The Dzeno Foundation eventually became the Dzeno Association, and now employs dozens of Roma and non-Roma activists, with regional branches in three countries and a fourth in the making. Dzeno broadcasts the world’s first and only online Roma radio station – Radio Rota – whose programming includes trilingual newscasts, as well as Romany music and discussions. Dzeno also continues the work of its original information center, only now the news is updated daily in Romany, Czech, and English.
The Romany cultural magazine Amaro Gendalos has been in print since 1997, and Dzeno is now a member of a number of international organizations focused on racism and human rights. The Association has even been conferred Roster Consultative Status at UN ECOSOC, which means that the Roma will now have a direct voice in one of the United Nations largest bodies.
Dzeno is growing continuously and Ivan’s ten-year vision of Dzeno as a large, international organization is inspiring. However for some – he is quick to point out – it is frightening. “Some Czech people don’t like a strong Roma organization,” he explained. “When you have stupid, uneducated people… it is [easier] to take power from this group. It’s so easy!” Dzeno exists to educate the Romany people, to give them a voice. It also, however, exists to educate the non-Roma world, the gadje. This is where I come in.
I spend my days at the computer, pouring over dozens of news flashes on as many Roma themes, and writing articles for our English news column. While Romany will be the language of empowerment for the Roma people, English is the language in which the world will listen. Too many people on this small planet have never heard of the Roma.
Too many do not know that the Carmens of their operas are not flamenco-dancing caravan dwellers at all. They are the poorest, least educated, and shortest-lived class of European citizens. For many of us living easily in the Free World, Europe’s “gypsies” do not exist at all. It is my job in part to give another voice to this fight, to shake the English-speaking world awake.
“For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled”
But then, it is not only in the U.S. that this battle seems far away. Ivan sees this phenomenon much closer to home, in the post-revolution complacency that he had feared ten years ago. “The Roma are sleeping,” he tells me, radiating sadness from his sympathetic face. “The Roma are sleeping because they haven’t the problems of existence. When you have [these problems] you are interested in political change.”
Though from my mere two-and-a-half weeks here, I know that this is not entirely true. Many Roma do have “problems of existence.” Living without access to decent education or reliable electricity, on the brink of starvation and without health care, much of Europe’s Romany population has exactly that problem: they may not exist tomorrow. In fact, a large part of Dzeno’s mission is to preserve the culture and the language of a people whose existence is threatened every day. So what, I wonder, can Ivan mean by “they haven’t the problems of existence?”
It is true, I must remind myself, that despite all that, things are changing. The Roma movement is gaining strength, as Dzeno’s growing importance can attest, and many Roma – especially here in the Czech Republic – are experiencing improved living conditions and greater access to opportunities. And it is also true that I have no idea what the Roma “existence” was like fifteen years ago, in communist Czechoslovakia. Perhaps life is easier now. But regardless of these subtle differences between bad and worse, Ivan is probably right. The Roma may indeed be sleeping.
“And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin”
As Dzeno and the Roma movement as a whole continue to gain strength, and as political organizations such as The Roma National Congress get more and more media attention, one can only believe that this is progress, that Europe’s eyes are opening and minds are expanding, that some of the ancient prejudices are being put by the wayside in favor of a brighter future, and a more equal society. Perhaps the “Roma emancipation” for which so many are fighting really is just around the next bend.
But again, Ivan is quick to remind me that one must not speak too soon. Despite his visions, and the light that comes into his eyes when he explains them, he remains pessimistic for the future “because if you see the political situation in Europe… politics change, technology changes, clothes change, but people don’t change. Human behavior doesn’t change.”
Why, then, does he keep up the fight? Why does he come in here on Saturdays and go for years without a vacation if people don’t change? His answer was simple. “If you haven’t hope, you are dead.”
Posted By Stacy Kosko (Czech Republic)
Posted Jul 1st, 2004