Roma Day: An Opportunity for Reflection, Celebration and Advocacy

On April 8, International Roma Day is celebrated by people across the world honoring Romani culture, language, and traditions. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the First World Roma Congress. During this important moment of reflection on the recent history of Romani people, CEU faculty and students are among those examining contemporary obstacles and threats as well as opportunities for Roma justice and dignity through selected projects.

From April 5-7, The Social, Cultural, and Political Legacy of the 1971 World Roma Congress event series will be hosted online as a collaboration between the Romani Studies Program at CEU; and the Department of Romani Studies, the Roma Program at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University and Södertörn University. On April 6, the Romani Studies Program and Roma Students Association at Central European University present Visions of Roma emancipation: 1971-2021, which will include short videos on the key symbols of Roma nation: the name, flag, and anthem; the launch of an online interactive exhibition; an interview with Grattan Puxon, one of the key organizers of the First World Roma Congress in 1971; and a roundtable discussion on history, self-determination and the use of digital technologies. For more about the events, visit here.

Another CEU collaboration, which was initiated in 2019 with activities in Budapest, is a series of Roma-produced documentaries on the topic of misrecognition spearheaded by CEU Nationalism Studies Visiting Professor Luca Varadi with Media and Visual Education Specialist Jeremy Braverman and Media and Visual Education Assistant Adam Hushegyi, in collaboration with the Social Psychology Department at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. The films by 15 workshop participants were screened and discussed on March 26 closing the conference of the MisMiE and PolRom projects during a session "Anti-discrimination efforts and social discrimination". The Mismie project was supported by the Volkswagen Foundation.

“Roma participants came from different parts of Hungary and after a day-long filmmaking workshop were able to use the cameras that we provided to film everyday experiences. We also asked them to reflect in writing about what they experienced, and afterward invited them back to CEU for reflections,” explains Varadi, whose research specializes in prejudice-related issues. While organizing the workshop, she found it important to provide legal backing so that the Roma filmmakers would be safe and informed. To that end, a legal advisor from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union participated in the workshop and provided advice to the participants.

“It was important that the voice heard in the films was from the perspective of the Roma workshop participants. They decided how to present themselves, their everyday experience and the challenges portrayed in the films,” says Varadi. Two of the films, which can be screened below, show the everyday experiences of searching for an apartment and going shopping. While the project's initial aim was to collect the video material for academic purposes to understand the nature of misrecognition and how it affects the everyday lives, identity formation and relationships of Roma people, they are now being shared as a tool for intervention against prejudice.

“It's been an honor to work on the project. The participants produced some really effective shorts, which are informative, dramatic and have the potential to create real change in attitudes toward Roma among the majority Hungarian population. Our goal now is to get them seen by as many people as possible.” comments Braverman, who frequently collaborates on filmmaking projects for documentary content in the social sciences. Noting the bravery of the filmmakers, Varadi adds, “With these works we invite people to reflect on their own prejudice and ask themselves: ‘What can I personally do to help these people not be constantly misrecognized?’ It may sound like a small step, but actually it can make a real difference.