Veijo Baltzar is a leading and a world-known Finnish Romani author. He was born in 1942 near Kuopio in middle Finland. His roots were in Rautalampi, an old parish, where his ancestors had arrived in the 15th century.
Baltzar’s parents were respected in their Romani community. His father was a patriarch, respected as a philosopher recognising only tradition, culture and civilization of the soul. He was a horseman. Mother was a craftswoman interested in classic literature. She taught her children to read and write.
Veijo had six brothers and sisters. This numerous family lived in wagons. The nights were spent under the stars and in different shelters and during the day they wandered. The food was obtained by begging or by working for farmhouses. Hunger, coldness and fear were familiar visitors. Still love and strong family connection represented safeness. Within the family the children learnt their moral and identity. The family had collective responsibility and the siblings held each other in order. Blood revenge was a guarantee for the safety of the community.
Fourteen-year-old Veijo left his family and joined a caravan heading towards the Northern Finland. They roamed through rugged forest in deep snow. For nights they camped under the trees in improvised huts made of fir branches. They listened to wolves howling and ran away from drunken log-workers chasing them. They would eat poorly and occasionally. “During the wandering in the North, I found out what it really meant to be a Gypsy”, said Veijo later. “I returned back to my family and went to the local village school. Very soon though, I ran away and that was all the education I got, the rest I have taught by life.” Already as a child, Veijo Baltzar often attended literary meetings arranged by his mother with her best friend Liisa Peura, one of the richest women in Kuopio. These meetings strongly influenced him. During his life, through business and friendly relationships with non-Roma, he was introduced to the culture of the majority population. Thanks to the acquired knowledge of culture and his strong Romani identity, he has developed deeper and more critical views of the culture of “both worlds” – the majority and the Roma. His artistic expression encompassed several areas. “I’m an author, poet, theatre director, artist, composer, pedagogue and a Gypsy,” Veijo says when describing himself.
His rich literary career started in the 1960s. In his novels, dramas, poems, short stories, librettos, articles and movie manuscripts he wrote about Romani culture and about the relationship between Romani and the majority culture. He founded the Creative Association for Arts and Culture DROM, and in 1976 he founded the Baltzar Theatre. The work of theatre companies has crystallized the need for Roma to be professionally trained in theatrical art. A course in Roma theatre was launched at the Theatre Academy in Finland in 1981 which created a personal point of view for the Finnish Roma people, teaching them about the theatre art at the university level and according to the concept developed by Veijo Baltzar. After only a year, the Theatre was awarded the status of a professional theatre and the annual prize for the best theatre performance in 1981. In the 1990s, drama and music works were performed at the Theatre, written and directed by Veijo Baltzar. Baltzar was among the first to raise minority issues in Finnish society. In his lectures, he often stressed that equality is important and obvious, and that equality must not be viewed in terms of tolerance, but equality of all as human beings.
“All cultures should be valued and respected, not on margins but as equal. Today’s well-being is endangered because we do not understand the potential of creativity and creative professions. Creativity produces new values, brings mental and economic wealth. Through the contribution of enthusiastic people we create a comprehensive well-being. Creation of real global wealth requires the interaction of small businesses with large multinational companies. Only such a market economy can play a real role – servants rather than masters.”
According to Baltzar, educational reform is necessary to promote multiculturalism in Finland. In 2012, he published the book Experience-based Philosophy where he introduces his ideology, intercultural experience-based education. In this new project, the so called Baltzar’s pedagogy, the aim is to offer multicultural societies tools for renovation and responding to modern educational needs. In Baltzar’s view, the educational system should also use other methods, not just theoretical ones which enable the student to remember the information with the heart. Key concepts in Baltzar’s pedagogy are social interaction, strengthening one’s identity and learning through experience-based methods. It is a concept and educational philosophy based on his own life experience, artistic and cultural-political activities and pedagogical thinking. The central element of pedagogy is emotional intelligence and its comprehensive impact on individuals’ lives and on human relationships.
The word experience in the name Intercultural Experiential Education in this context denotes two things. First – accepting your own experience as the basis for an individual growth. Personal experiences are the foundation on which learning is being built. According to Baltzar’s pedagogy, awareness of one’s own origin and lived experience and their acceptance leads to the acceptance of other people, enabling true functional interaction. Second – the concept of experience speaks of the way the learning process takes place, including improvised exercises. Elements that are learned through experience are adopted effortlessly as an ongoing part of their own knowledge. Acquiring new skills and knowledge is based on the personal growth foundation.
Explaining the fundamental principles of this pedagogy, Veijo Baltzar states that all people have a creative potential, but in most cases it disappears or is suppressed. Therefore, the purpose of such work with young people is to keep in touch with their own creativity and the growth of self-consciousness. In the interaction of students their self-esteem increases. In a comfortable and safe learning environment, creativity is freed.
The Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Finland has supported the publication of the book “Towards Experiential Philosophy” and its translation into English, with the explanation that it is a strong philosophical and pedagogical reflection of the education system, which enriches the analysis of Finnish and European society, politics, multiculturalism and human dignity. Based on this, the first model of the Baltzar pedagogy project was created, which was also supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. At the International Conscious of Europe Conference held in the Finnish Parliament in 2014, as a conclusion of the discussion at ministerial level, 24 specific proposed measures were presented for reforming the European Union’s policies of multiculturalism. The proposals relate to the renewal of the European educational system with the implementation of intercultural experience education with a view to building sustainable, equitable and functional Europe in the future. Proposals were sent to the European Commission.
Veijo Baltzar was granted an honorary title of Cultural Counsellor in 2011 by the President of Finland, Tarja Halonen.