Proud Roma: Celebrating Roma culture and pride through film

Just last week, the premiere of Proud Roma took place. The short film is a contemporary Roma manifesto and tribute to Roma pride and cultural heritage, inspired by the 1940 film the great dictatorfamous to be for the performance of Charlie Chaplin.

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

So why did Roma filmmaker Pablo Vega choose to draw inspiration from Chaplin this time to produce Proud Roma? Our Media Manager for Europe, Anna Alboth, asks this question and more in a conversation with Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka, Deputy Director of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC), who has produces the movie.

Why did ERIAC decide to produce such a film now, in early 2022?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: This film is part of a campaign entitled “Proud Roma – Free Europe”, which is being carried out by the ERIAC with the coalition of Roma organizations from all over Europe. The campaign is timely and builds on the census campaign that has taken place across Europe last year and this year.

National censuses take place once every ten years and it is a very important moment of declaration of political and public identity so that we can show how much we are a community. Politics is a numbers game, so we need to publicly declare our identity as much as possible. We know from our past experiences that Roma tend to be very shy when declaring their ethnic identity in public, in data collection processes or in relation to the administration. This is of course the legacy of long experiences of anti-Gypsyism and institutional prosecutions that Roma have faced across Europe. Our campaign is therefore based on the need to proudly declare one’s identity and also wants to encourage Roma to be open about who they are, to develop more self-esteem and a language of pride.

What is the difference between the reality and the figures from previous censuses?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: Many countries have the same pattern, where we have between a third and a half of the Roma population completely invisible to society. These numbers can be even higher. Let’s look at the data in Slovakia, for example. The data was collected there during the 2021 census. The ERIAC and its partners in the field helped to increase visibility around the census. This year in Slovakia, more than 156,000 people declared themselves to be Roma and more than 100,000 declared Romani as their mother tongue. These are historically the highest figures ever recorded in Slovakia, also thanks to our campaign.

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

How did you decide what the film would look like?

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka: We had a process of creative discussions and an open call for Roma filmmakers from all over Europe. We had an idea and the micro-narrative we wanted to promote: we wanted to talk about the contribution of Roma and the pride of Roma, not about the victims and the marginalization of Roma. We received several concepts for short films from directors and Pablo Vega, the well-known Spanish Roma filmmaker, won the tender. We particularly appreciated his idea of ​​relying on the discourse of the great dictator and the charlie chaplin figure. It’s a very powerful, very universal story, which speaks of humanity. We feel that humanity and love are really characteristics of our community and our culture, which have not been very appreciated outside, among the majority. It’s a great way to develop pride and a better understanding of our culture.

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

Who should watch the movie?

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

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

So we all watch the movie. After that ? 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 the Roma proud countryside. 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. We will be in Kosovo, Romania, Serbia and Hungary, doing a lot of work on the ground and with local communities to make sure Roma are heard, visible, and Roma community members speak out.

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

The featured image: Excerpt from the short film “Proud Roma” by Pablo Vega.

Learn 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, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom.

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Helen D. Jessen