Recently I had some talks with my activist friends and colleagues about the mental, financial, and other difficulties we face because of the pandemic situation, political circus, and antigypsyism in general. There were many different views on these issues, since there is no universal solution and way of dealing with them. However, there was one common point in these sometimes funny, sometimes painful, and many times angry conversations: we will not give up. As being a part of the Roma movement for 10 years, I have seen a lot of people (both Roma and pro-Roma) who had serious burn-out because of the constant stress and financial difficulties. Being an activist in the 21st century somehow became a “sexy” thing, and many people declare themselves as one. Even though they may have not really experienced the “dark sides” of it. Experiencing racist attacks from the forefront, struggling with minimum wage salaries, having mental breakdowns because of seeing our Roma siblings in devastating life situations, and the constant “wars” inside the Roma movement. These are just some of the “dark sides” of a Roma activist`s life”which many outsiders do not see, or do not understand. Without continuing this thread of thought, we all can see that it is a truly hard job. But then why are there still so many dedicated and fearless Roma who do not give up and continue the fight for social justice?
Well, the answer is hiding in the headline of this piece. 50 years ago, when the first World Romani Congress was held, a lot of important things happened. After a horrible genocide of the Roma, people from all over the world mobilized themselves and came together for a common goal: finally, to be recognized, to get those human rights from which they and their ancestors were deprived. However, no one should think that what they achieved was only their victory. Roma have been in Europe for more than 700-800 years and we have been contributing to the cultural, economic, historical, social, and all kinds of development of Europe. Although the majority societies have always tried to diminish our legacy, they have never succeeded. The thirst for getting equal treatment, the joy of creation, the hunger for developing new survival skills were always with us. Today we do not only celebrate the outstanding people from the World Roma Congress. Today we also celebrate those people, who have become role models for many of us. Role models, such as Bronisława Wajs Papusza, whose legacy lives in her poems until today, inspired me to continue writing regardless of the difficulties I face as a Roma and as a woman. There are so many famous Roma young people can look up to. But there are also so many others who died unknown, whose names only their families knew, who suffered in the concentration camps, or our ancestors who have started to migrate from Asia with a hope for a better life. We do not know how their lives looked like, what they hated, whom they loved. But we certainly know that they were hopeful that one day, their children, grand-grand children will achieve something that they could not manage in their own lifetimes, or even did not dare to dream about. This is what most of the parents wish for their beloved children until now.
If we are honest to ourselves, we can confidently say that there is a long way to go. There are so many issues that should get more attention and we should start to work on. Homophobia is still a serious issue not only in the majority, but within the Roma communities as well, excluding our Roma fellows from their homes and pushing them to the margins of the societies. Roma women and girls are still suffering from the consequences of racism and sexism, which is unacceptable if we would like to be united. People living under the poverty line are experiencing the worst at the moment due to the Covid-19 virus. As you can see, our work is not done yet.
However, we also have to remind ourselves that there are amazing things we have managed to achieve with common power and action. There are more and more educated young Roma who join politics, museums, human rights institutions, and whom we can be really proud of. Antigypsyism is finally recognized on the EU level, so that effective measures can follow the fight against it. With the help of social media, international conferences, and youth exchanges we are more united than ever. These smaller-bigger successes make us hopeful that our hard work is worth it. Seeing our activist friends` victories makes us proud and understand that we are not alone in this fight. We were never, and will never be alone.
Therefore, now in 2021, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, in a global human rights crisis, I have to agree when my Roma activist friends say that: We cannot give up! We are our ancestors’ dream!