DAY 3: Activism, Public Conference


Jet lag still had not worn off this morning. Thank goodness for the conference’s frequent coffee breaks! Besides the much-needed caffeine, these breaks are also perfect for getting to know people from other countries, through hand gestures and grasps at shared language (or, for Dafina, with fluent conversion between English, French, Spanish, Italian, Serbian, Romanes…). She introduced me to a wonderful young man from Hungary. His story, like many, is difficult – in the current environment in Hungary, life is not easy for anyone known to be Roma. But his demeanor does not suggest an ounce of jaded cynicism. I can only dream I would be so strong.


The main event this morning was a series of “working groups,” in which moderators talked about various steps towards action. I chose “Citizen Journalism as Youth Activism,” which quickly became a space full of ideas and ethical tensions. What is the role of journalism? This was a central question to the workshop. The leaders, who work for Go Free in Romania, advocated for the power of individual citizens in bringing important stories to the forefront of public consciousness. This workshop felt infinitely relevant in the face of an entire conference about the “forgotten genocide” of the Roma during WWII.


Our afternoon was spent at a public conference in the History University of Krakow. Many important speakers saturated us with knowledge, including Zoni Weisz, a Holocaust survivor and the first representative of Sinti and Roma to be invited to address the German Parliament, in 2011.


“Half a million Roma and Sinti, men, women and children, died during the Holocaust,” Weisz said. “And [today] people know almost nothing about it, otherwise they would deal with us differently.”


Most of the afternoon’s speakers recognized the importance of formalizing the August 2 commemoration of the genocide of Roma and Sinti, across all European nations. Some urged, however, that commemoration isn’t enough – in many ways, though the Roma genocide ended long ago, it was but one element of a lengthy history of prejudice and discrimination against the Roma and Sinti, which continues today.