More From Alder's Ledge

October 13, 2011

Flower Power?

Roma Showing Civility While Facing Ethnic Violence

"We are here to prove that stirring ethnic hatred makes no sense; let other people tell what should and should not be displayed in society," Mariana Vankova from the Bulgarian National Network for Children.

Despite being faced with violence the Roma of Sofia, Bulgaria are showing up for a "Roma Pride" parade. The event was planned long before the ethnic violence broke the peace in Bulgaria. But now it is being used to show that the "ethnics" and the Roma can exist side-by-side in peace.

At nearly every intersection in the capitol city, Sofia, young Roma children were seen handing out flowers and smiling at passersby. Their goal was simple. Heap kindness upon thine enemies' head.

It is to early to tell if the parade or the flowers helped in any way. It is clear however that at least some "ethnic" Bulgarians found repentance in the act of solidarity shown by the Roma. Large numbers of Bulgarians showed up to participate and show their hope for peace.

It is true however that many on both sides of the fight have refused to join in and drop their ethnic hatred. Protest organized around the said racial motives are still present in Bulgaria. However now the police are arresting many of those who cross the line from talk to violence. And the attacks on innocent Roma are finally being addressed by the politicians and police alike.

Elsewhere in Europe the Roma Pride demonstrations occurred without as much scrutiny. On Saturday, October Second, hundreds of Roma took to the streets in Paris to display the colorful Roma culture and to show how the French government has recently attacked it. In Romania's capitol of Bucharest around three hundred Roma turned out for celebrations of the Roma culture. And according to Agence-France Presse even more Roma Pride events occurred in Denmark, Italy, Norway, and Turkey.

"Many Roma are afraid or ashamed to openly recognize their ethnicity because they are concerned about discrimination," Marian Mandache of the Romani Criss organization told Agence-France Presse. The demonstrators in Bucharest wore t-shirts that said "I am Romani" in the Romani language.

So all this leaves me to ask why fight back with flowers and not guns? It is hard to imagine a life where a simple display of your music, language, and dance is considered historic... historic in a place you have called home for generations upon generations. How do they continue to smile?

Galina Trefil.

"When violence is directed against us, without exception, we are blamed for it. Why? We did not “assimilate.” My grandfather once taught at Karelova University in Prague. Most anyone would have considered that assimilated enough, but he was still a Rom and, thusly, he was shot at with a machine gun and saw his children butchered. His life was destroyed. Roma families all have slaughter stories from the war though. To be Romani, one expects and has to find a way to accept hatred from birth. So, from that perspective, that Neo-Nazis would march and cry for our murder yet again is a frontal assault; not a surprise at all.

Where my own family has felt intense betrayal is that so many were destroyed by the original Nazis that, collectively, many Holocaust-survivor families today say, “Things changed. They got better. And we can take comfort in that.” I and others in my family proudly display the photographs of the Romani-American soldiers of World War II—men who volunteered for the army, eager to be part of that change; eager to bring justice and freedom to their brethren and other ethnic groups besides across the ocean. Risking their lives, these men returned to America with medals, proving not just their valor in battle, but their commitment to the idea of genocide being wiped out.

In 1959, my father made a gesture of standing up to a government that does not protect its citizens, but instead forces them to suffer. He swam a river and risked his life in order, just for a moment, to stand in his father’s homeland with pride. Even if it was only a gesture, sometimes gesture are necessary.

My father, a retired psychiatrist and surgeon, still loves the Czech Republic. This is an all-encompassing and devoted love that will not, no matter how many vicious mobs arise, ever change. No matter how many police refuse to arrest citizens bent on murder, he will never blame the Czech people as a whole, but rather the government which is failing to protect its non-Czech citizens. He considers those who Czechs who did not stand up to and or prosecute the mob as shameful to their own race and sympathizes with the many decent, ethical Czechs who are shamed by the escalating violence that they did not take part in.

Take what you will from her story. An explanation? I don't know for sure. It seems impossible to explain the resolve of the Roma people. It is hard to understand from this American mind how they still want to be part of a place and people who continue to hate them. And how they assimilate only to be rejected.

As for the flowers and smiles... we here at Alder's Ledge applaud the Roma who took part in the Roma Pride activities throughout Europe. And we will continue to cover your attempts to live in peace by writing about them here on Alder's Ledge. G-d bless you all.

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Source Documents (note that not all sources are listed below)
Sofia News Agency

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