Celebrating the International Roma Day
Lucie Fremlova is Head of Programmes at the Equality a leading charity that works to uphold and secure the rights of ethnic minority groups in Britain and Europe. She has extensive research and programme management experience from working on minority rights issues in the UK and the Czech Republic, including for European Dialogue, Life Together and the European Roma Rights Centre.
I remember when, in the early 2000 in the Czech city of Brno, Roma organisations and the Museum of Romani Culture got together for the first time to celebrate the International Roma Day. Roma activists were joined by other civil society organisations and marched through central Brno in celebration of Romipen, the Roma flag flying high above our heads.
It was a lovely march, which showed the “outside, non-Roma world” pride in the Roma's identity, as well as their place within Czech society, in which some Czech and Moravian Roma have been traditionally living for well over 400-500 years. Ever since then, the annual April celebration of the International Roma Day has grown larger and larger, with a number of different Roma Brno-based organisations and other agencies joining forces in preparation of the annual celebration.
Over the past three years of working with Roma communities settled in the United Kingdom, I have noticed similar tendencies. The number of local Roma communities, who celebrate 8th April, seems to have been growing, as has been the numbers of local Roma communities on the one hand and improved awareness by service providers of the presence of Roma communities and their needs on the other.
In April 2009 and 2010, Roma in Glasgow tried to organise their meetings on the occasion of the International Roma Day. This year, Equality have been asked to speak about Roma communities in the UK by three different local authorities who are organising their own celebration in Kent, Peterborough and Newcastle. The number of formal celebrations is probably higher, as is the number of Roma who rejoice in the annual celebration informally, at home or with their families and friends.
The increased awareness of the importance of acknowledging the presence of Roma by celebrating the International Roma Day by various stakeholders involved in working locally with Roma communities in the UK has been facilitated, too, by the annual June celebration of the Gypsy Roma and Traveller History Month, which will take place for the fourth time this June.
Sadly enough, it is most unfortunate that this year's celebration of the International Roma Day and the Gypsy Roma and Traveller History Month will happen at a time when the practical implications of the Government's Spending Review and the associated cuts to local budgets will kick in. This will see many TESS and EMAS services, which have often been, over the past decade, the first and the only contact point for Roma in the UK, disappear virtually before our eyes.