A year ago Nicolae Gheorghe has passed away. As part of the events to commemorate his ideas and spirit I post here an interview I made with him in 2011 in Salerno on Romani identity.
© Open Society Foundation Romania 2012
© Translation Irina Margareta Nistor 2014
The Romani identity
between victimization and emancipation
Nicolae Gheorghe in dialogue with Iulius Rostaș
Iulius Rostaș: Out of my private conversations with different Roma activists about the beginnings of the Roma movement after 1989, you were for sure the main character involved in all episodes, dealing with their trials. There were some surrealistic moments, even funny ones.
Nicolae Gheorghe: When I established the Ethical Federation of the Roma (FER), in May 1990, I was still an expert of the national minorities committee, for the Temporary Council of the CPUN. During the meeting for establishing the FER, there were present: Onoriu and Gabi Luncă, Boldor from Baia Mare, also a Pentecostal adept, I think there was also a leader from Oradea, Balog Augustin, and Răducanu, Ivan and some others. I felt quite attracted by the Evangelist believers, because I attended the Pentecostal meetings, before 1990. When we were supposed to eat something brought from home by one of the participants, first it was a prier said by our pastors, with God, a blessing… And the Ethnic Federation was established and… we were at the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Ex-Romanian Communist Party, I was in my office as an expert for the Roma in CPUN.
I.R.: Yes, it was an unbelievable situation just a few months before: the gypsies, inside the Central Committee, saying priers and establishing an organization.
N.G.: Yes, what an irony of fate!
I.R.: There were different stories as a mixture, a real puzzle. Looking back to what happened to different Roma actors, there were some unknown facts, the missing pieces of the puzzle. Where from this strategy of the NGO’s, why there was no political mobilization for the elections?
N.G.: Because I had this idea in my head: organizing as many civic associations as possible (back then we didn’t use the NGO word). Costel Bercuș asked me once: “Nicolae, tell me please what you want?” And I answer him: I would like to have for about 1000 civic associations”, meaning for some a real betrayal, the other activists were discussing about unity, about just one ethnic formation for the elections, in order to get a parliamentary group, back then in ’90, with the Democrat Union of the Roma, from Romania (becoming later on the Party of the Roma), and I was the heretic while saying: “That’s not possible. It is not that I don’t want it, but it is not a realistic solution”. My alternative was that out of the “1000 civic associations” to gradually become a “Federation” on the basis of some clearly defined interests, maybe on a “contract” between these associations, making clear through a “platform” the content, the “substance”, the “political interests” of the ethnic identification as Roma, as citizen of the State, as a national minority… That was for about the intention for the Ethnic Federation of the Roma…
I.R.: That is why you have been suspected of treason that you have been the Trojan horse infiltrated between the Romas, in order to dismantle the organization efforts.
N.G.: Let’s say that I had a “vision”: while “intuiting” a phenomenon knowing its dynamics, its becoming…
I.R.: That would me a much too banal explanation; it was more than obvious that I was missing something out of these re-enactments. For example the identity factor. Regarding the identity I said it many times, in different circles and a bit in our discussion: I think that you always had an identity complex, the experience with the communist party included. This aspect I could discern in the text you had prepared here and where you had said that that you didn’t feel „Roma enough”, in order to lead the Roma movement.
N.G.: Regarding the ethnic-identity aspect of representation, meaning Roma as a national minority, taking into account the ethnic politics, as long as we have discussed about that in Romania, since 1990…
I.R.: Yes, about your identity as a Roma. And I remember when we shared our personal experiences of early socialization, how we internalized the issue about the Roma and the Gipsy, all these identity aspects included. When I was just arriving in Bucharest, I was put in a context where people questioned my identity as a Roma.
N.G.: How did you approach this issue? As coming from me or from my group? How did you live it? Or what did you consider as intriguing, unfair, improper and ridiculous?
I.R.: I found it ridiculous that for all the others, my colleagues in Cluj included, those with whom I have discussed this issue, they didn’t have such questions regarding the fact that I was assuming my identity as a Roma was accepted as a fact, the questions coming more out of certain curiosities. In here, in Bucharest, people say to me: “No, it is not very obvious way you are a Roma!” And it was strange: how come me having to do with the gipsy hood, out of a family where this issue was openly discussed and my early socialization was as a Roma?
N.G.: And did you still worry about this issue?
I.R.: No. I relaxed afterwards.
N.G.: I still worry about it.
I.R.: I got relaxed the moment when I succeeded in establishing some relationships with those from Bucharest, on different degrees of intensity and cooperation.
N.G.: Me, in my relationship with myself and those around me, I perceive the Roma identity issue in a more complicated, in a more “philosophical” way, if you wish. The provoking issue for those around me was: “What kind of a Roma are you? Why are you a Roma?”. “I took as a starting point my readings as an ex-student in philosophy, from Immanuel Kant, following his questions about: “How is it possible”, meaning for Kant, how is it possible the knowledge, how are possible space and time as thinking categories… Eventually, the philosophers’ question being: How it is possible to build on the thinking level, of epistemology… How you can establish logically something through the “signals” out of our senses, so, through the knowledge predicaments? That is how it could be summarized the whole debate from the very beginning of the critical thinking in the modern philosophy, when the issue is to rebuild the world, under the conceptual aspect, and not only to live it. By comparison, the question for me, for us is: “How is it possible to be a Roma?” As a detail, reading about the surroundings of Salerno, I have “discovered”, that some of the Greek philosophers we are referring to, the Eleates, had lived around here, where we are now: Elea (later on Velia, during the Roman Empire) was a settlement, a “colony” in Magna Greece, meaning about here in the Centre and the South of Italy.
An anecdote – heard from my academic professors – that I have told it many times was the “batulinic” argument (the stick argument): the master explains to his students the theory of some philosophers from the Ancient Greece, that from the logical point of view the motion is not possible. That is why “Achilles the swift footed can’t reach the tortoise”, or “an arrow shot from bow doesn’t shift at all”… meaning the logical paradoxes structured with the intention to astonish you to confuse, to perplex. All this in order to “awake your intellect” to move from the obvious to the senses level, to the “thinking mood”: “How come that a runner like Achilles can’t reach the tortoise? And when the master explains to his disciples, a pupil stands up and starts walking. The philosopher was just arguing that motion was not possible…” And the disciple stands up and says: “Look, I can walk!” Then the master takes a stick and hits hard his pupil saying: “The issue is not to practice the motion, but a philosophical one thinking the motion”. That is why it is called the stick argument… As you can see I, now, here in Salerno, I walk leaning on a stick: So, beware!
I.R.: And what has this anecdote to do with our talk about the naming of Gipsy or Roma?
N.G.: Going back to our concern about the words, the names the identities of gipsy, of Roma… I have lived this “astonishment”, sometimes as shocking, as confusing… and I am going to tell you about a personal experience… The matter consists in rebuilding throughout the knowledge, the “dialogue” (as Zenon, from Elea, Socrates or Plato were doing…) and not as we “feel” the Roma identity, not as we live spontaneously, naturally: we are Gipsy and that’s all. That is why we are Roma now! We have lived and still living with names, with “labels” given from outside, names given/repeated by our own family members: We are Gipsy that is why we are Gipsy… I don’t know who is a Gipsy, or she is not a Gipsy… this is gipsy music, etc.
Now as activists you or I brought up under this name of Gipsy, we could consider ourselves as Roma or we can be Roma, because we are feeling that like the disciple from the anecdote just told, the one starting to walk as an argument falsifying the master’s logics.
My question then when you came from Cluj to Bucharest was intended to provoke you, to upset you to make you too and myself in a certain position, in order to think why we would like to redefine the label of “Gipsy”, in naming ethnicly Roma as persons assuming consciously a certain identity in the public life, into the ethno politics…
I.R.: Yes, but even the Gypsies were different kinds.
N.G.: My mother wouldn’t allowed me to mingle with the wondering Gypsies (the tent dwellers) pretending that they were dirty and “dangerous”. The first fright regarding the Gypsies came from my mother who inoculated quite deeply and I still live with. In a certain way I am still in the world of paradoxes of Elea: between me and the wondering Gypsy, I suppose that it should be continuity, a communion, but I feel as a “void”, as a “gap” that either doesn’t exist (the Ancient Greeks imagined the Cosmos as the opposite of the Chaos being full, compact, with no “fissure”) or, if the “void” exists, it should also be a “bridge” at least a small one, that I can’t cross. So under the aspect of a lived experience, there is no spontaneous or immediate continuity, between the Gipsy identity, a more social one, imposed from outside, as long as the Roma is assumed consciously, in a process of knowing the history, the language and the culture of the people we are claiming as persons, active ones in the public and political life, inside multiethnic communities, etc.
Of course I can “juggle”, as you say, meaning I have learnt the Romani language, I have competed for a position as an adviser for the Roma (when I was selected for OSCE, the contact point for Roma and Sinti, in Warsaw, in 1999), but somewhere inside me, a rupture remained, an anxiety, a “complex”, as you were saying. And then the fundamental question remained — Why am I a gipsy? —, meaning how could we reconstruct, conceptually our identity, and not how we live it. Identity is not a naturally given fact; we are not Roma or Gipsy just because of the color of our skin, this being our “feeling”, on the first view, when we are identified or self-identified as Gipsy, as Roma. If you say that you are a Gipsy or a Roma (as you were telling your colleagues in Cluj) then you believe you are and they weren’t asking you: “Why?” People are taking as such your statement. Regarding the color of the skin, the issue is more complicated.
I.R.: In a summer camp, organized by Vasile Ionescu the slogan was “Turn black and you’ll be free!”…
N.G.: Yes… and no. For example, the color of the skin here in Italy makes this statement irrelevant. In Campania, there are people as dark as or even darker than we are. The immediate question is: Should we label them as Gipsy according to our representations, to our Romanian stereotypes? I say that, no matter the skin pigment and our feelings concerning this element of our identity, the question remains: Who are the Gypsies? Or the Roma? That was the crisis that I wished to provoke in each and every discussion, the dialogue with you included, when I provoked you by asking: Why are you a Gipsy? and “How is it possible” to be a Gipsy or a Roma. The fact that we are labeled and we were labeled historically as Gipsy, comes from “classification“, inside a category consisting in a system of “definitions”, in different historical periods: a social — juridical category, during the Gypsies slavery; a racial one, during 1930s and, especially, during the deportation to Transnistria, etc. These definitions generated and imposed in particular historical periods have been internalized, taken over and even displayed by our families, by the communities we are part of. But I must repeat myself, there is a torturing question: these social-historical classifications, even cultural as Gipsy makes as automatically becoming Roma? I would say NO!
I.R.: For me my identity has no ontological signification or not just an ontological one.
N.G.: This is the subjective matter too. But not only that… In our case, it is not regarded as only a subjective matter.
I.R.: It is a subjective matter too. I am always giving this example. Why when I see two persons I feel closer to the one I identified or they have identified themselves as Roma, out of instinct?
N.G.: I sometimes have a reverse reaction, I avoid it. I label and then I avoid it.
I.R.: By instinct, I feel much closer to that one, although sometimes I could realize afterwards that I have more common interests, with the other, a common language included with the non-Roma.
N.G.: I can see somebody in the street… and quickly I get a free association in my head that they are gypsy… and sometimes I withdraw. I choose for my own safety, not to interact. Other times, I go and try to establish a connection, but it is a rational decision to establish this connection, it is not by affinity.
I.R.: I feel that… and in this case of rupture … that is why I couldn’t understand the internal mechanism of some of your decisions…
N.G.: But that is not enough, in my opinion.
I.R.: No, that isn’t.
N.G.: One can’t decide all by oneself. I can feel Italian, because it is what I want, but I need some landmarks, in order to be recognized as such by others in my identity as an Italian, or Sicilian, Venetian, etc…
I.R.: Besides a self-declaration it is the need to be recognized by the others. But there is another issue too: we also have a Romanian identity. On the other hand, there are contexts, when the institutional affiliation has a more powerful character then other affiliation, loyalties, identities.
N.G.: Yes, it can be a relevant feature. It comes out of the phenomenology language, the Ego and the Self their presentation and what it is significantly relevant for me. Starting from this very moment, I think or I say that this aspect became relevant for us, for the others.
I.R.: I can’t say, for example, that I am an American. I can’t say that I am a Romanian, besides being a Roma, because I identify myself more or less with the Romanian culture.
N.G.: You have the language, the culture and especially the citizenship. That is why you are not an American, you may know and read the whole American literature, as long as you are not an American citizen, and you are no American. To be American means a citizenship. It is not a “feeling”, it is not just a way of living.
I.R.: On the other hand, I have the experience of living in Hungary…
N.G.: There is your family and your friends. For a certain period of time… But that doesn’t make you a Hungarian. You may establish relationships with other persons, based on a certain criterion. You have common memories about Budapest or feelings connected to the Budapest, but this is not an ethnic identity.
I.R.: It is about how I have internalized different aspects. Similarly the ethnic identity is about the way we internalized different aspects. These important elements of the ethnic identity could be found on the speech and perception level.
N.G.: The identity, the ethnos, the communion/community with others… they all have to do with the birth the ethnos having as a fundament a “natural classification”, though birth, there is a blood bond. Then there is a church, where there are establish other bounds of religious beliefs and specific, church rituals: community events, of life in community… there are the weddings, the christenings, rituals, religious holydays and so on and so forth. There are school elements when one says: I go and study in a certain language. This subjective feeling becomes relevant (for myself, for you… and for others) and it is connected to certain exterior landmarks, I can’t call them objective, but exterior, according to which one establishes some of the ways of sociability, on certain criteria, these being elaborated and getting life, through the social existence. One can created ways of sociability with others, on the basis of a certain criterion. Yes, we are here, in Salerno, on a kind of sociability, in the idea of something common, significant, important for us, that made you travel up to here: the ethno political identity. We have this talk, supposing that together we have something in common, not necessary out of tradition, but as I was saying before, you lived in your childhood something that I lived too during my childhood, due to the family histories; now we may have a common project, an ethno-political project that we wish to build having to do with the ethnos, meaning the origin, the birth, the forefathers, etc. Or, from my point of view, this is still something not clarified, that has to be created through a thinking effort and public the debate. The ancient Greeks philosophy, for example, has its roots in the debates about the city-fortress organization, polis, democracy in Athena, for example, or the colonies established by the Greeks as the cities colonies in Elea, Paestum, in here in the area of the city of Salerno, where we discuss right now, or in Tomis and Histria, on the shore of the Black Sea, where you have organized the “Turn black and you’ll be free!” camp when you have darken your skin, in order to clarify the ethnic identity!
I.R.: So we get from the Ancient Greeks polis to the name of Athinganoi, from the medieval Byzantium, and now to the polemic regarding our ethnic name in Romania?
N.G.: For the Roma, the issues about the Roma about the ethnic name etc. a huge “void was created, a quite vast institutional-political space that should be “filled” with something through thinking and action through method based on ideas, on ideology.
I.R.: I see the identity as a fluid feature. The reasons are the following: there is a strong a subjective side referring to the way you internalize certain feelings, connected to the social and political system. Then there are the relationships with the others defining and making relevant certain aspects of the ethnic identities. Then the relationships with the others become an important factor in the way you internalize your identity and how you communicate it.
N.G.: Well, maybe you are more like Heraclitus the philosopher and the world imagined by him: “everything flows”, everything changes, a world opposite to the one logically reconstructed by the Eleates. In the case of certain persons or groups the ethnic identity is total and totalizing. It “imposes” and manages a lot out of the existents of the individual and the relationships with the ones inside the group and outside it, with the world beyond the cultural “frontiers” (following Fredrik Barth anthropologist’ meaning) and so on and so forth. The identity is in this case, an “ethnic uniform” that one always wears… Thus the group or the identity outlines / foreshadows / predetermines almost everything or a lot of the individual’s life. In Wallachia and Moldavia, until the middle of the 19th century, the Romas were slaves, collectively and hereditary: you were born a gypsy, you were slave by birth, and you had no choice than maybe to escape by running away. During the deportation years 1942-1944, the Romas belonging to a “clan” (as the copper-smiths or the sieve makers) classified as “wandering” had being deported in group, as a group not selectively, individually as they were “given away” as gypsies some of them “house Romas”, “home Roma”, or the so called “Romanized gypsies”. Until recently, even to these days, some Roma “peoples” functioned as a sort of artisans guilds, reproduced from generation to generation: if born in a wood-makers family or gold washer one, your profession was pre-determined, working wood; if born in a silversmith family, it meant working precious metals, a copper-smith made buckets, etc.
Nowadays, such a case is of the Roma living in extent families, in kinship groups, “clan” like, (in an ethnographical sense, anthropological, as peoples or “descendants” of Roma; some of them preferring to identify themselves now- during our recent talks – as “traditional Romas” in order to differ from us, the linguistically assimilated and as a way of life, from the one they call “kastalii” (from the word kast, meaning wood in Romani language). The easier example to mention is that of the women from these groups: not only the way they dress (the most visible aspect), but their entire way of life, while getting to the age of pre-puberty, their destiny is predetermined by the rules of the group: rules for marriage, their specific roles and “the cultural interdictions”, in the relationships with the older men and women, the image of their body as a “tool” of biological reproduction, or/but also as a “pollution” source, in a symbolical sense, etc.
Our case is a different one: yours, mine (especially because we are male); others like us, women and men, educated, being defined through their occupational roles, in the global society (or “mainstream”), being on different levels of linguistically, cultural assimilation, as you were already mentioning. In our case, the ethnic identity of a Roma or a Gypsy is just one of our roles, among many other roles through which we shape and show our personality. This is one criterion in establishing relationships. It is relevant in some situations, but in others it is completed irrelevant, you simply forget it. We decide when we give more space to this role; our parents, during their time, and us, we have a much higher social mobility than the Roma mentioned as “clan” or “traditional”; the ethnic role is just one our possible roles.
I.R.: And how did you choose, how do you choose now?
N.G.: I have chosen to do introduce myself as a Roma. Otherwise I would have been free to go on with my evolution as a Romanian (from the point of view of the ethnic identity) let’s call it, a masked Romanian, or a Romanian in disguise. I didn’t get any drawbacks, in my promoting inside the Romanian society, as a Romanian. Well, of course, there are stereotypes, preconceived ideas… yes, but no major obstacle. So, it was my choice to introduce myself as a Gypsy or as a Roma, at a certain stage of my life. But there are cases and groups also particular situations of the day to day life, when you can’t choose, you don’t have this freedom as it is written in the national or/and international laws. You are born with this “ethnic uniform” and you are dominated by the group and its relationships with the surrounding world. Your entire life is shaped by the group, according to certain cultural models, which can look like interdictions and preferences, “traditional” we call them, in order to sugar coat the bitter pill of this way of dominating the individual, of limiting their rights to choose and to “play” with an ethnic identity role, or roles. The social inclusion (as we call now the “Gypsies integration” or the “Roma inclusion”) and the personal development are their very dream. The Roma identity is a choice, an option, a freedom exercise, in the public life, in the societies organized according to democratic principles, as the ancient Greeks had started, in their polis, in their colonies. The idea is — and this is something new, since the last decades — that in public and political speeches about the ethnic, national minorities, about ethnic identity or the “national” one, it is not a compulsory point of view imposed by a smaller or a bigger group, a minority or a majority one, not only in number but also in position, in the power hierarchies of the society as a whole. Inside this institutional vision and practice, regarding the private and public life, the ethnic identity is included in the human rights, because it is a right that you choose and exercise, in a lawful system. You are not forced to have an ethnic national identity, as it is called, defined, classified by a dominant group or by the political elite of a social-cultural group, representing a majority or a minority, in a given society, in a certain moment, after certain cultural models (stereotypes and ethnic preconceived idea included).
I.R.: Well, but these same cultural models influenced us at a certain point.
N.G.: I can’t say that my life was influenced by the Roma identity, as it was influenced in the case of , let’s say, in comparison, with the life of Cioabă Ion, Pițu, Luminița Cioabă, Florin and those in the family and group of the cooper-smith Roma.
I.R.: Of course not, but have you been influenced?
N.G.: What for? At the beginning and during the middle 1970s, I had met Cioabă, Pițu, we travelled together in the country, I admitted I was a Roma, but when I had to choose my life partner, in 1977, with random elements, the hazard, I said to myself: Am I forced to act as a Gypsy, in this case? No, this is my right as an individual. And I have chosen as I thought to. And you can see the consequence, now I can say whatever I want. I got free, I said to myself, of the ethnic oppression as a Gypsy, an historic fact that got to me as a preconceived idea, as a stigma.
The ethnic identity generated through group relationships and social inter-groups has its advantages too: it can foreshadow your destiny, it can “pre-judge” you, it can spare you as an individual from the thinking burden and of “judging” permanently, for each and every step. As in your case of identifying yourself as a Gypsy or a Roma, in the parents family or among the colleagues in Cluj: a spontaneous one, non-problematical, “visible” and “obvious”, “easy”, I would say, convenient, as any form of a non-critical thinking, and ”preconceived idea”. On the other hand, the ethnic identity, as an option, as an opportunity to choose, it gives you room to freedom. But for many, this option still doesn’t exist, it is not possible.
I.R.: That makes me think again at the summer camp organized by Vasile Ionescu: “Turn black and you’ll be free!” When you get partially free of constraints, you have a larger area of freedom.
N.G.: Look another case: the Roma living here, in Italy, in “campi nomadi” (camps for nomads). Their life is greatly controlled by the ethnic group affiliation. In some Regions (administrative entities) of Italy, there are laws for the nomads: if you come from the countries of the ex-Yugoslavia or Romania, Bulgaria and you say you are a Gypsy (zingaro, zingara) or a Roma, by default you are labeled as a “nomad” and you are sent, you and your family, to a camp of nomads, to live there, in an authorized camp sometimes, but more frequently in a non-authorized one, in a just “tolerated” or “abusive”. In these cases you may say that the identity of “zingari=nomadi” is imposed, it is a preconceived idea, due to the popular stereotype, as well as through the public administration laws.
From another point of view, the persons and their families have a certain degree of freedom: I wish to live there and to have such a life. It’s your right! You have chosen to live like that, but the “nomad” identification becomes your option too. You can’t say that everything is imposed, that you are forced to live like that, that you are constrained through laws and administrative pressures, from the outside, being completely dominated. No, I say: this is a component of personal choice, so of “freedom” and of personal responsibility, for the way you are “labeled” and treated in the day to day life.
I.R.: This is not a completely outside pressure, but they internalize it, as a constraint.
N.G.: But there is in this example, I repeat, an exercise of freedom too and of personal responsibility. People are leaving Romania, in the context of the European and national laws, regarding the free movement of the persons for the citizens of the EU member states. In Romania you are labeled as a Gypsy; or you and your family, you prefer to self identify as Roma. In Romania, the Roma are recognized as a national minority, on the institutionalized and political levels, in their great majority superficially, without any radical change in the day to day life. Once arrived in Italy, looking for a source of revenue, of a better life, you settle in a camp (authorized or more likely in a non-authorized one) and you are by default classified as zingari and “nomadi”, from the point of view of the administrative treatment and generally, from the public perception. In Italy, the Roma and the Sinti are not recognized as a linguistic and cultural minority, as other minorities from here like the Germans, the Albanians, the Croats, etc. considered as “historical” minorities, grouped in certain regions, out of which the modern state of Italy became, as we know it today.
I.R.: From this point of view, I say we need immediately, an emancipation project, based on the ethnic mobilization, a kind of ethnic politics included, up to organizing an ethnic Party of the Roma.
N.G.: Yes, but out of which of these “labels” and ethnic (self) identification: “nomad”, European migrant, Romanian citizen of Roma origin, on which could you start an emancipation project, in the public life or in the political one? The political project you are talking about, should include, I would say, the effort of knowledge, of the new step from the preconceived idea to just the idea, as an act of thinking, of the logically ideas or of the ideologies.
How could you put the basis of a social ontology (all critics of a social ontology approach included, from example, as all social is “built”), becoming conscious, through learning, through documentation, as to a certain historical moment, the ethnic identifications had been the choice, the option, just for some, and not the “natural data”, as the mountain and the sea in here, in Salerno? In the example I have just chosen the adults, the parents decide to come to Italy, leaving Serbia, Romania etc. But their children — born and brought up in platz, “camps for nomads”, in barracks or in VR — learn since a very young age that they are “nomads”. They will stay and become “nomads” for the rest of their life? Do these children and youngsters, supposed to be adults with the right to vote, do they keep any connection to the “national minority of the Roma in Romania”? Would they wish to become Italian Citizens? Would they choose a double citizenship Romanian and Italian, according to the laws in both countries? Do we have a possible answer in the concept of European citizen? Are we interested in getting our own contribution to the political project of the European Union, a distinctive contribution as Roma and not only as Romanian or Italian citizens, etc? I think that this issue should be thought about, from the Kant’s question perspective: How is it possible to be a Roma and what is the public significance, the political one, in the self — identification?
I.R.: How would you answer these questions?
N.G.: These are questions difficult to answer by oneself. But you are right. Maybe thanks to my philosophical, sociological approach I should get an answer at least some of these questions, until this very moment of my life. I should have been able to get my point of view into a book or something, as to give you, as to convey you something for you, Iulius, to think about, to take action, to build up your own critical speech, as to establish something in our interpersonal relationships, something that would become maybe the very fundament of the social ontology, of an ethno-political entity or simply a political one, for the Roma.
I.R.: Why haven’t you done that then, in the 1990s, at the beginning of the Roma movement? Why did the recognition of the Roma, as a national minority, stayed just on a superficial level, as you call it now? Where is your responsibility, that of Nicolae Gheorghe, regarding the direction taken or not by the Roma movement, in Romania, during these years?
N.G.: In my opinion, the promotion of the Roma emancipation as an ethno-political entity it was not possible, inside the political space created in Romania, by the politics with and for the national minorities, by the local concept meanings and the pragmatic one, for the election representation of the national minorities, as it got and exists inside this kind of politics in Romania, after 1990. If you and others from your generation could reproach me rightly something, it is my critical opinion expressed regarding the almost “automatically” representation of the national minorities, in the Romanian Parliament. That is why I have my doubts, that the Roma associations with an election vocation (the Roma Party of today, but not only) could politically rally the Roma, by just calling upon the “ethnic vote” of the Roma electors, in order to get the “reserved seat” in the Chamber of Deputies. More promising is the Roma participation in the elections for the local councils; for that I contributed, through the Ethnic Federation of the Roma, for example, during the local election in 1992 or 1996.
I.R.: In here our points of view are convergent and mostly divergent. The present states, especially in the Central and Eastern Europe, Romania included, are states where the real political power is owned by a dominant ethnic majority: the Hungarians, in Hungary, the ethnic Romanians, in Romania, the Serbians in Serbia, etc. That is why the promotion of Roma interests can be done only by taking part to the competition, for the distribution of the political power in such states and societies, taking into account establishing an ethnic Party of the Roma who represent numerous national minorities, in these countries, so they have or can have an important election potential, in sharing the political power the state budget decision and the local one included.
N.G.: In my opinion the political and election rally of the Roma will become efficient, being able to contribute in solving the specific issues of the Roma (the so called “social” one included) when it will be a simultaneous change of the article one, in the Romanian Constitution defining the staid as a national one. By compensation, through the article 62, acting presently, the national minorities benefit by the election representation system, in the Chamber of Deputies.
The political practice of the election representation of the national minorities is an advantage for the Hungarians minority, represented by UDMR; it maybe it useful for other ethnic groups, in Romania, less numerous one. But for the Roma, taking into account their specific history and the social situation in Romania and in Europe, the ethno-politics based on the “classical” concept of national minority — as it is the case in Romania after 1990 — it didn’t work, at least not until now. We will wait and see if 20 more years or several decades will be needed, until there will be a new public and political will in Romania, of all the citizens, the Roma one included, for changing the Constitution and the election laws (as mentioned before). Thus, I think, we will be able “to produce “an efficient ethno-politic of the Roma in a coherent democratic state, and not in a collection of “ethno-cracy”: more numerous for the Romanian majority, more restraint, geographically and numerically (locally ethno-cracy) or mini-ethno-cracy of an election elite of the Roma, justified in ethnic terms.
I.R.: Then, I repeat the question from the beginning of our talk: How did you decided to act then at the beginning of the Roma movement, what was the part of the personal experience, your way of thinking and identifying yourself as a Roma, while taking these decisions?
N.G.: Regarding that, I said that in the 1990s, I preferred the civic option: I want to associate to persons promoting an ethnic aspect, as citizens in a coherent democratic state — as the ancient Greeks’ polis would pretend to be, the one we mentioned again and again, during this talk; but of course in the historically and social terms of today. That would be, I repeat, the intention as a fundament in constituting Ethical Federation of the Roma and, later on, 3 years after, Romani CRISS — Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies — I was talking and using words such as: Gypsy, Roma, Romani, Cris Romano, but there was a moral will for an ethnic construction inside the civic space, of the public right, in a rule of law state for Romania, as imagined on that time, immediately after 1990. We do not start from the ethnic classification, as Roma specifically, as a natural fact out of birth; neither as an ethnic – nationalist representation of the Romanians, inherited by some adepts of the “Romanian spirit” out of the modern and contemporary history as a myth about Romanians and Romania.
I am critical regarding the very concept of national minority, as a collateral effect of the national states formation, in the 19th century, especially after the first world war; I think that this is current representation about national majorities and minorities, in politics after 1990, as you say, while referring to states in the Central and Eastern Europe, after 1990.
I.R.: It seems to me that you avoid answering my question about your role and responsibility as a person, about the influence you had in the decisions of that time.
N.G.: From this point of view, I said again then, that I could not represent “the national minority of the Roma” as long I do not live inside the Roma tradition. I can’t speak Romani as a mother tongue and I do not follow the Roma laws. I refer to the “clan law” — in the sense given by the cultural anthropologists, as a larger family, a social organization, based on kinship, because we didn’t have any other institutional reality created in real life, in social history. Now in 2000 and something, you may say: Yes I am a Roma because I am part of the association, the party or a group more or less outlined, after being “launched” by those representing my generation of activists, during the 1990s. What would be my role and my responsibility? Going on in the same terms as before, during this talk, I think that in Romania is better, clearer articulated the distinction between “the civic directions” and “the ethnic election one”, of publicly and politically mobilization of the Roma or at least the older or the younger Roma, “active” in public life, in institutions, in public debates, etc.
I.R.: Is this distinction valid just while talking about this dynamic for the Roma in Romania?
N.G.: Out of my personal experience regarding the circulation of the Roma through Europe, I don’t know… I think that these options communication and political mobilization (as Karl Deutsch called them) are mixed and more confused than in other European countries where the Roma and the Sinti are more visible in the public life. Excepted, maybe, Macedonia, where there is a much greater number of Roma, men and women, well educated, speaking Romani and active in the public life, Roma being recognized by Constitution, among the peoples constitutive of the state, having ethnic political parties, but also quite skilful in making election coalitions in the Parliament and more recently. in the Government of Macedonia, etc… In Romania, by comparison, the political mobilization of the Roma, on the ethnic criterion it seemed to me as being more and less “blocked”, due to the “reserved seat” in the Chamber of Deputy. Out of my perspective, of course a subjective and “interested” one, the civic mobilization of the Roma, seemed to be a little bit better, if we “measure” the performance by the number of the civic organizations and foundations, by a better ability to self finance, without depending completely on the central budget subsidies (as it was and still is the Party of the Roma). The civic associations of the Roma (the NGOs, as we call them now) from Romania are among the very few countries in the EU having the capacity and the “courage” to take the risks, especially the financial ones, to access European funds significantly important, to elaborate and manage projects of concrete action, in the Roma local communities, in the field of human resources training, etc. In the 1990s and more recently, the election political organizations of the Roma, especially the Party of the Roma didn’t agree with the civic associations “projects”; now, after 2007, when Romania joined the EU and had access to funds, out of the EU budget for 2007-2013, all of a sudden, the Party of the Roma remembers that it is an “NGO”; they started to have their own projects on European money, learning that the partnership civil society and authorities (central, local) is a tool extremely productive (in the sense Erich Fromm uses this term) for the local communities of Roma. Of course, “the civil society of Roma” in Romania is still fragile, having some vulnerabilities, but you wrote about that, Iulius, in the analysis you had already published.
As for me, now (during the last years), I wished to “free myself” from my “shadow” of the 1990s; now I say: I am not a member of any staff of a Roma association. That is in order to feel completely free, not just of constraints, but also of the “crutches” of any managing reference to in the process of building of an Ego, including the ethnic component, the ethnic role, as mentioned before.
I.R.: The emancipator project… is something strictly personal, not including the ethnos as a group or as a collection of different cultural groups, as it is built by history the Roma population in Romania, in the world, isn’t it?
N.G.: I have included the ethnos for a certain phase, but my personal emancipation goes further. I am over this phase. The ethnos is one of the roles I have, being part of a mixture of roles my person is expressing and manifesting now helping to provoke those around me when introducing by affirming: “We are Roma politicians”. In different contexts here, in Italy, too, I express and “activate” my ethno-political identity, as a Roma. I do that, so to say, deliberately, with a certain aim, having behind me certain experience. But each and every of us, we have different roles to play.
I.R.: And how did you feel this “mixture of roles” your life long?
N.G.: Let me tell you a story. In 1965, I was a student at the military school, everything happened during the first holyday from the infantry officers school, in Sibiu, after graduating the military high school, in 1964, at Câmpulung Moldovenesc. I went to a mate and friend, military student, coming from a village near Târgu Neamț. We were friends since the military high school, and he invited me to his house. He was from a poor family, but the three children were well educated. He had a brother who became a professor of physics at the University in Iași. My ex-colleague had a brilliant carrier as a military and he was also poet, writer, a journalist with a very interesting evolution. We decided to go on a trip to the monasteries, by bicycle. We went on bicycle, from his village in order to visit the monasteries of Neamț, Agapia, etc. One morning, we arrived in Târgu Neamț, to go to Neamț Monastery, we passed by a market, it was “market day”… From a pub a townsman went out, all red… we were next to our bicycles, and he stopped just front of me, and he asked: “What the hack, why are you a Gypsy?” Just like that, out of the blue! I was puzzled, because I never discussed about that, with my friend. My mate didn’t know I was a Gypsy. For many years, I didn’t approach this issue, hiding my “ethnic” origin or it was simply not relevant for me, in my relationship with him or other mates, at the military schools.
I.R.: Did you hide it or wasn’t it relevant?
N.G.: Both, so I had an inferiority complex, to hide, but at the same time it was irrelevant, because I wished to build something else: military in the Romania Army “the universal man”, I read about in my books, of that time; the label of Gypsy stayed there, somewhere in my subconscious, at the back of my mind, in my childhood, something associated to my family in Roșiorii de Vede, later on moved to Bucharest. I left home more or less, I left for the army to cut any relationship with my family, where my father (a driver) was known under the nick-name Anghel the Gypsy. On the street they knew we were Gypsy, in school I was labeled as Gypsy and I was already 14. It was extremely painful, the way I felt it. So I was puzzled then in Târgu Neamț. My colleague was delicate enough not to comment upon. I suffered horribly during that moment, and for the whole day. Then I relaxed, I left for the monastery. This incident obsessed me, it was in 1965. It was only in 1973-1974, that I started to try and answer that question: “What the hack, why are you a Gypsy?” Why am I a Gypsy? I still wonder and go on answering that townsman…
In another context, let’s say you are a friend of somebody and all of a sudden, he says to you: “What the hack, you are a Gypsy! Go to Hell you Gypsy scam!” You are equal to the guy you are talking to, or at least you are thinking that. But he wishes to label you, he can. But why that guy, how did he feel, what were the reference points, how could he identify me, as a Gypsy in this context? This is the mystery of stereotypes, of the preconceived ideas… My big problem was and still is: I am a Gypsy… because somebody from outside identified me as such, with or without my will, or because I wish it to, but just after I already internalized his perception? The first who decided that I am a Gypsy was somebody else. Not me. So my choice is more at less secondary. This is a reaction not ontologically (or phenomenological?) primary, or a primordial fact. So I was, I am… I identified myself as a Gypsy, as a Roma, all these issues stayed in me as an onion, growing, but in my deepest person this puzzling question stayed: Why are you a Gypsy? I still don’t know it why…
By chance, in spring 2008, I went again to Târgu Neamț, also in a visit, this time together with my small family of today. I was just as a coincidence the same market, the same place, without wishing it. And I ask myself: Did I get an answer for the reddish drunken? Since 1965… and we are now in 2011. I go on answering this guy, trying to answer his question. Frequently I avoid the question, not being able to give it an answer sometimes, saying to myself that I got an answer… as I do now, while talking to you. Sometimes I feel convincing, when I admit I am a Roma, other times not. Sometimes I play, “juggling“with myself and my identities, quite joyfully. Other times I start getting unprotected in the “void space” between these different identities — as being somewhere in the space between atoms, difficultly to imagined by the Eleats, from the Ancient Greece — I am lost, depressed, completely worthless, because I am in the void between identities… I am either a Romanian, or a Gypsy, a Roma or an European, a cosmopolitan, I am either X or Y… and sometimes I feel in between… In a sort of a limbo… Lost in the void, in a “chaos” opposite to the Cosmos, from the Greeks thinking, remaining with myself, and then I have no landmark, for an ontological identity. My ethnic identity, the “primordial”, total and totalizing, imposed by the group and not chosen, this is one way to fill this void, for reason of safety, in order not to torture yourself with such question; it is something sure, a given fact, something inherited, something defying you, that something or “somebody” (the group) controlling and especially it is one of those illusion to diminish our anxieties. But if we kept asking this question: Who am I… Where I am going to… Would be terrible!
I.R.: Looking for the very essence…
N.G.: From my point of view, the answer the answer with the ethnic identity is one of the possible answers, but is not a liberating answer, it is an answer that I partially feel as narrow, too tight, stiffing me, it doesn’t satisfy at all . But this unrest or “lack of ethnic fulfillment” is a price to pay my liberty, if I am to use it in my interpretation, the title and the substance of Mateo Maximof’ a book.
I.R.: If I am to paraphrase a well-known local character, the fundamental question stays: “Why Roma is Gypsies?” This question has a deep logical for many of the Roma who internalized so powerfully the imposed identity, the Gypsy one, a sort of a label because of which they develop some complexes, that they can’t emancipate from. Even if in the meantime they became activists, they talk in the name of the Roma, they introduced themselves as Roma, but they stayed Gypsies because they internalized so much the label and the identity, so for them, the fact of being a Gypsy, is an oppressive factor. From my point of view, talking about and being a Roma represents an emancipative speech, an emancipative force regarding the complexes of being a Gypsy, meaning trying to be proud of yourself, means trying to be a proud of you, as a person, of what are you are, and what you represent.
N.G.: From the others point of view, the fact that you are married with a woman of another ethnic group could make them say: “You are not a Roma, you are just pretending! You maybe a Gypsy, but you not are a Roma”.
I.R.: On the contrary, I am a Roma! Maybe I am not so much of a Gypsy.
N.G.: It is something that I still contest, as long as you do not live following certain rules, considered as defining; of course there are customary laws, muro romano, or “folk”, not institutionalized one. Yes, but as long as you are in a clan, the Roma identity is relatively clear, for yourself and for others, it is a group identity. It is a social fact, but not an institutionalized identity, by right, or at least it is not yet such an institution. We are trying to capacitate, to reconstruct such a public identity, institutionalized, through the practice associated to politics, for the national minorities, teaching Romani in some schools, by getting reserved quotas “for Roma”, on high school or on colleges level, etc.; this process could take some more 10-20 years… It may or not succeed. It is clear for me, that Roma identity was kept by the clan, according to a certain kind of marriage following certain rules that can be of parent ship, exchanges between families, etc. But you can’t be Roma anyhow, just because you wish to.
I.R.: But the identity changes, it completely changed. You can’t stay secluded in a secular identity definition, because the social relationships change.
N.G.: Why are we, you Iulius and I, Roma and not simply civic activists or sociologists, politologists, analysts? What is the difference between X, who reads, writes about Roma, why are you more Roma than this X, who is “an expert on Roma”, either in the public administration practice or in the academic world?
I.R.: Beyond assuming a certain social role, with its pluses and minuses, it is also about the experiences we are living through…
N.G.: They can have the same experiences as you had.
I.R.: By no means, I internalize my experiences in a certain way and somebody else lives them totally differently. From this point of view, to be a Roma is a personal experience… Of course, we have relationships with the others, sometimes conflicting, competitive relationships, because that is life, you compete with others, but our roles are different not only by assuming them.
N.G.: Ettienne Balibar and Immanuel Walerstein said in one of their books (I quote approximately): “The identities are some constructions of the elites, in order to have a more advantageous position in competing for resources: or inside the national state or inside the world economic system”. Yes, you can make ethnic business, in order to win. The ethnic affiliation changes into a competitive resource, that you can use, you can trade it, as a tool transforming the “tradition”, into a “trade mark”, an exchange one, on a “trade mark market” meaning the ethnic, ethno-political, ethno-national ones…
I.R.: Exactly, there are different types of resources, not only material, but symbolical too.
N.G.: In here your theory conflicts with some of the Roma. Let’s say… the Gipsy musicians. For example X… a he or a she are Gypsy musicians, they do not need to emancipate out of this label for them to be Gypsy is an occupational trade mark. So them the Roma musicians… that doesn’t mean a thing for them (for the audience, for the agents) but as Gypsy musicians, they are somebody. They are living out of trading their entity, their profession, their ethnic identity.
I.R.: Ok, it is a branding issue.
N.G.: But do they need to emancipate out of their Gypsy identity?
I.R.: I think they do.
N.G.: I don’t. For example, the Spanish Gitanos — flamenco dancers, they need to emancipate out of their Gitanos identity, that we the Roma activists consider pejorative? The Gitanos from Andalusia are trying to do that and they partially succeeded: they are accepted in Andalusia and in Spain, as a state, through a specific public politics as Gitanos, not as Roma. The Roma are just in the international language. So some of the Roma do not need to emancipate out of their Gypsy identity or Gitanos, Zingari, Sinti or Gypsies or travelers, “Nomadi” as they are in here, in Italy… That is why I want to say: what for some Romas are Gypsies? Because they chose to be, because they wish to!
I.R.: Then I think that, from my point from view, some groups need an emancipating project, because there are some practices associated to their denomination, they do not agree with. Of course, there is a competition between the groups we call Roma, who will win this competition in imposing a certain identity trade marks the identity defining included, they will impose themselves in the end.
N.G.: It stays a competition issue, but that is why I prefer an answer to the question. “Why certain Romas are Gypsies?” Because they want to be Gypsies, it is a freedom exercise, in the sense we just mentioned. Not only because they are forced to be Gypsies; there is a dynamics in here, a certain dialects (as a thinking process) a negotiation, a social practice.
I.R.: Yes, but there are some practices contrasting with the dominant social values… the early marriages practice is it acceptable? If we believe “not”, then we have to debate the issue. That is why we need an emancipating project, an identity one, from my point of view.
N.G.: What does it mean emancipating in this case?
I.R.: Some practices must be changed. Emancipating in the sense of rebranding, rethinking the Roma role in the society as well as of some social practices associated to the group.
N.G.: But who could make this emancipating step and the “rebranding”? Can we do it, the assimilated Roma in the name of the “traditional” Roma, practicing the early marriages? Or those pretending to be Roma?
I.R.: This is where assuming is needed. Yes, they are the people who should do it. If we look to all ethnic-national emancipation movements, they have been done by this kind of people. The emancipating movement leaders were those who left the group at a certain moment and got another kind of socializing, coming back later one to lead the emancipating project. They led!
N.G.: This is my very case or maybe yours, but can it be of others too?
I.R.: The issue is if we could assume such a responsibility or not?
N.G.: The answer is that we assumed this responsibility, when, for example, the Democratic Union of the Roma, between 1990-1994 and later on The Party of the Roma assumed this responsibility, when at the beginning Răducanu, and now for 12 years already through Păun, the Roma are representing in the Parliament of Romania as a national minority, as members of the national minorities group in the Chamber of Deputies, as members in the national minority Council (subsidized by the State), etc. On the other hand, others among us, we also assumed, since 1990 the role, the responsibility to action for the Roma, with the Roma, through civic association, foundations, as “enterprises” or/and as partners for punctual projects and in “strategic” social politics, on long term, etc.
I.R.: And is it that enough?
N.G.: From my point of view, there isn’t any problem for some of us to assume the political and civic responsibility. The issue is that after assuming such a responsibility, on an identity criterion, after making new steps in our ethno-political asserting, after “wining points”, we stayed somewhere suspended into the thin air, not having where and to who go back. We do not have a coherent and durable “audience” built (for example through periodical subscription fees and not only through “project benefits” we do not have a political community to address again with an emancipating speech). Yes, we have house Gypsies with a similar experience to ours, the integrated ones, those integrated only fragmentarily, accessing through educational programs, insertion ones, in the formal economy or the public administration, yes, for them we are trying to have an emancipating speech, to help the emancipation according to certain ways or variants, or “models” of being a Roma, in order for them to decide… if they are or not Roma… but as a individual practice and a voluntary association, a willingly one in this sense.
I.R.: Exactly! On the symbolical and collective level, the power to define takes to this kind of people, who had another type of socializing, getting the strength to redefine. On the individual level, they have that project of individual saving. Each and every feel and action as they can, as they believe it is better and more profitable for them. There is, of course, an oppressive side because as long as you, on the symbolic level, you go and say: “No, you are not necessary what you wish to be, in this case a Gypsy or what you were told you are, but simply are a Roma”. Then him or her could ask me: “Why?”. An answer like “Because I say so” got an oppressive aspect. At the same time, I think that the Roma advantage is that there are no institutions to put into practice this oppressive aspect. Let me give you an example: the national state, the fact that the Roma have no state with a bureaucratic system, or an army or an education system to reproduce the ethnic identity of the Roma, which eventually is sanctified and the state becomes sacred too, fact that I consider a positive one.
N.G.: The lack of a state, of a national state is perceived as a “weakness”: that is why the Roma are not recognized as a national minority in Hungary, but just like an ethnic minority. That is why in Italy they are not treated as a linguistic minority, equal to other minorities. Even in Romania, the Roma are representing in the Parliament as a national minority, but they are perceived rather as a social problem. The Romanian state is interested in the Romanians rights in Hungary, as well as the Hungarian state is concerned with the Hungarians rights in Romanian. So what can we do? Some say we should “build ourselves” as much as possible according to the “historic” national minorities model, even if we do not have and we do not claim our own national state.
I say something else: the Roma can militate, politically for a new kind of states without ethnic aspect, through the separation of the nation from the state, as the religion through the Church separated from the modern states, after ferocious religious wars (going on nowadays too, in some regions or countries more or less near us). In states with no ethnic components, coherently civic, it is easier, I think, to guarantee the essential civic rights and through a cultural association, in the civic space, to promote your own language, the ethnic-national symbols, as partially private rights, but expressed in the public space. It may seem a politically naive project, an utopia, what I am saying now, but I go back to the beginning of 1990s and I try to tell you my reasons for choosing this “Civic Charta”, in a political rally of the Roma. Răducanu and his political friends preferred the election representation Charta of the Roma as a national minority and they have chosen as an election symbol “the ace of clubs” sign kept by the Party of the Roma until nowadays. Was it or not a winning ace of clubs in the elective politics of the Roma in this politic of claiming the national minority of the Roma? It should be still debated and evaluated!
I.R.: In the case of the Roma, it is possible to contest the leader’s speech, without affecting the national state, because it doesn’t exist. You may say: “Well, man, I don’t to be a Roma I am a Gypsy” and then I would be given the possibility to say: “Ok, you may stay a Gypsy it’s your business, but on the public level of the speech, no matter if you like it or not, you will still be a Roma”. On the level of the public speech the term used will be Roma.
N.G.: Ok, I exaggerate, I simplify, but for me the experience of the reactions upon the initiative of the deputy Prigoană (autumn 2010-spring 2011) was a test: the denomination as such and what is associated to the word of Roma it is not a rally force. It could become in time, but now (autumn 2010-spring 2011) it wasn’t the necessary context, it was a lack of combination of favorable factors; the public rally didn’t “work”. In another context, it succeeded (in 1995 and later on) maybe it will succeed again, in the future, but for the moment it didn’t because it couldn’t generate a vast social movement, a civic and politic rally, going to “the roots”, to particular groups and local communities of Roma.
We didn’t succeed to give the word, the denomination of “Roma” an associated political program, a clear one, helping to rally, as it was the case of the word “afro-American” and the movement for the civil rights, in the USA. It is totally different to be a “nigger” and something else to be “black” and something else to be an “Afro-American” .
We didn’t succeed yet in elaborating a political program associated to the term of “Roma”, a resounding program, a real echo for everybody. Yes, we had a resounding success in Brussels in Strasbourg, at OSCE, at the Council of the Europe, at OSI…, on this level we succeed in having an interlocutor and a certain influence but on the level of the social masses… And I am not talking about, let’s say the wood makers and gold washer Roma, but about the mass of activists trained in the dynamics of the last 20 years! Or maybe we took the success as it appeared in the public, national and international documents: the denomination of Gypsy or Nomads or travelers should be replaced by that of Roma, that we found that so obviously, that in the political-institutional speech we are Roma, so no more need to rally.
I.R.: They didn’t acknowledge the dimension “Why the Roma is a Gypsy”!
N.G.: I don’t think we have already a crisis of conscience, as Kant and other philosophers from the beginnings of the modern era had, when it was about the fundaments of knowledge, especially of the verifiable knowledge or the scientific one. We are not yet in a “critical phase”, we are not yet in a phase of establishing from the epistemological point of view a political action. That means in our epistemology speech: through thinking, through analysis, through reflection, through dialogue and through a contradictory discussion, through a political practice, even an ethno-political, so as to put the bases of such knowledge, an ideology, a political “platform” for the Roma, but also for the society in its ensemble…
I.R.: We have to create something and to brand them, as they should be able to get an echo on the level of the ordinary people, to evaluate and reevaluate where we really are. That is what I wanted to say, what to do in a critically manner, in a debate.
N.G.: We are the “usual” Roma, the Roma as an international brand. How we have to deal with: “Well you are not a genuine Gypsy, if you do not feel as a Roma, then automatically, are not recognized as a Roma by the others?” That is what I wished to say: to provoke, to stimulate this “pain”, in order to wake us up from the “dogmatic sleep” of the spontaneous ethnic identification, with no thinking filter or a real life biased by the thinking or an ideological system.
I.R.: How could we become from the usually Roma, to simply Roma?
N.G.: Could you be a Roma, just spontaneously, from the Mother Nature? No, I would say no, me, Nicolae Gheorghe, in order to provoke you and other curious (in the philosophical sense). Yes, I tried I am still trying, I imitated, I juggled, I “bewitched” (as Max Weber said it) the world around. So, essentially, my solution in this very moment of my life is: Am I a human or a Gypsy.
I.R.: So, the Gypsy is not human?
N.G.: The Gypsy can’t be a Roma. Human maybe yes, but tolerated as a species, as a sort of under-man, that yes, it is possible.
I.R.: That would mean preconceived idea towards the Roma; there is even a saying: The willow is not a tree, as a Gypsy is not human, just like me.
N.G.: Yes, of course, he is not human! On their turn the Gypsies, those from the “descendents” (or from clans, as we already mentioned it), they say that the gadjo /the non Gypsy are subhuman. So you may do whatever you want with him, to trick him, that is the best solution, isn’t it? And even maybe to kill him, as the gadjo could kill you because you are a Roma (in the traditionally sense) or/and a Gypsy in the social sense. Meaning you may make fun of him of this guy, because anyhow he is foul, he is not human… according to simplistic onto-logics: there are two realities completely exclusive, the gadjo and the Roma, a product of the social history especially the European one as being “traditional”. It establishes parallel societies; where an explosion may happened, “the dynamite” appearing when the gadjo and the Roma are trying to be together, when they put in their minds to build a society together, an “inclusive” society as we call it nowadays. For that somebody should try and justify this new social form, to established it in a Kantian approach, through knowledge and then to build, as Immanuel Kant was saying too, in a more generally sense, an “eternal peace”, or a “perpetual peace”, Zum Ewigen Frieden, as a philosophical, Cosmo-political project, published in 1795.
I.R.: Then it was “invented” this category of Roma, that should be defined not only as a name, etymologically speaking, but also as an historic subject, as a political actor, the bearer of a political platform.
N.G.: That is for us to invent it, if we do succeed in “inventing” it, to build it through our experience. Otherwise, in order to go on, with our discussion about the Roma in Macedonia, they made progresses in building Roma as a national minority, in the “classic” sense, East European. There are two generation of Roma intellectuals, who published grammars and dictionaries in Romani. They write literature and journalism in Romani language, they teach the Romani language, in a bilingual school, from Suto-Orizari. They are following the example of the Roma in Serbia, and more recently, from Croatia, from Kosovo. Their problem is that today Macedonia is a sort of “little Yugoslavia” with the vulnerabilities of the ethnic-nationalism that provoked the crush of the “big Yugoslavia”, the one on Tito’s time, through wars, inspired by national ideologies, religious one, out of an ethnic nationalism. During the conflicts and the wars generated by such ethnic nationalism, competitive in the same state entity, on the same territory, the “very primitive” Roma (not necessary just their elites) are always losers, remaining “in the middle” and rejected by each and every nationalism, as it happened in Bosnia and even more obviously in the conflict from Kosovo. That is why, I think that “the eternal peace” or at least “the 100 year peace” between the Roma and the non-Roma isn’t possible on the bases of the national state ideologies, together with the national minority, as some of the these political realities and ideologies in the modern, contemporary history of the national state appeared, as we know them now. The historical chance of such of “Roma peace” it is given by the recent practice of the human rights, of the civil rights (in the USA) of “the fundamental rights” of the European Union.
I.R.: We established up to now: that on one side that the gypsy can’t be human, but if we are talking about the human rights, the civic activism may be a Roma, a pakivalo be a human rights activist?
N.G.: You can’t be an activist of the human rights — that takes to the social ontology and ethic of the universality, of the Judeo-Christian values, taken up to the end — and in the same time, to be a Roma according to the rules of the Roma “descendents”, values and rules of some communities which, in order to survive and to protect (in the cultural sense, but also in the personal and group security sense) avoided the world around, building themselves at the edge of this “world”. The historical practice on those “traditional” communities is based on a relationship of exploitation with the world around, the world around exploiting them and they exploited the world around, there is not a equality relationship, but an asymmetrical one, an hierarchical, one of hegemony of the “outside” world. If we accept this premise, then you can’t be a pakivalo Roma, according to the Roma “descendents” and an activist on the human rights. The human rights are valid meaning they can function in a society of equality towards the law, where there are lawful, neutral institutions, where men, women, any individual has to or it is suppose to trust (pakiv) the already mentioned institutions, because (ideally) there are political and judicial guarantees, for practicing this trust. The world of the traditional Roma from the different “descendents” (copper-smith, lovari, Sinti and other Roma “guilds”) is organized on a hierarchic criterion, inside it and on distrust, on a fundamental suspicious attitude between the Roma and the gadjo, between the community of the “descendents” or the clan (which follows an hierarchic order, but is it also protective for the individual) and the gagicani society fundamentally threatening.
I.R.: The Roma world is functioning according to a hierarchic order and many try to chance it through democratic means. This is another paradox.
N.G.: There is no equality between persons built in the Roma world (those from descendents, the “clan” Roma or the “vitse”, world based on family relationships): between men and women, between old and young, between children on one side and married adults, men/women, between rich or poor, between “clean” persons, in the symbolic sense, as behavior) and a “foul” one, Marime, so as far as I get it, in my opinion, the world of the “traditional” Roma is a coherent hierarchical organized world. So how could you believe a dialog between these worlds based on conflicting values if we accept, I repeat myself, that the European societies or the Western world have as a fundament the values of equality in front of the law, towards the institution of administrating the human rights?
I.R.: It is not just hierarchy, because somebody could come and say: “Do you mean that the non-Roma world is not based on hierarchy?” But from a certain point on, it is about certain practices and values.
N.G.: Yes, it is about the values the hierarchy is based on, the “gagicani”/non-Roma and the “Romani”/Roma are according to the already mention analysis mutual exclusive. And then here comes the Kantian inspirited question: Is it possible to be a civic activist and a Roma, in the same time, according to the traditional sense of the word? My answer is: “No”. My personal life experience tells me that between these two worlds, these identities, there is an irremediable conflict that excruciated my life for 30 years.
I.R.: So what would be the solution, a possible answer to may question about pakiv and your speech about human rights, about the civic society and so on?
N.G.: The “inclusive” society, the “eternal peace” between the non-Roma and the Roma, would be possible if and when they could change (could we change?) starting from the dominant hierarchy, the oppressive approach, the exclusivist and exploiting facts (especially) in this society as a whole, being, past and present, a “gagicani” society, for the fundamentally exclusivist (socially, rank or social layers and more frequently, in the ethnic and the cultural sense). Through the same practice or the comprehensive social process, based on reciprocity (as expressing the “equality of chances “as we call it in our talks), the hierarchies must be changed in the Roma world, “traditional” or not, because they are also oppressing, but because they are practiced on a smaller social ladder, we accept them as part of the “tradition” like in the case, for example, of the relationships between men and women, in the case of the compulsory marriages already mentioned, etc.
I.R.: Can somebody be a Rom pakivalo and an intellectual Roma too?
N.G.: An intellectual like me, but I can’t generalized… They can’t be Rom pakivalo up to the end; somewhere there is a split, a fracture; If I am an intellectual in the end, I give up in front of a solid argument, of a value or a right considered to be generally accepted, so I can’t follow up the tribe law, because I asked questions, I discus it and then I am eliminated; in the best case scenario I can be accepted as a Gypsy by a Rom pakivalo. I don’t know… Some of the worse opinions about the “house Gypsy” (as I am) I’ve heard from the Rom pakivale, in the sense of traditional Roma. And of course from some non-Roma, but you are expecting that because a non-Roma is an adversary and not a manush (a nice guy); in the vocabulary and the Roma mentality, a non-Roma is something frightful, a terror, a menace, it is one against the other, the non-Roma and the Roma. In the end, the social game is a question of life and death between the two of them; the Roma and the non-Roma will win/vanquish in the end. It is a relationship based on conflict. But I want to remind you that awful opinions I also heard from my own mother, a house Gypsy, about the wandering Gypsies, ex-tent Gypsies living in Cotorga slums, in the suburbs of the little town of Roșiorii de Vede.
I.R.: So, the relationship Roma versus non-Roma is a Manichaeism based one, an exclusivist one.
N.G.: Both groups (identities) non-Roma and traditional Roma can tolerate the Gypsies as subhuman: according to both on-tologics of the non-Roma and the Roma. My problem/worry, and yours… is that we are trying out of “Gypsies” (as we were labeled in our childhood) to become “human” combining a humanist concept, about man, a Universal one, with a particular fundamental concept of the very Roma (clan Roma). What seemed to me quite impossible… I couldn’t find a solution on the personal level, at least not yet. But the problem, the dilemma can be similarly to Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians, and usually to persons trying to find an answer to such questions…
I.R.: One of the paradoxes?
N.G.: Yes, if “Achilles the swift footed can’t reach the tortoise” it seems that (please forgive my reference!) neither can I, born as a Gypsy, the civic activist for the Roma rights, I can’t be a Roma, from the ethnic cultural point of view. I could be a good activist. I was, maybe, a “successful Roma” in the non- Roma world; but in the “real” Roma world I am culturally disqualified. I can’t exist in both worlds simultaneously, as if I had reached the “eternal peace” on the subjective level, with myself (as long as I am still alive!).
I can’t accept either on the intimate relations level, the personal, the family Roma behavior in its tribal approach. If you are a Roma up to the end, you have firstly to respect “your kind”, your extended family first. On the level of the basic values, and also of the daily practice, there is no place for somebody outside “the decedents”, outside the tribe. The main loyalty is for your kind, the others don’t count everything is allow; or my humanistic concept (well, it is my self-labeling idea) that disqualifies me. So from this point of view, I am more as a “gagiu/ non Roma being a threat for some of the traditional Roma that would like to assert publically. That is why, for example, I was “kidnapped” around 1992, I think. In this sense, the traditional Roma — X, Y, Z, they got the intuition that I could be somebody dangerous”.
I.R.: Is the non- Roma world, thus, the non Roma could justify their collaboration with you as a representative of the Roma.
N.G.: So, I resume, some of the traditional Roma, willing to be a presence in the public and political life (many were then leaders of political parties, according to the old law of the parties) they got a correct intuition, that I was a “danger’ who should be somehow eliminated. They wished a, let’s call it, a symbolic “elimination”, not a physical one. It followed the self elimination while leaving for Warsaw, later on, in 2007, and after, out of depression and starting two years ago and now my body illness… the personal saving solution is to become again human, without being a Roma “but simply a man, as a person deeply and painfully internalizing the label, the complex of the Gypsy”. I tried during my school years, and then in the 1970s, the 1980s to free as a man from the “new man” the socialist, communist one. I try in the 1990s, until recently to save myself as a Roma. But I didn’t succeed.
I.R.: Why didn’t you succeed as a new man, the socialist kind? You have been a member of the communist party, haven’t you? Why so many paradoxes in your life?
N.G.: I have partially succeeded. I was “valuable“ pupil and student according to that time parameters, my activism inside the communist students union included, during my university years, but then I refused the nationalist primitive, a point of view during the nationalist era of Ceaușescu. Meaning the second part of the 1970s and then the 1980s, when I lived the invention of a Romanian ethnic nationalism version in order to justify the communist institution. On the origin of this nationalism it was (a paradox again as you say!) the great victory of Ceaușescu: his protest, in the name of the Romanian state, during the summer of 1968, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, by the USSR and the armies of the Warsaw of the Treaty (communist equivalent of the NATO, on that time); this protest the mass support during the summer of the 1968, had a huge influence upon me and maybe upon my generation (ex-high school mates were just finishing the military school for officers). Then step by step, the public situation degraded and felt maybe earlier than others the threat, because I couldn’t be a “one hundred per cent Romanian”. I knew that I was a Gypsy inside, even though I knew (or I just imagined?) that I was behaving “as a Romanian”, in the daily public life. I never had problems with my mother tongue, my public language in Romanian…
I.R.: Haven’t you discussed publically or among close friends, not necessary about the Gypsy, but about different identity problems?
N.G.: During the university years almost not at all. My mates never called me Gypsy, and I never talked about me as a Gypsy.
I.R.: But later on, at the institute?
N.G.: At the sociology institute, step by step, starting with the second half of the 1970s … Maybe some of my colleagues presumed, but they never told me anything disdainful. I took the “Gypsy problem” as subject for my research. I needed several years, I told you that it was easier for me to say it in English: “I am a Gypsy” than to say it in Romania: “Sunt țigan”. I needed sometime to be able to say that. So, in order to say it in Romanian, to a Romanian interlocutor, I needed for about 10 years. Even now I don’t feel completely safe emotionally while talking in Romanian with a Romanian, to say that I am a Gypsy. Even now, when I am talking to you in Romanian too. This word is so full of pain. I couldn’t get well. It was easier for me to say it in English: “Gypsy” or in French tsigane… It was simpler, because they weren’t lived languages, but “trade” languages (as I mentioned before), they were in exchange, a way to communicate. It was and it is easier for me to say in Romanian, that I am a Roma.
I.R.: When did you start using the Roma word in public life, as you are doing now?
N.G.: It was during the second half of the 1990s when the Foreign Affairs Minister proposed to the Romanian Government a memorandum MAE nr. H03/169 from January 31st , 1995. In which the state institution were recommended to use the name of Gypsy and not the Roma. Then I protested regarding the denomination of Gypsy. A word imposed through on administrative act… In my conscious a vivid reaction took place and, then together with Vasile Ionescu, and other friends, much younger activists, we rallied the others. People perceived it as something artificial, the very name of Roma that I claimed, as a protest against the trial to be labeled as “Gypsy” through an administrative act, coming from a governmental institution, so with a dominant position in the society. I think that through our action then, we succeeded to promote the denotation of Roma, in the public communication, especially in Romania as well as for example in the European Council. But the critics started too that these (activists) meaning us, we are not real Roma: or to spell Roma with double “r” .
I.R.: And this made you more relaxed regarding your doubts about the ethnic identification?
N.G.: I tried to rehabilitate as a Roma, especially through a public action, because I never, neither now, I never felt from the emotional point of view safe to say in Romanian, that I am a Gypsy. On the other hand, I discovered at a certain moment (during the recent years) that it is alienating to mystify myself as a Roma, as long as I do not live according to the Roma laws, that being a cultural law, a law of some specific social appearance; I say again: there are rules of marriage, rules of behavior, rules of symbolic “cleanliness”, a moral approach in the Roma law, in the “descendents” law, the only constituted in social shapes, in history, as institutions in a sociological sense.
I.R.: But what would be the implication of your (non)clarifications for the other, for the Roma politics that you discussed in your texts, in your talks with Andras Biro included, regarding the project of the book that you wish to publish?
N.G.: What we discuss and try to do is about the abstract Roma, the political Roma, Roma as citizen in a State of law, Roma as an European citizen, Roma as a constitutive people of the European Union, … all these are still work in progress, open structures, perceived by many Roma and non-Roma as artificial forms. But let’s not forget that the European Union of the “political peoples” and not only the national states is still work in progress.
I.R.: But there are already a lot of mutations among the traditional Roma too, changes of customs and practices among the traditional Roma.
N.G.: Of course, they are. Similarly, in the globalization context, a lot of partial, local identities are under threat and “obvious” identities, like for example the Romanian identity, may change or even disappear. These identities, even some “national” identities feel threatened, no matter the national state, the language, the institutionalized culture… Here, in Italy, some dwellers and politicians from the Northern Italy are claiming a distinct identity as “padani”; a speaker of the daily language of Napoli, who is not always accepted, let’s say, in Milan as a “real Italian”.
When I go to a medical treatment, if I tell the other patients or the sanitary staff, in Salerno, that I am from Romania talking with my Romanian accent, the bit of Italian that I know… many don’t believe me, saying that I am an Arab.
What I want to say is that the language is not sufficient for an ethno-political identification, in the sense of 19th and 20th century, “a language, a territory, a national state”. In this new context, postmodern globalizing of the 21st century it could be possible that this concept the Romanian speech to explode at certain moment, because the internal contradictions, as long as it is an artificial structure. The word, the ethnonyms of Rumanian, yes because the Rumanian had a social history, a certain connotation in local communities and it is said as such in the main European languages such as: les Roumaines… The Rumanian, …gli Rumeni, die Rumanien, Rumun in the Slavic languages… or o Vlaho, o Rumuntzo, in Romani… The word “Romanian” is an artificial creation, an invention of a philologist, of Dimitrie Filippide, at around the end of the 18th century. Similarly to what Mr. Prigoană says about us that the word, the saying, Roma is artificial, being just an invention of the Roma activists after 1990. Returning to the “red thread” of our talk… if I am to die, if I talk constantly to Death, I would like to die as a human or as a Gypsy, but I couldn’t die as a Roma. Meaning that I am not, I can’t qualify as a Roma and I feel as a whole and more comfortable as a Gypsy in the Romanian vernacular of the term: willy nilly, the way I was brought up, this word is nearer to me as the saying: “the shirt nearer to the skin”.
I.R.: Although you refused it all lifelong…
N.G.: I refused it explicitly, but I deeply internalized it, and now at my old age, when all censorships come back, as the parents while dreaming, the word of Gypsy is more comfortable, nearer “to my skin” than the word Roma which for me has an a civic identity. In our case, in your case, in my case there is no ethnic identity from “nature” and birth as it is for the traditional Roma, from the “descendents”, the “guilds” or the “clans” as we talked about. We started, in our conversation, to talk about how “to build” ourselves and maybe how to participate at the building of the Roma as a project for the political people, as persons with a civic identity an ethno-political, one inside the space of the human rights of citizenship with rights and obligations established through laws and through institutions of the political democracy, in the national politics and of the EU, etc. There is here the beginning of the “manifesto” that I would propose to some interested people, being capable to elaborate it better through debates and public actions. Others may say: no! But they can’t resist to this idea.
I.R.: What would be the counter arguments?
N.G.: Because that through the talk about the civic space, the human rights, the liberty to be a Roma (in the sense we are discussing it), some Roma and non-Roma, they simply feel the civic and political as being on one hand artificial and on the other hand quite “dangerous” : it is like a threat for the group control that the traditional Roma have over the members of the group, for example the men’s control over the women and children; or it could be a threat for the ethnic-electoral “monopoly”, as it is practiced through the present mechanism regarding the national minorities representation, on the level of the democratic institutions in Romania; or, for others, it is as we were organizing a new political entity, not only as a political party, but under other structures to a sort of political radicalism… It can also be even a state at a certain moment not a “classical” state, with territory and frontiers, but a “state“ according to the postmodern era, with no territory, a virtual political entity, in a lot changed world possible through the electronic communication and the new political ways to rally, different from the 19th , 20th century and at the beginning of the 21th century… In this field there is room for a political utopia, for you and your generation of activists, for the next generation made out of better prepared youngsters, who would travel more, more unsatisfied with this world organized in a way familiar to us.
I.R.: Ok, ok…, there is a problem: if you build something with a meaning for the people of the community, not for academicians and for the over qualified people educated at fantastic school, keeping the humanist values?
N.G.: Because we have used the word Gypsy another more subtle specification is needed: until 1995, we the activists then we didn’t have a problem in identified as Gypsy because we called them Gypsy those we had a contact. We called ourselves equally Gypsy and Roma. The denomination of the ethnic group wasn’t a priority although the associations establish by us at the beginning of the 1990s there were a name in their great majority “of the Roma”. But the basically program we succeeded in implementing, for example, in the case of the Ethical Federation of the Roma we reconstructed the houses in several places where violent conflicts took part, the program of the sanitary education of the people from the town of Mihail Kogălniceanu and Vălenii Lăpușului, in Maramureș, even Hădăreni, where we started something. In these actions stays the origin, for example of the sanitary mediator programs and those of the school mediator, or “the project” as a series of actions at the local level (and not mainly as an administrative-financial act). We always wished to bring something to the people in the field. The chance was these conflicts which brought up into light local tensions; I instrumented them, using them from the ethno-political point of view, I said they look like pogroms, and some didn’t agree on that time, they alienated, frighten by my language of the time…, but I brought something to the people in the field.
I.R.: You have been an “agitator” perceived as such.
N.G.: Perceived as an agitator. I was a traitor, of the Roma of the Romanians, because I was talking about a pogrom, in Romania, at the very beginning of the 1990s.
I.R.: Of the Romania of sure.
N.G.: Yes. But, not only… That is why they kidnapped me the so called: Bobu, Stoica Octavian… maybe it was a discreet involvement of Cioabă, the old one. I said to myself: “Oh, my God, this is a spy. He is not a real Roma firstly and not even, a real Gypsy. He is a spy, a gadjo dyed… etc.”
I.R.: There were other conflicts or disputes between the Roma activists, the most recent one being the one between Păun and Florin Cioabă, when Păun asked Cioabă to justify how his family got all this gold. How such disputes could be explained through the traditional values like “pakiv” and “pakivale”.
N.G.: None of us, civic activists like me, you and not even Păun, the politician, wouldn’t accept such rules. The rule of the pakivalo Roma is a “descendents” rule, of the Roma tribe (in an anthropological and a sociological sense as an alternative to the state organization). Only in “descendents”, and “vitsa”/ guild Roma in such a social organization based on kin relationships there is pakiv and pakikvalo. Your first loyalty is toward the descents, toward the clan. Outside it the word pakivalo and the moral-behavioral values evocated do not exist, they have no sense. One of the opposite concepts to pakiv is slyness as a behavioral guide and “role model” well spread in Romania too and in the Balkans societies or sometimes even in Italy. Then rises the question: “can you build the civic and political identity on slyness or pakiv, meaning answering the question like the one of Kant: Is it possible a politic just for the Roma in the civic sense and you as a civic activist to be a pakivalo? My quick answer is: No, or not yet!
I.R.: How can we build or rebuild the Roma identity?
N.G.: This is the Kantian question; a conscious crisis is needed to be started: How is it possible to be a Roma? We have to reconstruct the Roma identity through thinking similarly to the identity building for a Roma in a political plan, legal and so on and so forth. From here on the questions I annoy you in this talk: in order to wake up from this dogmatic sleep, ethnic naturalist when we say: “I am a Roma because I have that pigment through which I am classified by the others as being a Gypsy”. That is what we have to refuse, out of the need to assert, you internalize the classification made by others, with the whole history of this classification: exclusion, oppression, racism and so on and so forth. And not alternatively, by questioning the historical and social mechanisms which classified thus, so unfair and painful. As long as others classify us name us it is in our disadvantage, it is an act of racism. Similarly when we try to classify others, for example the gadjo/ the non-Roma, we apply the system otherwise rejected: we are exclusivist, intolerant, even racism. The paradox is that to some Roma activists the exclusivist element starts to dominate. See the last dispute when X and Y think that all Romanians are racists. They say that X, Y being a victim, gives them the right to say anything. These attitudes too are consequences of a non critical thinking as all preconceived idea.
I.R.: Under this perspective I see the intellectual project with the Roma, emancipating in the sense of being able to overcome this victim-like, the victimized speech when saying: “Look, I am so pride for that and that and that”.
N.G.: This is for sure a personal attitude, but how could you elaborate it later on during the discussion taking the first position in nowadays civic activism? How should you interpret the slavery? How should you interpret the deportation? How should you interpret the Holocaust? How should you interpret the sedentary period or the communist one? How should you interpret the situation in post-communist? How should you interpret the symbols of the culture nation of the Roma, as they were launched at the congress in London, in 1971: the international day of Roma, the flag of the Roma? How should you interpret the Roma coming in here, in Italy? The migration from East to the West? I noticed that during the talk of tonight, quite ironically, autocratically, I said that I am guilty, because I contributed to the idea that all Roma are preponderantly victims: of the racism, of the poverty and so on and so forth. I got that better since I am, in here, in Italy: this speech justifies the practice of the philanthropic association, the assistance: we have to help the nomads because they are poor, etc. This speech and this practice do not help to elaborate “the emancipating platform for the Roma” in your sense, given to that idea. Of course some of the Roma coming in here are willing to be helped, to be perceived as victims. I stop here, and I do not want to simplify the issue because it is more complex. I go back to your question: on what can you build the trust in yourself, in order to trust later on in others? In order to generate a relationship based on trust you need to trust yourself. And you will go back to the words pakiv, pakivalo… about the values, the rules, the preferences and interdictions culturally built as some of the cultural practices of the descendents of Roma. It is possible a “translation” of some of the values and the cultural practices in the language of the civic activism?
I.R.: Exactly, the change and the emancipation will come from the inside.
N.G.: If you base on self-hatred and-self victimization you can’t make any progress. In our conversation or talk with others you have to tarry in the status of a victim, to invent yourself permanently as a victim, to project thus, to change a victim into a political paradigm or a unit of measurement, victimization where to analyze the contemporary things. One of the messages that I wished to convey, through my text for the project: “The Price of Roma Integration” is: “in order to assert as a Roma you don’t need to reinvent yourself as a victim, a victim of racism and the preconceived idea. You may be a Roma without being a victim. You may be a Roma assuming the history of Roma, the personal history of Roma, without seeing just suffering past. In the end being a Roma is also a victory, a surviving in history, so is should be celebrated. Of course, that doesn’t mean denying the period and episodes of the oppression, of persecution individual or collective or to put them into brackets; you have to place them exactly into an historic context, to measure them, according to other means of oppression, domination, exploitation…
I.R.: There is still a moral landmark the way we approach the Holocaust, the deportation, what happened then should stay as a moral landmark.
N.G.: It stays as a moral landmark, like something that should be well documented. Many people are talking about the Holocaust, without knowing what really happened, meaning the Roma deportation, without knowing how they were deported. Who were the deported? What was the dynamic, the mechanism, the politic, the deportation administration? Otherwise everything becomes a slogan. Let me given an example, regarding the interpretation of another moment in the life of the Roma. In August 2007, I think, I was invited to a reunion of the Adventist Roma, gabori; I was in a “panel” .An activist for the human rights of the Roma gave a presentation about the slavery. My colleague was intrigued that the audience, gabori Roma near Târgu Mureș wasn’t interested by our speech, us being educated in Bucharest. Then we commented among us, the protagonists of the meeting: how to talk to some gabor Roma, from Transylvania, about their historical experience, of life, as slavery, that being the legal situation and the social one of the Roma in Valahia and Moldavia? Many of the gabor Roma always succeeded to maintained an economic autonomy based on entrepreneurship, because they found a niche for handicraft and/ or trade; in a way they consider themselves as “aristocrats” (as money and dignity) in contrast with other Roma; their fortune is made with dignity and have nothing to do with Gypsy oppression or their Gypsy complex like in the two principalities.
I.R.: They succeeded even in a period during the socialist economy, the centralized one…
N.G.: Yes, but I go back to my example out of the local histories. They are very proud that they are “gabor with hat”. In some of their interpretation, young and educated, they consider it a privilege received, inherited from Gabor Bethlem, Prince of Transylvania. They were permitted to wear a hat made out of cloth as long as others, like the Romanian peasants from Transylvania weren’t allowed to wear but mutton fur caps. They had cloth hats during the middle age, when everything was codified, hierarchical; the clothes were a privilege they got, as their opinion leaders are saying, from the Prince, because they were making cauldrons and weapons. They are people who in their personality, they didn’t internalize the preconceived ideas or the stereotypes, not even the discrimination, as I had internalized it, being born in a family of house Gypsy, descendents of a Gypsy slaves from Câmpia Valahă. So to tell them about slavery and Roma in general, so: the gabor Roma, included, it was illogical. We are trying to build a history, generalizing or “totalizing” the experience of slavery for the whole Roma population, ignoring the contemporary Romanian state, was built out of some provinces or “countries” — Valahia, the country of Făgăraș, the country of the Szeckler , etc —with different economic and social histories. A totalizing history is a first step to totalitarianism, in the case of Roma too.
I.R.: Could we say the same about Holocaust?
N.G.: How do we treat the issue of Holocaust, how can we internalize in our memory, building a memory, an identity — where the persecution and the suffering are important moments. Without victimizing for eternity? I had the privilege to discuss before 1990, with people deported, those years when no chance of compensations. Some of them wished to underline how they “managed” even then and how they survived while others died. I quote from memory: “We have a good life then. We didn’t die it was quite OK because we discovered a food store… We used others, we took their gold”… It was an oral history… how should I put it? It was an oral history. .. It wasn’t built ideologically as we are doing today with no documentation or a serious talk about the historic moments, complicated and delicate. These random opinions collected by me don’t minimized the gravity of the genocide politics practiced by the authorities between 1942-1944, toward Roma, especially the “nomads”. But listening to these opinions, I think I got it, I mean the roots of the stereotypes, that many Roma groups have towards other groups, who lived the same traumatic experience of deportation; or/and the very differences between the Roma “ex-nomads” who were deported in group, and the “house” Roma or “Romanized”, persecuted, just a little bit, only from the racism point of view, but individually (at least that is what the administrative papers show). My mother hardly escaped from the danger of deportation (happened in Roșiorii de Vede, during the Fair of September 8th ) and that while, during that time, my father was a soldier in the Romanian Army, during the whole war; he came back home at the end of the war, spring 1945. There are some delicate aspects, we can’t easily talk about that, simplifying this historic moment. I would like to say that if we could study more about this subject and analyzing it, we could better understand different groups of Roma, from different aria of the country, answer so differently for the idea of the “ethnic unity” for a self assertion as Roma, etc. The memory of the families suffering and survive deportation was conveyed to the next generations, up to nowadays under certain representations of understanding the identities of “țigan” / gipsy or “Roma from a certain group” through soul mechanism of a group psychology, as us as activists for the Roma we don’t know them too well either . From my point of view, a great part of the Roma activism is still interested in globalizing victimization of the Roma. How can you work with that? How to transform it in something else? How much of our life represents the experience of preconceived ideas, frustrations, pains, humiliation, emotions… and then turning them into something else, connected to the emancipating sense, as you say.
I.R. An ex-professor and good friend of mine whose way of thinking deeply influenced me, asked me this question: in the history of the Roma they are many experiences giving certain cohesion to the group, there is certain solidarity against the enemy, but which are the positive aspects of this cohesion? My answer was based on an historic argument: in a hostile surrounding the Roma succeeded to survive for centuries, while other peoples disappeared. Without having a state, or a church, with no institutions to protect them, the Roma succeeded to survive up to now. This is a significant historic element, positive for the Roma, one of pride.
N.G.: And who succeeded in the end: the Roma or the Gypsy?
I.R.: I think that we introduce ourselves as Roma and not as Gypsy, because the emancipating project is for the Roma and not the Gypsy.
N.G.: The emancipating project of whom? Who is the political actor to present this project?
I.R.: The Roma activists.
N.G.: They are Gypsy. The majority we are from Gypsy families and not from a Roma traditional “descendents”.
I.R.: They define themselves as Roma, they rebrand themselves as Roma.
N.G.: Yes, but they are not necessary recognized as “legitimate“Roma.
I.R.: It is not a question of legitimacy. When you rebrand something, it is not a question of legitimacy. It is more a question of “public relations”, of manipulation. “Public relations” on the communist time meant propaganda.
N.G.: By the way, it is not what I meant with the question: “Who succeeded”? I consider and this is my obsession, that part of the Roma elite meaning us representing the political-electoral for the Roma, who are influencing the public speech, and the symbols of individualization and representation, we are in a deep crisis, because we are too manipulator, even sly. Our success, in the world of non-Roma, disconnected us from the Roma world. We don’t have a common language with them with the Roma “descendents”, from the local communities. More and more people noticed that, and that is why they reinvented the traditional leaders: bulibașă (captain of a Gypsy band), crisinitori, vaida etc.
I.R.: One of the factors explaining the inefficiency of the Roma activist in controlling or self controlling of the community is connected through the paradox like situation when through the democratic means you wish to change a society, a community, profoundly non democratic.
N.G.: As Andras Biro says in his text, the ethnic community based on blood relations is pre-modern, hierarchical and patriarchal. We can’t be democratic in a medieval society. Us, Andras, me… we believe that through civic associations we can create the premises of a democratic behavior, a democratic literacy.
I.R.: You are right. You can create some reflexes and customs transferable in the political world.
N.G. Even in those communities not having such a practice and which are dominated?
I.R.: Unfortunately, I realize that the Roma organizations are far from being able to fulfill this function.
N.G.: Our lack of success or our failure is due to a success we had. We had a quicker and surer, a stimulating success in world of the non Roma: in governmental institutions, in political parties, in foundations, in international organizations and so on and so forth. Our energy was oriented to the easiest direction with an immediate success. Me as a person, I have a responsibility because I illustrated as a “role model” for example: through my activity of “lobby” inside intergovernmental organizations. But we didn’t succeed in getting our ideas, our victories, on the international level to the local level; some of us disconnected from the Roma communities, going on with non democratic practice leaders’ authoritarians, sometimes even criminal. We as success activists, we can’t communicate with such leaders.
I.R.: We as Roma activists we enjoyed the situation, living in an illusory world: “Oh, my God, we are so important that these non-Roma institutions are accepting us”.
N.G.: That comes from the fact, that we were easier acknowledged as Roma, by the audience and less in the community especially because you can’t legitimate as a Roma in a Roma community. There are some criteria that we don’t fulfill. That is why we run to the world where we knew the success, accepted as Roma. No questions asked, like: “Why are you Roma?” “We are Roma because I wish to”. “If you wish to… You are Mister rom, you are Madame romi , you are Signor nomado, I notice you, but I used you. I use you because as you are a Roma so can I.
I.R.: That simply happened.
N.G.: That is what I want to tell you. We do not have a clear criterion of affiliation or exclusion. Anybody can become a Roma.
I.R.: We have been used also because they need to legitimate, to justify. They used us and we used them too.
N.G.: If you can access to the resources playing the card of the Roma, it is OK, because we will become all Roma. Maybe we’ll manage better during the next step of the emancipating process for the Roma, during the setting of the ethno-political structure, of the self determination of the Roma as a political people. We didn’t succeed yet to have the 1000 civic associations of the Roma and neither their “federation” on a certain interest, clearly defined and accepted through a common “platform” , through a “social contract” in an explicit formula, through a “peace treaty” between us, firstly, but also with the European society, the Romanian one included.
We have in Romania, now, at least 1000 persons acting daily in association, in electing groups (with their pluses and minuses) in the public administration, in schools, etc. The issue of the denomination Roma versus Gypsy could come again “as a matter up for consideration” in the near future. This controversy isn’t over yet just by rejecting Mister Prigoană’s initiative, through parliamentary procedure “experience”. After this conversation will start again, then I try to imagine a protest of the 1000 Roma activists and active citizens from other segments and layers of the society, of the lawful state of Romania: majorities and minorities from different ethnic groups, intellectuals and clerks from the public administration, activists from the civil society of Romania and why not from other countries too. Besides the protests (already a “routine”) exhibited through press conferences, seminars and debates, messages on the internet, we could imagine a civic rally, shouting: “Revolt and you’ll be free!” Imagining such a moment, dreaming on I would say: Yes, “et in Arcadia ego”… I am a Roma too, I became a Roma!