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Romani people worldwide celebrate International Romani Day

Prague/Planet Earth, 8.4.2014 7:12, (ROMEA)
The Romani flag.
The Romani flag.

International Romani Day is celebrated annually on 8 April. On this day, Romani people commemorate the historic first-ever global congress of the International Romani Union which was held near London in 1979 at the initiative of Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon of Great Britain, Jarko Jovanović of the former Yugoslavia, Mateo Maximoff representing the Manouche of France, and other Romani representatives and scholars of Romani studies.

Not quite 30 people attended the congress, which adopted the design of the Romani flag and the lyrics and music of the international Romani anthem. Delegates to the congress officially established the first International Romani Union organization (IRU), which in the beginning was known under the name "World Romani Union". 

The congress also officially approved the use of the term "Roma" instead of "Gypsy" to refer to ethnic Roma. Even though two more IRU congresses were subsequently held, 8 April was not recognized as an international holiday until much later in 1990 in Warsaw during the fourth such congress. 

International Romani Day commemorates the day on which Romani people officially sealed their international cooperation and the Romani movement achieved an international sociopolitical dimension. On this day, those who annually celebrate it commemorate their common culture, language, origins, unity, work and primarily their "romipen" ("Romani-ness"). 

The Romani Flag

The flag was designed together with Dr. W. R. Rishi, a linguist and Romani studies scholar from the city of Chandigarh in India, where he later established the Indian Institute of Romani Studies before passing away on 1 December 2002. The flag is comprised of two parallel fields, the lower green one symbolizing Romani people's ties to nature and the upper blue one symbolizing the heavens, philosophy, spirituality, etc.   

The wheel in the center of the flag, which covers both fields, symbolizes pilgrimage, traveling, and is based on the ancient Indian wheel of fate. It has 16 spokes, the bright red color of which corresponds to the first chakra, the element of Earth.

The Romani Anthem

The international Romani anthem "Gelem, gelem" was set to a traditional Romani melody by the Romani musician and politician Jarko Jovanović of Belgrade, who lived for many years in Paris. It may be of interest to know that Czech and Slovak Romani people have their own anthem, "Čhajori romani", which was composed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and that Romani people in that part of the world did not adopt the international anthem until the 1990s.

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ROMEA, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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