In memory of Marcel Courthiade

In memory of Marcel Courthiade

Written by Saimir Mile, La Voix des Rroms

Marcel Courthiade passed away unexpectedly on March 4, 2021 in Tirana at 67. With him, the Roma lose an exceptional resource. His work remains a treasure that several generations will be able to use for the benefit of the emancipation of the Roma.

Born on August 2, 1953, on the 9th anniversary of the liquidation of the Zigeunerfamilienlager in Birkenau, it is as if he were destined to live for the renaissance of this people who had suffered so much. This probably explains why, after an exemplary school career, he abandoned his medical studies in the fifth year to devote himself to the study of languages. He managed to master countless numbers of them, but he especially chose to place Romani at the center of his interest. He dedicated his life to its defense and development, and through it to the defense of the identity and rights of the Roma.

His work always demonstrated a very high level of scientific expertise, exceptional humility and accessibility, and an especially unfailing devotion to the Roma cause. He was the architect of the development of a real linguistic policy with the principles of the unification of the Romani language adopted in 1990 in Warsaw by the 4th Congress of the International Romani Union, then chaired by Rajko Đurić, another recently deceased great personality of the international Roma movement of the time. It is on the basis of these principles that Romani is taught at the universities of Paris and Bucharest. It is also on this basis that he coordinated the drafting of the first European dictionary of the Romani language, aptly titled “From our elders, to our daughters and to our sons.”

Marcel, like other intellectuals and activists of his generation, was too far in advance to be fully understood. On February 28, 2021, on Albanian public television, he answered a journalist’s question regarding whether the Romani language was “made official”:

“It has been formalized by the Romani authorities, by the Romani institutions, but not by the States. But that’s normal […] the Romani authorities, that is to say the International Romani Union, the Commissioner for Language and Linguistic Rights etc., have formalized the Romani language very well. But the others do not recognize this formalization because it is about Romani instances. In fact, logically we must say that it is normal for a language to be formalized when it is formalized by its own institutions, not by others. But this is where there is a manipulation […], the others do not accept the existence of the Romani language. Maybe there will come a day, I don’t know; but for now, in the name of “diversity”, they say that there are several Romani languages, several dialects etc., which is not true. Italian or German for example have more dialects than Romani, but nobody says that Italian or German don’t exist. This is where the discrimination is located: the denial of the history of the Roma, the denial of their language, their literature, the alphabet, the “Kris” … It is really discrimination, which leads to the denial of the Roma nation, and when a nation does not exist, what rights can it claim? It is a very deep running and very cunning mechanism. “

These words sound like a testament today. It is up to current and future generations to grasp their full meaning in order to continue the fight for the dignity of the Roma, and therefore for their rights. We owe it to Marcel, and to all those who preceded us, and more or less trained us.