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Romani activist, journalist, poet and translator Jan Döme Horváth has passed away in the Czech Republic

6.6.2020 9:42
The Romani activist, poet and prose writer Janko Horváth (Jan Döme Horváth, 1959-2020). (PHOTO:  Lukáš Houdek)
The Romani activist, poet and prose writer Janko Horváth (Jan Döme Horváth, 1959-2020). (PHOTO: Lukáš Houdek)

In the early morning hours of 4 June 2020 the Romani activist, journalist, poet and translator Jan Döme Horváth passed away after a brief illness at the age of 60. His family communicated the news to news server Romea.cz.

As an orator on different occasions of celebration and remembrance, during which he always recited his poetry for both Czech and Romani audiences in Romanes, he persistently defended and promoted the existence of the Romanes langauge in the public space. In an interview in 2012 he said: "A book written in Romanes will probably not sell very well... This is not about sales, but about convincing Czechs and Romani people as well that we have our own language, our own wishes and desires, and that we know how to do what others can do. In addition, it is only when one speaks Romanes that one opens up and expresses all the ideas and feelings one wants to share. Our traditions, music, lačho lav, Romipen, are repeated in my poems as well and must never disappear. Look, Romanes-language books and newspapers have been published in this country for just 20 years, but Romanes has been alive here for a thousand years without them, and doubtless will live another thousand years. It cannot be erased. It is the language in which we sing and in which an English Rom communicates on the Internet with a Czech Rom, and Indian Rom, an American Rom or an Romanian Rom. How else should we speak with each other? Romanes is nekhguleder pro svetos - the sweetest language in the world."

Mr Horváth was born on 1 November 1959 in Bílovec, Nový Jičín district, Czechoslovakia. The Romanes he spoke was influenced by several dialects, as his forebears came from Hungary, from the area around Šaľa in western Slovakia, and from the eastern Slovakian region of Spiš.

He was apprenticed as a locksmith mechanic and began working at the Ironworks in Ostrava's Vítkovice quarter. After 1990 he actively joined the emancipation movement of the Roma.

From 1990-1992 he was a member of the Bílovec local authority and from 1990-1991 he was the Chief Secretary of the Central Committee of the Romani Civic Initiative (ROI) in Prague. He worked as the editor-in-chief and as a reporter for the Romanes-language newspapers Amaro lav and Romano kurko, published by the Rompress publishing house.

He graduated from a secondary school institution for library sciences and worked beginning in 1994 as a documentarist for the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno, as a Romani advisor and social worker for the Brno City Hall, in the IQ Roma Service nonprofit organization in Brno, and as a Romani educational assistant at a school in Ostrava. He taught the Romanes language at the Business Academy (Obchodní akademie), at a college in Most (SOŠ Most), at a technical high school (SPŠ), and also to after-school clubs at community centers and drop-in facilities in the Ústecký Region.

Before he retired last year, he had worked since 2009 as a staff member of social services for Caritas in the Most area (Oblastní charity Most). He taught Romani children about Romanes history, the Romanes language, and Romani traditions at a drop-in club on the Janov housing estate in Litvínov.

For many years he was also an editor at the Romani newspaper Romano hangos. In 2018 he contributed to the Museum of the Romani Revival's concept of the exhibition "100 Years: Romani People in Czechosloivakia".

This year his Romanes translation of the three-volume book of memoirs by Emil Ščuka, "I Am a Gypsy Baron" (Cikánský baron jsem já) will be published. Mr Horváth began writing at the beginning of the 1980s when he started collaborating with Milena Hübschmannová on the publishing of a Romanes-language magazine.

His collections of poetry were published by the Petrov publishing house (Tumenge / Vám) [To You All] and another by Matica romská (O verdan le grajenca džal / Vůz tažený koňmi jede dál) [The Horse-drawn Wagon Keeps Going]. Genealogy was one of his hobbies and he researched information about his forebears and mapped his family tree.

He also wrote a blog on news server iDNES.cz where he shared his memories of his family and friends, his observations, and his opinions with readers. His blogging confirmed to him that people enjoy reading subject matter about Romani people that is not just negative - as he said: "The anonymous readers are furious, but there are also rather a lot of positive responses, which gives me more appetite to keep writing."

Te del o Del leske loki phuv.

jal, rko, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Knihy, Literatura, Osobnosti, úmrtí



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