We Roms have opened ourselves up to you

Discussions, Workshops and Performances organized by the Stories Exchange Project in Terezin, 18-19 September 2000
Session Three
Hana KozurikováNymburk
Talking about these stories, how they help me get new opportunities – . Of course working on the stories helps me develop my own imagination, and teaches me to work and write better. But above all, what it’s given to me is that—- here am I, a Rom, writing stories, and these stories are interesting for somebody else too.
This is the real meaning it has for me. I’m a Rom and I’m writing for someone who wants to read these stories.
I think it’s kind of a turning point that we’ve become involved in something like this. It’s very important to me.
Emilie HorackovaMimon Many of us are interested in stories of other people and other people’s lives, and we hear many stories throughout our lives. And we Roms have a long tradition of telling stories in our communities, whether these stories are fairy tales, whether they are sad or happy, and often they are stories about mistakes made in the past which help us to learn.
Some of these were published in this country, and there is some awareness about our culture in the Czech Republic.
But in this new project, when I tell these stories I’m really opening up myself and our community to you. In the Stories Exchange Project we Roms have opened ourselves up to you.
It has been something very special, our inviting you all to sit down and listen to these stories.
Maybe some of these stories are very similar or even identical to what has happened in your lives and in your communities. I know that when I read a story or when somebody tells me a story from a different community sometimes I’m surprised and say to myself "I never knew that this family or this community had these problems.” And that really helps me to understand other families, other groups, other communities.
It allows me to slow down and pause and realize what happens to other people. It helps us to understand each other and perhaps to help one another.
Jan HorvathStudenka
Every nation needs role models, as Ambassador John Shattuck has said. We also have our positive role models who have become a source of inspiration and motivation for children and young people.
I will tell about our first Romany writer who at the age of fifty studied at the faculty of journalism. And as a grandmother of many grandchildren, she wrote a number of plays. She was herself a Holocaust survivor and she experienced the destruction of her village during the War.
[see in this menu, The Broken Mirror,” We must never lose our Romany spirit, language and culture”]
Another positive role model is a musician Josef Gina who is unfortunately no longer among us. But he established the tradition in Opava.
[see too here in The Broken Mirror “His tunes meant bread,water,fire,rain and sun.”]
Another role model is Vlada Olach who is a writer, a poet, a humanist.
[and see also in this menu “He deserves our admiration, gratitude and reverence”]
We need all these role models as a nation which is only now awakening.
The last ten years in this country – if we look at 1990 as the year zero – . We still have a lot to do even after the first ten years, and there is much to do in the future.
For instance, we want to become part of the European structures.
It seems to have been discovered with horror by some Czech government officials that there is this requirement on the part of the Roms, that they be represented in these European institutions.
But I think that it’s natural that once a nation awakens, it re-establishes its culture and literature and language. At the same time it wishes to become an equal valid partner to the powers-that-be, to the government: not only a client of the government. And school system should play an important role in that endeavor.
The Czech school system really has no awareness of our Romany culture, of Romany role models.
I asked the local government department of education if they had the Romany elementary grammar, Romany collections of stories and so forth. These are available through the Ministry of Education, but many local governments are not interested.
The officer who is responsible for this told me that school directors and local educational authorities have sent back all the textbooks on Romany culture and literature and history which they had been given.
We should do a lot more in this field, in the arena of education.
Martin PalousDeputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic
I am struck by the title of this conference: Arts of Tolerance. Because the ability to be tolerant is some sort of art: it’s something that you have to learn.
We’re always exchanging stories: we do it in our daily lives – including stories about relations between Roms and Czechs. But in Czech stories there are a lot of stereotypes about Roms. So we have to learn to exchange stories in a different manner, opening up and avoiding these stereotypes, and telling our own experience, not what we’ve learned from neighbors.
I know that when people go to Wenceslaus Square they are told to watch out for their wallets—” especially if you see a group of darkskinned woman.” But if you tell a story face to face you have to tell something that has happened to you, and not generalize on the basis of advice like that.
When I went to London to meet with Romany refugees there and representatives of Romany refugee organizations, of course I couldn’t have expected that their story would be in line with my interest as a government representative trying to defend the interests of the Czech Republic. This was a controversial situation. But the meeting was positive, and we could use situations like this as little pieces of mirror to create the whole picture.
I’ll tell you one story.
In 1987 during the totalitarian regime Jacques Derrida arrived in Prague, a very famous French philosopher. He gave his lecture in Professor Heydanek’s kitchen. That kitchen was monitored by the secret police from all directions and he was of course followed by the secret police everywhere. He then departed for Prague airport to leave the country and they inspected his luggage and found some sort of white powder about which he had no knowledge.
He was detained and put into a cell in Ryzyne prison, which is not a very pleasant and hospitable place. It took two or three days before the French Embassy managed to get him out and then he was expelled from Czechoslovakia.
In this detention cell Profesor Derrida met a Romany man and of course the Frenchman did not speak any Czech and the Romany man did not speak any French. They couldn’t communicate in language.
Nonetheless they were able to exchange thoughts. This has been mentioned by philosopher Derrida in other lectures. He said that they were able to understand one another because they were together in a situation in which they had a common problem and common constraints. That allowed them to communicate even though they did not have a common language.
I would like to propose this as a model for moving things forward.

One Response to “We Roms have opened ourselves up to you”

  1. im Darik a gypsy from the usa and i really love all these storys and im proud of all my fellow roma people i really love to get in contact with any rom gir o boy pease email if you like god bless you all love always Darik bayview_blvdboy@webtv.net

  2. i like your story and your web page this is the first time i saw it,keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply