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Romani people worldwide celebrate International Romani Day

8.4.2012 18:17, (ROMEA)
The Romani flag.

On Sunday, 8 April 2012, Romani people worldwide are celebrating International Romani Day. This day commemorates history's first-ever World Roma Congress, convened near London in 1971, thanks primarily to the initiative of Grattan Puxon and Donald Kenrick of Great Britain; Matéo Maximoffa, a representative of the Romani people in France who call themselves the Manouche; Jarko Jovanović from the the former Yugoslavia; and other Romani people and scholars. The first congress was attended by roughly 30 people who adopted the Romani flag and international anthem. Delegates also officially established the first international Romani organization, the IRU (International Romani Union), which was known at first under the name of World Romani Union. The official term "Rom" instead of "Gypsy" was also approved at this meeting.

Two more World Roma Congresses would take place before 8 April would be recognized as an international holiday in the year 1990, when the fourth one took place in Warsaw. The holiday is meant to commemorate the day when the international cooperation of Romani people was officially sealed and the Romani movement achieved its international political/societal dimension. On this day, those attending the annual celebrations are meant to recall their common culture, language and origin, their cooperation and unity, and primarily their "Romipen" (Romani identity).

Celebrations of 8 April have the strongest tradition in the Balkans, including the countries of the former Yugoslavia. In the Czech Republic the tradition is not as strong because the holiday only began to be spoken of during the second half of the 1990s.

US Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman L. Eisen sent congratulations to all Romani people in the country on the occasion of their holiday. He recalled the recent activities of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Earlier this year, Secretary Clinton met with young Romani activists in Sofia, Bulgaria, where she stated that “helping to promote and protect the inalienable human rights of Roma everywhere is a long-standing personal commitment of mine, and it is a stated foreign policy priority of this Administration.” Ambassador Eisen called upon "Czechs of all backgrounds to take a moment to remember the important role of diversity in Czech society and to fight for equal rights for all citizens."

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková is also commemorating 8 April together with Romani people. She views the day as an opportunity for Romani people to remember their common affiliations, language and origin, their unique culture, their unity, and primarily their "Romipen" - their Romani identity. "She wishes all the best to all Romani people on this occasion," the Commissioner's press release reads.

"One of the priorities of the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner is to improve the social position of Romani people and achieve a conflict-free coexistence between the majority society and the Romani minority in the Czech Republic. This is why she is also welcoming the public celebrations of International Romani Day, which open up space for Romani people to present their own culture and traditions to the other inhabitants of towns and villages, who will have a unique opportunity to learn more about this minority. The Commissioner views these public celebrations as a path to removing the barriers between both groups, as an occasion to establish dialogue, achieve understanding, and break down prejudices and stereotypes traditionally connected with Romani people," the press release concludes.

This year the largest celebrations of International Romani Day are taking place in Brno and Prague. In Brno the occasion is being organized by the organizations Ratolest Brno, o. s.; DROM, Romani Center; IQ Roma servis, o. s.; the Museum of Romani Culture; the Association of Roma in Moravia; Romodrom, o. s.; and o. s. Petrov. In Prague the celebrations are being organized by the ROMEA association and the Cross Club.

The Romani flag was designed together with the late Dr. W. R. Rischi, a linguist and Romani studies scholar from the Indian city of Chandigarh, where he later established the Indian Institute of Romani Studies. He passed away on 1 December 2002.

The Romani flag is comprised of two longitudinal stripes, the lower green one symbolizing Romani people's connection to nature and the upper blue one symbolizing their connection to the heavenly realms - to philosophy, to spiritual matters, etc. The wheel in the center, covering both stripes, symbolizes life on the road and pilgrimage. Its design is based on the ancient Indian wheel of fate. The wheel has 16 spokes and its bright red color corresponds to the first chakra, the element of earth.

The lyrics of the international Romani anthem, "Gelem gelem", were set to a traditional melody by the Romani musician and politician Jarko Jovanović of Belgrade, who lived in Paris for many years. It is interesting to note that Czech and Slovak Romani people have their own national anthem, "Čhajori romani", which was composed in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. The international anthem was not adopted until the 1990s.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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