TEACHING ROMANI HISTORY
Question on teaching Romani history
(Analysis of the problem prepared by Viktor Shapoval, webmaster of
the Russian site LILORO for Romani (Gypsy) culture, language, social
integration and education)
V.S. Being invited to participate in the seminarium organized
by EUSTORY (Feb. 2003) I have addressed my question to Mr. Valery Novoselsky,
International Romani Union President`s Advisor for Asia, Middle East and
Latin America, who has kindly sent my letter to many experts, through information
services for Roma worldwide: Romano_Liloro, Russian_Roma, Roma_India, etc.
This is my letter:
kamav te zhanav, so tume phenena, sar lasa te sytjaras e Rromaji istorija
ande bute-nacionalno shkola the le Rromane shavorrenge. Azhutil tumenge
o Del !
I need to know your opinions on problems concerning the teaching
of Romani history in multiethnic school and in Romani classes. Thanks
in advance !
This message from Russia "Question on teaching Romani history" has
turned attention of many people on the problem and included me in a
large circle of persons, who are ready to help me with teaching materials
and share opinions on the question of teaching Romani history.
I would like to mention everybody and thank them all:
Mr. Asmet Elezovski, Head of RCC "DROM", member of Roma National
Mr. Zak Freiwald,
Ms. Sally Holt, Legal Officer Office of the OSCE High Commissioner
on National Minorities
Prof. Jan Hancock (University of Texas, Austin, USA)
Ms. Martina Hornakova, charge of the European Project: Training
of teaching staff for Roma/Gypsy children and youth in the Gypsy Research
Mr. Marko D. Knudsen,
Ms. Vaska B. Mustafa, TV journalist from Macedonia
Mr. Adrian Marsh, MPhil, MA, BAHons. (Istanbul Romani Studies
Network, University of Greenwich/Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul)
Mr. David Mcessey, Albquerque NM
Mr. Valery Novoselsky, International Romani Union President`s
Advisor for Asia, Middle East and Latin America
Mr. Marconi Rupa,
Ms. Petra Safarova, PhD student in ethnomusicology, Harvard University
Department of Music
Prof. George Sarau, University of Bucharest, Inspector for Romani
Education in Ministry of Education
Ms. Elena Kali Turull, a lady from Kalderash tribe, working in
Romani education in USA
Ms. Maria Wilson, from Australia
V.S. Why should we learn THEIR history ?
This question can be mutual.
A member of minority could ask: Why should I learn YOUR big history?
Who does care about YOUR Charles the Great ?
And a member of majority could ask too: Why should I learn YOUR small
history? Who does care about YOUR tribe chiefs ?
We can't ignore such questions.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
1. - to grow tolerance toward one another
Mr. Zak Freiwald: It is impossible to understand any people's
culture without at least some historical perspective. Such is the case also
with my people. Accordingly, the historical education is a good thing.
Ms. Elena Kali Turull: We have amongst the Roma, notable Scholars,
Educators, and many people to be proud of. Why not teach them and at the
same time, educating them would perhaps cut back on the fear they feel for
us. Opening the way to understanding of our waysm and our Heritage, culture,
teachings and traditions.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: In all of these circumstances and situations,
the teaching of Romani history was extremely useful in raising awareness
and dealing with issues of exclusion and discrimination with children, council
officers and NGO staff.
One negative example. I have to preserve anonymity of persons
in the next negative example: one Romani artist, originally from one East
European post-communist country, has made the guest leave his home because
... the guest did not express hatred toward Germany for the crimes committed
by Nazis to Roma and Jews during the WW2 ...
How the school can prevent such problems?
Ms. Petra Safarova: The examination of social inequality and interethnic
conflict should be incorporated into a number of subjects, not just into
history classes. It is important to avoid placing unnecessary guilt or blame
on Gadze, as it so often leads to defensive postures and closed-mindedness.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
2. - to make better our relationships
Ms. Petra Safarova: Young Gadze [non-Rom] should be asked, "What
policies, practices and attitudes could we change in our country so that
Roma can become equal members of society?" For their part, Roma should be
encouraged to ask themselves, "What can we learn from those Roma who have
overcome all obstacles and discrimination in order to be respected figures
in majority and Romani communities?"
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
3. - to understand, what are they proud of
Ms. Elena Kali Turull: We Roma are just as important as every
other Ethnic group, and our History should most certainly be taught in Schools,
to educate the gadje [non-Roma] population (and the general public) as to
the sufferings, as well as accomplishments of our people. We have amongst
the Roma, notable Scholars, Educators, and many people to be proud of.
Ms. Petra Safarova: This will help to portray Roma as potentially
"normal" and valuable citizens, rather than as a group that stands permanently
outside of society… This means, for example, including Romani musicians
and other figures in lessons about a given time period or region, and learning
Romani music and art/craft techniques while studying gadzikane [non-Romani]
Mr. Adrian Marsh: So the writing of Romany history must reflect
the context of the historical experiences of the various Romany peoples
vis-a-vis the gadjo [non- Romani] communities amongst whom they have, and
continue to live. My other concerns about teaching Romany history is that
the emphasis is almost exclusively upon Gypsies as victims of oppression,
discrimination and genocide. Very little is taught about Gyspies as farmers,
workers, fathers and mothers, soldiers and sailors, university teachers,
bureaucrats and political activists; in a word about the positive history
of the Romany peoples. To continually stress the history of a peoples' slavery
(as an Afro-Caribbean friend of mine once remarked) is to teach people servitude.
Perhaps we can construct a history which also teaches pride in achievements,
both great and small.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
4. - to learn our own history better.
Ms. Vaska B. Mustafa, a lady journalist from Macedonia wrote:
We [Roma] are living among other ethnicities, but none of them does not
know a bit about Roma, our children are learning others' history in school.
It is a good idea for larger NGOs to teach Roma history to children (not
only Roma children), in this way Roma will also learn their own history
Ms. Elena Kali Turull, a Romani lady from Kalderash tribe wrote
about her own experience: This is my opinion. I am the daughter of a Roma
Mother and when I went to School, I was taught the History of America, which
is a melting pot. In these teachings, was included the History of the Alamo
and the Mexican people, the History of Abraham Lincoln and the people of
color (Black Americans), and also the History of my Mother's Country, Spain.
We were taught about Queen Isabela, Queen Elizabeth, etc. So? Our
people are no less important.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: Working with non-Romany and Romany children
in mainstream schools on specific history projects (especially around the
"Forgotten Holocaust" topic at Key Stage 2 and 3 primary levels), was very
effective in creating a better understanding and wider knowledge amongst
the gadjo communities.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
5. - to better understand our own lives
Ms. Petra Safarova: With older pupils, teachers may point out
the lack of social development in Romani communities and explain that poverty
leads to increased crime regardless of ethnicity. Nevertheless, students
must learn to think about what factors in majority society have contributed
to the marginalization of Roma by causing, directly or indirectly, disadvantaged
situations and destructive sentiments, e.g., unemployment, lack of education,
death, and feelings of hopelessness, inferiority, or thoughts of "criminal
V.S. Majority children get more examples to start to understand,
that many good things in their lives are not natural, that equal chances
should be given to everyone.
Ms. Petra Safarova: Teachers must realize that providing positive
Romani role models (in history lessons, music, etc.) is crucial both for
Roma and for Gadze that a multicultural, egalitarian education raises the
collective "expectations" sensed by Roma and shows all pupils how both ethnicities
can work together to create a productive society.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: However, the teaching of Romany histories (I
would suggest there are a number of differing historical experiences which
must also be recognised), may ultimately be more effective amongst the gadjo;
they may be the ones who need it more to understand us and themselves. Have
we not always been a mirror for non-Romanies, held up to show difference,
alternative ways of being?
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
6. - to better understand, what does inequality bring
to other, who is a member of minority
Ms. Petra Safarova:
They should consider that a six-year-old Romnoro [Romani kid] is
well aware of what majority society expects of him laziness, slow-wittedness
and criminality and that it is very difficult for that child to find
incentives to work hard at "integrating," when prejudice greatly reduces
his chances of finding and keeping a desirable job. Psychologists agree
that children usually grow up to fit the expectations placed on them
by the outside world.
to other, who is a member of majority
Ms. Maria Wilson (from Australia): I believe that if a person
has an opportunity to get close to an oppressed person that person will
find it harder and harder to let the oppression happen, so to educate and
meet the gadjo in schools would have to help.
(jrjnjc@******** ) I think that all people need to know about
us. We are not all child stealers not do we want to steal, all we want is
to be accepted.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: Being myself Romanichal (with an Irish Traveller
heritage on my father's side), it was important to demonstrate the falsity
of such notions that Romany people could not be teachers and historians,
or that our history is absent (rather than just hidden), that Gypsies are
uninterested in education and that one can either be educated or a Gypsy,
but not both.
Ms. Petra Safarova: The equality-seeking curriculum must respond
to the generic statement so often made by people who act on their prejudices
while firmly believing that they are not "racist"… The concept of "guilt
by association" must be treated at length, using historical as well as current
examples related to Roma and to other minorities, women, etc. Where appropriate,
empirical psychological evidence should be presented to show how destructive
stereotypes can be, even if they are somehow based in reality. Students
should consider that the same people who are "not racist," saying that all
minorities have to do "get jobs and integrate" are often so prejudiced that
they would unabashedly refuse to hire and employ Roma or other minorities.
Administrative problems, or problems of course content?
Prof. Jan Hancock (University of Texas, Austin, USA) asks the
question: Do you mean administrative problems, or problems of course content
V.S. My answer: I mean first of all the course content
and more strictly how to tell about rude and awful things in history and
how to find the way of discussion acceptable for any ethnic group representative.
The ethic aspect of teaching history in general is very important, if we
want to get success in it, especially working with multiethnic classes.
Administrative problems in the level of state politics
Mr. Asmet Elezovski (a Romani politician): Trebul mange romani
zor thaj romani politika. Kado kana penav musaj i Romani historija te vazdas
la anglo buteder thema thaj te rodas politikani akceptacija. Kan kado dobisaras
saj rodas basi amari historija te ovel skrinisardo ko oficijalna liloro
so sikljon o studentoja ko skole. Kodo me pachav kaj o Europen Roma Forum
saj vadel o punkto. Devlesa! [I need Romani power and politics. Then - we
have to put the history of Roma higher than big countries' ones, and work
to became politically accepted. After this success we can possibly to include
our history into official handbooks for schools' students. I believe, that
these aims should be included into the schedule of the European Roma Forum.
Be with God!]
Forms of teaching should be diverse
Mr. Adrian Marsh. I have worked as a teacher in the London Council
of Haringey's Traveller (Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers) Education Service,
teaching family literacy and IT skills amongst Czech and Romanian Roma refugees
and asylum-seekers. I also carried out lots of training amongst other Council
services and NGO's in the region who were working with Roma and Gypsies,
as part of awareness-raising and included much history there.
Ms. Petra Safarova: I am a Czech Romni who is currently a PhD
student in ethnomusicology, with a keen interest in the development of multicultural
education. I have worked in a teaching capacity with many children and youths
from various background, including Roma, and have been active in educating
members of majority groups on Romani culture and history
Mr. Adrian Marsh: Finally, I carried out workshops based upon
Romany arts and crafts in playcentres and after-school holiday provision
as part of the project work.
Administrative problems in the level of course planning
Ms. Petra Safarova: Many of these points may be obvious or contentious,
but my strongest conviction is that information about Roma should be taught
as an integral and regularly repeated part of the curriculum, and not as
an "addition" that, by its very position in students' learning, mimics the
marginal status of Roma in majority society.
Pragmatic opinion by Mr. Adrian Marsh: We must also recognise
that history, whilst of utmost importance (to repeat Satayana's maxim about
those not knowing their history being condemned to repeat it is always relevant,
I think) may not be the highest priority for those communities with whom
we work. It may be good "nation-building", but less useful for getting a
job or doing well at school.
V.S. Administrative problems, or problems of course content? What
is coming first? I believe it is an important question both either for multiethnic
school or for ethnic school. Teaching run in concrete social context. It
will be a state school, or a private school, Sunday classes, or Internet
lessons. In any case administrative problems create the external borders
of an educational scenery. Should we adapt the course content to social
and administrative conditions ? I believe we should. This is a realistic
way of doing anything.
For instance, there are no special hours planned for Romani history
in the Russian school programs. So, I have to find any new form and
composition for Romani history, which will be possibly incorporated
into actual courses for schools.
It would be short - for example - 100-word fragments. They should
have parallel translation into Romani language for Romani classes. They
should be linked with main themes of the world and Russian histories.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: I believe again, that the important task of
historians of the Romany peoples is to force the mainstream disciplines
of various histories (Ottoman, East European, Russian, etc.) to recognise
this element, rather than to construct a separate and highly self-referential
"ghetto" of Romany history (as happened with Black and Women"s history in
the late 1980's) which can continue to be marginalised.
Incorporation of an ethnic history into a general course
Ms. Petra Safarova: I would like to present some opinions on the
teaching of Romani history to mixed-ethnicity classes and to Gadze/non-Roma
in general. I believe that Romani history should not be taught separately
but rather as part of gadzikani history, language, social studies, government,
art, citizenship and other classes.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: I have to say that like all of the Traveller
Education Services in the United Kingdom, I share absolutely the commitment
to the social inclusion model, and not to separate schooling for Romany
groups, as I see it is especially important to teach the history of Romany
peoples in the context of the citizenship agenda overall.
Content and form
Mr. Adrian Marsh: So, in the teaching of Romany history, we need
to produce the material (which is going on, especially amongst TES teachers
in the UK) for use in mainstream schools as part of the wider issues around
social inclusion (but not social assimilation), designing the programmes
and expanding the environments in which this takes place (education in the
community, not just in schools).
V.S. I am more interested in the ancient period, there are different
positions told me.
Mr. Zak Freiwald: Moreover, greater attention should be paid to
recent history- the last 100 years perhaps. It is this recent history that
More large period is important for Mr. Adrian Marsh: The history
of the Gypsies (I consciously reclaim this term) in the Ottoman Empire is
of extraordinary significance I believe, and the majority of history written
so far from the scholars working in this field has been either neglectful
or inaccurate in this, as in so much else of Romani history.
Mr. David Mcessey proposes a method, which is rather new in teaching
history, and - as on me - looks like the usual way of reconstructing of
Suggestion; start with the promise of what is yet to come and work
backward through Now into the past.
V.S. For the first trial two years ago I chose three themes for
writing fragments of Romani history in Romani language. The history could
not be the main subject in this project, rather language, culture...
This position of mine is close to the opinion expressed by Mr. Adrian
An aspect of the kind of teaching I was able to carry out in the
specific Romany project (literacy and ITC) was that it was less important
for the participants to learn about "their history" and more important
to gain the linguistic and technical skills to deal with schooling and
V.S. I chose the next themes:
1. Roma as the last wave of Indo-Europeans, and the rearguard of
the Great Migration.
Core idea: Coming from India to Greece, Roma have partly followed
the ways of Indo-European peoples, like Latin, Greek, Slavic, German
and other nations, who are relatively constant population of today Europe.
There is no essential difference in their strategies and causes of migration.
The Romani migration of XV and XIX centuries has partly followed
the ways of the Great Migration spread modern European peoples in II-VIII
centuries. Why do they call Roma 'nomads' ? We all are strangers in
deep historical perspective. It help us to understand, that there are
no historical reasons for discrimination. It is very helpful both for
non-Romani kids creating a new positive attitude toward Roma and for
Romani kids changing an old attitude of preventive aggression toward
Ms. Petra Safarova: The youngest children can learn about concepts
such as prejudice and discrimination (see above) through lessons that do
not specify ethnicity and instead ask questions of the type, "How would
you feel if...?" or "Is it fair when...?" At this age, children should be
exposed as much as possible to the cultural and personal accomplishments
of Roma and other minorities as a matter of course, and thus be taught implicitly,
without emphasis on the separation between ethnic groups, that different
cultures make valuable contributions to their country and to the world.
Older pupils can be expected critically to discuss historical and current
reasons for the situation of Roma, in both its positive (i.e., cultural)
and negative (for the most part, socioeconomic) aspects.
V.S. 2. Relative unity of the Romani groups reached Greece became
more real there.
Core idea: This portion is very important for growing tolerance in
relations between other group of Roma. There are many ethnic groups
of Roma in Europe. Each of them believe that other Roma are worse, faked,
even counterfeiting Roma. The fact of ancient unity of Roma could be
demonstrated through examples of words of Indian and Greek origins common
for many dialects.
V.S. 3. Leaving Greece Roma became nomads?
The idea that Roma are nomads is one of common prejudges shared by
many people. Scientists have strongly criticised this opinion. The so
called nomadic way of life natural for Roma is actually treated rather
like a strategy of reviving. They never move from one place to another
without pressure of authorities or other dramatic reasons. Why don't
we call either refugees of war or migrant workers nomads too ?
Ms. Petra Safarova: Presenting Romani culture and leaders as a
separate topic may be beneficial in some instances, but overall the integration
of Romani accomplishments and historical events into the "regular" curriculum
can mirror the ultimate goal: the integration of today's and tomorrow's
Roma into majority society.
The ethic aspect of teaching history
Mr. Zak Freiwald: However, the truth and the whole truth must
be told if history is to taught.
Terms for understanding one another
Ms. Petra Safarova: Before teachers delve into historical and
current details, they should be clear on the meaning and negative power
of prejudice. Terms such as racism, discrimination, genetics, inequality,
stereotype, genocide, assimilation, integration, marginalization, and cultural
plurality should be differentiated and carefully explained as individual
The teacher's personal position and the problem of TRUE interpretation
Mr. David Mcessey: In my opinion history is a very tricky subject.
What do the "powers that be" allow. Conflicts, in "historical facts", as
you know, can lead to all sorts of problems.
Ms. Maria Wilson (from Australia): I am all for education of Roma
culture and history but of course who is teaching? Do they invite local
Roma to talk about history etc., or is it a gadjo version of our culture
What is already done
Mr. Marko D. Knudsen has kindly sent me an Internet address where
could be found the site for "Cretion of Education Materials on the Roma
History and teaching them after in school"
Mr. Marconi Rupa wrote: Me kamau te phenau tuke ke si lila kai
sikliouen le hurdoren ando amare scola. Si zalago so kerelpes akana. Mai
zborizas hai pauruas ideia sar te keras. [I want to inform you, that there
are handbooks for kids in our school. The question is what is doing now.
Then we can talk and share ideas, how to deal with it.]
Sally Holt, Legal Officer Office of the OSCE High Commissioner
on National Minorities, has kindly inform, that:
With reference to your request for views on the teaching of Romani
history in schools, allow me to refer you to the report of the OSCE
High Commissioner on National Minorities on "The Situation of Roma and
Sinti in the OSCE Area" which discusses the incorporation of material
on Romani history and culture into general curricula, as well as into
education programmes initiated by Roma themselves (See in particular
pp. 81-84). The summary of the seminar which launched this report likewise
makes brief reference to this issue (at. p. 27). Both reports can be
downloaded from the High Commissioner's website at: http://www.osce.org/hcnm/documents/reports/
We want to work on
Ms. Petra Safarova: I would be more than happy to participate
in continued discussion and cooperation on this topic. I would very much
appreciate if you could provide me with more information about your work
and about Romani-related issues in the educational system of your country.
25 июля 2003 г. В.В.Шаповал, доц. каф. методики преп.
истории Моск. городского пед. ун-та