Interview – Veijo Baltzar: We had nothing to do with the war but the war had everything to do with us

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Foto: Aino Sederholm

Author of an exhibition “Miranda – The Roma Holocaust” Veijo Baltzar, Creative Association for Arts and Culture DROM from Finland and representatives of the National and University Library in Zagreb visited the Croatian Parliament on the very day of the exhibition opening in Zagreb. Their host was Mr. Veljko Kajtazi, MP and the representatives of the Croatian Romani Union “KALI SARA”. On the occasion of the exhibition opening we interviewed the author.

You will present yourself to the Croatian public through “Miranda – the Roma Holocaust” exhibition about the silent genocide against the Roma during the Second World War. How would you briefly describe the concept of this exhibition and your motivation?

Even though I am a successful person I have not forgotten my roots. With this exhibition in Croatia I would like to send the message to local Roma community. Majority has written our history. We have not written it ourselves. All activities that are run by the Law of Moses are against us Roma. They are invented by majority. Nothing is true. Finland is one of the most developed countries in that sense. In the 1950s in one county or region there were hundreds of Gipsy families but within my county for example there was only one family that was registered and it was my family. We can only imagine what the situation was like in the Second World War. I think that my exhibition as well as Holocaust itself must be treated in a simple manner because in the end it is a very simple question of matter. The question should be asked – Why? We had nothing to do with the war but the war had everything to do with us. I wanted to put this exhibition in the context of today’s society. What did decision makers do, those people in the Second World War, who did not see, hear or know what happened but managed to regulate laws and measures leading the Roma to the gas chambers? This is what it was about then and this is exactly what we are dealing with today. Nothing has changed.

How do you see Roma community today?

I have written a book called “The Snake Trial Stone” in which there is an ugly, pitiful stone that appeared on the floor of the cottage.  In the cottage there are twelve people and nobody wants to touch the stone. They are all fighting with each other about who is going to take away the stone and get it out of the house. Then the youngest family member, the beautiful girl has this moment of epiphany and she thinks that what if the stone will make her more beautiful. In the beginning of the novel Roma fight about who will take this pitiful stone away from the house and in the second half of the novel they are fighting about who get it. In other words, it is useless for us Roma, the Gipsies, to fight against each other over any single matter. At the moment, we only own this ugly pitiful stone and there is no use of fighting over it. Because this is something that currently appears everywhere in Europe. Roma and the Gipsies do not respect enough their own representatives. There are many different examples of such behaviour in the Roma community. If somebody is able to break through and to be a successful Roma, he has gone through an incredible fight already. No matter how selfish this successful person is, it needs to be recognized as a significant achievement as such. This is something that we all must recognize and accept, and the nation must know this.

Is there hope that it will be changed? Can it be changed?

I have written the book “Towards Experiential Philosophy” in which I have challenged “learning off by heart” knowledge, theoretical education based on cognitive skills and introduced instead Intercultural Experiential Education. In my pedagogy, emotional intelligence is in the central position: accept yourself, be sufficient for yourself, be enough for yourself and be at peace and harmony with yourself.

We Roma should not be naive and blind, our talent and our skill does not often go together hand in hand with this cognitive, theoretical education. In Finland the young Roma go to school until they are 13 or 14 years old. As they start to think for themselves, they leave school immediately and it its very evident why. If the pedagogy would change (and I don’t want to say either that majority would be afraid of this kind of things) but if you would take Intercultural Experiential Pedagogy as a tool in educational system, we would see a shift in the skills and talent, and this is important thing. When we speak about education, we are generally speaking about education by the terms of majority. I don’t want to speak by those terms. Ok, my children have all gone to 3rddegree and they were successful ones but they make only a small part that is not enough, we need more comprehensive change. I am theatre director and I have never shifted to working with the people of my own age, my entire life I have been working with youth. I have strong evidence about pedagogy used by majority. Majority people think that minority youth would suffer of more problems than majority youth. But among students that I have in my theatre who are members of the majority population, 15 out of 20 have mental and psychological problems and we are talking about the pedagogy of the majority that has resulted this.

We Roma still share a sense of community amongst us and this is why our youth are actually in better position. Because they have family support. We have this high school in Helsinki dedicated to drama, a bit of snobbish school; there are 500 students. Three weeks ago I asked the head of the National Board of Education of Finland, whether it is enough that out of 500 students only one or two young persons will eventually reach the goal. Even the majority youth can no longer accept this pedagogy and this is why we, the Roma, must not be blind and imagine that we could go through the same circuit and manage by the terms of the majority. We should be a bit careful about the fact and problem of us Roma which is that we are satisfied with small pennies. I’d rather not eat than take the penny. We must know how to demand more and ask for more. The big problem is the fact that when it comes to multicultural reality, the decision makers of the majority lag behind the development for 15 to 20 years but the minorities themselves lag behind the development for 40 years.

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