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Culture

Celebrating Europe's Maligned Minority

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit recently opened the German capital's first ever festival for Sinti and Roma culture. The event is designed to raise European awareness of the continent's largest, but much-maligned minority.

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The festival aims to overhaul the traditional Roma and Sinti image

Hosted by the Association of European Cultural Institutes in Berlin (GEK), the two-week festival will be showcasing a culture that's all too often marginalized -- for a range of deeply-entrenched social, political and religious reasons.

The organizers, though, are at pains not to concentrate on the historical and ongoing persecution the Roma and Sinti have suffered, choosing instead to profile the minorities' evolving cultural identity in the light of the recent EU eastwards enlargement.

It's a cause with increasing support. The plight of the gypsies is an issue Livia Jaroka, the first Roma member of the European Parliament, has been lobbying to have placed at the top of the Brussels agenda since her appointment in May.

Changing the Roma and Sinti image

Being shown in a positive light will be a novelty for these beleagured minorities. Today, Europe's 12 million Sinti and Roma live primarily in the former Eastern block, where the turbulent break-up of nations into ethnicity-based states led irrevocably to their isolation and often deprived them of their citizenship.

Sinti und Roma sammeln Unterschriften für das Holocaust-Mahnmal

Berlin / Tiergarten: Romani Rose, Vorsitzender des Zentralrates Deutscher Sinti und Roma und Helfer sammelten am Sonabend bei strömendem Regen Unterschriften für den Bau des nationalen Holocaust-Denkmals für die ermordeten Sinti und Roma. Damit solle deutlich gemacht werden, "dass es die Sache der ganzen Gesellschaft ist", sagt Rose. Als eine der Ersten unterzeichnete Renate Künast, Bundesvorsitzende der Grünen, die Liste. Vor der Unterschriftenaktion hatten rund 150 Prominente den Appell unterzeichnet, darunter Paul Spiegel, Chef des Zentralrats der Juden, Alt-Kanzler Helmut Schmidt und Schriftsteller Günter Grass. Foto: Romani Rose.

Lesser-known victims of the Nazi's genocide programs, the Roma and Sinti issue recently became a topic of public debate in Germany -- home to some 70,000 of them -- when activists called for a memorial to Roma and Sinti Holocaust victims near Berlin's parliament building and the Brandenburg Gate.

Contemporary edge

Highlights of the festival include screenings of critically acclaimed films such as Emir Kusturica's classic Time of the Gypsies and Tony Gadlif's Gadjo Dilo; exhibitions of work by artists including Hungarian photographer David Horváth, concerts by ensembles from Slovakia, Greece, the Czech Republic and Poland, discussions and a reading by Roma poet Edward Debicki from Poland.

"Our aim is to present an authentic image of Roma and Sinti culture that proves it has a very lively tradition that's not just about folklore," Agnes Gelenscer from the Hungarian Culture Institute, one of the organizers, told DW-World.

"We want to illustrate that it has a contemporary dimension which is also visual, and not just music and dance-based, as the clichés suggest," she pointed out.

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