Building bridges between Europe's Roma and Jewish communities

21-11-2003

The European "Union of Jewish Students" has been building new bridges in Budapest. At least that's what they called their seminar. The idea was to bring together young Roma and Jews from all over Europe to learn about the past, present and future relationships between these two major European minorities... and of course make new friends. But as Petra Hajdu of Radio Budapest reports there were hardly any Romany participants present....

The European Union of Jewish Students thought Budapest would be the ideal place for an international meeting of Jews and Roma, because of its central location within Europe and its history so greatly influenced by these two minorities. Johanna Vollhardt from Germany is the head of a Jewish youth club in her hometown. She came to Hungary to this seminar to meet Jewish young people from other countries as well and learn more about the common heritage with the Roma minority.

"The most striking thing for me was the film 'Forgotten Holocaust.' Because even though I knew that Roma were also persecuted in the Holocaust, somehow it suddenly became very emotional and very clear to me that the history of the Jews and the Roma are so similar. And there are also many, many other similar things. There were so many Roma from all over Europe and they were speaking languages from all these European countries. SO basically they are very similar to us, as we also come from all different countries and our ancestors too. And usually I think Jews tend to focus on it (the holocaust) as a very unique Jewish experience."

Johanna, much like her fellow participants, was a bit shocked to discover that apart from a couple of invited lecturers, there was no Roma attendance at the seminar. Apparently there would have been a language barrier among the students. Nevertheless, those among the Romany lecturers who could squeeze it into their schedules, stayed longer than planned to have private chats with the Jewish students hungry for information on what they had heard little of before. Eszter Ormay told them about the common aspects of discrimination against the Roma and Jews.

"At first glance it sounds strange that Roma and Jews have connections but there are many points - for instance the holocaust. So it's interesting that not many people have dealt with this topic yet. I think it is high time to have a seminar on this and introduce this kind of perspective of discrimination, the holocaust and it's history and the culture of minorities in general."

"At first I didn't know whether the young Jewish people would be interested in the discrimination of Roma, so I was a bit afraid before the seminar. But as I explained the circumstances of the two cases they were rally interested and they could find some connections"

The seminar was no doubt a noble initiative and a creative way to form a bridge between the youngsters of two minorities who have more in common than they can usually think of. However, for complete success, next time, it would perhaps be a better idea to make sure they actually sit down together for a chat instead of only listening to lectures on one another.

21-11-2003