My native tongue is my homeland

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Foto: Phralipen

Orhan Galjuš was born in Kosovo in Prizren, a city of multiculturalism. The name Orhan, received at the time of his birth, is of Turkish origin, and he considers it a significant part of his identity because, among other things, due to his name he was his family’s darling. Otherwise he is curious by nature, and when he was five years old he was listening to the radio in his family home thinking there were people hiding in the radio talking and playing music. One day, while he was trying to peek behind the box with a radio receiver to see the people in it, the receiver fell and hit the floor. It did not break, but banged loudly enough that it was heard by his grandfather who told him that if he wanted to see the people inside the receiver, he had to be hard-working and go to school. Today he is a journalist with more than two thousand hours of broadcasting. His first radio show, Ašunen Romalen, was released in 1981 in Studio B in Belgrade. Orhan was one of the initiators of the launch of this show, accompanied by Rroma activists and experts, including Dragoljub Acković, who were broadcasting weekly in the morning until 1987. Orhan was already studying journalism and management at the time and was the only Rroma in the former Yugoslavia who was receiving a scholarship from the Tito’s Fund.

“My scholarship amounted to two monthly salaries my father was receiving then and I was very proud, not because of the amount of money but because I felt privileged.”

Orhan was also one of the few Rroma journalists who did not release the recorded material, but was always preparing and broadcasting a live program. He used to be Radio Priština correspondent as well for a time, then left Yugoslavia and moved to Libya where he was Radio Belgrade correspondent. Thanks to his knowledge of the Arabic language, his facial features and his name that could be Arabic and Turkish, the Arabs received him with sympathies, which made his field reporting easier. During the American invasion of Libya at the time of Libyan President Gaddafi, he was one of the first professional voices to report from that area.

While reporting on the brutal situation in Yugoslavia, Orhan drew parallels between that situation and the conflict in Palestine, and he got fired twice in the same day. The Serbian director dismissed him in the morning and the Albanian director dismissed him in the afternoon after Orhan ended his report on the hunger strike of Trepča mine workers. Aware of the fact that he had raised sensitive issues, Orhan decided to move to the Netherlands where about twenty thousand Rroma and Sinti live today.

“Obviously, I spoke about topics they did not like. I was fired because I respected my own work ethic. I had the feeling that the war would happen and I did not want to come back. I did not want to be on either side – neither to kill nor to be killed. I got free flight tickets from JAT (Yugoslav Airlines) and first went to the 4th World Rromani Congress and then to the Netherlands where I live now.”

Foto: Phralipen

Orhan quickly resumed his activities in the Netherlands. He started publishing the first newspaper in the Rromani and English languages, Patrin, and running the eponymous radio program that soon became part of the public media service.

None of the Rroma in the Netherlands was educated and the very system did not recognize them, they were marginalized. I was well aware of the fact that the crucial issues concerning the Rroma community had to be posed to influential people of the European Union.”

One of the first officials in the European Union Galjuš addressed was Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission, who understood that something had to be done and changed in relation to the Rroma community, but he could not define what.

In cooperation with Rroma organizations, Galjuš organized protests for all those who had been forcibly returned from Germany since the wars in the former Yugoslavia and from that moment on he has become the voice of those who cannot speak or speak, but are not heard at high places. Apart from fighting for the right to equality of all citizens of the European Union, including Rroma, he has also actively advocated for resolving refugee issues and for recognizing the right to access water.

Orhan Galjuš as a main protagonist, together with his friend, set out on a voyage to Germany and Poland in order to talk to the Rroma and Sinti surviving victims of genocide during the Second World War. In addition, he wanted to find answers to a number of questions, for example, why everything related to Sinti and Rroma was shrouded in silence and banned from public life; how do they, about 12 million of them, feel about that; what do they know about their history and why don’t they talk about it?

His discoveries and findings were brought together into his movie Broken Silence, which was produced and publicly screened in 2013.

“I have heard many stories similar to those that are linked to conflicts in Rwanda or the Congo. Jovan Kesar, a Belgrade-based journalist, wrote an article about sixty thousand Muslim girls and boys who were displaced from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia for the purpose of forced assimilation. There were Rroma children among them. Nobody is thinking about these things.

Some Sinti and Rroma do not talk about these events because they consider that part of history a taboo topic; sometimes they are silent because the trauma is too large.

If somebody knew the true history of the Rroma then they would realize that the Rroma had survived several genocides since leaving India. Sufferings during the Second World War were not the first to happen to us. The question is what was the position of the Rroma during these thousand years? Why did they have to stay for two hundred years in the Khorasan Province in Iran and for two hundred years in Seljuq Empire? These are the basic issues throughout the film.”

Galjuš points out that in Kosovo the students do not have the opportunity to learn about the Rroma sufferings at Auschwitz concentration camp or at Jasenovac concentration camp because it does not form part of the school program. As a Rromani language teacher at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) in Paris, he has always dedicated a number of hours to the Rromani culture and history.

“It’s a newer Rromani history and it’s important to study it. The first time I was in Auschwitz I was shocked because there were no birds there. No bird can be seen in Auschwitz even today. We have to love each other. There is no other solution. We must accept all the differences that make harmony.”

Leaning on the table, holding his face between hands wearing two tattoos, one that shows his father’s violin with the motif of the Indian flag, and another with initials of his name and surname and wearing a distinctive ring and a signet ring on his fingers, Orhan says that the world is all that the Rroma have and that is the reason why he feels happy wherever he goes. He has travelled a lot, among other things, travelling is part of his work, so he plans to slow down and leave the new generations to continue what he has initiated.

“I would love to have a house in Turkey, not because Orhan is a Turkish name, but because the Rroma decided to make the biggest decision, spread their wings and leave India. The area of Seljuq Empire, or today’s Anatolia, I see as a place I could belong to.”

Inspired by the atmosphere, nature and people in India, Orhan plans to buy a piece of land there where he would live, write poems and paint, because he says nobody asks you who you are in that country. With a smile on his face, Orhan Galjuš shared his final thought with us closing the interview.

“Do you know how old I am? I’m a thousand years old. I’m the Orhan who left India and who talks to you today. My native tongue is my homeland, and that is India, and I see ‘Orhanistan’ as the land of my own existence.”

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