Monday, December 31, 2012





As Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence enters her third week on a hunger strike outside the Canadian capital building, thousands of protesters in Los Angeles, London, Minneapolis and New York City, voice their support. Spence and the protesters of the Idle No More Movement, are drawing attention to some deplorable conditions in Native communities, and recently passed legislation C-45, which sidesteps most Canadian environmental laws.

"Flash mob" protests with traditional dancing and drumming have erupted in dozens of shopping malls across North America, marches and highway blockades by aboriginal groups across Canada and supporters have emerged from as far away as New Zealand and the Middle East.

This weekend, hundreds of Native people and their supporters held a flash mob round dance, with hand drum singing, at the Mall of America, again as a part of the Idle No More protest movement.

This quickly emerging wave of Native activism on environmental and human rights issues has spread like a wildfire across the continent.

Prime Minister Harper: “Check your Injun Light”

A group of natives from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia pitched a pick up truck across the tracks of a CN rail spur and blocked train traffic Friday in support of the Idle No More native protest in Ottawa. The blockade began just after Boxing Day, that famed Canadian holiday and has continued.
The Aamjiwnaang blockade is one of hundreds , drawing attention to recent legal changes in Canadian law, which eliminate many environmental regulations.

A center of controversy is the $6 billion tar sands pipeline to the Pacific, which will cross over 40 Native nations, all of whom have expressed opposition. The legislative changes could expedite approval of this and many other projects – all of which are in Aboriginal territories.
“Idle No More”, is Canadian for, “That’s Enough BS, we’re Coming out to Stop you”, or something like that. Canada often touts a sort of “ better than thou” human rights position in the international arena, has , for instance, a rather small military, so it’s not likely to launch any pre-emptive strikes against known or unknown adversaries, and , has often sought to appear as a good guy, more so than it’s southern neighbor . More than a few American ex patriots moved to Canada during the Vietnam war, and stayed there, thinking it was a pretty good deal.

That is sort of passe , particularly if you are a Native person. And, particularly if you are Chief Theresa Spence. Spence is the leader of Attawapiskat First Nation- a very remote Cree community from James Bay, Ontario- at the bottom of Hudson Bay.

The community’s on reserve 1,549 residents ( a third of whom are under l9) have weathered quite a bit, the fur trade, residential schools, a status as non-treaty Indians, and limited access to modern conveniences- like a toilet, or maybe electricity. This is a bit common place in the north, but it has become exacerbated in the past five years, with the advent of a huge diamond mine.

Enter DeBeers, the largest diamond mining enterprise in the world.

The company moved into northern Ontario in 2006 . The Victor Mine reached commercial production in 2008 and was voted “Mine of the Year” by the readers of the international trade publication Mining Magazine. The company states it is “is committed to sustainable development in local communities.”

This is good to know. This is also where the first world meets the third world in the north, as Canadian MP Bob Rae discovered last year on his tour of the rather destitute conditions of the village.

Infrastructure in the Sub Arctic is in short supply. There is no road into the village eight months of the year, four months a year, during freeze up , there’s an ice road. A diamond mine needs a lot of infrastructure. And that has to be shipped in, so the trucks launch out of Moosonee, Ontario. Then, they build a better road. The problem is that the road won’t work when the climate changes, and already stretched infrastructure gets tapped out.

There is some money flowing in, that’s sure.

A 2010 report from DeBeers states that payments to eight communities associated with its two mines in Canada totalled $5,231,000 that year. Forbes Magazine reports record diamond sales by the world’s largest diamond company “… increased 33 percent, year-over-year, to $3.5 billion….The mining giant, which produces more than a third of the world’s rough diamonds, also reported record EBITDA of almost $1.2 billion, a 55 percent increase over the first the first half of 2010.” .

As the Canadian Mining Watch group notes “Whatever Attawapiskat’s share of that $5-million is, given the chronic under-funding of the community, the need for expensive responses to deal with recurring crises, including one that DeBeers themselves may have precipitated by overloading the community’s sewage system, it’s not surprising that the community hasn’t been able to translate its … income into improvements in physical infrastructure.” Last year, Attawapiskat drew international attention , when many families in the Cree community were living in tents.

The neighboring Kaschewan Village is in similar disarray. They have been boiling water, and importing water. The village almost had a complete evacuation due to health conditions, and , “ … fuel shortages are becoming more common among remote northern Ontario communities right now,” Alvin Fiddler, Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a regional advocacy network explained to a reporter. That’s because the ice road used to truck in a year’s supply of diesel last winter did not last as long as usual. “Everybody is running out now. We’re looking at a two-month gap” until this winter’s ice road is solid enough to truck in fresh supplies, Mr. Fiddler said in an interview.

Kashechewan’s chief and council are poised to shut down the band office, two schools, the power generation centre, the health clinic and the fire hall because the buildings were not heated and could no longer operate safely. “ In addition some 21 homes had become uninhabitable,” according to Chief Derek Stephen . Those basements had been flooded last spring, as the weather patterns changed. Just as a side note, in 2007, some 21 Cree youth from Kashechewan attempted to commit suicide, and the Canadian aboriginal youth suicide rate is five times the national average.  

Both communities are beneficiaries of an agreement with DeBeers.

The Lost Boys of Aamjiwnaang

Back at Aamjiwnaang, the Ojibwe have blockaded the tracks.

Those are tracks that are full of chemical trains, lots of them. There are some 62 industrial plants in what the Canadian government calls Industrial Valley. The Aamjiwnaang people would like to call it home , but they’ve a few challenges in their house.

“If the prime minister will not listen to our words, perhaps he’ll pay attention to our actions,” Chief Chris Plain explained to the media.

There’s a recent Men’s Health magazine article called,“ The Lost Boys of Aamjiwnaang”. That’s because the Ojibwe Reserve of Aamjiwnaang has few boys. Put it this way, in a normal society, there are about l05 boys to l00 girls, born, that’s the odds for a thousand years or so. However, at Aamjiwnaang, things are different.

Between l993 and 2003, there had been two girls born for every boy to the tribal community, one of the steepest declines ever recorded in birth gender ratio. As one reporter notes, “these tribal lands have become a kind of petri dish for industrial pollutants.

And in this vast, real-time experiment, the children of Aamjiwnaang (AHM-ju-nun) are the lab rats. I might have written "boys of Aamjiwnaang," but actually, there are a lot fewer of them around to experiment on. ..”

This trend is international, particularly in more industrialized countries, and the odd statistics at Aamjiwnaang, are indicative of larger trends. The rail line, known as the St. Clair spur, carries CN and CSX trains to several large industries in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley . Usually four or five trains move through a day, all full of chemicals. The Ojibwe have faced a chronic dosage of chemicals for twenty five years, and are concerned about the health impacts.

They are also concerned about proposals to move tar sands oil through their community in a pre-existing pipeline.

The Idle No More movement is fired by the recent passing of the omnibus budget Bill C-45, which was approved by the Senate in a 50-27 vote. Aboriginal leaders charge the Conservative government with pushing the bill through without consulting them. They note the bill infringes on their treaty rights, compromises ownership of their land and takes away protection for Canada’s waterways .

In the US, the Native community has been coming out in numbers and regalia to support the Canadian Native struggle to protect the environment- drawing attention at the same time to simlar concerns and issues here in the US. For instance, Ojibwe from the Keewenaw Bay Community in Michigan , rallied against a Rio Tinto Zinc mine project, and Navajo protesters in Flagstaff continued opposing a ski project with manufactured snow at a sacred mountain.

Pamela Paimeta , a spokesperson for the Idle No More movement in Canada, urges the larger community to see what is occuring across the country as a reality check. “the first Nations are the last best hope that Canadians have for protecting land for food and clean water for the future- not just for our people but for Canadians as well. So this country falls or survives on whether they acknowledge- or recognize and implement those aboriginal and treaty rights. So they need to stand with us and protect what is essential.”

The Chief Occupies

Meanwhile , Chief Theresa Spence is still hoping to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging him to "open his heart" and meet with native leaders angered by his policies. "He's a person with a heart but he needs to open his heart. I'm sure he has faith in the Creator himself and for him to delay this, it's very disrespectful, I feel, to not even meet with us," she said.

The reality is that Attawapiskat, Aamjiwnaang and Kashachewan, are remote Native communities, which receive little or no attention, until a human rights crisis of great proportion causes national shame. Facebook and social media change and equalize access for those who never see the spotlight. ( Just think of Arab Spring).  

With the help of social media the Idle No More movement has taken on a life of its own in much the same way the first "Occupy Wall Street" camp gave birth to a multitude of "occupy" protests with no clear leadership.

"This has spread in ways that we wouldn't even have imagined," said Sheelah McLean, an instructor at the University of Saskatchewan , one of the four women who originally coined the "Idle No More" slogan. "What this movement is supposed to do is build consciousness about the inequalities so that everyone is outraged about what is happening here in Canada. Every Canadian should be outraged." Actually, we all should be outraged, and Idle no More.





Expelled: Hundreds of Roma gypsies were sent back to Bulgaria and Romania ...

Much has changed in Eastern Europe over 22 years. But one group that has seen relatively little improvement in its fortunes over this period has been the Roma. Unemployment levels among Roma remain high. Access to decent education, health care, and other social services is limited.

Representation in politics and business is minimal. And discrimination remains pervasive.

In interviews and casual conversations in the four southeastern European countries I visited this fall, I heard the same stereotypes about Roma repeated over and over again. And many of the people who trafficked in these stereotypes were highly educated, the people who are expected "to know better."

Maria Metodieva was, until recently, in charge of Roma issues at the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. She confirmed for me this most depressing fact. "We've done research on the type of people who are more likely to be discriminatory," she said. "The most educated people, in terms of higher education, discriminate the most. This is ridiculous. Once you have a good education, it means that you've been studying in a mixed environment, and you know much more about diversity and cultural pluralism."

But alas, there isn't as much cultural pluralism in Bulgaria as one might hope. The effort to desegregate schools and ensure that Roma and non-Roma mix in the classrooms has encountered push back. Economically, Roma continue to be marginalized, often living in crowded conditions in poor neighborhoods in cities like Plovdiv. Some successful Roma, borrowing a page from African-American history, "pass" as non-Roma if they can get away with it, which does little to upend common stereotypes.

And even very successful Roma who openly proclaim their heritage, like TV anchorwoman Violeta Draganova, have experienced the same, maddening discrimination that their less famous brothers and sisters face.

Here's another depressing fact. The OSI program has been quite successful in placing Roma interns in businesses in Bulgaria. But that success has been almost entirely in multinational businesses, Maria Metodieva reports, not with Bulgarian businesses. Roma don't just face a glass ceiling -- they face glass walls.

Europe is currently more than halfway through the Decade of Roma Inclusion. There have been conferences and studies and documentaries and political lobbying. And millions of Euros have been allocated to closing the gap between Roma and the rest of Europe. There have been some notable achievements, particularly in terms of the greater visibility of Roma issues. But it's easy to get discouraged when you come face to face with persistent discrimination.

On the other hand, the modern civil rights movement in the United States was at it for more than two decades before achieving the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and the election of an African-American president more than four decades later still doesn't mean that racism has been flushed out of the American system.

But many Roma, as they struggle against injustice and attempt to build a truly multiethnic democracy, keep their eyes on the prize. Maria Metodieva talked with me about OSI's programs on Roma and what has worked and hasn't worked in terms of policy approaches. She now works at the Trust for Social Achievement, which focuses on education, jobs, and capacity-building for marginalized communities in Bulgaria.

The Interview

The EU has put some funds into Roma issues. Have they made a difference?

It's too soon to tell. We became a member of the EU just recently, in 2007. Five years is not sufficient time for achieving any success. In addition to that, there is a lack of capacity and human resources in the government to absorb funds related to Roma. Increasing the capacity of the government to implement this kind of policy would be the best-case scenario.
At the same time, there is a lack of decision about whether the government will implement targeted policies for Roma or whether they will implement mainstream policies funded by the EU. This hesitancy and lack of understanding has led to a total confusion around spending money. They spend without a clear vision about the final product or the beneficiaries.

Are there programs in the region directed at Roma, or with Roma or by Roma, that you can point to and say, this is a great program, this is something that can serve as an important model?

I think that what works best is a mainstream policy that has an impact on socially vulnerable or challenged people. I've seen an example of social housing in Spain that has worked well both for Roma and for socially vulnerable groups. For me, this project would work anywhere because it is a mainstream program and it won't lose support from Roma or mainstream society.

I'll give you another example. We had a Roma-targeted policy funded by EU funds in Burgas here in Bulgaria. The municipality applied for the funds and the project was approved. The main goal of the project was the construction of social housing for Roma. But suddenly, the local community in Burgas opposed this construction and forced the mayor to withdraw from the project. So, basically, Roma-related projects won't work in Bulgaria.

To read the rest of the interview, click here.
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Sunday, December 30, 2012



Here's a clip of Patti wishing a newborn baby a happy birthday.

and this is an interview i heard recently on NPR.

it's the entire show, but she begins at 32:23

Saturday, December 29, 2012



Wounded Knee, 1890 Photograph - Wounded Knee, 1890 Fine Art Print - Granger

On 29 December 1830, the Wounded Knee Massacre took place in South Dakota as an estimated 300 Sioux Indians were killed by US troops sent to disarm them.

And the beat goes on.

For more info about the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1830, and its aftermath visit:

Friday, December 28, 2012




PHOTO  ilustrační foto--


Roger Moreno Rathgeb is, like many Romani musicians, self-taught, but he gradually began to use musical notation and to compose. Several years ago he decided to compose a requiem for the victims of the Auschwitz extermination camp, but his work was interrupted by a visit there which strongly impacted him and blocked his creative capabilities for several years. The impulse to complete the work came in the form of a request from Albert Siebelink, who suggested presenting the "Requiem for Auschwitz" at the International Gipsy Festival in Tilburg and then in other European cities.

A composer and multi-instrumentalist (he plays accordion, violin, double-bass, guitar, piano and drums), Rathgeb came to Prague for the first time ever to present his most extensive work to date, "Requiem for Auschwitz" (for more about this exceptional event, see

We spoke together in the foyer of the Rudolfinum concert hall during the dress rehearsal, which we could hear underway on the other side of the wall. It was beautiful.

Q: You were born in Switzerland in 1956, which means 11 years after the war. Even though Switzerland was neutral, did you sense any of the aftermath of the war?

A: In reality there was no war in Switzerland, but there were other problems there. For example, at that time a particular Swiss organization was working to take children away from Romani families immediately after they were born and give them to infertile non-Romani married couples. That lasted until 1979. You could say that was a war, too, just a bit of a different one.

Q: Where did your parents come from?

A: My father was not Romani, he was a German Swiss. My mother was Romani - to be precise, she was Sinti - but she also was born in Switzerland. I was not raised in the traditional Romani environment of that time. My sister and I normally attended school. I didn't even know my mother was Romani until I was 12 or 13. Not only did we never speak Romanes at home, we never talked about being Romani. I basically don't even know how my parents met. My grandpa (that is, the father of my mother) passed away when she was six, so she de facto did not know his culture.

Q: You do speak Romanes, however. You learned it later?

A: Yes, sure. In 1980 my band and I were on a tour of Holland and I met several Sinti families of musicians. The band just left me there with them [laughs]. They only spoke the Sinti dialect of Romanes, and I immediately felt at home among them.

Q: Did you already know you were a Sinto by then?

A: Yes. When I was young, children in school would laugh at me and say I was a "gypsy", and I always defended myself against their accusations because I really didn't know anything about my origins. They must have sensed it somehow. Once I came home and complained about it to my mother and she revealed to me that I am Romani. It wasn't easy for her to say, she was a bit ashamed herself. Then, for many years, I had a problem with my identity. After all, I grew up as just a "normal" Swiss person, just like a gadjo.

Q: Do you identify as Romani/Sinti today?

A: I always had the feeling I was not like other Swiss people. I was a rebel. I protested against Swiss laws, against society, basically against everything. Swiss people have a completely different mindset. Inside I suspected I wasn't Swiss, that it couldn't be true. There just had to be something else.

Q: When did you decide to professionally devote yourself to music? What led you to that?

A: When I was 10, I got a guitar for my birthday from my grandmother (on my mother's side). She recognized that I had musical talent, even though I am the only one in the family who has dedicated himself to music. My family is totally unmusical otherwise.

Q: What kind of music do you like most? You're here in Prague for a concert of classical music, but do you also go in for traditional Romani music?

A: Yes, Romani music is definitely what I like the most. The road to classical music was a very long one for me, because for a long time I couldn't even read music.

Q: Where did you learn the music theory that is so necessary to composing a requiem?

A: I first encountered musical notation when I was 35. I was taking violin lessons and my teacher was a Hungarian Rom who played in the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra. It was he who first showed me musical notation, and by doing so he opened up a whole new world to me.

Q: In addition to classical and Romani music, what else speaks to you?

A: I'd say I basically love all music. Once I even played drums in a rock’n’roll band and to this day I have very warm feelings about that musical style, I enjoy it!

Q: You have worked in many different groups - which do you have the best memories of and which contributed the most to your life?

A: I'd say the Sinto family I started to play with after moving to Holland [the band Zigeunerorkest Nello Basily – Editors]. They played the traditional music of Romani people from Hungary, Romania, and Russia. From them, especially from the cimbalom [concert hammered dulcimer] player, I learned how to distinguish the Hungarian harmonies. Those are the best for learning accompaniment because they are constantly changing, and that makes it easier to accompany even songs you don't know. I came to the greatest depth of understanding in that band.

Q: Why did you decide to emigrate to Holland?

A: In 1980 we traveled with the band on a tour around Holland, and the mentality of people in that country immediately clicked with me. The Dutch are free-thinkers, unlike the Swiss, who are terribly conservative. The truth is, the Swiss don't like Romani people. The Dutch are open and tolerant, and they have a beautiful country. It was a very quick decision.

Q: You have written scripts for several theatrical performances - what were they?

A: We created two theatrical shows with the band. The first is called "The Long Journey", and it tells the story of the migration of Romani people from India to Europe. We called the second one "The Life", and in it we portray the daily life of Romani musicians. These are pastiches of music, poetry, and story-telling. We sat around a fire, played our instruments, and did our best to create the atmosphere of a Romani camp. The gadje don't know much about Romani people and often ask me about our culture and history. We wanted to somehow approximate our "Romani-ness" for them, because discrimination comes from ignorance in particular.

Q: How many people came to the show - was it mostly non-Romani people or Romani people?

A: We performed in theaters in Belgium, Germany and Holland, and most of them were attended mainly by gadje. It's sad - Romani people aren't interested in these things, I don't know why.

Q: You have come to Prague with your wife. Is she also a musician?

A: Yes, we perform together, it's how we make our living. It's brilliant that my composition is being played all over Europe, but I have not yet made any money from it, and I have to make a living somehow. We play in concert, we play at festivals and in theaters, at weddings and at various parties.

Q: You are one of the main figures in the film "Musicians for Life", which was created by Bob Entrop. Can you tell us about the film?

A: That film is one of the reasons I am now in Prague. Albert Siebelink, who is the director of the Romani festival in Tilburg, saw it, and there's an interview with me in it where I talk about "Requiem for Auschwitz". After seeing the film, Albert asked me whether I had completed the piece yet, but it wasn't ready. He promised that if I would complete it, he would arrange for it to be performed. I began work on it once more, but it took me another three years all the same.
"Musicians for Life" is not the only film I have collaborated on with Bob Entrop. I also perform in the documentary "A Hole in the Sky", which is about WWII survivors.

Q: When did you start to work on "Requiem"?

A: I first visited Auschwitz in 1998 and I immediately got the idea to write a requiem. I started working on it, but after some time all of my inspiration for it disappeared. I thought that if I returned to Auschwitz I would know how to continue, but that didn't happen - the complete opposite happened. I was just destroyed, it's a very macabre place. I set the work aside and did not return to the "Requiem" until eight years later.

Q: Would you call yourself a Romani (Sinti) activist?

A: Probably not - I'm just a musician. Naturally, if people see a message in my music, then that's brilliant.

Q: For a certain time you collaborated with opera singer Carla Schroyen. What was that project? Did your idea to create a great classical music work (like "Requiem for Auschwitz") start there?

A: Carla Schroyen sang various "gypsy" arias from operas and operettas and I accompanied her on accordion, but that didn't influence my composing. I had already dedicated myself to classical music prior to that.

Q: What was your first classical composition?

A: In 1995 I decided to try to write a ballet for an amateur dance ensemble in Maastricht. In the end, however, it turned into a symphonic-poetic work.

Q: Did you try to incorporate elements of Romani music into "Requiem for Auschwitz"?

A: A little, you can hear them in some places - there are several motifs that turn up repeatedly. "Requiem", however, is not dedicated only to the Romani victims, but to everyone who suffered or perished in Auschwitz. Before writing it I did not listen to any other requiems so I wouldn't be influenced by other works. It's me in "Requiem", not anyone else, which is why some Romani motifs have to be there.

Q: Do you see any difference between the genocide of the Jewish people and that of the Romani people?

A: It's completely the same thing. The numbers differ a bit, but that's not what is essential.

Q: You have played as an opening act for Chuck Berry, you have performed for the Dutch royal family, and "Requiem for Auschwitz" is being played in the most celebrated halls in Europe. What do you consider your greatest success so far? What are your other plans or dreams?

A: I am working on an oratorio about the migration of Romani people from India to Europe. I think it will be a much more extensive work than "Requiem". I also would like to write an opera about the Romani children taken away from their parents and placed with non-Romani families in Switzerland. As you can see, I have enough plans! [laughs]
Inka Jurková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

Thursday, December 27, 2012


The Gypsies’ Dance


International audiences know Galván best for bringing flamenco into a worldlier register. Now, he has created a program as bracing — and important — for its subject matter as for its choreography: Earlier this month at Madrid’s Teatro Real, Galván debuted “Lo Real/Le Réel/The Real,” about the half million Gypsies who were murdered in the Holocaust. Dance lovers are not the only ones who should be taking heed.

The plight of the Roma and the Sinti peoples — known collectively as the Gypsies, a
misnomer that has stuck — under the Nazis is still regrettably obscure. And their continuing woes throughout Europe are a glaring reminder that prejudice is still alive on the Continent.

In Hungary, the rightist Jobbik party, playing to populist bigotry, has instigated violence against the Roma. Some regions of Italy toyed with so-called “Nomad Emergency” legislation, which paved the way for a rash of evictions, until that was declared unlawful by a national court. In 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France unapologetically deported about 1,000 Roma. And in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany, discrimination in public education consigns young Roma to life on the margins from an early age.

Galván’s show brings back into view the grim history behind these present slights. In 1938, Heinrich Himmler, head of the S.S., ordered Gypsies herded into concentration camps. It wasn’t until 1982, however, that the German government recognized the carnage against them as an attempted genocide. Last October, after years of delays because of artistic and financial hitches, the German government erected a memorial to the Roma in Berlin, designed by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan.

“Lo Real” goes much further, by staging without flinching how the Nazis’ violence played out personally and physically.

The show’s music, which ranges from popular forms like granaína and malagueña to a fandango-inflected arrangement of Antony and The Johnsons’ “Hitler in My Heart,” gives voice to diverse expressions of suffering. At one point Eduardo Bianco’s elegiac tango “Plegaria” plays over the words of the Romanian poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue.”

Galván also pushes flamenco to its corporeal limits. Rhythmic stamps and thrusts, trilling hand gestures and expansive spins eventually fray and splinter on stage, calling attention to the torturers’ perverse admiration of the tradition. At times, Galván’s body seems to be warring with itself, lashed by torment but bent on liberation.

Flamenco is an especially poignant form for such exploration. The musical traditions of the Roma vary along regional lines, but Spanish flamenco, originating in Andalucía, has become particularly emblematic. “The Nazis were fascinated by the music and dance traditions of the gitanos,” Pedro Romero, the show’s artistic director, told me, referring to the Gypsies.

The filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, a propagandist for the Third Reich, directed, acted and danced in a 1943 film called “Tiefland,” which used Central European Gypsies as extras: They were taken from concentration camps — returned there after filming and later killed. In “Lo Real,” Galván recasts Riefenstahl in a lurid cameo from beyond the grave. Played by dancer Isabel Bayón, she strides across the stage in a prurient sashay, pushing around a high-beam spotlight on wheels.

In the first part of the program, Galván and the dancer Belén Maya demolish a rectangular wooden box that resembles a piano. Then, they pull it apart across the stage. Five cords emerge, still affixed to both ends of the box: They look like the barbed wires of a fence, around a ghetto or concentration camp. But they also look like the lines of a musical staff.

In an arresting solo, Maya then entangles herself in the cords. It seems like an act of bondage, yet in her acrobatic writhing, she also incarnates musical notes pinging on the staff. Each movement of her body sounds before our eyes.

This is music borne of a body’s suffering. Watching that pain on stage, against the backdrop of continued discrimination against the Gypsies, it is impossible not to listen.

Jonathan Blitzer is a journalist and translator based in Madrid.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


To The Americans Who Are Questioning The Death Of The Children In Connecticut


(about the author) 

PHOTO A mother with her daughter in her arms in the infantile hospital of Bagdad

OpEdNews Op Eds

You gathered to mourn the death of those kids but when the war was launched, my sister who lived in the states that time and I cried alone as our family members were still in Iraq and we didn't know what happened to them. The American missiles didn't differentiate between children and adults during the war, all Iraqis were exposed to death all days long.
No one offered us condolences for the loss of our country, our dreams and our hopes for good days to come. We were alone with our grief; the whole world watched the continuous bombing in silence. Some people protested but their voices weren't heard. The leaders of the Middle East watched their brothers and sisters killed, your military bases were on their lands yet they did nothing to stop you from the war.
Your President called the kids who were killed at the school by names. Our children who were killed by the American bombs had no names. I remember a picture of bodies of small kids covered with blood and piled on the back of a truck, those kids were killed during the bombing of a small city in Iraq. No apologies where given to their parents or to the Iraqis for taking the lives of these kids... there were no teddy bears and no candles..
Do you know Abeer? Abeer is the Iraqi kid who was fifteen when she was raped in front of her family members by the American soldiers. The soldiers burnt the house to hide their atrocities. How many of the American people know the story of Abeer? .
The depleted uranium your troops used in Fallujah caused higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality? Young women in Fallujah in Iraq are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies being born deformed, with no heads, two heads, and a single eye in the foreheads or missing limbs. Do you know that young children in Fallujah are now experiencing cancers and leukemia?

We had endless shooting across my country by the American troops during the war and even after Iraq surrounded, many of your soldiers kept shooting at the civilians they thought were a threat. My relative's wife was shot by your soldier in a checkpoint when her husband didn't hear the soldier asking him to stop. The cause of the violence in Iraq wasn't complex as you concluded for your country. The cause was the brutality of the troops.
Yet in Iraq we don't hear someone walks in a shopping centre or in a school and start shooting people. But we heard that innocent people were killed by your troops, I wonder why?
As your president said in Connecticut a few days ago: "Let the little children come to me" Jesus said, "and do not hinder them, for to such belongs to kingdom of heaven"
For the Iraqi children who are alive after experiencing the war, they will watch the news and will feel for your children. Those who died and no one acknowledged their death they will belong to kingdom of heaven like the American children who lost their lives during the shooting and they will be one. Children are children and they deserve to be given the opportunity to live whether they are Iraqis or American.
One man took the life of the twenty beautiful children and the six remarkable adults, but your government took the life of thousands of beautiful children and remarkable adults in Iraq during the ugly war on Iraq.
Why does the death of the twenty children affect you so much when the death of the thousands of the Iraqi children was ignored?
Your loss is big but our loss is greater..
I am an Iraqi woman. I've been living in Canada since 1989. I left Baghdad in 1979 but Baghdad had never left me.

Saturday, December 22, 2012





UEFA's recent condemnation of the racist fans of Steaua Bucharest was the most powerful statement ever issued by a European institution against anti-Gypsyism and had a positive echo in the Romanian press. So why do EU bodies fail to take a similar stance?
On 24 September this year, over 30,000 people in the Romanian National Arena, joined by millions more on TV, watched the football match between Steaua and Rapid Bucharest. During the game, over 20,000 people repeatedly chanted, "We have always hated and will always hate the Gypsies." Calls of "die Gypsies" could also be heard throughout the game.

Before the game, the owner of Steaua, Gigi Becali, a member of the European Parliament, had stated that he was not afraid the other team would win since it was a well-known fact that "they drown just before reaching the shore".

The phrase derives from a punishment visited on Roma/Gypsies during the many hundreds of years Roma were slaves of the Romanian aristocrats and the Romanian Orthodox Church. Roma were covered in tar, rolled in feathers and then thrown into a river. Romanian aristocrats would watch them drown while trying to reach the shore. It may also relate to incidents during the Holocaust when Romanian officers shot at boats transporting Roma over the river to Transnistria – many Roma drowned before reaching the shore. Many more died of starvation.
The justification for the lack of official response to these racist chants in past years is that the fans of Rapid are nicknamed "the Gypsies".

However, on this occasion, among the racist banners displayed was one with the text "Respect Eugen Grigore". Grigore was a mass murderer who killed 24 Roma in 1970. In addition, during and at the end of the game, Steaua officials incited the fans to racism and even joined them in their chants.

Throughout September, a number of incidents across Europe demonstrated yet again the appalling levels of anti-Gypsyism prevalent within the European Union. The Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities in Bucharest reported the Romanian incident to the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the Fundamental Rights Agency, the OSCE and all intergovernmental bodies that have significant budgets dedicated to addressing Roma issues. We have reported similar or worst incidents in the past.

We also reported it to UEFA, the governing body of European football, and to the Romanian Football Federation (RFF), where we talked to people at the highest level. As soon as they received our report they called us to discuss the next steps. Two days later, the President of the RFF condemned anti-Roma racism in Romanian football in the strongest declaration of its kind ever issued by an influential institution in Romania. It was followed by a letter to the RFF from UEFA President Michele Platini expressing disgust at anti-Gypsyism in Romanian football, a move equally unprecedented at the European level. This was sent on 4 October before a European League game in which Steaua Bucharest were playing, and re-posted the next day on the RFF website – a clear, blunt statement that the RFF is serious about eliminating racism in football stadiums. It was the main subject of debate in the Romanian media the following day and resulted in hours of prime-time discussion on the subject.

According to EU intergovernmental organizations, the elimination of anti-Gypsyism is a priority; all complain about the lack of political will at the level of EU member states. If this is so, an open letter similar to that sent by Platini asking the Romanian Prime Minister to take an unequivocal public stand against such incidents would seem an obvious step on their part. As Platini's letter shows, such statements have the potential to produce a major impact on Romanian society and cost virtually nothing. The millions of euros spent on irrelevant meetings and research at the European level could have been vindicated by a simple letter. The Romanian media is clearly positive about the need to eliminate racist behaviour in the stadiums and the Prime Minister had nothing to lose; such a statement might even have increased his popularity.

The European Commissioner responsible for Roma issues is also responsible for anti-discrimination and justice; the director in charge of anti-discrimination received our report. The Council of Europe has a high representative on Roma issues and the OSCE a senior advisor for Roma and Sinti. The Fundamental Rights Agency spends vast sums on Roma reports and visits to countries to talk about Roma issues. Why did none of these institutions respond to the Steaua Bucharest incident and arguably miss one of the best opportunities they have ever had to push the Romanian political leadership into making a public statement against anti-Roma racism?

Bureaucratic and political careers in all these institutions are not helped by courageous moves targeting change or reform. Diplomacy is often mistaken for cowardice and the institutional logic within such bodies promotes subservience and a culture of zero criticism of the leadership. Critical voices from within and outside are easily subdued. Roma issues are complex and Europe needs to make significant financial and political efforts if it is to solve them; not a popular move nowadays.

The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit, in his argument for a Decent Society as opposed to the Just Society proposed by John Rawls, emphasized humiliation as a significant problem of state institutions when it comes to its vulnerable groups. The reaction of intergovernmental institutions compared with the reaction of UEFA means one of two things: either all these institutions are prime examples of humiliating institutions, or else they struggle with cowardice and incompetence. In either case reform is necessary.

Friday, December 21, 2012






Why Canada's "safe" country scheme offers no refuge for Roma refugees

On December 14, 2012, Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, unveiled the Federal government's "Designated Countries of Origin" list. This list is comprised of 27 countries, including 25 member states of the European Union, Croatia, and the United States of America. A designated country of origin (DCO) is a country declared as "safe," on grounds that it can provide adequate protection to its citizens and therefore not likely to produce refugees. The list is one part of the reforms tabled in Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act.

Refugee advocacy groups have detailed the many problems with the DCO policy. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, for example, has deemed it "arbitrary, unfair, and unconstitutional," and called it a "travesty" that violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The DCO policy denies refugee claimants hailing from so-called "safe" countries important procedural safeguards, opens the door to poor decision-making, and creates a real probability that people needing protection will be returned to their countries of origin to face persecution. Under the new regime, DCO claimants have only 30 days to prepare their claim, which is not enough time to meet with a lawyer and properly document their persecution. They are denied rights of appeal and the ability to remain in Canada while they ask the Federal Court to review their case. DCO claimants are also denied access to health care.

The DCO policy thus creates a radically different, two-tiered refugee determination system. It also discounts the treatment of some minority groups in so-called "safe" countries, such as religious minorities or sexual identity groups, and, perhaps most particularly, the Roma in Europe, whom Minister Kenney has repeatedly singled out as being "bogus."

Minister Kenney argues that as citizens of the European Union, Roma could simply seek asylum in another country within Europe if they face persecution. This is a misleading argument, since the Dublin Regulation prevents EU citizens from claiming asylum in other member states. Minister Kenney also interprets the lower-than-average acceptance rates for Hungarian Roma in Canada as proof that they are not refugees but either economic migrants seeking better opportunities in Canada or criminals intent on abusing Canada's generous social systems.

Minister Kenney's view of the Roma is ill-informed and incorrect. It ignores the well-founded complaints of Roma refugee claimants being taken advantage of by predatory immigration consultants in Canada. It also discounts the near 1,000-people accepted as refugees from Hungary by Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board in the last decade.

This tendency to cry "none is too many" against Roma has historical precedence in Canada as well as Europe. Throughout history, Romani people have been enslaved, sold, and evicted, as well as subjected to ethnic cleansing, persecution, discrimination, and prejudice. Many European countries forcibly sterilized Romani women until as recently as 2004, and many European countries still force Romani children to attend segregated schools. Canada instituted visa requirements for Hungarian nationals in 2001 and for Czech nationals in 1997 and 2009 as an openly-direct measure to keep Roma out of Canada (the visa periods were only lifted because of international pressure, including EU-Canada relations).

In the present-day, Roma comprise Hungary's largest minority. They are also the poorest, with the highest levels of unemployment and the lowest education rates. Extremist but politically powerful groups such as Jobbik advocate "swatting" Roma "parasites" from the country.

Jobbik's strong momentum in Hungary and the lack of police and institutional protection for Roma have encouraged a surge in hate crime-related violence. Amnesty International has criticized Hungary (and other DCO-EU countries, such as the Czech Republic) for failing to provide Roma equal protection from ethnic discrimination and hate-crime related violence. The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights has also documented the shameful conditions faced by Roma in Hungary and throughout Europe.

By designating Hungary a "safe" country for refugees, Minister Kenney has made it difficult for Roma refugee claimants to seek asylum in Canada. Indeed, the DCO scheme marks a profound shift in Canada's approach to refugee protection: it shows Canada reneging on its commitment to provide every refugee claimant a fair hearing conducted in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also shows Canada continuing a too-long tradition of stereotyping and vilifying Roma who desperately need protection. The DCO policy is not only extremely damaging for Roma who flee persecution, it also calls into question Canada's commitments to refugee protection under both domestic and international law.

1417: Germany's first known anti-Roma law comes into effect. Forty eight more laws come into force over the next three centuries.
1471: Swiss law banishes Roma from the country. 
1500s: England brands and enslaves Roma. Spain and Portugal enslave and sell Romani people. Roma are expelled from Norway and Denmark. 
1510: Switzerland orders the death penalty for any Roma within their region. Other European countries forbid the entry of Roma into their lands.  
1612: France evicts all Roma out of France by way of court order.  
1665: The "wholesale deportation" of Roma and "poor people" from England to Jamaica and Barbados is recorded. 
1700s: Austria forbid Roma to marry and orders Romani children into forced adoption/orphanages.  
1710-1721: Hungary outlaws Roma, and they become targets of "Gypsy hunts". Romani language and nomadic lifestyle are soon also outlawed and forbidden.  
1800s: Roma are expelled from Belgium and Denmark. Swabian (German) government organizes a conference on "Gypsy scum" (Das Zigeunergeschmeiss), where the military is empowered to keep Roma from settling. 
1855-1864: Romania frees all Roma from their enslavement - slavery existed in Romania since the 13-14th centuries.  
1900s: Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, Norway enact special laws denying the rights of Roma to live in the country, impose laws detaining Roma in work camps; subject Roma women to forced sterilization; and order ethnic cleansing measures leading to WWII. 
1939-1945: Roma were ethnically targeted along with the Jews in the Holocaust. Death count ranges from 300,000 - 1.5 million.
 For more information on these topics:
"A Chronology of significant dates in Romani history" by Ian Hancock/The Romani Archives and Documentation Center (RADOC).
"The Roma as victims of genocide," by Ronald Lee for the Roma Community Centre.
"Timeline of the Persecution Against the Roma," by Facing History and Ourselves, compiled from multiple sources.
"A brief Romani Holocaust Chronology" by Ian Hancock, condensed from "Gypsy History in Germany and Neighboring Lands: A Chronology to the Holocaust and Beyond," in Nationalities Papers, 19(3):395-412(1991).

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Roma children: Britain's hidden care problem

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


This appeared on YAHOO! ANSWERS


Gypsy party, what do i wear?:

i am attending a party on new years eve, i have to dress up as a gypsy. what are the outfits called the ones they wear at the wedding parties? please help me
  • just get some old clothes out the trash and roll in mud. you'll blend right in
  • Wear a Swastika, everybody knows the gypsies and the Nazis were good friends
  • A bomb and blow yourself. Up


Euro-Narnia and the Queen of Roma



Roma activist Valeriu Nicolae departs for Euro-Narnia, a parallel world ruled over by the mighty Baroslan whose inhabitants discuss in strange and wonderful terms remedies for the Roma problem. But what is the role of the Queen in all of this?
Some days I feel like there must be two parallel worlds: the one I live in (together with my colleagues, family, friends, and the people I work with in the ghettos of Bucharest), and another which is almost the same, but somehow perplexingly different.

In my world we have successes and failures, but most days are a mix of the two: good things and bad things happen, many of them beyond our control. We do our best to cope and to help the people around us. We talk to people in order to communicate, to share information, and to understand what others are experiencing and what they need.

You know that you've entered the parallel world due to the presence of a few telltale signs. Firstly, the actions of the "elites" are always good. The language spoken is another give-away: certain words and phrases seem to have rather unconventional meanings. You might also notice the almost complete absence of ethnic and religious minorities (or "darker people" in the ordinary language of my world).

Let's call this parallel world "Euro-Narnia". In Euro-Narnia we always see "significant progress". Euro-Narnia is accessible through special doors in Brussels, and in capital cities where governments sit. Practices initiated by Euro-Narnians are always "positive" and there have been many "leaps forward" when it comes to the social inclusion of Roma (quotations courtesy of the holy reports of the Roma Ministry of Euro-Narnia).

As I mentioned, one of the special features of Euro-Narnia is the language spoken there. Let's take a closer look.
The workings of Euro-Narnia are based, among other things, on Respect for the Human Rights of Roma. Now, Respect is not a code of law handed down by a talking lion (in fact there are no lions in Euro-Narnia, even if we call its mighty ruler "Baroslan"). In fact, the meaning of the word Respect in Euro-Narnian is difficult to fathom. When it comes to Roma, the governing institutions of Euro-Narnia exhibit (and here I use another Euro-Narnian phrase) the worst symptoms of "structural racism". In our language: you are not likely to spot a Roma person in any important job in Euro-Narnia. Respect seems to mean that Euro-Narnians love Roma as long as they are only visiting (preferably briefly), and as long as they praise the Royals and Seniors (blessed by Baroslan be their names) leading the Euro-Narnian institutions. Euro-Narnians do not trust us, and decisions about how to "fix" us are placed in the hands of those untainted by direct contact with our realities, under the wise guidance of the mighty Queen.

I know this seems difficult to understand. Maybe an example will help. The Euro-Narnian Ministry for Roma organized a huge event on Roma this year, which they the "The Extraordinary European Platform on Roma Inclusion". The Queen honoured us ordinary folk (you can call us peasants, if you wish) by breathing the same air as us for almost five minutes after her speech. She spoke in Euro-Narnian: we peasants didn't understand much. She maintained her usual dignified and imperial pose, and certainly didn't get involved in any discussion with the audience.

However, the Queen and her Ministry exercised Respect by inviting two Roma peasants as speakers (out of twenty-nine). One of us even stood next to the Queen. The Euro-Narnians made sure that both peasants had spent enough time in Euro-Narnia and spoke good Euro-Narnian, in order not to scare away any High-Level Euro-Narnians or Royals who might have wandered into the building during the event by mistake. Both peasants were polite and used the compulsory Euro-Narnian almost fluently ("Mainstreaming Roma intersectionality"; "multistakeholder's positive practices"; "better flexicurity within the framework of the flagship initiative 2020").

The Respect thing is mentioned relentlessly by the Euro-Narnians. I'm beginning to suspect that they believe it will protect them from the Gypsy evil eye. It seems to work: it keeps us Roma away most of the year. (Note to myself: I should try it with some of my relatives.)

Another puzzling word is Experience. Let's start with a quotation from the Euro-Narnian holy book: "Very experienced people work in the Ministry for the Social Inclusion of Roma."

The experience of the senior and middle-management level Euro-Narnians in question is drawn mainly from rare, well-chosen and protected visits to Roma neighbourhoods, talking to carefully chosen Roma peasants, participating in Roma conferences (where one might find Roma) and reading some (not too many) books about Roma. So you see, they are courageous as well as experienced! Any significant hands-on or academic experience in the field of Roma might taint their superior thinking and judgment. In order to maintain her perfectly unbiased position, the Queen herself has never visited the places where most of us live. According to rumour, she does not read her speeches before delivering them, and she forgets them immediately afterwards.

Now, I often talk to surgeons and my mother worked in an emergency room (cleaning it). I've visited hospitals (a lot more often than the brave Euro-Narnians visit Roma neighbourhoods). I watch Gray's Anatomy and MASH religiously (both are TV series about doctors) and from time to time I read books that allude to surgery. I'll now share my secret hope: I thought perhaps that all this Experience could make me a surgeon, if not the King of Surgeons, in Euro-Narnia. It didn't work at all. Therefore, I can only conclude that the meaning of the word Experience in Euro-Narnian is evasive, and requires further scrutiny.

But enough about language. The way Euro-Narnians at the Roma Ministry seek to effect our social inclusion is also rather intriguing. In the first place, they are sure to listen to nobody but their own people with regard to what should be done. Another important, compulsory step in the social inclusion of Roma is to hold regular meetings and events at four and five-star Euro-Narnian hotels.

In fact, most of the money allocated to Roma social inclusion is spent on meetings in four- and five-star hotels, training sessions in the Euro-Narnian language, salaries for Euro-Narnians or Euro-Narnian experts, and producing papers that only Euro-Narnians can read. And only those papers that meet the criteria are read. That is, they must not disturb the wellbeing or the disposition of Euro-Narnians, so that the bright and always correct ideas that Euro-Narnians at the Roma Ministry have about Roma and the impact of Euro-Narnian actions remain sovereign.

And I haven't even mentioned the per diems yet! As compensation for the inconvenience of attending meetings at four and five-star hotels, the Euro-Narnians receive hefty per diems. Sometimes the per diem for a two-day conference exceeds the average annual income for many of the excluded Roma. And the total costs for one of these meetings is on average much higher that the yearly budget of a medium-sized Roma village. But blessed be their souls and their leader: we know that they deserve ample compensation for the long working hours and severe hardship they endure. Lately the best of us Roma (still small in number, but certainly the cream of the crop) have started to follow the Euro-Narnian trend and are completely unable to meet anywhere aside from luxury hotels. Our meetings are still rather unsophisticated and our elite will still talk to any old peasant – but surely this state of affairs will improve with time. We are moving in the right direction.

It is virtually forbidden for Euro-Narnian money to be spent in a ghetto. Euro-Narnians in the Ministry are highly sensitive to unfiltered air and anything that might contaminate the purity of their thought and are understandably reluctant to enter ghettos. (Ghettos also tend to be inconveniently far away from four- and five-star hotels.)

Before closing, I should mention, by way of warning, that from time to time there are Euro-Narnians (even in the Roma Ministry) who run away from Euro-Narnia and are genuinely interested in talking to us and working with us to find solutions. You might say they have "gone native". These people risk being stigmatized and labelled as "infected" by their colleagues. They are treated with well-deserved contempt and sometimes feared. Most are kept at arm's length and become outcasts. Some of the Royals close to Baroslan (a German, a Czech and a Hungarian come to mind) were genuinely interested in us peasants, spoke a dialect we could understand, and spent time with us. I suspect this brought shame on the Euro-Narnian government. Two of them have since departed, and the third is thought to be "different". Perhaps this is why Baroslan decided we needed an untainted and aloof Queen.

This is the first chapter in The Chronicles of Euro-Narnia to be published on Valeriu Nicolae's blog