For the 700 years that the Roma have lived in
Europe, when one group of Roma wanted to communicate with another, it would
do so through an elaborate system of signs. A particular construction of
twigs and flowers-known as patrin, pateran, pyaytrin,
sikaimasko-placed at a crossroads would tell of events that took
place there, stories about the groups' circumstances and about their lives.
In that way groups would get to know each other without ever meeting.
Today, with the continued isolation and persecution of the Roma, the
need for developed Romani media is great. But the Romani media remain at
an embryonic stage of development. As Romani activist and writer Dragoljub
Ackovic writes, no solution will be found until the Roma have "established
their own state with all the accompanying institutions. Until then, the
Roma will have to solve this problem in accordance with the possibilities
granted to them by others."
The history of the Romani media is full of paradoxes.
The first publication devoted to Romani issues was initiated by non-Roma.
In 1888, The Journal of The Gypsy Lore Society appeared in England.
That magazine, now based in the United States, still publishes a wide variety
of articles about the Roma. In the following 99 years, on average, one
Roma paper was started or published each year. The aggregate circulation
of all those publications would reach 500,000. (In comparison, The New
York Times' daily circulation exceeds 1 million.) In addition, on average,
each publication only lasted ten issues, with fewer than 10 percent of
them published in Romani.
The development of the Romani press after World War II helped spread
the truth about the Roma. But with no institutionalized media environment,
the Romani press never consistently influenced the public's perception
of the Roma. In general, development of the Romani media has been primarily
stymied by the nature of East European communist regimes and by the policy
of assimilation carried out in Western societies. Under that policy, the
Roma were given the "right" and "freedom" to get "new" non-Romani names,
such as Uj Magyar [New Hungarian], and Nuevo Castellano [New
Spaniard]; the "right" to become Czech or Slovak, or to declare their ethnicity
as the once-politically correct Yugoslav.
Bilingual magazines are a recent trend. They are published mostly by
Roma and are intended to attract as wide a readership as possible. The
publications were initially met with enthusiasm and gave the appearance
of a large-scale Romani-run media. In reality, non-Roma still controlled
the vast majority of Romani media throughout Europe and that media cocktail,
overall, left a bitter taste.
Romani radio and television have proven the most
broadly accepted and suitable methods of modern communication among the
Roma. Some 20 years ago, the first Romani programs were broadcast in Macedonia
and Serbia (which still provide the widest variety of Romani programs).
But Romani radio and television programming in Europe is facing myriad
problems. For example, the Romani program on Romanian state television
presents news, cultural information, and, of course, music-from midnight
to 12:30 a.m., once a week. I have been told that many Roma do not go to
sleep those nights before seeing their television program. In Poland, the
Romani program is broadcast once a month for five minutes. Other problems
concern biased editorial policies, the lack of freedom of expression that
Romani journalists face on their programs; the status of Romani journalists
in comparison to their non-Romani colleagues, and whether the programs
are allowed wider national impact.
Additionally, many countries set up radio and television programs for
Roma in order to demonstrate a commitment to democratic principles, such
as equality of peoples and cultures and free use of minority languages.
The actual production of such programs, however, has helped identify the
real problem: low ratings are often interpreted to mean that a program
should be canceled.
Modern media should act as links between different
peoples and cultures. A dilemma exists between the principles of objectively
informing an audience about a society-including the social, cultural, and
political spheres-and the approach of non-Romani bosses, who often explicitly
say what information can or cannot be broadcast. In other words, the outside
world is censoring what Roma can and can't know. What is the role of the
Romani media if someone-a non-Rom-produces it only to suit herself or himself?
Consequently, the result has been a reduction in knowledge of the so-called
minority cultures, which are denied access to television and radio. In
the revitalization process of those cultures-including the Romani culture-use
of the minority languages must be included, both to preserve the languages
and to transmit effectively the culture of their readers and viewers.
Learning to Take the Reins
Among the non-Roma, there have always been true
philanthropists where the Romani media are concerned. But the number is
decreasing as the number of those who exploit Roma culture and media for
their personal benefit increases. Hence, the following question: are the
Roma responsible for this situation, to any degree?
The inert and inappropriate behavior of the Roma has given others a
free hand to run the Roma media for them. It happened because the educated
Roma forgot that their place is among their people, forgot the lessons
learned from other peoples' histories. The concept of the intelligentsia
as champion of emancipation has sunk into oblivion. Romani journalists
will have to learn to write for their own people the best way they can.
Then, no one will have the right to say that non-Roma are to be blamed
or given credit for the conditions in which the Roma find themselves.
One goal of Romani media is to bring to the fore
discussions on the problem of "Romahood" (Romipe, Romanipe)
and the historic origins of the Roma. Those two issues are so important
because of the poor elementary education Romani children receive in most
national educational systems. A Romani child receives no Romani history
in school. Czechs, Russians, and Spaniards all learn about their famous
fellow countrymen. A Rom, ridiculed and rejected by many, is denied education
that would allow him or her to identify with a hero or a distinguished
representative of Roma culture or politics. Is there such a thing as a
Romani hero or someone who symbolizes the Romani culture? They certainly
exist and always have existed. But who has ever heard of Durmish Aslano,
a courageous fighter against fascism in Yugoslavia during World War II?
Or even Cinka Panna, the phenomenal violin player born in Slovakia 300
years ago? How would a German, a Hungarian, a Croat, an Italian, a Slovak,
or a Czech minority feel if its culture were ignored? In such circumstances,
a national majority will treat a people without its own history or language
Those two issues, "Romahood" and historic origin, are very important
to expanding and deepening the notion of Romani culture and history. It
seems that today's more or less democratic societies have made it possible
and sometimes even mandatory for Roma to become an integral part of those
societies, with or without their ethnicity, culture, and language. Thus,
it is all the more important that the Romani media contribute to the construction
of a political and cultural framework.
At a June media conference in Budapest, Romani
media makers expressed some of their political aims: to help preserve Romani
dialects and cultural diversity within Europe; to ensure that European
unity maintains its varied cultures and languages as a base; and to consider
the central role of communications of minority languages, in this case,
the Romani language. Communicating in Romani not only spreads cultural
wealth, but it also entitles its speakers participation in a collective
creation of culture. The task of linguistic preservation is thus a part
of the process of European construction and the safeguarding of Europe's
identity in the frame of media.
Translated by Ana Davico.