Young Romani ‘Rastignac’ Upholding Tradition With An Open Mind

By Jozsi Rostas


’I’ve told thee, men, strive and trust!’, wrote the Hungarian writer and poet Imre Madách at the end of the epic “Tragedy of the Men”. A century and a half since this work was published, Madách’s words remain relevant. Indeed, this specific line has been my determining life philosophy.

I am 21-years old now and my motivation in life so far has come from a number of sources. The educational system has been important but my loving parents have been the ones to encourage me to see life with an open mind.

I was born in Nagykőrös in Pest County in Hungary in 1991. As the eldest child, I was followed by two little sisters and two little brothers while we were constantly moving house. I went to primary school, where I was advancing despite the assumptions of failure from its tyrannical system.  However, this written-off student suddenly took an interest in the great tales found in Hungarian literature. By as early as third grade, I was being awarded books as an end of year prize.

A pivotal moment for me was the selection of my secondary school. My parents sent me to a bilingual institution and this is a decision for which I will always be grateful. From the age of fourteen, I was dealing with economics, marketing and sociology while also studying English and German languages. Participating actively in the drama faculty, I was relishing the competition and making good friends along the way.

Considering life beyond school, at the age of 17 I was thinking of becoming a teacher but this still remains a thought at this stage. After taking the valued advice of my parents and mentors I went to study Politology at the Law Faculty of Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE) in Budapest. It was a dream of my father that I become a lawyer and also the dream of my Romani community that I become the first intellectual as a first generational from the Rostás family.

On top of this, I was also driven by the goal to form Romani politics, the ’stock vision’ of social peace to become reality and Dávid Daróczi who is the most famous and most successful Romani polihistor to date. Listening to his reasoning as a Government spokesman in the evening news was very inspiring for me.

Budding Romani scholar Jozsi Rastos in Budapest

Full of hopes and dreams, I went to university as an excited teenager but it was not to be quite what I had envisaged. From the very beginning of my studies I had doubts about the methods of education. I thought that they would teach general knowledge on the BA courses and that the Law Faculties would concentrate more on rhetoric and subject presentation in order to help me become a real professional.

After finishing two semesters in 2011, I applied, and was accepted, for the Law Faculties and now study two courses simultaneously. In addition to that I am working in the civil sphere.

I could maybe compare myself to Rastignac in Balzac’s Le Pere Goriot, who fights against the challenges of the materialistic nature of the world.

I want to try everything. I want to achieve different goals and I want to be part of different narratives. At the present time I am working as a journalist and as a blog editor at different organizations within the University. I am a member of the Romaveritas which articulates new Romani pursuits and I recently joined the Ternype Network as a volunteer.

What is my goal? I believe in sustaining tradition but being open minded at the same time. With this approach, I would like to gain experiences, feelings and memories that can inspire me during my work – and sometimes battles – for building the community.  I would like to be successful as an expert of the Roma, someone who is dedicated as a person and stands up for his community. This is the least I can do in return for all the support I have been given through the years. Without them and without the guidance of my dear teachers I would not be where I am now.

My working life is just beginning in the lively atmosphere of Budapest at the University and civil organisations, and it is my great desire to expand my knowledge and ambitions by gaining further experience abroad.