Victor Shapoval



Question on teaching Romani history
(Analysis of the problem prepared by Viktor Shapoval, webmaster of the Russian site LILORO for Romani (Gypsy) culture, language, social integration and education)
V.S. Being invited to participate in the seminarium organized by EUSTORY (Feb. 2003) I have addressed my question to Mr. Valery Novoselsky, International Romani Union President`s Advisor for Asia, Middle East and Latin America, who has kindly sent my letter to many experts, through information services for Roma worldwide: Romano_Liloro, Russian_Roma, Roma_India, etc.
This is my letter:
Pativale Rromale,
kamav te zhanav, so tume phenena, sar lasa te sytjaras e Rromaji istorija ande bute-nacionalno shkola the le Rromane shavorrenge. Azhutil tumenge o Del !
Viktor Shapoval
[Dear friends,
I need to know your opinions on problems concerning the teaching of Romani history in multiethnic school and in Romani classes. Thanks in advance !
Viktor Shapoval]
This message from Russia "Question on teaching Romani history" has turned attention of many people on the problem and included me in a large circle of persons, who are ready to help me with teaching materials and share opinions on the question of teaching Romani history.
I would like to mention everybody and thank them all:
Mr. Asmet Elezovski, Head of RCC "DROM", member of Roma National Congress
Mr. Zak Freiwald,
Ms. Sally Holt, Legal Officer Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities
Prof. Jan Hancock (University of Texas, Austin, USA)
Ms. Martina Hornakova, charge of the European Project: Training of teaching staff for Roma/Gypsy children and youth in the Gypsy Research Center (Paris)
Mr. Marko D. Knudsen,
Ms. Vaska B. Mustafa, TV journalist from Macedonia
Mr. Adrian Marsh, MPhil, MA, BAHons. (Istanbul Romani Studies Network, University of Greenwich/Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul)
Mr. David Mcessey, Albquerque NM
Mr. Valery Novoselsky, International Romani Union President`s Advisor for Asia, Middle East and Latin America
Mr. Marconi Rupa,
Ms. Petra Safarova, PhD student in ethnomusicology, Harvard University Department of Music
Prof. George Sarau, University of Bucharest, Inspector for Romani Education in Ministry of Education
Ms. Elena Kali Turull, a lady from Kalderash tribe, working in Romani education in USA
Ms. Maria Wilson, from Australia
V.S. Why should we learn THEIR history ?
This question can be mutual.
A member of minority could ask: Why should I learn YOUR big history? Who does care about YOUR Charles the Great ?
And a member of majority could ask too: Why should I learn YOUR small history? Who does care about YOUR tribe chiefs ?
We can't ignore such questions.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
1. - to grow tolerance toward one another
Mr. Zak Freiwald: It is impossible to understand any people's culture without at least some historical perspective. Such is the case also with my people. Accordingly, the historical education is a good thing.
Ms. Elena Kali Turull: We have amongst the Roma, notable Scholars, Educators, and many people to be proud of. Why not teach them and at the same time, educating them would perhaps cut back on the fear they feel for us. Opening the way to understanding of our waysm and our Heritage, culture, teachings and traditions.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: In all of these circumstances and situations, the teaching of Romani history was extremely useful in raising awareness and dealing with issues of exclusion and discrimination with children, council officers and NGO staff.
One negative example. I have to preserve anonymity of persons in the next negative example: one Romani artist, originally from one East European post-communist country, has made the guest leave his home because ... the guest did not express hatred toward Germany for the crimes committed by Nazis to Roma and Jews during the WW2 ...
How the school can prevent such problems?
Ms. Petra Safarova: The examination of social inequality and interethnic conflict should be incorporated into a number of subjects, not just into history classes. It is important to avoid placing unnecessary guilt or blame on Gadze, as it so often leads to defensive postures and closed-mindedness.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
2. - to make better our relationships
Ms. Petra Safarova: Young Gadze [non-Rom] should be asked, "What policies, practices and attitudes could we change in our country so that Roma can become equal members of society?" For their part, Roma should be encouraged to ask themselves, "What can we learn from those Roma who have overcome all obstacles and discrimination in order to be respected figures in majority and Romani communities?"
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
3. - to understand, what are they proud of
Ms. Elena Kali Turull: We Roma are just as important as every other Ethnic group, and our History should most certainly be taught in Schools, to educate the gadje [non-Roma] population (and the general public) as to the sufferings, as well as accomplishments of our people. We have amongst the Roma, notable Scholars, Educators, and many people to be proud of.
Ms. Petra Safarova: This will help to portray Roma as potentially "normal" and valuable citizens, rather than as a group that stands permanently outside of society… This means, for example, including Romani musicians and other figures in lessons about a given time period or region, and learning Romani music and art/craft techniques while studying gadzikane [non-Romani] styles.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: So the writing of Romany history must reflect the context of the historical experiences of the various Romany peoples vis-a-vis the gadjo [non- Romani] communities amongst whom they have, and continue to live. My other concerns about teaching Romany history is that the emphasis is almost exclusively upon Gypsies as victims of oppression, discrimination and genocide. Very little is taught about Gyspies as farmers, workers, fathers and mothers, soldiers and sailors, university teachers, bureaucrats and political activists; in a word about the positive history of the Romany peoples. To continually stress the history of a peoples' slavery (as an Afro-Caribbean friend of mine once remarked) is to teach people servitude. Perhaps we can construct a history which also teaches pride in achievements, both great and small.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
4. - to learn our own history better.
Ms. Vaska B. Mustafa, a lady journalist from Macedonia wrote: We [Roma] are living among other ethnicities, but none of them does not know a bit about Roma, our children are learning others' history in school. It is a good idea for larger NGOs to teach Roma history to children (not only Roma children), in this way Roma will also learn their own history better.
Ms. Elena Kali Turull, a Romani lady from Kalderash tribe wrote about her own experience: This is my opinion. I am the daughter of a Roma Mother and when I went to School, I was taught the History of America, which is a melting pot. In these teachings, was included the History of the Alamo and the Mexican people, the History of Abraham Lincoln and the people of color (Black Americans), and also the History of my Mother's Country, Spain.
We were taught about Queen Isabela, Queen Elizabeth, etc. So? Our people are no less important.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: Working with non-Romany and Romany children in mainstream schools on specific history projects (especially around the "Forgotten Holocaust" topic at Key Stage 2 and 3 primary levels), was very effective in creating a better understanding and wider knowledge amongst the gadjo communities.
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
5. - to better understand our own lives
Minority children
Ms. Petra Safarova: With older pupils, teachers may point out the lack of social development in Romani communities and explain that poverty leads to increased crime regardless of ethnicity. Nevertheless, students must learn to think about what factors in majority society have contributed to the marginalization of Roma by causing, directly or indirectly, disadvantaged situations and destructive sentiments, e.g., unemployment, lack of education, death, and feelings of hopelessness, inferiority, or thoughts of "criminal destiny.
V.S. Majority children get more examples to start to understand, that many good things in their lives are not natural, that equal chances should be given to everyone.
Ms. Petra Safarova: Teachers must realize that providing positive Romani role models (in history lessons, music, etc.) is crucial both for Roma and for Gadze that a multicultural, egalitarian education raises the collective "expectations" sensed by Roma and shows all pupils how both ethnicities can work together to create a productive society.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: However, the teaching of Romany histories (I would suggest there are a number of differing historical experiences which must also be recognised), may ultimately be more effective amongst the gadjo; they may be the ones who need it more to understand us and themselves. Have we not always been a mirror for non-Romanies, held up to show difference, alternative ways of being?
Why should we learn THEIR history ?
6. - to better understand, what does inequality bring
to other, who is a member of minority
Ms. Petra Safarova:
They should consider that a six-year-old Romnoro [Romani kid] is well aware of what majority society expects of him laziness, slow-wittedness and criminality and that it is very difficult for that child to find incentives to work hard at "integrating," when prejudice greatly reduces his chances of finding and keeping a desirable job. Psychologists agree that children usually grow up to fit the expectations placed on them by the outside world.
to other, who is a member of majority
Ms. Maria Wilson (from Australia): I believe that if a person has an opportunity to get close to an oppressed person that person will find it harder and harder to let the oppression happen, so to educate and meet the gadjo in schools would have to help.
([email protected]******** ) I think that all people need to know about us. We are not all child stealers not do we want to steal, all we want is to be accepted.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: Being myself Romanichal (with an Irish Traveller heritage on my father's side), it was important to demonstrate the falsity of such notions that Romany people could not be teachers and historians, or that our history is absent (rather than just hidden), that Gypsies are uninterested in education and that one can either be educated or a Gypsy, but not both.
Ms. Petra Safarova: The equality-seeking curriculum must respond to the generic statement so often made by people who act on their prejudices while firmly believing that they are not "racist"… The concept of "guilt by association" must be treated at length, using historical as well as current examples related to Roma and to other minorities, women, etc. Where appropriate, empirical psychological evidence should be presented to show how destructive stereotypes can be, even if they are somehow based in reality. Students should consider that the same people who are "not racist," saying that all minorities have to do "get jobs and integrate" are often so prejudiced that they would unabashedly refuse to hire and employ Roma or other minorities.
Administrative problems, or problems of course content?
Prof. Jan Hancock (University of Texas, Austin, USA) asks the question: Do you mean administrative problems, or problems of course content ?
V.S. My answer: I mean first of all the course content and more strictly how to tell about rude and awful things in history and how to find the way of discussion acceptable for any ethnic group representative. The ethic aspect of teaching history in general is very important, if we want to get success in it, especially working with multiethnic classes.
Administrative problems in the level of state politics
Mr. Asmet Elezovski (a Romani politician): Trebul mange romani zor thaj romani politika. Kado kana penav musaj i Romani historija te vazdas la anglo buteder thema thaj te rodas politikani akceptacija. Kan kado dobisaras saj rodas basi amari historija te ovel skrinisardo ko oficijalna liloro so sikljon o studentoja ko skole. Kodo me pachav kaj o Europen Roma Forum saj vadel o punkto. Devlesa! [I need Romani power and politics. Then - we have to put the history of Roma higher than big countries' ones, and work to became politically accepted. After this success we can possibly to include our history into official handbooks for schools' students. I believe, that these aims should be included into the schedule of the European Roma Forum. Be with God!]
Forms of teaching should be diverse
Mr. Adrian Marsh. I have worked as a teacher in the London Council of Haringey's Traveller (Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers) Education Service, teaching family literacy and IT skills amongst Czech and Romanian Roma refugees and asylum-seekers. I also carried out lots of training amongst other Council services and NGO's in the region who were working with Roma and Gypsies, as part of awareness-raising and included much history there.
Ms. Petra Safarova: I am a Czech Romni who is currently a PhD student in ethnomusicology, with a keen interest in the development of multicultural education. I have worked in a teaching capacity with many children and youths from various background, including Roma, and have been active in educating members of majority groups on Romani culture and history
Mr. Adrian Marsh: Finally, I carried out workshops based upon Romany arts and crafts in playcentres and after-school holiday provision as part of the project work.
Administrative problems in the level of course planning
Ms. Petra Safarova: Many of these points may be obvious or contentious, but my strongest conviction is that information about Roma should be taught as an integral and regularly repeated part of the curriculum, and not as an "addition" that, by its very position in students' learning, mimics the marginal status of Roma in majority society.
Pragmatic opinion by Mr. Adrian Marsh: We must also recognise that history, whilst of utmost importance (to repeat Satayana's maxim about those not knowing their history being condemned to repeat it is always relevant, I think) may not be the highest priority for those communities with whom we work. It may be good "nation-building", but less useful for getting a job or doing well at school.
V.S. Administrative problems, or problems of course content? What is coming first? I believe it is an important question both either for multiethnic school or for ethnic school. Teaching run in concrete social context. It will be a state school, or a private school, Sunday classes, or Internet lessons. In any case administrative problems create the external borders of an educational scenery. Should we adapt the course content to social and administrative conditions ? I believe we should. This is a realistic way of doing anything.
For instance, there are no special hours planned for Romani history in the Russian school programs. So, I have to find any new form and composition for Romani history, which will be possibly incorporated into actual courses for schools.
It would be short - for example - 100-word fragments. They should have parallel translation into Romani language for Romani classes. They should be linked with main themes of the world and Russian histories.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: I believe again, that the important task of historians of the Romany peoples is to force the mainstream disciplines of various histories (Ottoman, East European, Russian, etc.) to recognise this element, rather than to construct a separate and highly self-referential "ghetto" of Romany history (as happened with Black and Women"s history in the late 1980's) which can continue to be marginalised.
Incorporation of an ethnic history into a general course
Ms. Petra Safarova: I would like to present some opinions on the teaching of Romani history to mixed-ethnicity classes and to Gadze/non-Roma in general. I believe that Romani history should not be taught separately but rather as part of gadzikani history, language, social studies, government, art, citizenship and other classes.
Mr. Adrian Marsh: I have to say that like all of the Traveller Education Services in the United Kingdom, I share absolutely the commitment to the social inclusion model, and not to separate schooling for Romany groups, as I see it is especially important to teach the history of Romany peoples in the context of the citizenship agenda overall.
Content and form
Mr. Adrian Marsh: So, in the teaching of Romany history, we need to produce the material (which is going on, especially amongst TES teachers in the UK) for use in mainstream schools as part of the wider issues around social inclusion (but not social assimilation), designing the programmes and expanding the environments in which this takes place (education in the community, not just in schools).
V.S. I am more interested in the ancient period, there are different positions told me.
Mr. Zak Freiwald: Moreover, greater attention should be paid to recent history- the last 100 years perhaps. It is this recent history that really matters.
More large period is important for Mr. Adrian Marsh: The history of the Gypsies (I consciously reclaim this term) in the Ottoman Empire is of extraordinary significance I believe, and the majority of history written so far from the scholars working in this field has been either neglectful or inaccurate in this, as in so much else of Romani history.
Mr. David Mcessey proposes a method, which is rather new in teaching history, and - as on me - looks like the usual way of reconstructing of word history:
Suggestion; start with the promise of what is yet to come and work backward through Now into the past.
V.S. For the first trial two years ago I chose three themes for writing fragments of Romani history in Romani language. The history could not be the main subject in this project, rather language, culture...
This position of mine is close to the opinion expressed by Mr. Adrian Marsh:
An aspect of the kind of teaching I was able to carry out in the specific Romany project (literacy and ITC) was that it was less important for the participants to learn about "their history" and more important to gain the linguistic and technical skills to deal with schooling and employment better.
V.S. I chose the next themes:
1. Roma as the last wave of Indo-Europeans, and the rearguard of the Great Migration.
Core idea: Coming from India to Greece, Roma have partly followed the ways of Indo-European peoples, like Latin, Greek, Slavic, German and other nations, who are relatively constant population of today Europe. There is no essential difference in their strategies and causes of migration.
The Romani migration of XV and XIX centuries has partly followed the ways of the Great Migration spread modern European peoples in II-VIII centuries. Why do they call Roma 'nomads' ? We all are strangers in deep historical perspective. It help us to understand, that there are no historical reasons for discrimination. It is very helpful both for non-Romani kids creating a new positive attitude toward Roma and for Romani kids changing an old attitude of preventive aggression toward non-Roma.
Ms. Petra Safarova: The youngest children can learn about concepts such as prejudice and discrimination (see above) through lessons that do not specify ethnicity and instead ask questions of the type, "How would you feel if...?" or "Is it fair when...?" At this age, children should be exposed as much as possible to the cultural and personal accomplishments of Roma and other minorities as a matter of course, and thus be taught implicitly, without emphasis on the separation between ethnic groups, that different cultures make valuable contributions to their country and to the world. Older pupils can be expected critically to discuss historical and current reasons for the situation of Roma, in both its positive (i.e., cultural) and negative (for the most part, socioeconomic) aspects.
V.S. 2. Relative unity of the Romani groups reached Greece became more real there.
Core idea: This portion is very important for growing tolerance in relations between other group of Roma. There are many ethnic groups of Roma in Europe. Each of them believe that other Roma are worse, faked, even counterfeiting Roma. The fact of ancient unity of Roma could be demonstrated through examples of words of Indian and Greek origins common for many dialects.
V.S. 3. Leaving Greece Roma became nomads?
Core idea:
The idea that Roma are nomads is one of common prejudges shared by many people. Scientists have strongly criticised this opinion. The so called nomadic way of life natural for Roma is actually treated rather like a strategy of reviving. They never move from one place to another without pressure of authorities or other dramatic reasons. Why don't we call either refugees of war or migrant workers nomads too ?
Ms. Petra Safarova: Presenting Romani culture and leaders as a separate topic may be beneficial in some instances, but overall the integration of Romani accomplishments and historical events into the "regular" curriculum can mirror the ultimate goal: the integration of today's and tomorrow's Roma into majority society.
The ethic aspect of teaching history
Mr. Zak Freiwald: However, the truth and the whole truth must be told if history is to taught.
Terms for understanding one another
Ms. Petra Safarova: Before teachers delve into historical and current details, they should be clear on the meaning and negative power of prejudice. Terms such as racism, discrimination, genetics, inequality, stereotype, genocide, assimilation, integration, marginalization, and cultural plurality should be differentiated and carefully explained as individual concepts.
The teacher's personal position and the problem of TRUE interpretation
Mr. David Mcessey: In my opinion history is a very tricky subject. What do the "powers that be" allow. Conflicts, in "historical facts", as you know, can lead to all sorts of problems.
Ms. Maria Wilson (from Australia): I am all for education of Roma culture and history but of course who is teaching? Do they invite local Roma to talk about history etc., or is it a gadjo version of our culture and history.
What is already done
Mr. Marko D. Knudsen has kindly sent me an Internet address where could be found the site for "Cretion of Education Materials on the Roma History and teaching them after in school"
Mr. Marconi Rupa wrote: Me kamau te phenau tuke ke si lila kai sikliouen le hurdoren ando amare scola. Si zalago so kerelpes akana. Mai zborizas hai pauruas ideia sar te keras. [I want to inform you, that there are handbooks for kids in our school. The question is what is doing now. Then we can talk and share ideas, how to deal with it.]
Sally Holt, Legal Officer Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, has kindly inform, that:
With reference to your request for views on the teaching of Romani history in schools, allow me to refer you to the report of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities on "The Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area" which discusses the incorporation of material on Romani history and culture into general curricula, as well as into education programmes initiated by Roma themselves (See in particular pp. 81-84). The summary of the seminar which launched this report likewise makes brief reference to this issue (at. p. 27). Both reports can be downloaded from the High Commissioner's website at:
We want to work on
Ms. Petra Safarova: I would be more than happy to participate in continued discussion and cooperation on this topic. I would very much appreciate if you could provide me with more information about your work and about Romani-related issues in the educational system of your country.
25 июля 2003 г. В.В.Шаповал, доц. каф. методики преп. истории Моск. городского пед. ун-та