European Roma Movement
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When the memory makes the past a present time
1st World Romani Congress 1971
Destiny, providence or fate or whatever you may want to call it, made me be present in London the week of April the 8th in 1971. A long time went by since then. It's been 41 years. I was just almost a boy, as it is usually said. And my trip to London , at the final period of Francoism, was my initiation into the knowledge of Roma’s reality in the world about which, until then, I possessed vague knowledge.
The Roma from 25 countries met in London . I went without knowing anyone and without a very clear idea of what was going to be discussed at that meeting. And my first surprise was becoming aware that that meeting had been organized, scheduled and conducted by the Roma themselves. Not a single Gacho (payo) intervened in the debates, nor conditioned at all the agreements that were reached there. The memories come to my mind with the same force with which I appear in the photographs attached to this article and that were given away to me last year in the UK .
Tent Burning Ceremony
On April 8, 1971 I already knew that in the world there were more Roma than the ones I knew in Andalusia , but I had not seen them before. On April 8, 1971 I heard people speaking rromanò for the first time. At home my family spoke a little bit of caló. It was not exactly the same despite being the same language. And I found out, amazed, that Roma who lived behind the Iron Curtain ─Roma who would have never dreamed of being authorized by the communist authorities in their countries to come outside into the capitalist world─ would perfectly understand the Roma from France, the former Yugoslavia, or the dreaded Germany. On April 8, 1971 I was immensely shocked when I felt on my skin the warm kisses of the numerous Roma who hugged me excited for having found a lost son, an unknown brother who came from the old Spain where ─they knew─ there were hundreds of thousands of Roma isolated from the rest of their people, scattered worldwide.
On April 8, 1971 I felt freer than ever. I participated in the voting that institutionalized our flag and then I understood the freedom that means to have the blue of the skies as a roof and the green of the fields as a floor. Then I realized with absolute clarity why my grandfather Agapito always wished us health and freedom.
Zarko Jovanovic - Dzelem Dzelem
On April 8, 1971, I first saw a balalaika. I heard its sound in the hands of Jarko Jovanovic. The soft, sad and melancholic music of the violins, joined to its melody, and while the strings of the balalaika played the angry notes imitating the sizzling killer flames which ended the lives of so many innocent people at the Nazi camps, the violins, with their sweet melody, gave start to the rivers of tears with which we wiped away the memory of so many unfairly gassed elderly men and women, of tens of thousands of children massacred and of hundreds of thousands men and women, who, in the prime of life, could never understand why they were undressed before being introduced into the gas chambers. And that is how the Gelem, gelem was born.
On April 8, 1971, as a bursting carnation, the seeds of a collective consciousness dormant for centuries appeared in the old Europe . Roma from 25 states, who lived at the communist countries of the everlasting cold or at the so often dehumanized geography of the fiercest capitalism, gave priority, above any other ideology, to the respect for our common characteristic: being Roma. And then some of us understood that we were a people who had managed to preserve laws and customs that must be defended. The respect for the elderly people, the undisputed authority of the elders, the value of the word, the supreme worship of the family are the palpable expression of our highest institution and of the supreme and incorruptible love of freedom.
We do not consider April 8 as a date to talk about our miseries. Neither about the marginalization that we suffer, nor about the racist attacks of which we are victims of. We can condemn that situation any day of the year and we do so. April 8 is the International Roma Day and its main purpose is to express our brotherhood and respect for everyone. On this occasion, the Roma of the whole planet go to the rivers to deposit, in their water, remembrance candles and flowers of freedom, as a symbol of our desire to live with the rest of the citizens in peace and harmony, since a celebration that involves the memory of ancestors and the love of liberty should be the heritage of all mankind.
Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia
Romani Union President
Lawyer and journalist
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