Organising Activism (english)

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von Katalin Bársony

Established in 1992, the Romedia Foundation has nearly 20 years of experience as a Roma non-governmental organization contributing to enhance a positive image of ethnic Romani identity and which stands against anti-Romani prejudice. Providing new and fresh information from a different perspective to policy makers on Roma has been a key element of the Foundation’s activities which include producing films, videos, international multi-media campaigns as well as holding public events. Romedia has endeavored to make the best possible use of the media tools at its disposal namely television broadcasting, publishing and other multi-media technology to give an inside look on Roma issues. The Foundation works to promote the self-representation and empowerment of Romani activists and ultimately tackle and challenge the ingrained, centuries-old prejudices and misconceptions about Roma.

Establishing Media Networks

In recent years, Romedia has blossomed into a highly regarded source of films on Roma issues across Europe. This has involved the use of modern digital filming technologies in an innovative fashion to produce ground-breaking quality in video production and a fresh and novel approach to the way in which the widely marginalized minorities are represented. Romedia has attempted to show the Roma in a positive light, enlightening the general public who are invariably subjected to negative coverage of the Roma without the other side of the story being told, or even considered. The promotion of reconciliation and the acceptance of a diversity of perspectives are both crucial goals of the Foundation.
We strongly believe that through developing a diverse network of partners, there is great potential among civil society to broaden the media’s narrative and offer more balanced coverage of important national issues. It is important to convey the notion that showing a story from two different sides or from a wider range of perspectives will not necessarily be damaging to the substance and quality of the coverage. In fact, the reverse would almost certainly be true. Well established positive initiatives can result in fostering a change within society in which stereotypes are put to one side and the real human story is properly seen and heard. Researchers have shown that the Roma are the most negatively portrayed minority in Europe and in order for society to progress peacefully and democratically amid severe global economic crisis, there must be a more humane representation of one its largest and most ignored minorities.

Mundi Romani

In 2007, the Romedia Foundation launched the Mundi Romani project carrying the slogan “The World Through Roma Eyes”. The project entailed the production of dozens of films on Roma in Europe and beyond which were broadcast every month on the Hungarian Duna TV Channel. The monthly news documentaries were co-produced by the Romedia Foundation and Duna. Having won the competition organized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as part of its 2010 International Year for the Rapprochement, the project carried the UNESCO logo.

The documentaries covered a huge variety of issues concerning the Roma and its fresh look at some seriously troubling Human Rights situations caught the attention of the film community across Europe. To illustrate the role of Mundi Romani in promoting the Roma in a positive light and ultimately serving the aims of the Romedia Foundation, here are three films profiled below.

Last Days of Sulukule

For a thousand years, the Roma neighborhood of Sulukule in Istanbul’s Old City was world famous for its unique culture, dancers and musicians. In recognition of its historical and cultural importance, UNESCO named Sulukule a World Heritage Site; this however did not stop the Turkish government from demolishing the neighborhood in 2008. “The Last Days of Sulukule”, was shot in the final weeks before bulldozers destroyed the historical district.

The documentary offers a look into the now demolished community, exploring Sulukules’s amazing music, people, and the complex mechanisms which lead to the destruction of minority cultures based on the interests and power of city developers and short sighted public officials. The documentary chronicles the all too common story of human and cultural destruction at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Faces of Change

Based on collected interviews taken from Mundi Romani films shot across Europe and a series of interviews made at the Council of Europe’s “I’m a European Roma Woman” conference in 2010. Faces of Change is a truly inspiring testimony to the strength and vision of Roma women. During the 20th century, women’s struggle for gender equality has proven itself to be the best investment our societies could make toward world economic and social development.

Ninety years ago, could Europe have imagined that women would one day flood the workforce, gain the right to vote and even lead nations and prominent multinational companies? How do you see Roma women today? How do the women of Europe’s largest minority see themselves? In this episode we explore the stories of 10 exceptional Roma women from all over Europe. Faces of Change works to break the trend of presenting Roma women as “victimized victims” by presenting Roma women as responsible and active stakeholders who readily provide their own answers to the questions raised by the situation of Roma today. The documentary challenges the way Roma women are viewed, by playing with the question of social identity and forcing the audience to question the artificial divisions on which our social perceptions are founded.

Trapped: the forgotten story of the Mitrovica Roma

Mitrovica is the sparking point of many Balkan wars. It is an ethnically divided town in northern Kosovo where the country’s independence from Serbia is a victory for the south yet an illegal aberration in the north. The town is also the scene of the gravest public health disaster in modern Europe. In northern Mitrovica, hundreds of Roma have been trapped for 9 years in refugee camps built by the UN administration in Kosovo on the tailing sands of the biggest lead mine in Europe, next to a toxic slagheap of 100 million tons. In these camps, if the children don’t die by the age of six, they will have irreversible brain damage for the rest of their inevitably short lives.

Mundi Romani reports from Mitrovica, Pristina, Skopje and Belgrade and provides and insight into the ethnic, economic and health dimensions of the current situation. Trapped between the fires of Albanian and Serbian nationalism and ignored by international organizations, the Roma, a formerly prosperous minority in Tito’s Yugoslavia, remain the forgotten people of the newest country of Europe.

Uprooted – Children’s Perspectives on Europe’s Repatriation Policies

Uprooted is the latest insightful film by the Romedia Foundation, opening the world's eyes to the harsh reality of the 21st century for Europe's Roma. Focusing on 3 children living in Germany, the film follows the precarious instability of life as a Roma in Germany and the fearful future that awaits in Kosovo.

The first part of the film concerns Anita, a hard working 11-year old school girl living in Gottingen in central Germany. Anita tells of her ambition to become a doctor and her desire to do so in Germany, a country she considers home. However, the true insecurity of her status in Germany is then revealed as the Immigration authorities grant her only a further month of 'tolerated' status in the country. This indefinite residence understandably makes Anita worry for her future. In the second part of the film we see why...

Brothers and great friends Sedat and Nasmija are living their early teens and attending school in Hemmingen, Germany when we meet them for the first time in Uprooted. Like Anita, the boys were born and raised in Germany and feel very much German. But unlike Anita, they are not permitted to stay any longer. Against their will, they are repatriated to Kosovo, a land of which they know nothing except that their parents had their homes burned there in the early 1990s. The film shows how the boys' lives are turned upside down. From the comfort and opportunity they saw in Germany, to the despair and vulnerability of their new life in Kosovo.

I’m a Roma Woman campaign

These questions had been on our minds for years when we started the “I’m a Roma Woman” Campaign. We lead a Roma media advocacy NGO based in Budapest, Hungary, and decided to start searching for our own answers.

At the beginning of 2009 we agreed with Amnesty International Hungary on releasing a common campaign video for International Women’s Day focusing on Romani women’s activism. I (Katalin Bársony, the managing director of the Romedia Foundation, myself a Romani activist and film maker) gathered four of my friends and fellow activists living in Budapest, Hungary, and talked to them about the idea of participating in a common campaign. We five young women, from all over Europe, got acquainted throughout years of common action and participation in the International Romani Movement. They all agreed to feature in the video and talk about their experiences as Romani women. The next step was to organize a film shoot without any financial support. The Romedia Foundation is a media-based advocacy NGO and had been producing the Mundi Romani – the World through Roma Eyes news documentary series in coproduction with Duna Television Hungary for more than two years at the time. That meant we already had the experience, the contacts and the studio at Duna Television available for the shooting.

The video’s concept and storyline were developed by us (Katalin and Marion Kurucz, the Romedia Foundation’s producer, myself a young activist of different minority backgrounds) together with Mundi Romani’s director of photography Csaba Farkas, an award-winning Roma cinematographer. The footage in-between the women’s “confessions” is taken from several Mundi Romani films we shot in Italy, Macedonia, Ukraine and Romania.

The video was released on YouTube on 8 March 2009 and screened on public screens all over Hungary; in metro stations, shopping centers, post offices, bars and restaurants for several days following International Women’s Day, reaching approximately 80,000 people in a few days. Growing interest from broadcasters and online media, as well as social network sites and word of mouth spread the campaign video around the world beyond all our expectations.

French MSN Messenger users could see the video pop up each time they connected to their MSN page. In the US, the more than ten million viewers of the famous „Jezebel” blog for women could watch the campaign video and hear, many for the very first time, about who the Roma are.

A month after the release, in April 2009, the women featuring in the video held a common press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, where the campaign’s message was brought to the fore again and led to increased coverage of the Conference they were attending. The success of the campaign video led CARE International North-West Balkans to show interest in creating a follow-up featuring women activists involved in their Roma Women Empowerment Project. An outstandingly successful cooperation began between the Romedia Foundation and CARE International, which led to the release at the II. European Roma Summit in Cordoba, Spain, on 8 April 2010 (International Roma Day) of the „I’m a Roma Woman Regional Campaign”. The video features Roma women from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and was shot in a week of intense traveling through the Western Balkans using state-of-the-art filming technology and some of the very best camera, sound and lighting technicians in Hungary.

CARE International campaigned with the video throughout the Western Balkans and reached unprecedented coverage for such an issue. Many hours of television broadcast and TV appearances by some of the featured activists put the issues Roma women in the region have to deal with into the media spotlight. The music for both the first and the second „I’m a Roma Woman” video was composed by one of Hungary’s most famous jazz musicians, Gyula Babos. The lyrics were written for each video by fellow Roma activist Ágnes Daróczi, in Romanes.

In both campaign videos, the women featured are real, flesh and blood activists who have fought their way through many obstacles to reach a level of self-confidence and dedication to Roma empowerment that is inspiring to us all. During the creative development process, we always looked for those women, those stories, those situations which came most naturally and reflected the activists’ self-awareness, acquired through years of social activism. When we began to produce videos and films focused on a gender perspective, we had already been inspired by the hundreds of hours of audiovisual material we had shot across the world for the Mundi Romani – the World through Roma Eyes series about women activists. These women had shown us the fruits of their dedication and had opened up to our cameras about themselves, their lives, their identities, their goals and their dreams for the future.

We decided it was time to share all these experiences so that Roma women could inspire each other and the next generation. With the support of the Open Society Institute - Roma Initiatives, we are launching, on International Women’s Day 2011, a campaign site for all Roma women to SPEAK OUT AND BE THE CHANGE!

Social Media

The explosion in popularity of social media has forced Romedia to move with the times and broadcast its message on as many frontiers as possible. The Foundation uses Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and has recently launched a wordpress blog. These methods of simple yet effective communication have broadened Romedia’s reach to a global community with its videos being watched, photos viewed and articles read by thousands of friends, followers or intrigued parties from across the planet.

Another helpful strategy in promoting Roma rights through the media has been by developing links with media organizations including the Media Diversity Institute and the European Journalism Centre both of whom recently published material from Romedia on their website. More connections and partnerships of this kind are planned. Indeed, our blog posts and twitter tweets are frequently re-posted on other blogs or twitter accounts while on facebook our material is being regularly shared which further broadens the impact of the Foundation’s work.


In the digital space of social media the possibilities for non-professionals to do journalism and become representatives of their communities and bearers of both progress and discrimination are significant. Civilians can play a crucial role here in exposing human rights abuses and keeping a check on anti-discrimination measures on a local level by recording video and reporting on these issues. NGOs must help in the creation and must support such activities, despite the ever decreasing funding. Our goal has always been for our films not only to simply document but to also engage and to affect change.

In order for us to be able to create effective outreach and engagement we must be creative in finding all the outlets where we can channel our coherent, information-based messages and in finding all new possibilities to address new audiences.

Independence and objectivity are the two most important assets that we must guard fiercely so as changes in financing structures and reigning political ideologies of the day can not easily influence us. In order to keep up such independence, both our sources and instruments must be diversified.

Katalin Bársonyis a filmmaker and executive director at the Budapest-based Romani media organization Romedia Foundation. Her documentary series "Mundi Romani" on Romani communities around the world was awarded the UNESCO Prize for the Rapprochement of Cultures and was broadcasted in mainstream television channel Duna Television Hungary.