‘The Year of the…’ – why we need to have a year of the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller people (and why it needs to be in 2021)
When you hear the words ‘Year of the…’ what do you think of? Chances are it might be the Chinese Zodiac and the various animals that make up their wonderful calendar. This year it happens to be the year of the pig and 2019 will bring us luck and good fortune it seems. We could all do with some of this!
But, what if we had a year for Roma, Gypsy and Traveller people? This does sound a bit far-fetched and idealistic perhaps. It is true that we have already had a ‘Decade for Social Inclusion’, between the years 2005-2015. But what did that decade bring us? Have the years since 2015 brought about more inclusion, luck and prosperity? Evidently not. Also, beginning in 2011, we have had the European Union Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. This latest European-wide social inclusion initiative runs until 2020. So far, with just a year to go, the results are less than promising.
So, perhaps we need something more ongoing and regular, to remind the world that inclusion isn’t just a one-off project or an isolated study. It needs to be something that is sustained and committed to real-life change.
Thinking about this, a ‘Year of the Roma’ could be used in multiple creative and celebratory ways to ensure that our contributions across the board are recognised and valued. It is important that this should not just be restricted to the arts and related industries. We are very fortunate in that we now have the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC), based in Berlin, to cover some of this territory. So, the ‘year of’ could cover all fields of social, political, cultural and economic contribution. The Roma presence and value needs to be illustrated and underlined. And a ‘Year of the Roma’ could do exactly this.
But how would it work? Well, since 2008 we have had Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month where a series of events, talks, displays and performances occur to raise awareness and celebrate our diverse cultures. Throughout June a visible spotlight is offered to the communities and a little knowledge is able to translate into mainstream gadje culture. This is important as it makes visible what we know to be true – that we have much to offer, share and say! In a way, the history month events that occur in June have set a ready-made template that could easily be extended into a year-long celebration, perhaps culminating in a showcase conference and performance event at the end of the year.
So, we ask you, why stop at just a month? There is only so much you can do in a short four week period. It is limiting and too brief. Think about what could be achieved in the course of a full year with a funded, dedicated team and set of well-promoted and advertised events? Our tentative suggestion would be to make 2021 the year of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and topics such as social affairs, education, hate crimes, language, and culture could be a starting point.
Why 2021 though? Well, that year represents a very special anniversary for all of us. It is 50 years since the first meeting of the World Romani Congress took place in London, 1971. At this Congress, more than 23 representatives from 9 different countries met and agreed to have more global connections and work together to fight the common discrimination and oppression faced by communities in their home countries. At this meeting, the famous red, green and blue ‘chakra’ flag was reaffirmed as the ‘flag of the Roma’ and the song ‘Gelem, Gelem’ became the adopted national anthem. It was the beginning of Roma internationalism and solidarity.
For this reason alone, 2021 is an important landmark in our history, journey and story. And so, it would be a fitting tribute to those innovative and brave Roma, Gypsy and Traveller activists from countries such as Hungary, Germany, Spain, Norway, the former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia who gathered in London in 1971 to honour their work and commitment to equality by having a year of celebrations. Funding for the events could be secured via different Government and international and national organisations and agencies, including The Open Society and the European Union. They would surely jump at the chance of promoting something so important.
So, let’s make 2021 the Year of the Roma!
Read more articles by Brigitta Balogh and Colin Clark in the Travellers' Times: