Overcoming Our Struggle: Unity and Identity within the Romani Community

This blog post navigates the complexities of fostering unity within the diverse Roma community, addressing the challenges posed by historical divisions, language barriers, and cultural distinctions. By weaving personal experiences with a broader analysis of the Roma's status as a stateless nation, the post illuminates the critical need for internal activism and solidarity. Join us as we explore the significance of collective identity, the symbolic power of a unified flag, and the pivotal role of internal self-determination in the Roma community's ongoing struggle for recognition and rights on the global stage. This compelling narrative not only sheds light on the internal dynamics of the Roma community but also calls for a renewed commitment to unity, democracy, and the pursuit of a shared future.

Deny Dobobrov

2/12/20247 min read

Overcoming Our Struggle: Unity and Identity within the Romani Community

The quest for identity and inclusion within the Romani movement is marked by a complex landscape of internal challenges. Among these, the task of cultivating unity stands out as particularly daunting, given the nuanced differences and historical divisions that exist among us. Addressing these internal issues is not just a prerequisite for progress; it's a vital step toward realizing our collective potential.

A pronounced barrier to unity is the sense of superiority some subgroups or "clans" harbor over others. This sentiment often manifests in claims of being the "real" Roma, justified by a perceived superior preservation of language, culture, or Romanipe (a term denoting the essence of being Roma, often associated with maintaining cultural purity). Such attitudes not only sow division but also undermine the shared identity that binds us together as a people.

This internal discrimination is palpable in everyday interactions within our community. Drawing from personal experience, the distinctions drawn by American Roma towards those with different migratory backgrounds highlight the depth of these divides. Despite being born and raised in the USA and speaking fluent English alongside the Lovari dialect of Romani, encounters with American Roma, whose ancestors migrated in the early to mid-1800s, often result in being labeled not as an "American Rom" but as an immigrant "Rom from the Tema" (Rom from overseas). This distinction underscores a broader issue of identity and belonging, where variations in dialect and migration history serve as bases for exclusion.

Conversely, there's a perception among some groups, like my own, that American Roma have become too Americanized, drifting away from our roots due to their greater use of English and lesser adherence to traditional Romani practices. This judgment reflects a tension between maintaining cultural integrity and adapting to new environments, a challenge that is not unique to the Roma but feels particularly acute given our history of displacement and diaspora.

To forge a path forward, we must confront these barriers with a spirit of empathy and inclusiveness. Recognizing the value in each subgroup's unique expression of Romanipe while advocating for a collective identity that embraces diversity is crucial. Our movement's strength lies in our shared heritage and the resilience that comes from navigating the world as Roma. By focusing on common goals and the broader vision of what unites us—rather than the differences that divide us—we can begin to dismantle the hierarchies and prejudices that hinder our progress.

Embracing political will, democracy, and a commitment to collective action requires us to move beyond seeing ourselves solely through the lens of our subgroup or "clan." It demands a recognition that, despite the myriad ways we express our Romani identity, our aspirations for recognition, inclusion, and equality are shared.

Building on our understanding of the internal dynamics within the Romani community, we transition to a broader discussion of what it means for the Roma to be recognized as "a people" in the fullest sense of the term. The concept of "a people" plays a critical role in politics, law, and human rights, denoting a group's collective identity and shared experiences. It is this collective identity that forms the basis of claims to rights, representation, and sovereignty.

The Roma, with our diverse cultures, languages, and traditions, embody the essence of "a people" through our shared history and the common challenges we face across the globe. Despite the differences that exist among our subgroups, our collective experience of marginalization, discrimination, and the struggle for recognition binds us together. This shared experience underpins our claim to the rights and protections afforded to "a people" under international law and human rights conventions.

Uniting behind a single flag symbolizes our collective identity and aspirations. A flag is not just a piece of fabric; it's a powerful symbol of unity, resistance, and hope. For the Roma, a unified flag represents more than our struggle; it signifies our resilience, our pride in our heritage, and our commitment to a future where we are recognized and respected as a distinct people. This flag, embodying our colors and emblem, serves as a rallying point for our community, reminding us of our shared purpose and the strength that comes from unity.

As we consider the implications of being recognized as "a people," it's crucial to reflect on the principles of popular sovereignty. This concept, deeply rooted in the notions of democracy and self-determination, emphasizes the right of a people to self-governance and to make decisions that affect their collective future. For the Roma, achieving recognition as "a people" is not just about claiming our space in the world; it's about asserting our right to participate fully in the political, social, and cultural life of the societies we live in.

In embracing our collective identity as a people, the Roma community can harness the power of unity to advocate for our rights, preserve our heritage, and shape our destiny. The journey towards recognition and equality is fraught with challenges, but by standing together under one flag, we affirm our place in the world and move closer to realizing our aspirations for freedom, dignity, and justice.

As we navigate the complexities of our identity and the symbolic unification under one flag, we confront the essential question of our path forward. Recognizing ourselves as "a people" demands not just external advocacy against discrimination, racism, and exclusion but also a concerted effort to address the internal dynamics that have historically fragmented our community. The barriers we face within—stemming from subgroup discrimination, hierarchical disputes, and a resistance to change—pose significant challenges to advancing our movement. Yet, the solution lies within the very fabric of our community: internal activism.

Internal activism goes beyond the fight against external adversities; it calls for advocacy within our own ranks. It's about nurturing a culture of inclusivity, dialogue, and mutual respect among the diverse factions of our community. While many activists tirelessly work towards addressing external injustices, a parallel effort must be dedicated to healing and strengthening our internal bonds. This means actively working to bridge the divides that separate us, whether they are based on dialect, migration history, or cultural practices.

The path to gaining recognition as a stateless nation and advancing our collective rights is paved with unity, democracy, and internal efforts. Authentic unity is not merely the absence of conflict but the presence of a dynamic, inclusive community dialogue that embraces our diversity as our strength. It involves creating spaces where all voices are heard, respected, and considered in decision-making processes. Democracy within our movement means ensuring that every member, regardless of their subgroup affiliation or geographical location, has an equal stake in our collective future.

Efforts within our own communities must be intentional and focused on education, awareness, and the promotion of our shared heritage and goals. This includes educating our youth about the importance of solidarity, the richness of our diverse traditions, and the common threads that bind us. It involves challenging and dismantling the outdated norms and prejudices that have kept us divided. Moreover, it requires us to celebrate our achievements, learn from our setbacks, and continuously strive for a better understanding among ourselves.

The path forward is undoubtedly challenging, but it is also filled with hope. By committing to internal activism, we can build the foundation for a stronger, more unified movement. This internal solidarity is the key to amplifying our voice on the global stage, advocating for our rights, and ultimately achieving recognition as a stateless nation. Our collective journey towards recognition, respect, and equality starts within our community. By fostering authentic unity and democracy and by dedicating ourselves to internal efforts, we can overcome the barriers that have held us back and move closer to realizing our aspirations as a people.

In the quest for identity and autonomy, the Roma community embodies the essence of internal self-determination and the profound need for a recognized identity. This drive stems not just from a desire for autonomy or governance but from the fundamental human need to belong—to be part of a collective that shares common origins, traditions, and language. In the sociological landscape, the Roma exemplify a unique case of identity-driven unity, prioritizing their identity as Roma over association with any nation-state. Unlike traditional racial or ethnic classifications, the Roma are identified primarily through their group identity, often leading to their classification as "Stateless People" in Europe. This status underscores the critical importance of recognizing the Roma as a "Nation of People."

Nationality, in its essence, signifies a group of people with a shared origin, tradition, and language, capable of constituting a nation-state or forming a distinct element within a larger national context. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights articulates this in Article 15, affirming the right of every individual to a nationality and protecting against arbitrary deprivation of nationality. As a stateless nation, the Roma community represents an ethnic group that, while not possessing its own state nor constituting the majority in any nation-state, inherently deserves such a status.

The principle of internal self-determination allows for a people to govern themselves, free from external interference, aligning perfectly with the aspirations of the Roma. It suggests autonomy within existing states rather than seeking an independent state, advocating for the right to preserve and develop their cultural, social, and economic identity. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other international instruments, supports this right, offering a framework for the Roma's quest for self-governance and recognition.

Given the array of international protections for self-determination—from the Charter of the United Nations to the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities—the Roma's claim to internal self-determination is both valid and supported by global human rights standards. These instruments underscore the right of all peoples, including stateless nations like the Roma, to pursue their development and maintain their cultural integrity within their countries of residence.

The recognition of the Roma's autonomy and rights as a stateless nation is not merely a matter of legal compliance but a testament to the international community's commitment to human rights, diversity, and inclusivity. The United Nations, European Union, United States, and all UN member states are called upon to respect and support the Roma Nation's autonomy in a manner that acknowledges their unique identity and contributions to the societies they inhabit.

In conclusion, the path forward for the Roma community hinges on the recognition of their right to internal self-determination and the acknowledgment of their distinct identity as a people. By embracing the principles laid out in international law and human rights conventions, the global community can take meaningful steps towards rectifying historical injustices and supporting the Roma's aspirations for autonomy, identity, and inclusion.