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Proud Roma: Celebrating Romani culture and pride through film

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A man dressed like Charlie Chaplin dancing on a blue background with Roma symbols

Just last week, the premiere of Proud Roma took place. The short film is a contemporary Roma manifesto and a tribute to Roma pride and cultural heritage, inspired by the 1940 movie The Great Dictator, famously known for being for Charlie Chaplin’s performance.

However, unbeknownst to many, Chaplin was of Roma origin.

So why did Romani filmmaker Pablo Vega choose this time to take inspiration from Chaplin to produce Proud Roma? Our Europe Media Officer, Anna Alboth, asks this and more in a conversation with Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka, Deputy Director of European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC), who executively produced the film.

Why did ERIAC decide to produce such a film now, at the beginning of 2022?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: This film is part of a campaign called ‘Proud Roma – Free Europe’, which is led by ERIAC with the coalition of Roma organizations from all around Europe. The campaign is timely and is built around the census campaign that is taking place around Europe last year and this year.

National censuses happen once every decade and this is a very important moment of political, public declaration of identity for us to be able to show how big of a community we are. Politics is a game of numbers, so we need to declare publicly our identity as much as possible. We know from our experiences in the past that Roma tend to be very shy when declaring ethnic identity in public, in data collection processes or with connection to administration. It is of course the legacy of long experiences of anti-Gypsyism and institutional prosecution that Roma have faced around Europe. So our campaign builds on the necessity of declaring identity proudly and also wants to encourage Roma to be open about who they are, build more self-esteem and language of pride.

How different is reality from previous censuses numbers?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: Many countries have the same pattern, where we have between one third and half of the Roma population completely invisible in the eyes of society. Those numbers can be even higher. Let’s have a look at data in Slovakia, for example. Data there was gathered during the census in 2021. ERIAC and partners on the ground have contributed to building the visibility around the census. This year in Slovakia more than 156,000 people have declared being Roma and more than 100,000 declared the Romani language as their mother tongue. These are historically the highest ever numbers in Slovakia also thanks to our campaign.

What is the difference in comparison to reality? The statistics that we have and the calculations coming from different stakeholders put the number of Roma in Slovakia at around… half a million! You can see that there is a big difference, even in 2021, in Slovakia.

How did you decide the way the film should look?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: We had a process of creative discussions and an open call for Roma directors around Europe. We had an idea and the micro narrative that we wanted to promote: we wanted to talk about Roma contribution and Roma pride, not about Roma victims and marginalization. We received several short concepts from directors and Pablo Vega, the really well-known Spanish Romani filmmaker, won the bid. We especially appreciated his idea of building on speech of The Great Dictator and the figure of Charlie Chaplin. This is a very powerful narrative that is very universal, which speaks about humanity. We feel that humanity and love are really defining features of our community and our culture, which hasn’t been much appreciated outside, among the majority. It is a very good way to build pride and greater understanding of our culture.

A portrait of Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka
Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka. Photo credit: Akos Stiller / Open Society Foundation.

Who should be watching the film?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: Our primary target is actually our own community, because we feel that we don’t have enough high-quality content that is really based on self-representation and that speaks powerfully about our identity. So we hope that especially among the youngest people, who are avid users of social media, this film will move something inside of them and really create a sense of understanding that being a Roma is an added value, not necessarily only a stigma.

But we also want to target powerfully the non-Roma population, because unfortunately, much of the suffering and injustice we are facing is also due to the rejection we are receiving on a regular basis from the majority of the society, and a lack of knowledge of who we are. We hope that we will open a different dimension and a different discourse about Roma in general. Finally, when we speak about Roma in public spaces, we stop speaking about problems and we start talking about talent, about achievement, about contribution. We want to introduce new vocabulary when we talk about Roma in public spaces.

So, we all watch the film. What next? What should we all do?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: There are a few steps to follow. Of course we have a website and we have social media channels you can follow about the Roma Proud campaign. We encourage people to join and as much as possible to participate and share it.

There will also be different activities throughout this year. We will work in our target countries before the censuses come up. We will be in Kosovo, in Romania, in Serbia, and in Hungary, doing a lot of work on the ground and with local communities to ensure that Roma are heard, are visible, and that Roma members of the community declare.

In the long term we really hope to find more materials of this type, more articles, more books that will pick up this spirit of language of pride so that eventually, we will see the gradual change towards more inclusive language. We want to encourage and inspire our own people to stand proudly and join in solidarity across the countries, so we can face the injustice together and build a bit of collective power.

Featured image: A still from Pablo Vega’s ‘Proud Roma’ short film.

Read more about Roma in our World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples: in Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

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