In Kosovo, April 8, or International Roma Day, is expropriated and celebrated as ‘Kosovo National Roma Day.’ “How nice!,” one might say. Well, allow me to take you through how National Roma Day manifests itself in Kosovo, and then it’s up to you to form an opinion.
I will start with municipalities that have a predominant Roma community, and one or more Roma working with the municipality through ‘Community Offices.’ A symbolic fund will be given to this office to organize events for National Roma Day. These ‘celebrations’ will entail: a hall, music (nowadays recorded rather than live because the funds are less than in previous years), some food and drinks, and a number of Roma people, the majority of whom will be extended family members of the organizer.
Of course there is a fun side; dancing, eating and drinking is always enjoyable for everyone. But the sad thing is that funds spent on this circus are marked as (minority) community projects in the end of year budgetary reports. Any claims to local government that nothing was done for the Roma in this municipality, will have a bill thrust in their face confirming otherwise.
At governmental level, responsibility for hosting and organizing National Roma Day events is courteously given over to the Office for Community Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office. Organizing this event will entail: booking the big room at the government building and creating an agenda featuring exactly the same speakers as every other year — though to be completely honest, I have to admit that I have witnessed some small changes in the order of these speakers.
At this celebration you won’t find much food or drink, let alone any music. All that is available is a bottle of water, and at times a cup of coffee is offered to those seated at the main table. The event is attended by government officials (who are something like the equivalent of the extended family members of the organizer at the other celebrations), as well as members of international organizations, ambassadors, representatives from civil society within the Roma community, and a few others. I have to say, this event is much more fun than the former, though you may wonder how that is possible without drinks and music.
Well, the marking of Roma Day in this scenario starts with an array of speeches from the government officials, which outline the progress the Roma have made. The government’s efforts at integration are mentioned and claims are made about how the Roma are part of Kosovar society.
Next, you have the heads of a few important international organizations who, depending on their individual beliefs and their perceptions of the Roma, say that more has to be done in either a strict or lenient way.
Now, before the Roma representatives have their turn to speak out, the government officials, these rude extended family members, excuse themselves as they depart early due to other more important engagements. The Roma representatives are left to literally speak among themselves, or in some cases to a few representatives from the international community that unfortunately cannot change much, but have taught us all about multiculturalism.
The Roma civil society members’ speeches consist of highlighting the same problems listed since the first celebrations of the National Roma Day in the early 2000s. Very few criticize the government, and those that do first heap praise on the current administration so that balance is established.
As mentioned earlier, there is no food and music but attire is an important element, especially for the Roma. Though not nationalist or patriotic, some of them make sure to dress in colors of the Roma flag; blue or green ties, or a pin displaying the Roma flag. The conclusion of this high level circus is that funding is earmarked for projects with the Roma community, and you can’t claim otherwise.
There is a third side involved in the manifestation of National Roma Day — Roma civil society. Roma civil society’s engagement with National Roma Day is mainly seeking funds from government institutions and international donors. However, in 2015, a protest was organized on the same day that saw dozens of Roma activists attempt to express discontent with the Roma’s situation in Kosovo — something different and courageous given the profound fear felt by the majority of protesters on the day.
Most Roma NGOs seek funds for National Roma Day, usually for very similar activities. No coordination is made, but everyone wants to organize an event for the special day. This part I will not describe as a circus. I will instead opt for a masquerade because, as Soren Kierkegaard remarked, ‘there are two ways to be fooled, one is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.’
National Roma Day in Kosovo is conducted with months of preparation and thousands of euros spent across the country. But the day after, everything goes back to normal; discrimination, stereotyping, hatred, second rank citizenship, a lack of opportunities in every realm of life, and more importantly an unwillingness to accept the Roma as a people that have resided in Kosovo since the 13th century.
Why, as a Roma person, don’t I need National Roma Day?
Similarly to Morgan Freeman’s opinions on Black History Month, I believe National Roma Day has become ridiculous because of what really takes place on the day. My presence in Kosovo as a Roma cannot be relegated to one day in April every year. I need something less than a National day.
When I tell you that I am a Roma, I need you to accept me without saying ‘oh, but you don’t look like one.’ I have never figured out the parameters on how I should look.
I need you not to pity me by saying ‘Oh, come on, you are like us, Albanian,’ because I am really not.
I need you to teach your children, but mostly your parents, that Roma don’t eat or take children away when they don’t behave. Actually, no human does that.
I need you not to judge us because of the color of our skin or the way we smell. There are people I know that equally smell and look a bit darker, but hey, they are not Roma.
Mostly, I need you not to associate everything that you consider bad and unworthy with the Roma.
If one day, I will find myself free from these things, I will have a Respected Roma Day every day and no need for an overrated National Roma Day.
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.