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A year after the launch of Europe: A Homeland for the Roma, we share a new collection of short documentaries produced within this project by Roma journalists from Central and Eastern Europe.

With hands-on support from a Visiting Knight Chair at University of Miami School of Communication - whose participation in the project was made possible through the Knight Chair Endowment Grants - follow-up activities were launched in summer 2014 resulting in engaging stories which speak of ongoing challenges and discrimination of Roma, but also of their progress and hope in integration.

Each of the project's partner organizations, Romea (Czech Republic), Center for Independent Journalism (Romania), Memo 98 (Slovakia), Center for Independent Journalism (Hungary) and Media Development Center (Bulgaria)

were invited to select two Roma journalists, each to produce a story on a topic of their choosing under the guidance of the Visiting Knight Chair, who was assisted by a University of Miami student intern.

The university hired Kelly Whalen, an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and multimedia storyteller from Oakland, CA to spend three weeks in each participating country and oversee the production of the stories. The production activities were supervised by Rich Beckman, Professor and Knight Chair, who met with each of the partner organizations and participating journalists to refine story topics and assist with logistics prior to the team's work. Kelly Whalen then spent three months working with nine Roma journalists and five interns to produce the eight stories featured on this section of the site.

 A Dream Come True

In an age of social media and internet radio, Roma bands like Gipsy Kubo in the Czech Republic are connecting with audiences they never could’ve reached before. Gipsy Kubo performs a style of music called “Rom-pop,” a popular, modern spin on traditional folklore music. Members of the band, who all live in different Czech cities, got together over a series of Skype calls. Keyboardist and vocalist Milan Dančo helps write much of the band’s music, which Gipsy Kubo performs in several different languages and dialects, including the Roma language, Romani.

With the help of iRoma Radio on the Internet, today, Gipsy Kubo boasts tens of thousands of listeners and the number is growing with the band frequently at the top of iRoma’s charts. Anna Kokyová is the newest member to join Gipsy Kubo, which would otherwise be an all-male band. The singer, who comes from a family of musicians, is also married with two boys. It isn’t typical for a married Roma woman to perform in a music group unless its members are other family members. But because music has always been a big part of Anna’s life, her husband didn’t want to keep her from pursuing her dreams or to lose the earnings she brings home from gigs.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producer:  František Bikár
Associate Producers: Adéla Zicháčková, Chantale Glover


Гледай на български

 Heart of a Fighter

In Košice, the biggest city in eastern Slovakia, 17-year-old Pavol Žiga prepares for the fight that could determine his future as a professional kickboxer. A junior champion in the Slovak and European Championship, Pavol trains five days a week with the Tatran Prešov Kickboxing team, which sponsored him after recognizing the young athlete’s talents.

The teenager also hasn’t gone unnoticed at school, where Pavol is a popular role model for Roma and non-Roma alike. Pavol’s drive and discipline is motivated in part by a desire to break stereotypes of Roma. Raised by a single mother, with the support of his uncles, he’s beaten the discouraging odds of many Roma children in Slovakia, who are at risk of being segregated in Roma-only schools with substandard education and of a future of poverty and underemployment.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producer: Jozef Šivák
Associate Producers: Sam Li Shen Koay, Viktor Šefčík


Sledovat v češtině

 In the Shadow of the Roma Holocaust

In the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, a pig processing plant has operated for decades on the site of the former World War II Lety camp for Roma and Sinti*. Most of Čeněk Růžička’s family members died at the camp, where more than 1,300 Roma were forced by Czech police to live and work. At least 326 died there, many of them children, while hundreds of others transported from Lety to Auschwitz were also killed.

Every year in May, Růžička, the director of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, organizes family members and survivors to join together at a former burial ground to honor the victims. They say the pig plant’s existence on the former site of the camp desecrates the memory of those who suffered at Lety, and it threatens to erase from public memory the often forgotten persecution of Roma during the Holocaust. In recent years, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and members of the European Parliament have joined survivors, family members and human rights activists in calling for the removal of the pig processing plant. Still, the Czech government will not force the plant’s relocation or pay for it to move.

Young Roma and human rights activists stage frequent blockades and protests in front of the plant, which they say has become a symbol for the ongoing exclusion of Roma in the Czech Republic. But many believe the government’s position won’t change until citizens are willing to reexamine and confront Czechs’ role during the dark chapter in history.

*Some Central European Roma self-identify as Sinti, based on their unique traditions and dialect.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producer: Renata Berkyová
Associate Producers: Adéla Zicháčková, Chantale Glover


Sledovat v češtině

 Life in the Ring

Retired boxer Sándor Hranek coaches some of Hungary’s most successful fighters. He has an undeniable passion for the sport that comes from a life spent in the ring. The ten-time Hungarian Champion also won bronze medals at the European and World Boxing championship, and the Friendship Games in Cuba — dubbed the “alternative Olympics” at the height of the Cold War when Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the U.S.-hosted Olympics.

The gym where Hranek first picked up the sport was like a second home for him and many other poor Roma and Sinti* youth in Hungary’s northeastern city of Salgótarján. Today, in Budapest’s 19th district, where Hranek runs a boxing club, members say the club is more like a family. As Hranek helps young fighters launch champion careers in boxing, he coaches them as much about the sport as life itself.

*Some Central European Roma self-identify as Sinti, based on their unique traditions and dialect.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producer: Zsolt Balog
Associate Producers: Barrett Dennison
Translators: Györgyi Rétfalvi, Gabriella Horn, Ágnes Orzoy
Archival: MTI Fotó (Hungarian News Agency), Sándor Hranek


Magyar szöveg

 On a Mission

In Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, the Roma settlements of Fakulteta and Hristo Botev are worlds apart from the gated compound of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Denitsa Mihaylova is an expert on human rights issues. But Mihaylova, whose dream is to become Bulgaria’s first Roma diplomat, is working to bridge divisions between Roma and non-Roma. Unlike many successful Roma in Bulgaria who sometimes publicly deny their ethnic origins because of discrimination and prejudice, Mihaylova is proud and outspoken about being Roma.

She grew up in a well-known musician family with strong Roma traditions, while also travelling the world and integrating with non-Roma communities from an early age. She’s challenged traditional gender roles since she was a university student, balancing school, single motherhood and her first job in the ministry. Today, Mihaylova supports a number of Roma youth projects and leadership initiatives, and through her example, inspires young Roma in Bulgaria to dare to dream.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producer: Biser Petkov
Associate Producers: Yiran Zhu, Atanas Kutsev


Magyar szöveg

 Stage Dreams

Ever since Hungarian ballet master Gyula Sárközi can remember, he’s loved to sing and dance. Growing up watching classic American movie musicals with actors Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, the young Roma from one of Budapest’s toughest districts saw dance as his way to happiness. When he was accepted into Hungary’s National Ballet Institute in the early 1970s, Sárközi knew nothing about classical ballet. But it wasn’t long before he made a name for himself as a ballet soloist in Hungary’s National Opera, then as a ballet master at the Hungarian Dance Academy and Hungarian Ballet Festival, and artistic director at the Budapest’s Madách Theater.

Even if they were poor, Sárközi owes much of his success to having a loving family – support he’s all too aware many children aren’t lucky enough to have. When Sárközi helped start in 2001 the Madách Musical Dance School for kids, he opened enrollment to disadvantaged kids, including thousands of Roma children overrepresented in state care in Hungary, for reduced cost or free of charge.

Seventeen-year-old Vivien Zámbó, who has grown up in state-run institutions since she was six months old, dreams of becoming a famous dancer one day. Attending the Madách School and studying with Sárközi has helped her not only become a better dancer, but opened her eyes to greater self-acceptance. Once ashamed of her Roma identity, she’s learning to view her ethnicity as a source of strength and pride.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producer: László Ligeti
Associate Producer: Barrett Dennison


Romana

 The Candidate

In Slovakia, a growing number of Roma are entering politics at the local and regional level, bringing greater representation to the country’s more than 400,000 Roma. But the Roma voice in the European Parliament has been largely absent since Slovakia became a member of the EU in 2004. Stano Daniel, an OĽaNO Party candidate running for a seat in the European Parliament 2014 election, hopes to change that. If elected, he would be the country’s first member of European Parliament of Roma origin.

The first to finish university in his family, Daniel has worked in Slovakia’s Roma settlements, as well as internationally for organizations, including the European Centre for Roma Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Roma Education Fund. While he’s campaigned on issues concerning both non-Roma and Roma citizens, he wants to give greater attention to challenges for Roma, who in Slovakia are unemployed at a rate more than twice that of non-Roma and 90 percent of whom live below the national poverty line. By running, he also hopes to inspire other Roma to get involved and seek political office. But many barriers to Roma political integration remain, from low voter turnout to electoral misconduct, including vote buying by candidates in Roma communities.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producer: Zolo Rácz
Associate Producers:
Sam Li Shen Koay
Archival footage: RTVS (public television)


Slovensky

 Without a Home

On Romania’s southeastern Black Sea coast, a small tight-knit Roma community of Turkish origin has been living and working in Eforie Sud for decades. In September 2013, local authorities evicted more than 100 Roma, including dozens of children, then demolished their homes, which authorities claim were built illegally on city-owned property. Families were given just one week’s notice with no housing alternatives, forcing most to live outdoors for days under makeshift tents in harsh weather. Eventually many found shelter in an abandoned high school, with no electricity and poor sanitary conditions, while others forced their way into an old boarding house where other evicted families were also living.

After growing public pressure from the Romanian media and several NGOs, in July 2014 officials secured a cluster of shipping-container-like housing units for families still living in the abandoned school. But the city put the units in a remote area adjacent a garbage dump. Nearly one year after the eviction, the displaced residents continue to struggle for a permanent home. Sever Memet lives with his wife Rita Ibram in one of the containers near the garbage dump. Sevigean Memet, Mihai Claudiu Gilică, and their three children are among the several families still squatting in the old boarding house. The five live together in one-room of the old boarding house and face the daily threat of being evicted again. But without a home to call their own, they fear their children won’t get that chance.


Credits

Senior Producer: Kelly Whalen
Producers: Dan Băcan and Petru Zoltan
Associate Producers:
Ney E. Carrero Alvarez, Silviu Panaite
Archival Photographs: Mugur Vărzariu


Slovensky