Katarina “Katitzi” Taikon And Her Immortal Tale Of The Swedish Roma

As the years and decades go by, the works of Swedish Romani writer Katarina “Katitzi” Taikon still strike a chord with many across Europe.

Taikon’s most famous work, the semi-autobiographical book series “Katitzi” tells the story of a young Romani girl growing up in 1940’s Sweden. Written primarily for children, the series, which was televised in 1979, was also a thought-provoking read for adults as it challenges the prejudices of educated people.

As a 9-year old, lead character “Katitzi” returns to her Romani family from an orphanage where her innocence helps to give a stark portrayal of the prejudices faced by the Roma in Sweden at the time.

This clip from the television series was taken from the first episode of Katitzi where her father comes to pick her up from the orphanage.

Promoting inter-cultural understanding, the books awoke older readers to the realities of social and political shortcomings in Sweden and beyond.

The books have since been translated and published in various other languages as the impact of Taikon’s work spread further and further.

Born in the Swedish town of Orebro in 1932, Katarina received no formal education as a child but emerged as a talented actress, starring in her first film “Uppbrott” as a teenager in 1948.

Katarina was an avid believer in equality for the Roma and fought for the cause not only in the field of literature. Intrepidly, she would approach newspapers, government, parliament and political parties to try and make the Roma voice heard. She also gave lectures at universities on the Roma in Sweden.

Katarina was one of few to speak up for the Roma in Sweden despite their long history in the country.

Today, the number of Roma living in Sweden is estimated at around 40,000-50,000 comprising of various different groups. The largest of these groups are Travellers who are believed to have lived in the country since the 14th century.

Other groups include the Kale, originally from Finland, and around 5,000 Romani refugees from the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, mainly from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In 2006, the Swedish government introduced a special commission dealing with issues in the Romani minorities consisting of some experts from different Romani groups.

The delegation was tasked with submitting proposals to improve living conditions of the Roma, with specific attention being paid to children.

However, four years later the Swedish authorities were heavily criticized after 50 Roma EU citizens were abruptly deported.

Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, who is a Swede, stated that his fellow countrymen were complicit in the Roma’s ongoing discrimination.

He said: “They are identified as a danger to society by politicians who seek to win political points on demands of a tough line against this already vulnerable group. They are subjected to arrest and collective deportations.”

It seemed that not a lot had changed since the early 1980’s when Katarina’s sister Rosa explained in an article of the UNESCO Courier that it was difficult to eradicate prejudices from adult minds. Instead Katarina “wrote the Katitzi stories to help young people to understand a minority more fully.”

Rosa spoke powerfully about her experiences as a Roma in the twentieth century and was especially critical of Roma access to education.

She said: “I never went to school until I was 33 years old even though I am a Swedish citizen, born in Sweden.”

 In 1982, Katarina suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma from which she would never wake up.

She died in 1995 at the age of 63 in Sweden but her insights into a Romani upbringing in Sweden still resonate with Roma of all ages across Europe.