On the 8th of April, the world’s Roma come together to celebrate International Roma Day, a relatively new tradition for a people with such a long history.

Despite the Roma having lived in Europe for well over 1000 years, it was only in 1971 that the first World Romani congress took place in London. And it was there that International Roma Day was born.

It was officially declared in 1990 in Poland and every year the celebrations and commemorations grow in number across the world as this tradition continues to blossom even though it’s not exclusively a day of happiness.

Naturally it is a time to remember the hundreds of thousands of innocents who perished in the Parrajimos (Roma Holocaust) during the Second World War and across the world thousands of candles will be lit to honor the victims.

It is also a time for solidarity against the more recent indiscretions toward Roma communities in Europe, which have been troublingly large in number.

From a community in Slovakia being segregated by a wall, to thousands of Roma being abruptly evicted in France, to hate crime killings in Hungary and the Czech Republic, the 21st century is yet to be considered a safe time for the Roma.


French evictions

As Ana, a Lithuanian Romani student in Budapest put it: “It’s International Roma Day – time for serious discussion, and also a big party!”

This mixture of emotion was reflected across the world as while most gathered to dance, sing and rejoice, many marked the day with protests or discussions about Roma rights and the many areas of the world where these are routinely infringed.

In Bulgaria, a round table meeting on Roma integration was held by the Education Ministry and the Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance Amalipe in Sofia.

Romani teachers and high school/college students were among the participants and the younger demographic is beginning to embrace International Roma Day.

In the lead up to this year’s celebrations, we took to the streets of Budapest to see how Romani youths feel about International Roma Day. You can see their reactions here in our exclusive video.


Meanwhile in London, on the 7th of April, Romani groups of different nationalities gathered at different locations including embassies to demonstrate peacefully against anti-Roma racism and violence.

A day earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry released an official statement on behalf of President Obama: “We mark the day by celebrating the rich Romani culture and the diverse contributions to our societies.”

He then moved on to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to supporting the Roma especially in Europe.

He warned: “The walling of some Roma villages from neighboring areas and the evictions of entire communities of Roma families from their homes vividly illustrates their exclusion and isolation. We cannot ignore these deeply troubling developments.”

North of the border in Canada, International Roma Day was celebrated in Toronto with a film screening of the 2006 film “Gypsy Caravan: When the Road Bends” attended by local members of Parliament and the local Romani community.

Back in Europe, in the Czech capital of Prague there were slightly more somber scenes as people lit candles at the Liechtenstein Palace (pictured below) while the Swedish Embassy flew the Romani flag.

A passionate and ultimately optimistic message was delivered by Robert Rustem, the Executive Secretary of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.

He started by saying that the current situation for Roma in Europe, where 8 out of 10 live in poverty, defied belief in the 21st century.


International Roma Day in London by Bulgarian Roma

He then focused attention on human rights defenders, claiming that some were “blaming the victim whilst excusing the aggressor” before warning that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Rustem called on Roma to use the day to stir non-Roma into action. Addressing his fellow Roma, he insisted that non-Roma should be “welcomed as allies” in combatting hatred, hate crime and discrimination.

Forecasting that the Roma would win their struggle and be rid of their second class status in so much of the continent, he urged Roma and non-Roma alike to “be on the right side of history!”

Wherever you are, and however you mark International Roma Day, we hope that today you can express pride in your Roma identity, and pride in your Roma friends, family and colleagues.

Opre Roma!

By Alastair Watt