Museum of Personal History of the Rroma People: Interculturality represents a base for identity

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    Foto: Facebook/Muzej osobnih priča

    When several years ago, Željka Kovačević and Jovica Radosavljević talked about the lack of written material on the Rroma community in Croatia, the idea was born for a project that would preserve through museum materials on Rromani history and culture the most important – a story.

    In April and May, the Zagreb Association Fade In and Rroma Resource Centre Darda organized a “Tales of the Rroma” exhibition that they presented to the Osijek and Rijeka audience. As the very title suggests, the framework of the exhibition is made of eighteen stories, seemingly different, but universality of topics, such as the enforcement proceedings burdening many Croatian citizens, unemployment, poverty, love, family, but also the specificity of these topics such as the traditional Rroma crafts or the suffering of the Rroma in the Second World War and access to education are inherent in these stories announcing the Museum of Personal History of the Rroma People. The aim of the project is to involve young Rroma in the creation of a cultural product, to bring the personal history of Croatian Rroma closer to the wider community, all through a cultural and artistic project focusing on strengthening the identity of the Rroma through personal narratives symbolically presented in the form of personal objects significant to that particular individual, either in a positive or negative way – thus transforming it into a museum exhibit, or an artistic artefact.

    Practice in other countries has shown that work on media literacy with young people, especially those coming from vulnerable social groups, helps to better understand oneself and others, but also to analyse who they are, what they want, where they see themselves in the future. Media literacy is also important in order to overcome the constraints imposed by society and tradition, but also to understand that we take others for granted. To hear that your first neighbour was a hero in the Homeland War, that this other one is a conciliator resolving issues among families, that a lady delivered her grandson herself … These are valuable, positive and affirmative stories from the community – said Martina Globočnik, one of the authors of the concept of the exhibition.

    Jovica Radosavljević was born in Osijek thirty-eight years ago. As a war child, along with other children, he went to the folklore classes and immediately grew very fond of dancing. He left high school education due to high costs of schooling and re-enrolled it after two years.

    I was the oldest in my class and the only Rroma in school.

    The interest for the Rromani folklore led him to meet the choreographer Ljubiša Bukvić, who soon appointed him as the conductor of the folklore group, and even today, Jovica runs Rroma Resource Centre that works on various Rromani groups’ choreographies.

    In addition to the stage presentations of cultural heritage, they play an important role in the preservation of music, songs, customs, traditions … Through folklore amateurism we introduce the wider public to an authentic image of the Rromani community. That is why I am happy to have the opportunity to tell the stories of the Rroma because the knowledge of language and our own history is crucial for the preservation of identity and the path towards the so-called integration into society. Although (integration) rests upon the will of the majority, it depends in many ways on the knowledge of minorities.

    The initiative for the establishment of a Rroma folklore society in Osijek-Baranja County came from Branko Petrović, President of the Rroma Association of the City of Beli Monastir, and his associates, who also participated in the project of personal histories of the Rroma people himself.

    My story is about growing up without a father who was working in Germany and about my personal needs and difficulties during childhood and youthfulness. Still today, many families live separated by forced relocations for the sake of a difficult economic situation.

    A long-time member and volunteer of the Rroma Resource Centre Jovana Petrović sees her greatest role in working with other girls and women. In the Women’s Club, together with experts, various workshops are carried out, especially those that are concerned with empowering and strengthening self-awareness and taking responsibility for oneself.

    Since I have been living in a Rroma settlement called Barake ever since I was born, I have often witnessed young girls and boys getting married too soon, creating a family which was most commonly unfortunate. Seeing that, I’ve always known that I did not want it for myself. My choice has definitely not been an easy one because I did not do what the community expected me to do, but it is, of course, my parents who have given me the greatest support that many do not have. I do not want to be special or attract any kind of attention because of my choice. What I sincerely want is that my choice is not condemned and that it is offered to other members without being condemned.

    Although in Jovana’s community more and more young people graduate from high school, the problem remains the same, and this is an inability to become independent because of the lack of work, which would by changing it prove to others that the school is ultimately both necessary and cost-effective.

    Museum of Personal History of the Rroma People project continues, and Matea Globočnik points out that the most important feeling is that people see this project as their own way of affirmation, as well as acquiring new skills and further training.

    Young people who were involved in education acquired the basics of recording, photography and conducting interviews. In the mapping phase, a group of participants talked to the residents of the settlement, starting with their families and neighbours, and another group did the field work with us. It is difficult to say that the skills acquired are sufficient for independent work, since the work on a documentary film is complex and requires further improvement. Several participants showed interest and will participate in further mapping of other Rroma communities. The first were Bayashi from the area of Baranja and Slavonia and several members of Islamic religion. In addition to personal stories, we have collected historical and anthropological materials. In the next cycle some of our participants will, together with Jovica Radosavljević scatter throughout Croatia.

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