. After the 1989 revolution she set up the Cultural Association of Romany Citizens, and later founded a Romany newspaper – Romano lil, where she has worked as editor-in-chief. She enjoys respect not only from the Roma but is also well known to numerous Slovak and Czech readers. The most popular of her writings in the Czech Republic is her biography I Was Born Under a Lucky Star. The stars in Mrs. Lacková’s life are mainly children. Indeed, her fairy tales are told mainly for them. She tells in these stories about an ancient past of the Roma, the beauty of their folklore, customs and traditions. She fights all evil and injustice to the Roma. She tours Slovak schools and hosts discussions with children about values of being Romany and about the Roma’s future. She uses fairy tales to show children that it is worth fighting evil and that the struggle for good brings happiness to people, whatever the color of their skin.
Mrs. Lacková now lives in Presov and, although she is nearly eighty, she is still active as a writer and is interested in the world around her.
I know our Aunt Lacková personally. We have had the pleasure of hosting her at our home, in our family circle. Before the revolution, in 1988, with a group of Roma we set up a youth organization in our town of Bílovec, and one of the first events we held was a programme with Romany literature. We invited our writer to Bílovec and she came. As a surprise for her, we produced her play Sem Roma sam (We are Roma!). Its message is that Romanies should not be ashamed of their origin and the color of their skin.
After the performance Mrs. Lacková started to speak, which enthralled everybody. She spoke about her life, the hardships of Roma in the past. She said we must never lose our Romany spirit, language and culture. Her appearance helped us very much, because the totalitarian rulers didn’t wish the Roma well. They didn’t even want to grant permission for the event but, in the end, everything worked out alright also thanks to the great Romany personality – our Elena Lacková.

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