Today we focused on the Roma with a morning lecture comprehensively and engagingly delivered by Michael Stewart. We learnt about the history of the Roma people, mostly focusing on the late 20th Century and the impact of Communism and its demise. The majority of the lecture was focused on a theme we’ve met often on this programme so far, that of divisions: divisions between the Romani languages and those spoken by the states they inhabit; divisions between the culture and lifestyle of Roma and non-Roma peoples; divisions between economic and social situations of the Roma peoples compared to other ethnic groups. In our group discussion we began to explore in what ways the economic and socio-political situation could be improved for the Roma peoples of Europe. We considered communication and understanding each other as important factors in this. However, as we delved deeper and discussed the film The Curse of the Hedgehog, we questioned how willing either side really was to learn about each other or make allowances for their differing cultures in order to affect any real change. Depressing as this is, it did make me reflect upon what Michael Stewart ended his lecture with: that cultures do not divide us but are actually a means of connection and exchange, using the example of Roma dance which is now being performed by many different groups from across Eastern Europe. This tied in with our afternoon lecture which focused on Romani as a language and its use in different situations. The highlighting of the use of words of non-Romani origins within Romani served to further demonstrate this idea of cultural exchange via language. So perhaps not so depressing.
Moving to the afternoon session, the language classes are actually starting to make sense. Hoorah! I think most of us remember the sounds of the Cyrillic alphabet without checking our handouts too often. We were taken along the Danube in Bulgarian, today, learning the locations and names of landmarks along the river. I hope at least some of this geographical knowledge sticks (as long as we remember the Bulgarian landmarks, I think we’ll get away with it!). We’re also starting to form sentences rather than just saying (with terrible pronunciation) disconnected words. In short: progress.
Tomorrow we film our interview for our documentary and prepare for our UnConference. Busy busy busy.