Rajko Djurić, academic, author and former president of the International Romani Union, has passed away
Journalist Orhan Galjus reported on Facebook yesterday that Mr Rajko Djurić, the eminent Romani academic, author, intellectual and a past president of the International Romani Union (IRU), has passed away at the age of 73. He was born on 3 October 1947 in the small village of Malo Orašje near Belgrade in what was then Yugoslavia.
Mr Djurić was the first-born and had three sisters and one brother. He graduated from primary school and then college preparatory school with a focus on mathematics and natural sciences, where he was the star pupil.
In 1967 he matriculated to Belgrade University to study philosophy and, in the beginning, also physical chemistry, and graduated from the Faculty of Arts on 29 June 1973. After his studies he spent a brief period in Vienna.
After returning to Belgrade he married and took a job teaching logic and philosophy at a college preparatory school. Since 1972 he had also been working as a cultural editor and columnist for Politika, a big national daily, a position he held until 1981.
During the beginning of his studies in the late 1960s he had already started to experience his Romani identity intensively. During the 1980s his active engagement in the international Romani movement began.
In 1981, at the third congress of the International Romani Union, he became Secretary of that most significant international Romani organization. He held the post until the fourth IRU congress in 1990, when he became IRU President.
On 13 November 1986 he was awarded his doctoral degree in philosophy and sociology from Belgrade University's Faculty of Arts. The subject of his dissertation was The Culture of the Roma in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In the early 1990s, shortly after Slobodan Milošević took power, Mr Djurić was called up for military service. Despite facing harsh punishment for refusing to serve, and despite his concerns about the fate of Croatian Roma (and others), his pacifist convictions and reservations about the country's new leadership gave him no choice but to avoid enlisting.
Instead, he accepted an invitation from a cultural association in Germany called the Neue Gesellschaft für Literatur (the New Society for Literature) and applied for political asylum there. He was awarded asylum thanks to the support of the author Günter Grass and other intellectuals.
During the 1990s, Mr Djurić served as the Secretary-General of the Romani Center of the International PEN Club. In 1992 he accepted an offer from the Freie Universität Berlin to lecture on Romani culture and history to students from different fields.
Until the end of his German stay he provided his knowledge of Romani realities to other institutions such as the Berlin Radio. While in exile in Germany he found it very difficult to cope with the violence transpiring in the Balkans, which resulted in the tragedy of war.
Despite his physical distance from those events, he lived through a similar sense of powerlessness as his other countrymen, since as a persona non grata he was not given an opportunity to bid his mother a final farewell, and he was not allowed entry to the country where she was buried for a very long time. In May 2004 he returned to Belgrade, where he became Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Belgrade news agency TANJUG.
He then joined and chaired the Union of Serbian Roma, and in 2006 he ran for a seat in the national legislature. On 21 January 2007 he became a member of the Serbian National Parliament.
His literary works have been translated into more than five languages. His first collection of poetry in Romanes, entitled Rom rodel than tela o kham ("A Romani Man Seeks His Place in the Sun") was published in 1969.
He published at least one collection of poetry every decade after that. His most-quoted and apparently most-translated poem was entitled "Bi kheresko, bi limoresko" ("Without a Homeland, Without a Grave").
His monograph on the history of the Roma, which was published in 2002 in German with a foreword by Václav Havel, enjoyed great success and took its title from that poem. The monograph summarized the then-current state of knowledge about the history of Romani people, providing an overview of Romani culture and breaking down their internal divisions within the different states of Europe.
That was followed by his monograph Seobe Roma – Krugovi pakla i venac sreće ("The Migration of Romani People - Circles of Hell and Wreaths of Happiness"), which was also focused on the culture and history of Romani people with a view to actual events in different states. His commercially most successful book was, of course, his photographic publication entitled Cigáni sveta ("Gypsies of the World"), from 1989, co-authored with Nebojša-Bato Tomašević and Dragoljub Zamurović.
That book was translated into English, German, Italian and Japanese. It had been preceded by his richly-illustrated publication about the culture of the Roma, Zigeuner – ein Volk aus Feuer und Wind ("Gypsies - People of Fire and Wind") from 1980, in which he focused especially on the variety of Romani existences.
"Rajko Djurić was always fascinated by the strength that Romani people in different European countries managed to mobilize and spend on maintaining and preserving their ancient, distinctive culture. His aim was to communicate that fascination to the majority society and thereby to create an alternative perspective on the Romani nation. From his articles and books what clearly resounds is a constant emphasis on the diversity of Romani culture and life, without forgetting their poverty and suffering. He dedicates his reflections to the causes of that alarming state of affairs, and he is also involved with the development of literature, whether original Romani creations or the depiction of Romani people as elaborated by majority-society authors," writes Peter Wagner in the Czech academic journal Romano džaniben.
Mr Djurić also contributed to producing Aleksandr Petrović's film Skupljaci Perja (English title: "I Even Met Happy Gypsies") by translating from Romanes and advising him about Romani cultural matters. He also collaborated on Emir Kusturica's film Dom za vešanje (English title: "Time of the Gypsies").
In the year 2011 Mr Djurić co-founded the Romani Academy of Arts and Sciences in Belgrade and became its president. He received several international awards for his work.
In the year 2002 he was awarded the Kurt Tucholsky Prize, which is given annually by the Swedish PEN Center to writers who have been exiled, persecuted or threatened. In April of 2003 he won the main prize in the international Roma Literary Award competition of the Open Society Institute in Budapest.
Source: Wagner, Peter. 2008. Rajko Djurič. Romano džaniben 15 (3): 158 - 165.
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