| THE MEDIA AND THE ROMA IN CONTEMPORARY EUROPE: FACTS AND FICTIONS |
The Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) was founded in 1991 in anticipation ofthe serious interethnic conflicts that were to erupt following the collapseof Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. PERconducts programs of high-level intervention and dialogue and serves as aneutral mediator in several major disputes in the region. PER also conductsprograms of training, education, and research at international, national,and community levels.
PER is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, with additionalfunding from the Starr Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Philip D. Reed Foundation, and the Council ofEurope.
Individuals and institutions wishing to receive PER publications shouldwrite to:
Project on Ethnic Relations
From September 19 to September 22, 1996, a conference entitled "The Mediaand the Roma in Contemporary Europe: Facts and Fictions" was held in Prague.It was co-sponsored by the Project on Ethnic Relations and the Office ofDemocratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Securityand Cooperation in Europe and its Warsaw-based Contact Point for Roma andSinti Issues, with the further involvement of the journal Nevipe-Patrin, theRoma Civic Initiative, and the Foundation for Restoration and Development ofTraditional Romani Values, and it was hosted by the Open Media ResearchInstitute. The conference organizers brought together professionals from theRomani and mainstream media and asked them to examine the media's coverageand presentation of Roma-related issues, their role in shaping publicopinion toward the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, and the status of theRomani media and ways of improving their quality and impact. During the twofull days of discussion, the participants also raised a number of other,related issues: racism, choices among the media, the Romani intelligentsia,the establishment of a centralized archival resource, sources of funding,and language selection.
This report presents a summary of the discussions. Prepared by Ian Hancock,a member of the PER Romani Advisory Council and a participant in theconference, it does not reflect the chronological sequence of the issuesdiscussed; instead, topics have been grouped together to provide a clearerunderstanding of the proceedings. The report has been edited by Luc’a Acostaof the PER Princeton staff and Robert A. Feldmesser, PER's senior editor.The participants have not had an opportunity to review the text, which isthus PER's responsibility alone.
Allen H. Kassof, President
The contemporary situation of the Roma in Europe and the rest of the worldcan be properly understood only when viewed in its historical context.Concepts of the Romani people, and public opinion about them, have beenshaped by the media, written and broadcast, fictional and nonfictional. TheRoma have been represented in European fictional literature since thesixteenth century. Hundreds of plays, novels, poems, and songs in all of themajor languages of Europe have appeared in which Roma are main figures orare alluded to. Moreover, in the late eighteenth century, academic works onEurope's Romani minority began to be published, and at about the same time,news items started to appear in the press. The twentieth century has seen asmall but steady output of cinematographic productions about or includingRoma.
Until very recently, one overriding factor characterized all of this mediarepresentation: none of it originated from a Romani source or involvedconsultation with Roma themselves. Indeed, most of it has appeared withoutRoma even being aware of it. Thus, it has flourished unchecked, feeding uponitself, gradually giving rise to a "Gypsy" persona, which differs infundamental ways from the real population.
This media-created image must be held responsible in great part for thegeneral disinterest that marks public concern for genuine Romani issues;hence, before moves forward can be made, the "authors' Gypsy" must be laidto rest. The point has already been made that very few outsiders interactsocially or have developed close personal relationships with Roma. Despitethe not inconsiderable Romani population (larger than that of some Europeannations), some people are still not convinced that the Roma are a realpeople.
The origins of the reconstruction of the Roma are to be sought in thenineteenth-century nostalgia for an idealized time before the IndustrialRevolution dirtied the landscape and changed European life forever. Throughliterature, the Roma came to represent an earlier, simpler time. In linewith the new Darwinian thinking about the uneven evolution of humanpopulations, the media, both fictional and nonfictional, began to create animage of a "true" Romani people, a people apart, keepers of a lost rurallife, unspoiled by civilization, living contentedly in the woods, subsistingon the occasional stolen chicken or rabbit, entertaining themselves in thedepths of the forest with music and song. The real families whom theyobserved, whose trailers were pulled up near city dumps or abandonedquarries and whose children were seen playing amidst gadjo society's refuse,were not acknowledged to be Roma at all but rather were considered to be amixed and degenerate population that gave the "true" Roma a bad name.
This kind of thinking reached its predictable conclusion in the Porrajmos,the mass murder of people of Romani descent by the Nazis during World WarII. And it was the media that helped fuel the flames of hatred. ThePorrajmos is of course an extreme case, but it demonstrates how the printmedia can influence state policy, and what the consequences can ultimatelybe.
A NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY
Gypsy is an English term used to denote ethnic groups formed by thedispersal of commercial, nomadic, and other groups from within Indiabeginning in the tenth century, and their mixing with European and othergroups during their diaspora.1The term Gypsy and several European variantsof Tsigan are considered by many to be pejorative.
Rom refers to a member of the group.
Roma refers to a plurality of members and to the group as a whole.
Romani refers to the language spoken by the Roma. It is also used as anadjective.
Sinti refers to long-established Gypsies in Germany.
Gadje is the term used by the Roma when referring to a non-Rom.
Racism and Prejudice
"European newspapers have notreached the stage of realizing thedangers of racism, as they have inthe U.S.A."- Daniel Kumermann
Racism and prejudice were clearly the central concern of both the Romani andthe non-Romani participants in the conference. A representative of theOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated that theconclusion drawn by her organization was that anti-Roma violence was theresult of racial discrimination disseminated by the media, which then becameinstitutionalized in people's minds.
A journalist said antigypsyism in the Czech Republic has been escalatingsince 1991; it has been monitored and reports have been provided to thegovernment, but so far little action has been taken. The head of thegovernment has made pronouncements about Roma that are not acceptable. Oneof the participants predicted a repetition of the Porrajmos within ten tofifteen years.
A Czech editor stated that Roma are presented in the press as "the mostproblematic section of the population, disturbers of the social order." Thisonly serves to feed racism. Another participant said that his organizationhad studied the way in which the press covered one incident of violentconfrontation involving Roma in a village near Bucharest; he added thatjournalistic discourse, or editorializing, is far from objective reporting.Buzzwords or code words such as "horse thief" and "uneducated" obscure thereal story. Journalists need to develop group standards and monitorthemselves, and a comparative study is needed to accomplish this.
A Romani participant from Bulgaria who works on human-rights issues saidthat prior to 1989, the Roma in Bulgaria were considered to be insignificantand were therefore ignored. Since then, public awareness has been fosteredby persistent media stigmatizing. The media refer to Roma as being"dark-skinned," "villains," "incorrigible perpetrators," "criminals," or"apt to commit crimes," and their ethnic origin is always referred to. Crimestatistics in the newspapers are presented in two columns, "Roma" and"non-Roma," thus stimulating racist notions. The participant went on to saythat in fact crime in Bulgaria has increased since 1989. The reportedincrease amongst Roma is between 70 and 90 percent, compared with 20 percentin the country as a whole, but there is evidence that the police sometimesforce confessions and that innocent Roma are wrongly blamed. In the media,facts are reported not neutrally but in inflammatory language; relevantdetails are omitted, and no attempt is made, for example, to discuss therelationship between the disproportionate rate of unemployment and the highcrime figures. Romani papers are the only forum in which a defense ispresented.
Several participants felt that "Gypsy crime" was a frequently used catchphrase which suggested that criminality is somehow genetic. One participantstated that criminality is not a genetic but a social phenomenon, andassociating specific human groups with criminality is racist. People stealbecause they are hungry or because they want to get rich, not because of agenetic predisposition.
Another participant said that while some journalists genuinely want tolearn, others are blatantly racist. He told of a series of anti-Romaniarticles in Rokycany, a Czech publication, that worked directly to undermineefforts for self-improvement in the local Romani community, but which couldinstead have received positive coverage from a well-disposed reporter.Another example was cited of an article in Reflex magazine that supposedly"proved" that the Roma were an "ulcer" in Czech society.
A Slovak participant expressed the thought that distortion of informationwas a means of power. There is interest in stories about Roma only when theyinvolve a festival or a murder or a Gypsy king, or possibly when theyconfirm a negative stereotype. Roma are expected to do wrong, so when somewrongdoing is reported, the reaction is, "What else can you expect?" Theparticipant called this "yellow press" journalism and said that one mustlook for the reasons behind it. Journalists are merely acting upon what theythemselves were taught. Misinformation is the result of ignorance of thetrue facts about the Roma, and it leads to racist views. For example, ideasof child-stealing are still really believed. Fear of Roma is so deeplyingrained that reporters are reluctant to go into a Romani community togather information. Roma should be given the opportunity to provide themainstream media with information about themselves.
The president of PER pointed out that, while the purpose of the meeting wasto seek practical means for improving the situation, it was not possible toignore the psychological dynamics that have created it. Not all"antigypsyism" has to do with the behavior of Roma. It seems also to ariseout of some "dark need" within majority populations for scapegoats. Theactual behavior of Roma may make little difference as long as there aretaproots of fear and anxiety and hate in populations, which drive people todraw lines between groups perceived to be different or made to appeardifferent in some way. He went on to say that there is an extraordinarytwentieth-century phenomenon of destructiveness and hate. Although we maynot be able to change the psychological wellsprings of such behavior, we canand must erect institutional barriers to prevent ourselves from acting onour worst impulses if the experience of the twentieth century is not to berepeated in the twenty-first.
A Romani leader from Romania provided an interesting example of what hecalled "Band-Aid sensitivity." In a liberal newspaper owned by theopposition Democratic Party in Romania, an advertisement was run seeking tohire laborers for a building site. It included the words "except Tsigan."Two days later, the same ad ran again, but this time the wording was changedto "except Roma," presumably because the dislike of the word "Tsigan" amongRoma had been pointed out. The ad was even run a third time, with thewording changed to "except Rroma," using the double-r spelling favored bysome for Standard Romani.
A Hungarian journalist told of another instance in which the Hungarian paperKetezer ran a story on how many Jewish criminals there were in Hungary, andthere was a huge outcry. So in the following month the word "Jew" waschanged to "Gypsy," and nobody said a word.
"If we were as unkind to thegadje in Romani newspapers as theyare to us, there would be a war."- Orhan Galjus
Participants agreed that the issue of anti-Romani racism has a strongrelationship to the issue of crime. A representative from the RomanianPolice Press Bureau asked whether ethnicity should be mentioned at all incrime reporting, a question that generated extended discussion. Oneparticipant was of the opinion that it should be stated, but only forpositive reinforcement. While it is obviously of interest to name foreignindividuals, what is the value of naming Roma in a publication whose readersare of the same nationality? An ordinary crime needs no reference toethnicity, for that only strengthens stereotypes. On the other hand, it wasargued that if you start not mentioning ethnicity, it turns into consciouslyavoiding it, which means that if someone then does mention it, he can beaccused of being racist. It is also dangerous, because if we don't recognizestatistical facts, we can't find solutions to problems. Ethnic identityshould not be artificially avoided, because the public sees it as fact. Oneparticipant expressed puzzlement: Should you mention it or shouldn't you?Another replied that you ought not do so on a daily basis, but neithershould we be guilty of the American extreme of "political correctness,"where it has to be avoided or even hushed up.
A Romani leader from Romania said that Romani criminality was considered ataboo subject among Romani activists, but felt strongly that it was an issuethat needed to be addressed as a fact and openly discussed if there was tobe a solution.
A non-Romani journalist declared that, while it is true that Roma as a groupare more inclined to commit crimes than are non-Roma, and that adisproportionate amount of petty crime is committed by Roma, these facts donot mean that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between being a Romand committing a crime. Yet that is what is implied when it is mentionedthat it was a Rom who robbed somebody. One should ask, Is it Roma who areover represented on the crime list, or is it the unemployed? Is it the casethat Roma commit more crimes, or that the police are more likely to arrestsomeone if he's a Rom? When readers are told that a suspect is a Rom, theyare being told not only what his ethnicity is but also that his ethnicity isimportant to the account, that out of all the information that could havebeen written about the suspect--e.g., that he is unemployed, or young--theonly piece of relevant information apart from the crime itself is that theperpetrator is a Rom. And this implies that being a Rom is related tocriminality. We must assume that this is not the conclusion that one wouldwant readers to draw. If a certain group is over represented on the crimelists, then it is the obligation of the reporter either to investigate or todecide that the relationship is unimportant. Young people commit more crimesthan the elderly, so does that then mean that "youth" is a criminal periodin one's growth? If a reporter mentions that a criminal is a Rom, it is hisjournalistic obligation to explain to his readers why that is so. Thestarting point for a rational solution is for people to say, "If Roma arecriminals, it is because they are unemployed, and if we help them, we helpourselves."
A participant pointed out that you cannot always identify a Rom from hisname, because Romani names are the same as non-Romani. It was "overcommunication" to mention the ethnicity as well as the name. To be fair, ifa story mentions that someone is a Rom, it must also be mentioned that he isa Czech, or a Slovak, or whatever other ethnic group he belongs to. The sameparticipant stated there was also a question of consistency; Roma preferredto identify themselves by ethnicity when it was convenient for them, butthey criticized others when one of them was identified by his ethnicity.
A journalist observed that obviously stories that involve the largest ethnicminority in a country should be covered. The unemployment rate among Roma inthe Czech Republic is over 30 percent, and in some places it is as high as90 percent, when the national figure is only 8 or 9 percent. But in doingso, we unavoidably perpetuate stereotypes.
A Hungarian journalist noted that in 1990 his organization had succeeded ingetting the police to stop using the heading "Gypsy crime" in its reports,and the Department for the Prevention of Roma Crime was renamed the"pickpocketing division." Nevertheless, in the police reports, suspects maystill be described as "olive skinned," or "resembling a Rom," orspecifically as being a Rom. We hear constantly about "Gypsy crime," asthough it were a special type of crime committed only by Roma. But what isit? Who named it? Participants agreed that the media must build a new, moreimpartial foundation.
The chairman of the session pointed out that the point was not to concealinformation because it was unpleasant, or to "sanitize" it, but that it wasrather a question of the journalistic message intended. When we identify aperson as a Rom, we are telling our readers that we, too, think that that isimportant.
"True freedom for a groupwill only be achieved when they arein control of their own image."- Orhan Galjus
Some participants contended that Roma were Europeans, not Indians, but theywere challenged on this point. Since the Roma came from an ancient Easternculture, can they claim a European identity? Racist slogans painted on wallsdemand, "Gypsies, go back to India!"
A representative of the Roma National Congress likened the Romani people toa dying body, kept alive only by transfusions from outside. Expressingagreement with this, another Rom stated that Roma cannot construct anidentity if they are always supported by the government and others. Theiridentity must be in the Roma's own hands.
The participants were reminded that the Roma are not a homogeneous group buton the contrary have many cultural divisions, are scattered over manycountries, and represent diverse political, economic, educational, andreligious backgrounds. Statements about them should not be undulygeneralized.
A Romani journalist from Slovakia said we must acknowledge that there aresome Roma who are not at home anywhere, or are settled only temporarily.Those who are refugees in Germany do not consider Germany to be theirhomeland. Some Roma claim to be "citizens of the world," which could be abeautiful thing--but the reality is different. Roma have lived in Slovakiafor 670 years, and Slovakia is their home. They represent the country inculture and in sports, and they want equal coverage in the media.
A non-Romani journalist said that Roma should not identify themselves asbeing too different, too remote from the majority society. If they sawthemselves as part of the whole, the non-Romani population would begin totake more interest.
A journalist asked, How many people wanted to be recognized as Roma? In thisrespect, the Romani press provides an opportunity to declare one'sethnicity. Arguing that this question must be seen in the larger context ofthe future of the Romani people, a participant questioned what identity oneshould support. Group identity and its relationship to the majority societytouches a sensitive nerve. The participant said he thought there was someconfusion between news and national pride.
Romani History and Culture
"The socialization of Romais different; it doesn't happenthrough books."- Aladar Horvath
A Hungarian Rom observed that certain forces determine the situation of theRoma, and these need to be discussed before we can get to the issue of theRomani media. He quoted the Romani poet Attila Balogh, who has written,"Jews are the people of the Book, but Roma are people without books."Because of historical factors, Roma are today oppressed legally, socially,and economically. With the shift to a market economy, economic and socialforces are further dividing the population.
A Czech Rom pointed out that some Roma live in a world of begging, and thispresents a certain picture, but before jumping to conclusions, one must goback into history. Study the early Romani experiences in Europe and find outwhy some Roma became beggars. Was it a choice? Sound conclusions cannot bedrawn without learning history first.
In connection with begging, the president of PER suggested that the highvisibility of Roma begging--for instance, outside train stations--affectspublic stereotypes, which are then applied to individuals far beyond thedegree warranted. Some of the crime committed by Roma, petty as it is, hashigh visibility and is considered to be a great public nuisance.
A participant said that the public never gets information about Romanihistory, even at the university. Nobody learns that the Roma were persecutedby the Nazis as viciously as were the Jews; no monument tells that story.Where can one go for information?
The issue of the name used for the Roma in Romania was discussed. TheRomanian government did not consult the Roma when it officially adopted theword tsigan. This word is heavily pejorative and reflects a heritage ofslavery. Romani CRISS, a Romani nongovernmental organization in Romania, hasmeasured the frequency of use of this word and has found that it is muchmore widely used now than it was only a year and a half ago. There is also acorrespondingly higher incidence of references to criminals as tsigani.
Control of the Media
"The Romani media andthe non-Romani media are twononintersecting circles."- Andrzej Mirga
A Czech journalist explained that today's post-Communist media are operatingwith a legacy of seven decades when the normal value systems were not ineffect. The Czech media therefore can't have the kind of sensitivity thatwould enable them to see where dangers lie or to know what to say and how tosay it. He said that there are three lines of approach in the Czech media:(1) The "black chronicle"--i.e., crime and so on, which has been pushed fromserious journalism into the yellow press in recent years. It is here thatRomani crime is emphasized. (2) The "romantic stream," a reaction to thelack of proper information and a consequent reliance on literature,presenting the Roma as romantic. This stresses an idealized culture, mainlypositive but still a biased picture. (3) The "realism approach," whereby themedia try to view problems from the point of view of the majority: "It'snice what you say about the Roma, but have you tried living next to them?"
The non-Romani journalists were asked where they got their information from,whether they had a specialist in Romani issues, what they were reportingabout them, and if there was an editorial policy pertaining to them. Theseare significant questions. In the Czech Republic for example, all the mediain the country have only one specialist on Romani issues, and media coverageis mainly about crime.
A non-Romani journalist said his newspaper felt no need for a consistenteditorial policy, because there is no awareness that the Romani problem hasreached the point at which an eruption is imminent.
A participant expressed his opinion that it was not important that areporter be a Rom, just that he be well informed, since what is needed issimply good media work. Romani issues deserve no less attention than, say,trade issues. Participants agreed that there should be no special agenda;coverage should occur naturally through objective reporting. The oldsocialistic approach of fostering "false brotherhood" will not work.
A Romani participant from the Czech Republic expressed his opinion that along time had been spent talking about the non-Romani presentation of theRoma, but he felt that the press had to be Romani--not Polish or Czech, butRomani. He also said that Roma must learn to operate in a non-Romani milieu;they must, for example, come to meetings with a prepared list of questionsrather than just "talking."
A Polish Rom expressed his belief that the media can be used and misused inmany ways but that this referred more to the majority media than to theRomani media, since the latter are a rather young and recent phenomenon. Heargued that it was in the interest of the majority media to have efficientand developed Romani media. On the other hand, he said, the Romani mediashould not hesitate to learn from the majority media how to be efficient. Itis of benefit to both sides to open channels of communication andcooperation.
The non-Romani editors present were asked whether they considered themselvesto be "of" their audience or "higher than" their audience, and whether thataudience demonstrated faith in them to understand what they perhaps didn't.
One participant said that there are so many problems within the Romani mediathat there was a danger of discussing them to the exclusion of discussionabout cooperation with the mainstream media. A Polish participant respondedthat those problems could not be kept separate because the reality is thatthere is no cooperation at all.
The Intended Audience
"It would be worthwhile to thinkabout what to do if Roma don't read newspapers,or very few of them do."- Aladar Horvath
Some of the debate concerned the intended readership of the Romani media.Was it Roma or non-Roma? This raised the question of what the Romani mediaare. Does any topic qualify as long as the writer is a Rom or the languageis Romani? Is control a factor? A journalist from the Romani Civil RightsFoundation in Hungary said that he believed that the participants at theconference were laboring under the misconception that there are both Romaniand non-Romani media. This is not true; there are only non-Romani media. Forthere to be Romani media, it would be necessary to have cultural andeconomic autonomy and to have Roma in control.
A Czech participant took the side of the Romani media and spoke in favor ofmaintaining them. The aim is not to make all Roma read, but to make use ofwhat is available. Ten years ago, the Communists had said, "We don't needanything specifically Romani," but the unanswered question was, How wouldinformation reach the Roma?
Another participant added that there were two well-defined positionsemerging: that of non-Romani journalists, who report news of interest onlyto non-Roma, and that of the Romani media. The problem is that when theRomani media try to cover non-Romani items of interest, their Romani readerslose interest. If they don't find themselves discussed in the media, theydon't buy them.
The editor of Patrin said that, when he began publishing Patrin, he wonderedwhom he should write for. What kind of paper would destroy stereotypes? Theanswer came from hundreds of readers. Patrin is for educated Roma, thoseaccustomed to reading newspapers. It is a bridge between people who areinformed and those who are not.
Sources of Funding
"We will be able to discusshow to organize our media and how todevelop them, when we are able to pay forthem ourselves."- Nicolae Gheorghe
Two topics dominated the discussion of this topic: the means by which fundscan be obtained from external sources (and the legitimacy of doing so), andthe relationship between the funding body and control of the Romani media.Both topics were addressed by a Romani participant who said, "The oldestRomani profession is begging. We're here today to beg. We used to beg forlife, and now we are begging because we want to help our people. We areasking governments and foundations to give us financial support fornewspapers and radio. The one who gives the money is the one who makes theeditorial policy." Another participant argued that it is not begging toexpect a share of public funds, it is the Roma's equal right; but knowinghow to get these funds is a skill. Perhaps there were psychological factorsat work here, causing Roma to be reluctant to take the necessary steps.
A journalist said Roma are never going to be ideologically independent aslong as they are not financially independent. He had been unable to find anysource of funding that would allow him to continue without interference. ARom from Prague, on the other hand, said he writes about Romani issues inRomani Duma, is not beholden to the government, and can therefore afford tobe more outspoken.
Referring to the constant complaints about the lack of money, a Romanian Romsaid there is money all around us. There is government money to be had, andthere is money to be earned through advertising. The question is whetherRoma have enough information about how to apply for funds.
In the Czech Republic, twenty-five million koruny were set aside by thegovernment for all of the minority-language press, but the only Romaniperiodical that was subsidized was Romano Kurko. Romano Kurko was startedfour years ago as a weekly, and now it's a biweekly; it receives no fundingother than what is provided by the government. The list of subscribers isvery small, and so is the income. The problem is one of distribution,getting vendors to promote it.
The journal Dzaniben faced some of the same problems; it is funded fromvarious sources. But has only eight Roma on the staff, and they are unpaid.It also has only 150 subscribers, and the staff can't afford even postagefrom what is earned. The booksellers don't want to carry it, and so saleshave to rely on a mailing list.
The editorial board of the newspaper Romano Lil Nevo receives very littlesupport from the government; the board is now trying to obtain foreignfunding. There are external correspondents who supply them with news, butthey have to be paid. The newspaper had also encountered trouble gettingbusinesses to advertise in it, because they say it generates no revenue.
Two Czech television stations, Romale and Vakerben, were cited as examples.Romale began to broadcast in 1991; it is subsidized not by the governmentbut by the television company. Vakerben has been broadcasting since November1992, but it has no modern equipment, no CD library, and only a small,mostly part-time and volunteer staff. Only one person works full time.
The allocation of government funds is determined by higher priorities, suchas social and medical expenditures. However, the moderator pointed out, ifthe media are funded by the government, there is a problem of credibility,even if the government says it has a hands off policy.
The Nature of the News Covered
"A Romani newspaperisn't the same as the kitchenin a Romani household."- Gejza Orlet
This discussion dealt not only with the proper type of news to offer theRomani public, but also with what aspects of Romani life receive mostattention in the non-Romani media.
A Czech Rom said private publishers are not monitored, and many of them lackprofessional ethics. Student writers are unseasoned and often lackprofessionalism, and foreign newspapers can't be monitored at all. He saidthat all these factors are potentially harmful, yet we can't expect muchchange in these areas.
A participant expressed the belief that Romani-related topics were taboo,just as Jewish topics used to be taboo, because they generate anxiety. Toacknowledge such topics means opening a door, and openness bringsforthrightness, which makes people nervous because it means confrontingthemselves.
Another participant said that Romani issues are trivialized in theinternational press. Newsweek devoted space to the "Gypsy king" in Romania,for example, and a film that referred to the Porrajmos showed a Rom stealinga horse by the fourth scene. A Romanian participant agreed, saying presscoverage dwells either on the romantic or on the brutal; there is nointerest in day-to-day affairs, because being neither newsworthy norglamorous they do not sell papers.
A journalist described a Romani function to which mainstream reporters came;they took pictures and published them, but they offered no explanation oranalysis. She said that this does harm, because it offers no cultural orpolitical context, showing only "dancing Gypsies."
A Czech editor noted that in the Czech Republic, it is mainly Romani crimesthat get reported in the national press. A participant said he had spoken atpolice press conferences, and he had found that the police are quick toreport on Romani crime, but they distort the facts.
A representative of the Romanian Police Press Bureau said that his agencytries to achieve a balanced relationship between Roma and the police inRomania, but the journalists obstruct their effort. Some writers injecttheir personal opinions into their coverage, and rush into print withoutcarefully examining the documentation. Such actions perpetuate anxiety andtension between the police and the Roma.
The moderator urged that Romani issues not be "ghettoized" but rather bemade a part of the broader picture of national life. There should not be aneed for a special "Romani department," because if the topic is crime, thenthe crime reporter should cover it, just as the art reporter coversart-related issues. Perhaps the public doesn't want to hear about Romaniissues, but it is the journalist's duty to make them listen.
Another participant made the point that groups that have suffereddiscrimination tend to feel the specificity rather than the generality ofit. Unfortunately, however, the more you stress the specificity of a case,the more you appeal to sympathy over rights, and the harder it is for thoseto whom you appeal to understand that if they act in favor of the Roma theyhelp themselves.
A Romanian Rom asked those present whether there were any issues incontemporary society on which the majority population is finding out that"you are us," that "you" have things in common with "us," that denouncingviolence against Roma is a way of defending themselves.
A Czech participant said that, as a non-Rom, he didn't know how Roma think,and he asked whether he should adjust himself to Roma or Roma should adjustto the larger society. Another participant suggested that the problems ofthe Roma should be those of the non-Roma, too. Everywhere, Romani problemsreflect those of the larger society; they reflect ourselves.
A journalist said that in six years, Romano Kurko has become a goodnewspaper, but not many Roma read it. It covers Romani issues to givenon-Roma information, and this should certainly be one focus. But, sheasked, if there were more Romani-related topics, would more Roma read it?
A representative from Radio Zurnal said that on Vakerben they try to talkabout interesting people and about sports; on Fridays, they deal withpolitical news and try to be as topical as possible.
A Slovak editor said that her organization has to rely upon non-Romani whodon't know much about Roma, because it can't go among Roma for news, and sothey stick to interviews and topical events. Another Slovak participant saidthere was a boxing event in Bratislava for which her organization prepared apress release; this interested the mainstream journalists and they came,demonstrating the need to prepare news releases attractively.
Sources and Exchange of Information
"Journalists cannot beexpected to be interested in Romaniissues of their own free will."- Gabor Bernath
Speaking for the non-Romani media, a journalist from Poland appealed to theconference organizers and to his colleagues in the Romani media to makedocuments for publication available. The establishment of amaterials-exchange network among Romani media centers was proposed by aHungarian Rom. It should be so strong that non-Romani media would come tothe Roma for information.
A participant noted that mention of Roma in the mainstream press is notinfrequent, but it is superficial because the sources are poor. She saidthere is no mainstream demand for news about Roma. Mainstream issues dealwith "the left wing" and "the right wing," and Roma get lost in the middle.
The suggestion was made that space be purchased for Romani news in themainstream media, but the response was that it was difficult because of alikely lack of enthusiasm on the part of those approached.
A Czech editor said that non-Romani journalists should know where to locatereliable information; the Czech Republic needs a press agency like the RomaPress Center in Hungary. A similar information center is needed in Germanyas well. It was noted that in Belgrade an archive of all Romani publicationsis being assembled.
The editor of a Hungarian daily explained that a newsroom is a hectic place,where no one had much time, but if someone would call him up on a dailybasis to provide him with a good story, he would listen. He felt that inHungary, the Roma Press Center filled this role. On the other hand, hestressed that, as an editor, he did not want just a Romani story, he wantedgood articles. He went on to say that if Romani journalists wrote goodarticles, good stories, good features, good opinion pieces, and sent them tomainstream newspapers, some would be published--but only if they were ofhigh quality.
A Czech Rom proposed the establishment of a press center that would serveall Romani media; perhaps this could be done through the EuropeanParliament. In his opinion, if this didn't happen, we could meet again infive years or a hundred years without any progress having been made. Thissuggestion was met with skepticism by another participant, who said therewas a great gap between expectations and reality. On the one hand, a Romanipress center supported by the European Union was being proposed, yet on theother hand some Romani papers were faced with the fact that they had to bedistributed free because no one wanted to buy them, as is the case withRomano Kurko.
A participant from the Czech Republic said his government believes that theRoma don't know what they want. They need to prepare technical material andpresent it and negotiate on it, with the aim of creating a database. Onlythen will they be in a position to cooperate with regional bodies.
It was proposed that for the next six months, Romani journalists providenon-Romani journalists with relevant news items, and that the non-Romanijournalists reciprocate in kind. One participant responded that thiswouldn't work, because in his case, for example, it would be difficult topersuade his paper in Poland to get interested in Romani issues in Slovakia,just as no Romani paper is going to be interested in, say, the privatizationof the Gdansk shipyard.
"It's amazing thatthere are any Romani mediaat all."- Gejza Orlet
A representative from the Romani Civil Rights Foundation expressed hisbelief that a cultural distance existed between Romani intellectuals and thepoor masses of the Roma; only education could bridge that gap.
A Czech participant said Romani problems must be resolved by experts who areRoma, but there aren't any yet. He suggested establishing a specializednewspaper to meet the intellectual needs of educated Roma. An informalorganization of professional Roma, the Sarethemenqo Kolo e RromenqeAkademikutne thaj Profesionalne, was established in 1991, but has yet tohold a meeting. A journalist pointed out that in Central and Eastern Europe,newspapers had historically been used by minorities to produce and developtheir intelligentsia.
The president of the International Romani Union lamented that there are onlya few intellectuals among the Roma, commenting that "our children play ingarbage dumps while white children play with computers." Another Rom said hehad better opportunities when he moved to Eastern Europe, because that waswhere the intellectuals were.
A Romanian participant said that it was frustrating for members of theRomani intellectual elite because they were not a part of the ongoingprocesses in society, and yet their position is critical. The urban Romanielite were those most in contact with authorities; their role must beexplored and a cooperative relationship developed.
A representative from Radio Zurnal in the Czech Republic said that threeyears ago Radio Zurnal began broadcasting in Romani, and they wanted it tobe completely professional. But it took three years to find Roma who werecapable of processing and interpreting the information. On the other hand,it was noted that most of the Roma who write for Dzaniben had a universityeducation.
Best Kind of Medium
"Maybe we should think aboutmoving into television, which Romawatch from morning to night."- Aladar Horvath
Acknowledging widespread illiteracy among Roma, participants gaveconsiderable support to favoring audiovisual over print media. Oneparticipant noted that Radio Free Europe was based in Prague, and he askedwhy an effort couldn't be made to inaugurate broadcasts in Romani, as RFE'stwenty-seventh language. Voice of America was approached with the samesuggestion in 1991 and 1996, but declined both times.
A Polish participant said the question was how to establish communicationsbetween those who create the media and those who receive it. Given limitedresources, perhaps one type of media should be stressed over the others,instead of spreading those resources thinly over all the different types ofmedia. He went on to say that the types of media are unevenly representedamong the Roma; there is a lot of written material, but very little radio ortelevision, probably due to the great difference in costs. Yet the writtenmedia are not optimal for a Romani audience because of the high rate ofilliteracy.
A participant pointed out that Roma aren't accustomed to reading andreminded the participants that, quoting Dostoevsky, habit is second natureto mankind. Using the situation in Berlin to illustrate his point, he notedthat there were sixteen thousand Roma in that city, yet the Romani pressreached only one thousand. TV, on the other hand, was watched by everybody.A newspaper isn't like a television set, which you can just switch on.
A Romani journalist pointed out that only 10 percent of the Romanipopulation have finished elementary education, and so newspapers were notsuitable for them. The media for illiterate people are radio and television.
A journalist from the television magazine Romale, which began in 1991, toldof how he found that people were eager to appear and speak before atelevision audience, but that they sometimes said inappropriate things,which could not be edited out of transmissions that were being broadcastlive. A similar problem was encountered on Vakerben, though the problemthere is with the staff rather than with invited participants; some Romawere somewhat inarticulate, and not professional enough for radio.
The Mechanics of Distribution
"I see piles of ourunwrapped newspapers aroundthe city."- Emil Scuka
Participants agreed that it is no use producing newspapers if they don'treach their readers. While illiteracy was a major factor, another seriousobstacle to distribution seemed to be an unwillingness on the part of newsvendors to display Romani newspapers and magazines for sale, arguing thatthere is no market for them.
In Yugoslavia, three thousand issues of a Romani paper are printed for aRomani population of one hundred and twenty thousand; in Berlin, onethousand copies are printed for a population of sixteen thousand. Commentingon this, a participant urged that Roma examine themselves critically to seewhy three thousand papers can't be distributed among over a million people;he called the situation a tragedy. Either Romani journalists were not welltrained, he said, or Roma read something else, but not a newspaper.
It was suggested that if children were to be provided with their own Romaniperiodical to read at school, such as Chavrikano Lil, after eight years ageneration will have been produced that will be prepared to read newspapers.
A non-Romani journalist asked the Roma who were present, "Let's say you hadall the money and staff you needed. How many papers could you sell?" Oneparticipant responded by saying that he left Yugoslavia because he couldn'tdistribute enough issues of his newspaper. In the Netherlands, a ministryofficial asked him the same question, and he said that he believed he couldsell one million papers among the six million Roma in Europe.
Another participant said that, even though he sent his publication free ofcharge, the bookstalls wouldn't handle it, and skinheads sometimes preventeddistribution and sales. Another participant agreed and added that newspapervendors also said that they wouldn't sell her paper because nobody would buyit. They keep the pile underneath the newsstands and out of sight, so thatall sales have to rely on subscriptions.
Internships and Training Programs
"To demand cooperation,Roma must be on an equal levelwith other professional journalists."- Andrzej Mirga
The executive director of PER suggested that a major mainstream newspapereither take on a Romani intern or "adopt" a Romani newspaper. The directorof the Roma Press Center said he didn't think any majority newspaper wouldobject to having a Romani journalist working there for about a month,especially if he were working for free. This would have a dual benefit: theRomani perspective would become more noticeable, and there would be a changein attitude simply as a result of the daily interaction at the newspaper. Healso proposed that, in order to learn what the common interests are amongthe different Romani media and how an exchange of materials could takeplace, a journalist from one newspaper could work at another for a month.This would be simple and inexpensive.
The president of the International Romani Union said that manyRomani-oriented organizations that are not based on Romani membershiphesitate when they feel they have to bring in Roma as members; rather thantake advantage of the fact that there are educated Roma, they continue torely on non-Roma. They sometimes say that if Roma are educated, "they're notRoma any more."
A Czech editor in chief said that his paper had considered holding acompetition to find promising young Roma, who would then attend a six-monthtraining session. After training, they could handle radio and televisionmedia. But such a program could take five or ten years to carry out.
A participant said the professionalization of the Romani media could beachieved through training programs. He was involved in such a program, butit was too small; it must be global. A Czech journalist suggested a workshopon journalism and writing style. As its trainees improved their skills, theRomani media would rise in national esteem, and non-Roma would then be lessreluctant to place advertisements in the Romani press.
A reporter said that several Romani editorial offices had opened in Slovakiasince 1990, and some were still operating, though with difficulty. However,they are not for Roma, they are about Roma. She said that the journalistspresent had to bear some responsibility for the situation, because in sixyears they had not been able to produce a single professional Romanijournalist. She drew attention to the fact that there are half a millionRoma in Slovakia, many of whom have exceptional intelligence and havecompleted the university, and yet they are refused work. When an individualshows promise, he or she is held down. But the Romani effort cannot proceedwithout professionals.
Two participants questioned why a Czech editor in chief's offer of space inhis paper for a Romani journalist had received not one response. A similarsituation was described in which a Czech foundation asked a televisionstation to employ Roma, and the station did offer a position, but so far, noRoma have applied. A Polish journalist said that, while it's true that theRoma have an enormous uphill climb and have a legacy of ages of slavery, itwas also true that the Roma are the only people who can change things; ifthey won't do it, then nobody will. He said he was puzzled why Roma won't"buy the lottery ticket"--i.e., take the steps necessary to get into thegame--and wondered whether he was misunderstanding something very deeply.
"We are at an early stagein the development of our nationalidentity. Printed media and theRomani language have a symbolicmeaning, because language is abasic symbol of identity."- Andrzej Mirga
Romani language and culture take the place of "home" for a nonterritorialpeople; they acquire the same emotional value.
After asking how many of the Roma present spoke and used Romani, aparticipant expressed his surprise that not more were using it at theconference. One participant replied by saying that he loved his language, hespeaks it and thinks in it, but he was not using it now because he wanted toreach the whole audience there. Another participant, who spoke Romaniexclusively, said that he was doing so not to exclude non-Roma but todemonstrate to the naysayers that it is not a "deficient" language. He saidthat when he writes to the Vatican, he does so in Romani, and they findtranslators quite easily. He went on to recount his experience in Berlin,where there is a multicultural radio program that broadcasts in forty-sixlanguages. At first, the producers told him that he couldn't broadcast inRomani because it wasn't officially recognized as a language, but he tookthe matter to the ministry, which approved the request. There is now abroadcast in Romani twenty minutes each week.
The policy of Dzaniben, said a participant, is to publish in all Romanidialects. Its correspondents submit copy in their own dialects, and itpublishes what they submit. However, it also translates stories into Slovak,because many of the younger people have only a passive knowledge of Romani.About 30 percent do read Romani, and so the journal conscientiously composestext in "good" Romani--i.e., without influence from Slovak. The journal'shalf-hour radio program is half in Romani and half in Slovak and receivesmany supportive letters.
A participant said that even though Romale is broadcast in Czech and Slovak,Roma must write for Roma, and the Romani press must be in Romani.Information must be in the mother tongue in Romani newspapers. He also saidthat television provides air time but doesn't want to broadcast in Romani.Personally, he added, he would welcome the Romani language on television.
"I believe that tomorrowwe will arrive at decisionswhich will be a milestone."- Emil Scuka
That a Romani media network should exist was not once questioned. In thewords of one participant, "A nation without media is a nation without avoice." But it was also said more than once that Roma are not interested inpolitics or other "dry topics." Although an appeal was made for Roma not tosee themselves as being so different from the majority populations, the factis that the Romani world view differs in fundamental ways from those of thetraditional European populations, and mutual understanding is possible onlythrough education and the establishment of mutual respect. When aparticipant asked whether he was missing something very deeply, he wascoming close to realizing just how different the Romani world view is andhow significant the "psychological factors" really are.
The gulf separating the Romani and the non-Romani worlds is a wide one.Educated Roma and well-disposed non-Romani journalists must cooperate tobridge this gap.
It was clear that there is a general distaste for having to rely on outsideagencies and that alternatives must be sought. There was also generalagreement on the need for a centralized archive or press agency, thebeginnings of which are already in place. Conferences such as this one showthat concern is growing in the non-Romani establishment.
The overall conclusion seemed to be that lack of knowledge about the Roma isthe major obstacle to progress, and that an improved public image would helpto diminish this. The mainstream media have primary control over thecreation of an improved public image, but in order for mainstreamjournalists to acquire a better understanding of Roma, they need reliableinformation, and this can come only from Roma themselves. Until Roma have anefficient means of disseminating information about themselves, whether froma central agency or through Romani media, such information will not bereadily forthcoming, and the status quo will remain.
In his concluding remarks, the president of PER urged the participants totake heart, because although more questions than answers came out of theconference, a dialogue had now begun. It was evident, he said, that theRomani media were in trouble and that funding had to be sought from bothinside and outside the community to make change possible. He cautioned thatchange should not be expected very quickly, because the mainstream press wasa profit-making business and not a welfare agency. For that reason, Romaface the problem not only of getting fair and adequate coverage but ofgetting any coverage at all.
The president of PER also said that much depends on the extent to which wewill see in the new democracies the emergence of professionalism, and ofprofessional ethics in the press. If the experience of the West is anyindication, he said, it will be an uneven and incomplete process. If we arelucky, we will see a few outstanding newspapers emerge and a handful ofoutstanding journalists, but we cannot expect more than that. All we canhope is that the media will behave responsibly or that we can encourage themto do so. Cooperation is the key, along with concrete actions. The problemsmust be identified and confronted; we need fewer "shoulds" and more "hows."Victory will come in small steps.
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Rumyan Russinov, Director, Human Rights Project
Jarmila Balazova, Radio Zurnal
Jefim Fistejn, Editor in Chief, Lidove Noviny
Hana Fristenska, Director of Secretariat, Committee for Nationalities, Government of the Czech Republic
Andrej Gina, Journalist
Alena Gronzikova, former Editor, Amaro Lav
Thomas Haisman, Ministry of Interior, Department for Refugees
Milena Hubschmanova, Professor of Oriental Languages, Charles University
Helena Klimova, Psychotherapist; Tolerance Foundation
Daniel Kumermann, Journalist, Slobodno Slovo
Gejza Orlet, Editor in Chief, Romano Kurko
Klara Samkova, DZENO Foundation
Emil Scuka, Chairman, Romani Civic Initiative
Ivan Vesely, Director, TV magazine Romale; Romsky Demokratsky Kongres
Gabor Bernath, Director, Roma Press Center
Janos Desi, Editor for Internal Affairs, Magyar Hirlap
Aladar Horvath, Romani Civil Rights Foundation
Rajko Djuric, President, International Romani Union
Rudko Kawczynski, Roma National Congress
Konstanty Gebert, Journalist, Gazeta Wyborcza
Slawomir Kapralski, Professor, Central European University, Warsaw
Marian Chirion, Romanian Police Press Bureau
Cristina Teodorescu, Chief of Social Department, Curierul National
Erika Godlova, Reporter, Roma Radio Presov
Agnes Horvathova, Journalist, Romano Lil Nevo
Daniela Silanova, Editor, Romano Lil Nevo
U.S. EMBASSY, PRAGUE
John Beyrle, Future Political/Economic Counselor
Carleton Bulkin, Political/Economic Section
PROJECT ON ETHNIC RELATIONS, U.S.A.
Allen Kassof, President
Livia Plaks, Executive Director
PROJECT ON ETHNIC RELATIONS ROMANI ADVISORY COUNCIL
Orhan Galjus, Editor, Nevipe-Patrin (Slovakia)
Nicolae Gheorghe, Coordinator, Romani CRISS (Romania)
Ian Hancock, International Romani Union (U.S.A.)
Andrzej Mirga, Council Chairman (Poland)
Klara Orgovanova, Director, InfoRoma; Program Director, Open Society Fund(Slovakia)
OFFICE OF DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS, ODIHR/ OSCE, Warsaw
Paulina Merino, Information Management Advisor
OPEN MEDIA RESEARCH INSTITUTE, Prague
Trudy Peterson, Director
Ina Navazelskis, Director of Training and Special Projects