Rromani culture is not mysticism!

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Foto: fraktura.hr

Skin Colour Cloud is the fourth novel by Nebojša Lujanović, author born in Novi Travnik. He lives in Split and works as a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. The novel deals very well with the relationship between the Rroma and the white Croatian population, but this conflict is often universalized to the general problem of identity and the relationship of power related to it.

Lujanović was preparing the grounds for this novel Skin Colour Cloud, edition by Fraktura Publishing House, for five years by researching ethnographic records, talking to intellectuals of Rromani origin, reading historical books, and visiting Rroma settlements. Dense, creative and nearly scientifically written three hundred fifty pages without a lot of dialogues point to the endless need of a writer to contextualize and explain the immeasurable aspects of the social injustice that the Rroma carry as their burden throughout history and up until today.

The story is about a young Rroma man, Enis who has problems in developing the sense of his own identity being a mixed-marriage child caught in-between the Rroma and the white. Well aware that in some situations he may pass as a white man, he does everything he can to succeed in that. He often mutters his name hoping that people would think his name is actually Denis. Enis works in a “Three Palms” café whose owner is a white woman who has a mentally-challenged son. The main narrative line of the novel was initiated by a fire at the café and the death of the owner’s son. The owner, the locals and the media blame Enis without proof, and it is not in the police’s interest to investigate and oppose the majority, and Enis is forced to flee to the only place he can hide, in his father’s village in Bosnia, in the wake of the war. The other side of the Croat people who rise against individuals of a particular minority group deliberately reminds, but also happens during the Homeland War, which brings another known and still present discrimination, the one against the Serbs.

Apart from the Homeland War, Lujanović expands the hatred of white people against the Rroma to the Second World War in the character of Fabijan, Enis’ father, whose life dream is to publish the testimony of a Rroma from Auschwitz, with whom he shares the same last name. Thus, Lujanović has historically linked the hate against the Rroma and other minorities from today, through Homeland War, until the Second World War, which accumulated the greatest amount of hatred, resulting in the elimination of minority groups in order to find their own identity.

In one of his interviews, Lujanović emphasized his Hegelian understanding of identity as a product that goes through the system of differences, built against somebody, in negation with another. Namely, no one needs to be identified as a creature made of matter and energy because everything around us is made up of it. Identification is always in contrast with another: someone is white because they are not Rroma, black or Asian. Croat, because they are not a Serb. Aryan, because they are not a Jew, Rroma or Slav, etc. When something chaotic happens in a particular racial and / or cultural circle, people within that circle tend to blame those they think are out of it.

The economic crisis in the Weimar Republic and the birth of Nazi Germany is the most extreme manifestation of such tendency, but it still exists today in more subtle forms. It is exactly such a subtle form that Lujanović reveals in a motive of mob violence against Enis without proof – the stereotype about the Rroma is sufficient. It took only a little fire and we are back to the ideology of Nazi Germany.

Enis’ sister Sanda is an important character of the novel, who manages to pass as a white woman and is much more successful than her brother working as a waiter on the outskirts of the city. Lujanović once stressed that it was difficult for him to come up with material about successful Rroma because those who succeed in spite of the isolation of the domicile population, completely erase their Rromani identity, are ashamed of it and hate all those who, like him, try to pull them back making them talk about their experience. Another narrative level of this novel is presented in the character of Gadjo (non-Rroma) who is ridiculed by the locals because he had a child with a Rromani woman. Lujanović has set himself the task of presenting a series of stigmatization that people who find themselves caught in certain stereotypes related to Rromani culture must endure in order to illuminate the mechanism of the universal ideology of discrimination. Lujanović has repeatedly stressed that Skin Colour Cloud is not a Rromani novel, but a novel with elements of Rromani culture bringing the universal features of discrimination against minorities.

Very important moment of the novel is the explicit writing about the Rroma as victims of the Holocaust, a fact that has been kept secret, with no entry in history books and only in the last few years that discourse has come to mainstream. After all, the mass occupation of the place where the fire occurred reminds us of the concentration camp. Skin Colour Cloud is a cloud of dark complexion, a black cloud threatening catastrophe. With this novel, Nebojša Lujanović, after years of studying Rromani culture and the fact that the Rroma have systematically been subject to discrimination both in Croatia and Europe, wrote a very valuable literary work provoking interest abroad as well. Due to the lack of high quality artistic material and the long-time insistence of art on the mystification of Rromani culture, such novels fill a huge gap in public discourse and crystallize Rromani topics in vague mythology that has been imposed on them by the media, popular films and many other sources. For that reason, in my opinion, such high-quality artistic representations of the problems affecting the Rroma will become more common. Although Lujanović has repeatedly emphasized that Skin Colour Cloud is not explicitly a Rromani novel, the power of this novel is precisely in the thoroughness of the research and the quality representation of Rromani culture in a world that knows nothing about it.

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