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June 26, 2022



Marcel Courthiade, linguist who dedicated himself to the emancipation of Roma and their language, has passed away

9.3.2021 5:55
Marcel Courthiade (PHOTO: Ldalinge, wikimedia commons)
Marcel Courthiade (PHOTO: Ldalinge, wikimedia commons)

Marcel Courthiade passed away unexpectedly on 4 March 2021 in Tirana at the age of 67. With his passing, the Rroma have lost an exceptional resource. However, his work remains a treasure that several generations will be able to use for the benefit of the emancipation of the Rroms.

Born on 2 August 1953, on the ninth anniversary of the liquidation of the Zigeunerfamilienlager in Auschwitz-Birkenau, it is as if he had been destined to live for the renaissance of this people who had suffered so much. This probably explains why, after an exemplary school career, he abandoned his medical studies in the fifth year to devote himself to the study of languages. He managed to master countless numbers of them, but he especially chose to place Rromani at the center of his interest. He dedicated his life to its defense and development, and through the Rromani language, to the defense of the identity and rights of the Rroma.

His work always demonstrated a very high level of scientific expertise, exceptional humility and accessibility, and an especially unfailing devotion to the Rroma cause. He was the architect of the development of a real linguistic policy, with the principles of the unification of the Rromani language adopted in 1990 in Warsaw by the 4th Congress of the International Rromani Union, then chaired by Rajko Đurić, another recently deceased great personality of the international Rroma movement of the time. It is on the basis of these principles that Rromani is taught at the universities of Paris and Bucharest. It is also on this basis that he coordinated the drafting of the first European dictionary of the Rromani language, aptly titled "From our elders, to our daughters and to our sons."

Marcel, like other intellectuals and activists of his generation, was too far ahead of his time to be fully understood. On 28 February 2021, on Albanian public television, he answered a journalist's question regarding whether the Rromani language had been "made official" as follows:

“It has been formalized by the Rromani authorities, by the Rromani institutions, but not by the States. But that's normal [...] the Rromani authorities, that is to say the International Rromani Union, the Commissioner for Language and Linguistic Rights etc., have formalized the Rromani language very well. But the others do not recognize this formalization because it is about those Rromani instances. In fact, logically we must say that it is normal for a language to be formalized when it is formalized by its own institutions, not by others. But this is where there is a manipulation [...], the others do not accept the existence of the Rromani language. Maybe there will come a day, I don't know; but for now, in the name of 'diversity', they say that there are several Rromani languages, several dialects etc., which is not true. Italian, for example, or German, have more dialects than Rromani, but nobody says that Italian or German doesn't exist. This is where the discrimination is located: the denial of the history of the Rroms, the denial of their language, their literature, the alphabet, the 'Kris'  [community justice processes]... It is really discrimination, which leads to the denial of the Rroma nation, and when a nation does not exist, what rights can it claim? It is a very deep-running and a very cunning mechanism. "

These words sound like a testament today. It is up to current and future generations to grasp their full meaning in order to continue the fight for the dignity of the Rroma, and therefore for their rights. We owe it to Marcel and to all those who preceded us and who trained us, more or less.

First published in French on the website of La voix des Rroms.


agw, Saimir Mile, translated by William Bila
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