On 8th April 2021, Roma around the world celebrate the 50th anniversary of the First World Roma Congress, which took place in the UK on 8th April 1971. For the first time, Roma from both Eastern and Western Europe raised their voices in the fight against antigypsyism and in a common struggle for a better future. It was the breakthrough for a new political movement, with 23 representatives from nine countries taking part. The term "Roma" for "people" was accepted as a self-designation to create a new common self-awareness and to demand the recognition and respect from society. The foundations of the international Roma emancipation movement were complemented by the new anthem and flag adopted by the 1971 Congress. But even 50 years later, many Roma still do not openly show their identity, out of well-founded fear of discrimination and rejection in various forms: from losing a job and having less of a chance to get a flat, to verbal and physical attacks and police violence. The mere confession of oneself and one's own identity can therefore by no means be taken for granted in 2021. We therefore take the 50th anniversary of World Romaday on 8th April as an opportunity to reflect on self-confession.
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#Resistance & Resilience
On 16th May, we remember the uprising of the Romani people in the so-called “Gypsy Family Camp” of Auschwitz-Birkenau and celebrate their strength to resist the Nazi regime - despite the seemingly hopeless conditions and exhaustion. On 16th May 1944, the SS decided to close the camp and murder all inmates in gas chambers. But the inmates seized improvised weapons and barricaded themselves in their barracks. The SS, presumably fearing a mass uprising throughout the concentration camp, called off the operation. A few weeks later, about 3,000 strong men and women were transported to other camps before another attempt was made to “liquidate” the camp on 2nd August 1944. Thanks to this unique act of resistance, many lives were saved. Even today, many Roma, Black, Muslim, queer communities and People of Colour, especially women, have to show courage and resilience every day to fight against the system of oppression. Especially for people who experience intersectional discrimination, the struggle for their self-determination and existence is ongoing. In the second phase, the Biennale explores different perspectives of resistance and resilience.
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World Refugee Day
World Migrants and Refugees Day is an international day proclaimed by the United Nations. It celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home countries to escape conflict or persecution. Romani lives have also been linked to flight and displacement for centuries. Yet in the current mainstream political discourse, Roma are denied the status of refugees, labelled as “economic refugees” and accused of deliberately abusing the welfare system. But those who come to Germany just to survive the winter and deliberately expose themselves to traumatising deportation are not calculating cheats, but people in need who have no chance of a dignified life in their country of origin because of racist discrimination. Being a refugee is not only about survival in the country of origin and during the flight. After arriving, refugees are exposed to exclusion and threats from the right. At the latest After the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau in February 2020, the question of survival after flight is becoming increasingly urgent in Germany.
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On 2nd August, we remember the 500,000 victims of the Porajmos, the Holocaust of the European Romani people during the National Socialist era. The day refers to the murder of about 4,200 Romani people, mainly children, women and old people, in the night of 2nd to the 3rd August 1944 in the so called “Gypsy Family Camp” at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. But we also remember people who were subject to centuries of antigypsyism and antisemitism in Europe, and who were killed during the countless wars, during slavery, colonialism and through several genocides such as in the former Ottoman Empire, Rwanda, Namibia, Srebrenica and in many other places around the world.
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After the end of the Second World War, it took 37 years for civil rights activists from Romani communities to obtain recognition of the genocide of the Romani people by the German government. On 17th March 1982, after countless demonstrations and even a hunger strike by Holocaust survivors and their supporters in Dachau, the then Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt declared: “The Sinti and Roma were severely mistreated by the Nazi dictatorship. They were persecuted for racial reasons [...]. These crimes constituted genocide.” After another 20 years, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under National Socialism was inaugurated in Berlin-Mitte on 24th October 2012. For many survivors and their descendants, it represents a symbolic grave that the victims never had. And for the descendants of the perpetrators, it is a memorial as well as an expression of responsibility not only for the injustice committed, but for the observance of human rights in today's Europe. But for the German state, all this seems to be only half as important. For several months, negotiations have been going on about how much this place may be damaged because of the construction of a city train line. The question is being asked, are representatives of the Berlin government, the German Parliament and the German Railways – the successor organisation to the Reichsbahn, which made a profit with transports to the concentration camps – taking back their declared responsibility for the genocide? In any case, they are deliberately ignoring voices of the survivors. And they ignore all those whose existence is affected by an intervention in the memorial. The monument bears witness to our history, and stands symbolically for hundreds of thousands of our ancestors whose lives were extinguished. There is often nothing more than our memory and this Memorial. The Memorial bears witness to the existence of our ancestors and thus also to our present reality.