Roma in Central and Eastern Europe are in a unique situation compared to other ethnic groups—they are not indigenous to the continent, nor do they have a homeland like national minorities. However, the socioeconomic disadvantages and discrimination that they frequently face parallel those of other populations throughout the globe, whether they are indigenous peoples, refugees, migrants, or other groups.
Two young Roma leaders, Erika Adamaova from Slovakia and Florin Nasture from Romania, had the unique opportunity in April and May to travel halfway around the world to New Zealand to participate in a youth leadership Study Session on “Democracy in the Pacific.” The program introduced them to some of the parallels and contrasts between Roma and New Zealand’s indigenous Māori population and sparked ideas for new approaches to Roma development programs.
The program was organized by the Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy—a youth-led NGO based in Gisborne, on the east side of New Zealand’s North Island—and was funded by the New Zealand government, including the Ministry of Māori Development and NZAID. The World Bank Institute also provided support.
The session involved 28 young leaders from New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and Indonesia. The organizers were interested in involving Roma to include a diverse set of perspectives. The program aimed to support an inter-cultural and inter-generational dialogue and to identify strategies for sustainable and innovative community development initiatives. During their visit, Erika and Florin also had the opportunity to visit schools, government agencies, and Māori organizations.
Who are the Māori?
Roma and Māori are vastly different ethnic groups, each with their own unique and rich histories and cultures. Māori are an indigenous minority of approximately 620,000 based largely in New Zealand, with small diaspora populations in Australia and other countries. Roma are an ethnic minority spread across the world, but concentrated in Europe, where an estimated 9 to 12 million live. Although Roma originally migrated into Europe from India, they do not have territorial claims there.
There are also similarities. Both Roma and Māori societies are historically based on oral traditions, which made codifying language and creating a written historical record particularly important. Both groups are striking in their internal diversity.
A More Traditional International Conference
The study session incorporated and exposed the participants to Māori culture and traditions. It was held on a marae, the traditional Māori meeting house, which is central to every aspect of Māori life, including weddings and funerals, and serves as the center of the community. Participants were welcomed through Māori ceremony, including the Māori language and music.
“Being on the marae, I finally understood why workshops, conferences and study sessions organized for Roma activists do not achieve their intended impact and effect,” said Erika. “Organizing such events in a four-star hotel is comfortable and pleasant, but to stay in direct interaction with the community and culture motivates and helps the participants to better understand the way of living, thinking and cultural values…The whole Study Session was held in the spirit of Māori culture and traditions.”
Learning from Each Other
Roma attendees compared and contrasted their status in Central and Eastern Europe with that of Māori in New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi sets the framework for relations between Māori and the Government, and has influenced the status of Māori in New Zealand. The Treaty was signed in 1840 between representatives of the British government and chiefs of iwi (Māori tribal groups) from across New Zealand. While there is ongoing debate about the meaning of the Treaty, it has been an important basis for recognizing the rights of Māori in New Zealand. In recent years, the Waitangi Tribunal has been hearing claims by Māori against the Crown of breaches of the Treaty. The Government has signed settlements with about 12 iwi.
Increased use of the Māori language has been part of a Māori cultural renaissance in New Zealand. Māori is an official language alongside English. A Māori Language Strategy supports the incorporation of the language across society, including within public services, media, and the arts. Keeping alive the Māori language is seen as critical in sustaining a strong and proud cultural identity. The Roma participants were impressed by the emphasis on language use. Florin noted, “The way to preserve culture is by introducing the Roma language into the schools were Roma children are studying.”
Roma and Māori women face similar challenges. “Talking to Māori women, I realized that the privileged status of men over women is not a part of Māori culture,” said Erika. “An effective approach to promote educational attainment among young Roma mothers would be to implement policies that will encourage young Roma mothers to stay in school.”
Contributing to the lack of education among Roma in Central and Eastern Europe is the unofficial policy in many countries of enrolling Roma children into special schools intended for the mentally and physically disabled. Many of these children eventually drop out, as they have no prospect of attending secondary school or university.
New Zealand, however, has effectively banned special schools, something that some CEE governments still resist. However, many Māori parents—and a small but growing number of non-Māori parents—choose to send their children to bilingual or immersion schools that expose students to Māori language and culture.
A Renewed Sense of Identity
The Roma participants returned home having learned important lessons about fostering cultural identity, improving living standards, and increasing social inclusion. “Many Roma feel there is a gap between the community as a whole and its leaders and elites,” pointed out Florin. “Community participation is key to closing this gap, and it will in turn strengthen Roma identity and a feeling of belonging.”
Florin also emphasized that the whole approach to Roma integration should be turned on its head. “In our region, we take a negative perspective, focusing on the disparity between the Roma and the majority, and creating the appearance of a helpless Roma population.” Māori, on the other hand, are more positive. “They build on existing successes to channel their potential. Like them, Roma should not be people with problems who create problems; we should have the power to overcome our obstacles
Whilst doing my research yesterday on Romani in New Zealand I came across an article on the ‘Original Gypsy Fair’ discussing how despite there not being any Romany in the NZ a small number of Kiwis have adopted an itinerant lifestyle (going as far as to call themselves Gypsies).
This statement, that there aren’t any Romani make me feel uncomfortable because there are Romani there, between 120,000 and 300,000. Romany from the UK, Roma from Europe, Romani on gap years… Despite there not being a visible community it’s ridiculous to claim that there are aren’t any at all, like saying that there are no Indians, or Jews. Sure they’re not going around advertising themselves but they’re still there.
Anyway, the point of my post. I sent a quick message to the site explaining that a mistake had been made, and that claiming that there aren’t any is an insult to their Romani Kiwi population and mades me, a potential visitor, feel uncomfortable with visiting a country that wants to hide their Romani population and play pretend (I don’t think it was that at all, I just think that they literally did not know. Probably have no idea that there is more to being Romani than living in a caravan). I received a reply later that day apologising and the post in question has been change from ‘Whilst there aren’t any’ to ‘Whilst there aren’t many’. So a big thank you to Tourism.net.nz and to the lovely man who set things straight. Thank you for being understanding!
Here is the article in question! http://www.tourism.net.nz/featured-events/2011/new-zealand-gypsy-travellers-fairs.html
Recently I am becoming very interested once again in the situation of Romani people in New Zealand. Despite popular sources  claiming that there are no real Romani ‘Gypsies’ in the NZ there is believed to be between 1,200 and 3000 with the most popular sub-group being Romanichal emigrants from the UK and more recently European Roma refugees (vitsas unknown?).
In the UK everyone *feels* like they know what a Gypsy is, it’s also not that uncommon for people to be able to tell the difference between an Irish Traveller and a Romany Gypsy even in-spite of MBFGW’s efforts to cause confusion. But from what I can tell from Google the term Gypsy and Gypsy Travellers in NZ has become incorrectly re-appropriated to mean ‘any old hippy in a truck’. The lifestyle of these housetruckers is indeed interesting, as someone who has spent a great deal of time with New Age Travellers (more the ones who want appropriate a stylised Romani lifestyle than the more new age hippy) I am perfectly comfortable around them but they’re not ‘quite right’. I am painfully aware that they’re not kin. It’s strange really, I read a lot of commentary from American bloggers who discuss the appropriation of the term gypsy to mean ‘free spirited hipster girl’ but as someone who lives in a country with a visible population it is sometimes difficult to truly appreciate the feeling of being erased. Yet now I am trying to research the situation in NZ I feel like I am just hitting my head against a brick wall, you’re not really Romani are you and, infact, are you even pretending to be?
As part of my research a came across an annual ‘Gypsy Fair’ in Invercargill, I have been informed that it’s a traditional fair but from it’s facebook page all I see is hippies in trucks so I’m a little unsure. I think when they expect my joining request I might just go in guns blazing and ask. I’m not expecting an open harmed welcome, please join our family this instance, but it would be nice to know more. Trying to engage in Romani would probably be the politest way to go about asking but it’s not really a fair indicator, I’m not a natural speaker they’re probably not natural speakers, if they are natural speakers well then that puts me at a disadvantage, making me out as the outsider, silly old romanichal me!
And before I forget here‘s an article about a Romany family. The only true reference I could find.
I first heard about Memrise in 2012 upon reading a newspaper article on a man who (apparently) learnt to speak a language in 22 hours. When I visited the website I found that it’s more than a simple language tool but also a great way to learn about ANYTHING from languages, to history date, to star constellations, to wild plants and flowers.
For the last month I have been playing with the ‘Trees of Britain’ course, and I must say I am impressed with it and have learnt to identify a variety of trees from the very basic (Oak, Sycamore, Elm) to the less familiar (Aspen, Sweet Chestnut, Wych Elm). The catch? Although I can quickly recognise all the species on the course I still struggle to identify real trees whilst out walking. It would seem that I can only identify the photograph itself and not the tree.
To remedy this I have started to photograph the trees I see on my walks, identify them using a guide and begin to build up my own course using a variety of different photographs so that it’s not just the same photograph for the same tree.
I would also like to include the Latin name of the species: Quercus robur, Crataegus monogyna, Tilia cordata.
What do you think, have you had the opportunity to learn something new using memrise? What did you think?
I have always been artsy, I love drawing and painting, and taking photographs (probably a good thing considering my profession) but I’ve never really done any crafts. My brother is amazing at carpentry, woodwork, carving, glass staining, barge & horseshoe painting, virtually anything he cares to turn his hand to but I have never really been encouraged to pursue any craft activities. My mother never wanted me to waste the materials or make a mess, I never had a suitable ‘space’.
Yet I have been thinking lately, I really want to start making my own clothes and turning my hand to embroidery. In my second year at university (3 years ago) I borrowed my mother’s sewing machine and never used it, mainly because I did not have any suitable thread and for whatever reason was unable to replace what little I had. One failed attempted perhaps but the interest keeps on recurring.
I really like the costumes made for TV, I also really like the costumes designed for video games. Earlier I discovered a costume designer called Michele Carragher who did the costumes for Game of Thrones, I utterly adore her work and would love to recreate a similar sort of style.
The only real problem being that I have never done a project like this before, it will all be new to me and although it takes a lot to put me off a project perhaps it would be better to start with a smaller project and work my way up from there, a nice pillow case perhaps?
Last year when I was working in a vintage charity boutique a pair of beautifully embroidered patchwork pillow cases were donated to us, they were the most beautiful thing. I utterly adored them but employee policy meant that I wasn’t allowed to buy them myself but… I think I might make a set. =]