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.


French activists fighting against environmental violence and police brutality towards Roma and Gens du Voyage

French activists fighting against environmental violence and police brutality towards Roma and Gens du Voyage

ERGO Network visited its member La Voix des Rroms in France between March 16 and 18, 2018. The purpose of the visit was to take part in one of the meetings of the Rromani Resistance Movement, learn about the fights of the French Roma and Gens du Voyage and think together how we can support each other. The participants were activists from different regions of France: women from Northern France who organized themselves in their community to fight environmental violence, Roma from Paris, Saint Denis, Bordeaux, Nice, a sister and her friend who seek justice for Angelo, a man killed by the French police, Raymond Gurême a Roma genocide survivor with his daughter and many others.

Gens du Voyage women who fight environmental violence ask no more than for their right to health. Their camp is surrounded by factories and railways. The consequences of the bad position of their camp on their health are severe. In addition, the toilets are cold, outside of the premises they live in. They have talks with relevant authorities who are supposed to react, especially because there is a French law that does not allow the conditions this community lives in. Even though the process is slow, the women we talked to expect their camp to be moved sometimes next year. In general, in France, there are not enough caravan camps.

In this community in Northern France there are about 500 people not only at risk but already having health issues (skin problems, for example). The women have written to the mayor and are waiting for the response. A specialist is also going to access the consequences of these living conditions on the people’s health. These women activists are sending a message that they want to move their camp and to have toilets inside – all they want is their basic rights to be respected.

You can read more about the women living in Hallemes-Ronchin dedicated caravan sight in the suburbs of Lille we met, but also more about “a significant gap between the officially stated goals of such sights and the reality of life within them” in an article written by Lise Foisneau here.

Beside environmental violence, one of the big problems in France is police brutality. Aurelie, a sister of Angelo who was murdered by some French police officers, and few supporters formed “La justice pour Angelo” movement. On the 31st of March, in the city of Blois, Angelo Garand’s family and their supporters will march to remind the public that it is intolerable to kill someone just because he is a prisoner and a Roma. A month after the march, on April 30th, the judge will decide if there is enough evidence and if the police officers are going to be sent for a trial. More information about the case and the opportunities to support the cause can be found here  and here , and at the Facebook page of Angelo’s family.

Photo credit: Valentin Merlin 

After an exciting day and a half of learning, getting to know each other, learning more about the 16th of May – Rromani Resistance Day from our partner from La Voix des Rroms Saimir Mile and working in small groups following Tara Dickman’s and Anina Ciuciu’s presentation of community organizing methodology, figuring out the most efficient and effective next steps, Sunday was about connecting past and present, listening a research findings of Lise Foisneau and Valentin Merlin about the resistance of “Nomads” during the Second World War. The public in general lacks the knowledge about Roma genocide, but even less known is the resistance of the Roma, which was continuous and had both an individual as well as an organized dimension.