There was a time, not so many years ago, when their appearance was an event in itself. Their ethnic group had not yet been turned into a social problem of European scale and the main beneficiary of millions of euro in funds granted for social integration. Coppersmiths, silversmiths, belt makers and other Roma communities were the continuators of a special tradition. Each community used to take pride in its craft and show off at every stop, in villages, cities, at fairs.
Nowadays, the number of Roma craftsmen has declined. Many of them passed away without having the chance to pass on the knowledge to the younger generation. Those that are still alive have a hard time finding youngsters interested in learning the craft. The younger generation is preoccupied by other things. Thus, the present time is like an exile for the Roma craftsmen, who refuse to identify with the negative media reports or with the promotion of a certain type of poverty among communities. Consequently, their crafts have been pushed to the margins of the communities, though traditions and language are among the most solid identifiers of the ethnic group.
Meanwhile, the public speech about the Roma communities has amplified to semantic proportions difficult to understand for those that have been raised up learning how to melt silver or brass. Some call themselves Gypsies; others have adhered to the “politically correct” term of Roma, promoted in Romania after the European Union accession. And Europe has brought about hundreds of millions of euro, money doled out for the social integration of Roma communities. However, those who should have benefited from it are far from having access to it.
Precarious living conditions in many communities, visible disintegration – especially since a lot of youngsters work abroad – the criminality associated with the ethnic group, all these have eroded not just our perception about the Roma, but also theirs. Traditions seem to be less useful for them in the struggle for survival. The victim stance is something that works much better and the Roma have also reached this conclusion. However, the older generation carries on the traditions of crafts from old ages, though their example tells the story of ethnic normality and continuity. A type of normality that the Roma themselves are having a hard time appreciating.
Roma traditions have turned into a resistance pillar in a structure no one wants to keep building on. The same type of phenomenon is affecting their language, very rich in dialects and synonyms. Each community has left its print in the language, which was also enriched with words from other languages and dialects.
Some Roma children learn Romani in schools, despite the opposition of their parents who would like the teachers to be from the same type of professional communities. That is to speak their dialect. This is not the biggest issue, though. The problem is that these children have trouble speaking the language, even at home. Today, the language is in peril. The “politically correct” stance, which has brought them so many advantages, now threatens the Roma dike itself. At the end of all the integration processes, initially thought to be a solution for the discriminated and poor communities, we might have problems in identifying any Roma left. It seems we’re preparing a dark future for the very few Roma craftsmen still in activity.
Here are two video pieces on traditions and Romani language. The first one tells the story of Mircea Craciun, one of the last 50 silversmiths in Romania, who sadly points out that the younger generation wants to go to university or work abroad, instead of learning a craft. His three kids illustrate his conclusion: none of them has taken on Craciun’s craft.
The second story is built around a delicious dialogue with four characters: three Gypsies and a Roma. The images tell the story of how Romani is taught in schools. With less teachers than needed, with some progress, but also with a lot of challenges ahead.
- These materials were produced within the “The Voices of the Roma community in society” regional project. The Romanian edition of the project was coordinated by the Center for Independent Journalism, Bucharest.