Romano Drom: My path in Romani identity
by Valery Novoselsky on 24 Jun 2013 1 Comment

There were times in my life when I had to hide my Romani background, because there were many people around who were intolerant and prejudiced. There were times when I felt fear and shame when IT became known to others. There were times when I did not hide IT and faced rejection as a consequence. Slowly, pride in my Romani heritage and a strong desire to manifest my Romani background overcame the feelings of fear and shame. And now, it is the time when I feel proud for IT and meet a lot of people of goodwill on my life`s path, on my Romano Drom (Romani Path)!


If you ask me about the identity, then I can say that my main identity is defined by what I do in this earthly life. Then my internal environment comes into the scene. And only afterwards the external environment matters. My inner personal perceptions and goals greatly influence my actions (the things that I do or do not do). My parents, other relatives, close friends, colleagues and neighbours form internal environment (small Fatherland). The society of the country where I live and then the whole world with humanity represent the external environment (big Fatherland)


Since childhood I have been active in the life of the civil society, since I was taught to do so in kindergarten, throughout school and at university. I was a Little Octobrist, then the President of International Friendship Club while being a Pioneer, and then I was the member of the Youth Communist League. For me, activity in public life based on political and/or religious convictions is more important than ordinary labour in industrial or agricultural sector.


Right after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, I was thinking that my religious activity (as an Evangelical missionary-in-training) can contribute greatly to the progress of humanity, but after a decade I realized that the spiritual world is very diverse and there could be more ways to God than just an Evangelical Doctrine. Since then I stopped feeling that the activities in Evangelical movement and related perceptions define my personality.


At the same time I always feel the connectivity to Roma community despite the years of assimilation my family went through. Despite my great efforts in integrating into Jewish community (first in Ukraine, then in Moscow, then in Israel) I did not succeed to reach my goals and experienced the rejection of Russian Jewish and then Israeli civil society based on deep prejudices against people with a mixed background.


In my personal case, the rejection had been strengthened by my Romani background which became a reason for personal insults coming from the representatives of rabbinical council in the town of Ashkelon (where I first settled after the emigration to Israel in 1995). It was the time when I was trying to convert to Orthodox Judaism, but was not welcomed, which was openly manifested in rabbinical racist claims not in favor of my Romani background and me as the one against whom “a criminal case has been filed in Heaven”!


When I was a small child my mother told me to hide from the others that we are “Tzigane”, even so the Roma neighbours always knew who we were. The fact that at the age of 7-15 she was raised in an orphanage among the Russians (in Kursk region, central Russia) inserted the Russian mentality in her, but did not erase a number of anthropological and psychological features which still link her to Roma ethnicity.


My father also told me that it is easier to be Jewish since Jewish people have more chances to escape and to be helped when persecution takes place. The fact that his father (my paternal grandfather) was born Rom (his parents` last name Arshinnikov, they were Servi Roma of eastern Ukraine) and then was adopted by Jewish family (last name Novoselsky) at the age of 5, helps my father to understand the situation in both communities well.


In addition to this, in the official papers (passport, library formulars, application to enter university, etc) I was listed as Russian and not as the member of any other ethnicity. I was not an exception in this phenomenon though, because the significant part of full-blooded Roma and Jews in the USSR were also listed by other ethnicities (rather than their own), mostly as Russians. This formal matter helped us to minimize the ethnic discrimination that was a factor of social life (much more in the western part of USSR than in Volga region, Siberia, Russian Far East, the Caucasus and Central Asia).


Actually, when I was living with my parents in Eastern Siberia in 1974-75 and then in 1979-80, we did not feel any discrimination - neither from neighbors nor from colleagues nor from classmates. There were some areas in the former USSR where Roma and Jews were not subjected to discrimination due to the tolerant character of the population there.


I started to be more open about my Romani background in 1993 to emphasize to the others the fact that the part of my family which was Romani was subjected to Nazi genocide in World War Two even to bigger extent than the Jews.


The unsuccessful attempts to be someone else other than Tzigan” made me think A LOT about my real place in this life, in this world. Slowly, pride for my Romani background and a strong desire to manifest it overcame the feelings of fear and shame. In the result of this inner revolution I have started my activity in the international Romani movement, which I carry out since July 1999 and which gives me reason to live with dignity. And the affirmation of Roma identity was then brought to a new higher level for two reasons:


1] The suffering of Roma in Kosovo during the war in 1999 and the search for the ways to help them.

2] The stubborn rejection by the Jewish community of my efforts to be recognized as its member (due to my Romani background). Thus, I felt the necessity to be someone rather than a person of non-identified ethnicity as the Israeli law defines me in official papers


Since the summer of 1999, I openly declare myself as Rom, and the obtaining of Romani ethnic passports in August 2009 by me and my parents is a strong affirmation of this fact. There are still a lot of challenges to overcome and a lot of things to learn, but one thing I know for sure is that I am on the Right Path, on my Romano Drom!


With hope for a better future for all!


The author is Editor, Roma Virtual Network

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