Celebrating International Roma Day in London
“We are powerful people and we must champion each other,” – a call from Candy Sheridan to Gyspy campaigners gathered in London
By Fiona Harrington
The right of the Roma people to their own culture and identity was celebrated on 8 April – International Roma Day – at St. John’s Church, Waterloo. On exactly the same day 40 years earlier, the first international assembly of Romani people took place in London. This time around, about 100 Gypsy and Roma people and their supporters gathered on a beautiful spring day to commemorate that occasion. They also honoured the memory of the countless Gypsy and Roma people murdered by Nazi persecution during World War II.
Representatives from the German and Romanian embassies, along with Judge Laurence Brass of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, brought greetings, while Hungarian and other embassies sent messages of support to the gathering which was also attended by members of A World to Win’s secretariat.
St. John's Vicar, Revd. Giles Goddard remembered those "who lie in nameless graves. Their resting places in far-off forests and abandoned fields are now lost to the eyes of their loving families... How they tried to escape and how the nations would not give them refuge. How they died in the camps and how the nations ignored them... They must not be forgotten." Prayers were offered for those who had suffered and died in the course of the Holocaust because of their race, ethnicity, sexuality or disability.
Macedonian singer Bojana Fabel performed a wonderful rendition of the haunting Gypsy anthem 'Dzelem Dzelem' to guitar accompaniment.
Joseph P Jones, Chair of the Gypsy Council and the European Roma and Travellers Forum drew attention to Fascist and anti-Gyspy persecution of Gypsies, right across Europe, from Sweden to the Baltics. Only a couple of weeks ago, he noted, two Roma people were murdered in Sweden. Although Europe is united, he said, "We are not a part of it. People want us to integrate but won't accept us as we are." From the Gypsy to the Irish Traveller communities it was crucial to carry on traditions, he said, “As united peoples we can display love and support to one another.”
"It is extraordinarily moving for me to be here 40 years after the first congress," Thomas Acton of the Romany Congress said. Those were the sixties, they were young and hopeful and thought they could change the world and redress all injustices, they are still trying. A young Gypsy girl, Trinity Cooper and her younger brother, has finally been accepted at school, due to her unwavering determination to secure an education for them both. Her "importunities", as the teacher described that desire, resulted in an excellent result by the end of the school year. But years later, accessing basic education remains a challenge.
Judge Laurence Brass of the Jewish Board of Deputies said that both Jews and Gypsies had suffered persecution, but also shared close cultural connections, for example, through Klezmer music. He pledged solidarity and support, saying wherever "Roma are vilified they can rely on the Jewish community."
Juan de Dios Ramirez Heredia, from the International Romany Union in Spain, was full of emotion as he recalled the time forty years ago in London – “the start and continuation of our history" when a beginning was made to "re-enter and dignify our history and traditions". The Gypsy flag was established, which in its colours of blue and green represents the sky and the earth, with the central wheel being representative of freedom.
Candy Sheridan, vice-chair of the Gypsy Council, brought greetings from Dale Farm and writer-campaigner Grattan Puxon. She and the Irish Travellers were proud to be part of the Gypsy Council: “Standing together is vital,” she declared. “We are very powerful people and we must champion each other. We don't need to wait any longer to be told what to do or where to go. Let's deliver our own sites, enough is enough."
London Gypsy Orchestra representatives Gundula Gruen and Jeremy from Tatcho Drom performed 'Nane Love' (I Have no Money), a folk song. 'Words from the Heart' were movingly delivered by Jane Ranger-Baker, Joseph P. Jones and in Romanian, from Ovidiu Marin. Finally, wreaths were laid at the war memorial in front of the church.
It was an inspirational day demonstrating how, despite so many tribulations in the past and continuing challenges and deliberate obstacles placed in their way, people of the Gypsy and Traveller communities have survived and thrived.
14 April 2011