In a few days, starting with April 10th, Croatia will host an important, two-day International Conference, titled “Roma as the Indian Diaspora – Unbreakable Ties”. The conference is organized by the Croatian Romani Union “KALI SARA“, with the support of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and in partnership with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar, and the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies. The project was originally envisaged and initiated by Veljko Kajtazi, Member of the Croatian Parliament and President of the Organizing Committee of the Conference. Online monitoring will be available on April 11, 2022 from 9 am on this link and on April 12, 2022 on this link with simultaneous translation into Croatian, English and Romani.
Veljko Kajtazi, who visited India in 2018 as the president of the Croatian-Indian Interparliamentary Friendship Group, brought the issue of Roma-Indian relations in the focus at the high state level of India and Croatia, respectively. His state visit was organized by the Embassy of the Republic of India in Croatia and the then Ambassador H.E. Sandeep Kumar and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of India. Although India has not recognized Roma as its diaspora in any official document, the issue is becoming more and more relevant, and a level of unity has been achieved among Roma communities and Roma international organizations, which will be clearly expressed at the International Conference.
Journey to the ancient homeland of India
During his ten-day stay in India, in March 2018, Kajtazi held several important meetings. He met with Dr. Vinay Prabhakar Sahasrabuddhe, Indian politician and member of the Indian Parliament, as well as President of the Indian Council on Cultural Relations, M. J. Akbar, Indian Minister of State, professor Shyam Singh Shashi, Ph.D., one of the greatest researchers of Roma history in India and winner of the Padma Shri Prize for Literature, and Shri P. Venugopal, Director of the Indian Council on Cultural Relations (ICCR).
At a reception organized by the ARSP (Antar Rashtriya Sahyog Parishad, Indian Council for International Co-operation), which primarily deals with connecting India and its diaspora, Kajtazi gave a lecture on the position of Roma in the Republic of Croatia. Under the term “Indian Diaspora”, ARPS recognizes persons with the so-called „NRI status“ ie Indian citizens temporarily residing outside India due to business obligations, and persons with “PIO” status, ie those of Indian origin, but without Indian citizenship. The former applies to persons who once held an Indian passport, persons whose parents or grandparents held an Indian passport, persons whose spouses have citizenship, or spouses of persons mentioned in the first two categories. Although none of these categories formally include Roma, the organization points out that Roma are indeed of Indian descent and that a way needs to be found for India to formally recognize Roma as its diaspora.
Back in 1970, in Chandigarh, Indira Gandhi participated in the International Roma Festival where she, as the Prime Minister of India, received a delegation of Roma and promised her support in their representation at the United Nations. Many years later, at the International Roma Conference and Festival of Culture in 2016, Sushma Swaraj, Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Roma are children of India, who emigrated and lived abroad for centuries but managed to preserve their identity despite extremely difficult circumstances.
Veljko Kajtazi also gave a well-received lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University and held important meetings at the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIITB), the Europe India Chamber of Commerce (EICC), and the Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.
Visit of the Indian President to the Republic of Croatia
One year after Kajtazi’s trip to India, at the invitation of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind came for a two-day state visit to Croatia. Remembering his meeting with the Indian president in Zagreb Kajtazi said:
I was extremely honored that the Croatian President invited me to be part of the Croatian delegation that welcomed her Indian counterpart and his delegation of 35 businessmen in her office. Also, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković invited me to a working lunch with the President of India and I listened carefully to the talks of state officials from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then I was invited to personally address President Kovind. I started with a story about my trip to India, about meetings with Indian parliamentarians, with the Indian Minister of Culture and other politicians, distinguished professors, and other intellectuals. I continued with the impression that this beautiful country, its culture, and tradition had on me, and then I mentioned Roma who are of Indian descent, and their millennial migration from the ancient homeland of India. A gentleman from the Indian delegation got involved at this point, saying that he was familiar with the story and addressed me in Romani chib “Tu san mungro rat”, which sounds identical in Hindi. The Indian president was surprised, and when I started counting in Romani chib, which is identical to counting in Hindi, everyone was astonished. My address created a closer atmosphere, and everyone listened with interest. It seemed to me that my Croatian colleagues heard some things for the first time.
The same day, Kajtazi spent an evening with the President of India in the Office of the Croatian President, and on that occasion, he presented Mr. Kovind with a gift, his book “Journey to the ancient homeland of India”. The President expressed his joy with the words „Tu san mungro rat“ in the Romani chib and repeated the same phrase in English so that everyone could understand: „You are my brother“. Kajtazi continues:
I remember that moment that touched me profoundly. I turned to president Grabar Kitarović and said, „You see, the President of India is my brother.“ Everyone standing around us felt that emotional moment and I felt deep inside that not just I, but the whole Roma community has its protector.
Kajtazi added that this is the objective of his endeavors, but also the efforts of the Croatian Romani Union”KALI SARA”, the International Romani Union, and other international Roma organizations, for India to recognize Roma as its diaspora:
When asked why this is important to us, I always answer that the recognition is not that significant for India, because already 82 different ethnic groups live in it, but for every Roma man and woman, and me personally, it is extremely important to have an older brother, one who will protect us, defend us, and who will be able to help us when we need them most. If India officially recognized the Roma around the world as part of its diaspora, my people would finally get their motherland, which they have not had for a thousand years.
The International Conference
In 2021 the Indian Embassy gave a proposal to hold an international conference in Croatia, organized jointly by the Embassy and the Croatian Romani Union “KALI SARA”, which would be supported by the Croatian. Veljko Kajtazi and the Croatian Romani Union welcomed the idea with open arms and only a few days after the International Romani Day, April 8, 2021, the first preparations and agreements took place. Kajtazi explains:
Such a large and important conference requires extremely good organization to meet the highest technical standards, but also to make a scientific contribution to the topic of origin and migration of Roma from India to other parts of the world.
Kajtazi also stresses that the Croatian Government, led by Prime Minister Plenković, gave its full support, as well as partners, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar, and the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies, for which he is immensely grateful:
After several months of preparatory talks and negotiations, signing cooperation agreements, arranging accommodation for international guests, and other organizational details, the Embassy of the Republic of India informed us that they propose postponing the conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I am proud to point out that the Croatian Romani Union “KALI SARA” as the organizer, as well as the Government and our partners, did not want to give up and we decided to host this International Conference as part of the celebrations for International Romani Day, April 8, 2022. The Roma people have no reason to delay discussions and scientifically based analyzes of the fact that our origins are Indian. Perhaps not much would change in real life because we would all remain citizens of our respective homelands, in which we seek our happiness as our ancestors did too, but emotionally and symbolically it would be the most important event for us and our descendants, which would certainly cause abundant tears of joy around the world.
With the support of the Croatian Government and partners, and with the help of donors and sponsors, the Office for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities, the Council for National Minorities, the Ministry of Culture and Media, the Ministry of Science and Education, JANAF, Hrvatske šume, HEP -Hrvatska elektroprivreda, and Zagreb Tourist Board, International Conference: “Roma as the Indian Diaspora – Unbreakable Ties” will begin with a welcome dinner at the Westin Hotel in Zagreb on April 9, and the grand opening of the Conference is scheduled for April 10, at 9 am in the hall of the same hotel, one of the most beautiful in Zagreb. At the opening, speeches will be held by Veljko Kajtazi, Member of Parliament and President of the Organizing Committee of the Conference, H.E. Raj Kumar Srivastava, Ambassador of the Republic of India to Croatia, Normunds Rudevičs, President of the International Romani Union, Peter Pollak, Member of the European Parliament, Damir Boras, Rector of the University of Zagreb, Velimir Neidhardt, President of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and Andrej Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia.
The working, scientific part of the International Conference will be held during the next two days, in four scheduled sections. The first section “Suffering of Roma in the Second World War / Samudaripen” will be moderated by Daniel Vojak, Ph.D., who is also a participant. The scientific papers will be presented by Dragoljub Acković, Ph.D., Marjan Toš, Ph.D., Dunja Jakopović, M.Sc. Hist., and Sanja Gladanac Petrović, Ph.D. The second section “Roma Migration (in Southeast Europe)” will be moderated by Filip Škiljan, Ph.D., with the participation of Punita G. Singh, Ph.D., Vera Klopčić, Ph.D., and Dragutin Babić, Ph.D. The third section will deal with Romani language and linguistics, moderated by associate professor Ivan Andrijanić, Ph.D. while the scientific discussion will be attended by prof. Hristo Kyuzhukov, Ph.D., Aurora Tirard, Ph.D., and Katarina Katavić, Ph.D. The moderator and participant of the fourth section “Pluri-perspectivity in the approach to the study of Roma issues” will be prof. Hristo Kyuchukov, Ph.D., and the presentations will be given by Veselin Popov, Ph.D. Elena Marushaiakova, Ph.D. William S. New, Ph.D. Sandra Kantar, Ph.D., and Daniel Petrovski.
The participants of the International Congress plan to adopt a joint Declaration, an official document written in Croatian, Romani chib, and English, signed by all participants from 17 countries, as well as representatives of the important Roma organizations, the International Romani Union, and the Croatian Romani Union “KALI SARA”. The Declaration will address the highest state institutions in the Republic of India, most certainly the President and the Prime Minister of the Republic of India, respectively. In the Declaration, the signatories will highlight Roma history marked by persecution, discrimination, and genocide, national emancipation based on language, the contribution of the Roma people to global culture, art, education, science, creativity, and protection of human and national rights of Roma, as well as all other nationalities. The Declaration will ask for the recognition of the Roma as the Indian diaspora and in that sense the establishment of lasting and meaningful relations in all areas of social life and activities.
The cultural and artistic program
A visit to the Roma Memorial Center Ustica is planned as part of the Conference, a unique space dedicated to Roma victims of genocide during World War II, built on the authentic location of the former Ustasha camp, now part of the Jasenovac Memorial Site.
The International Conference will officially end with a gala concert at the Croatian National Theater in Zagreb. The cultural program will include the BroCode group from Germany, the dance ensemble Apsaradhe from Croatia, Santino Spinelli and Alexian Group from Italy, and the group Flamenco en Vivo from Slovenia. Traditional annual prizes will be awarded to deserving individuals for their contribution to the development of the Roma community in Croatia. This year’s laureates are: Alen Tahiri, director of the Government Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities, Aleksandar Racz, vice dean of the University of Applied Health Sciences, and Goran Beus Richembergh, publicist and politician.
Veljko Kajtazi concluded our conversation with the following thoughts:
The organization of this internationally significant event required additional engagement of all Croatian Romani Union members, who continuously supported me in the idea that the Roma community from Croatia should again be the instigator of significant improvements in the position of Roma around the world. Therefore, I thank the technical and scientific committee of the International Conference, all members of the Croatian Romani Union “KALI SARA”, as well as Roma youth, members of the Organizing Committee of the Congress of Young Roma, but also others who participated in the realization of this event. All of them showed that Roma people indeed have their future.
All that remains is to welcome all participants and spectators to the International Conference, wish them good and effective work concerning the unbreakable ties between the Roma and the Republic of India, and congratulate all Roma women and men on International Romani Day, April 8.