There were 16 bands, but quite easily it could have been 20. That big was the enthusiasm of musicians to contribute to the benefit concerts at the first Roma-Ember Against Racism Festival in the Alte Kaserne in Zürich, even if they had to travel 10 hours or more.
The Guitar Machine, Billy and Valerio Pavia from Sicily, Italy: Jazz Manouche. In the middle Christian Mehr (20 June 2014)
The number of committed bands was heartwarming but also complicating: eight bands per night in the two days event, was simply too much, also due to the fact that the styles differed a lot. There were e.g. traditional Gypsy bands, Jazz Manouche, Latin and swing music and also (Gypsy) Punk. The program proved the richness and versatility of the musicians. A good cook, however, knows that he cannot serve all dishes at the same table.
Highlights in the performances were e.g. the Hungarian band “Romengo”, the Italian Guitar Machine (Jazz Manouche, see above) and the Slovenian band “Shukar”, that closed the Festival early morning 22 June. Also among the Punk bands were rather famous artists, e.g. Blood or Whiskey (Irish Travelers) and Barb Wire Dolls from California, with two singing Romni from Greece. Yet it would have been better to separate Punk from Jazz, traditional and World music. A tragic circumstance occurred on the second evening when Vera Bila, star from Czech Republic, for whom so many fans had come to the theatre venue, fell seriously ill. She performed, but much earlier than planned and after time-consuming technical problems with the sound-check.
A major problem in Zürich was time. The police didn’t allow sound-checks in the afternoon. Breaching of the rules would be punished with high fines. (Also playing outside in the courtyard was forbidden). But whereas the Festival organizers and guests had to respect the rules, Swiss football supporters could celebrate the World Cup the way they liked best. At 3 minutes walking from the Alte Kaserne, the city was a mess of drinking and urinating mobs that covered the streets with garbage. No police, no warnings, no fines. Only cleansing service: cars that, each night, noisily brushed and vacuumed the asphalt when the supporters finally had gone to bed. I consider that double standard.
Photos by Miroslaw Vojinovic, cameraman.
wasn’t the Festival exactly about that: double standard, rights for A. but rules for B., legal inequality, discrimination? This evil is on the rise everywhere in Europe. Not only in Switzerland, in all European countries that claim to be a constitutional state but that do not respect its main rule: equality before the law! Today again Europe has first- and second-class citizens. That was the topic for which 16 bands had gathered in Zürich, plus 8 speakers from 5 different countries. And last but not least: a unique photo-exhibition had been transported to Switzerland. The photos (2 x 2,20m) were essential for the Festival, as they portrayed the beneficiary, Bódvalenke, the Hungarian Fresco Village at the Slovakian border.
The photos show the houses decorated with beautiful murals, as well as the village poverty and Roma social exclusion. Visitors of the Festival had a right to see how and where their money would be invested, but the rules did not allow to exhibit the photos outside in the sunny yard. A few were allowed on the façade, but most were "shown" in the concert-hall where darkness and disco-lights hid them from the audience. This photo was made of Agnès Daróczi, standing in front of a photo.
Stage Discussion or Polit-Forum
And still, that audience came. For the concerts in the evening and for the stage-discussion on Saturday-afternoon, introduced by a mixed media Roma art performance by RJS art Kollektiv! In spite of the beautiful weather, tens of people spent three hours of listening to the Forum panel and there was not a moment of boredom. On the contrary, the audience got actively involved and started asking questions. It was the best panel discussion I attended in years, thanks to the fact that all speakers were independent, free people: Dr. Agnès Daróczi (Hungary), Dr. Thomas Huonker (Switzerland), Andrijano Dzeladin (France), Eszter Pásztor (Hungary) and Omar Bhatia (UK) and the undersigned (Netherlands). No one was afraid to name the real problems. We were artists, researchers, journalists, no careerists. We had nothing to loose but something precious to win: equity and justice, values that go beyond rules. Thanks to the excellent moderation by Luzian Ochsner, historian, everybody could take the floor and react and comment.
Agnès Darózci stated that Europe - not Roma - was the problem of Europe. She also stressed the importance of ending segregation (= sending Roma children to so-called special schools for mentally retarded) and she referred to Viktória Mohácsi, former member of European Parliament, who did her utmost to stop the segregation. I added that as a result of her activism, Viktória (a lawyer!) now lives as a refugee with her family in Canada. Andrijano Dzeladin, owner and CEO of the European channel Sutka City TV in Paris, underlined the importance of true media information for Roma as well as non-Roma. Omar Bhatia, painter and human rights activist (see photo by Tina Carr and Annemarie Schoene), who painted one of the frescoes in the village of Bódvalenke, confessed that he made the biggest painting ever in his life. Topic: Roma history throughout the centuries. Eszter Pásztor informed the audience about the fresco project, that turned a whole village into an open-air museum, with historical, cultural and political images. Bódvalenke is a self-help project that deserves full support from Hungarian authorities, but that does not get it. All speakers agreed upon the fact that in a united Europe, fundamental rights are still at state-level and that “having no state of their own” deprives millions of Roma from influence and justice. I used the word “apartheid” for that.
Un unexpected highly esteemed guest...
Not only in EU member-states, also in Switzerland the situation is worrisome. One of the speakers was the historian Dr. Thomas Huonker, who researched the racist laws according to which – between 1926 and 1973 - all Swiss Roma babies were taken away from their parents. What a pity that the panel was not aware of the presence, among the audience, of Mariella Mehr: poet and famous fighter against that racist law. Victim herself, for daughter of a victim and mother of a victim, Christian Mehr. All together 3 generations that were forced to spend their childhood in hostile foster homes. No one at the Festival expected her to come, because Mariella is ill and left hospital to attend.
These are my first impressions. Probably more will follow. Hopefully also impressions of other Khetanes members. Would I be asked whether the Festival was a success, I would answer “yes” in spite of all the shortcomings. These shortcoming partly deal with Swiss rules, but not merely with rules. The number of the bands was too big and the hostel was no proper place to host musicians and guests. And maybe the organizers should have tried harder to persuade Zürich that Swiss authorities owe Roma something. No easy job! For twenty years already I try to persuade Europe that it owes Roma something and that does not work either.
My “yes”, my positive thinking is rooted in the sense that volunteers have spent one year of working on the preparation, that Christian has invested all his saving over the last six years, that 16 bands performed without receiving a penny, that speakers prepared for the forum or stage discussion because they believed in the cause and that Milutin Jovanovic, Roma film producer, jumped in without having a sponsor yet. I have attended conferences and seminars in Brussels and Strasbourg, organized by officials with the money of Europe’s taxpayers. There was nicely printed files with documentation and a free pencil, there were badges, tasty catering, a Roma band in the corner, there were earphones for all translations and at the end of the day there was a press-conference, with each time largely similar conclusions.
Roma-Ember Against Racism may bring a change. It did not look that elegant, but it was sincere. The message came from inside, it was not a learned part. This summer Christian Mehr, accompanied by Milutin Jovanovic (see photo below), will travel to Bódvalenke to hand over the proceeds to the Roma villagers, so that they can invest in a better infrastructure. Tourists have already appeared. Sometimes 30-60 a day are coming to see the frescoes, but a village without running water and proper sewer system is no place to stay. Thanks to the work of Eszter, village life has improved. All children attend school! In winter, however, Bódvalenke’s houses are cold and food is lacking. That will also change. If it does not change thanks to Brussels and Hungarian authorities, it will change thanks to artists and scholars. It will change because people do still remember values that politicians seem to have forgotten.
Els de Groen
P.S.: my own introduction during the stage discussion in English and German:
VIDEOS OF THE STAGE DISCUSSION ON 21 JUNE, MADE BY TINA CARR AND ANNEMARIE SCHOENE, SEE:
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