The adoption of these two symbols, as well as the organised events and structures that made it possible, launched a visible, audible, verbally proclaimed and enduring set of discourses collectively known as Romani nationalism.
‘Opre Roma’ – ‘Arise, Roma’
The exact text of the Romani anthem varies from subgroup to subgroup and individual to individual, as do opinions regarding the song’s significance. Federico ‘Fred’ Hoffman, who emigrated from Germany to Costa Rica, wrote that:
By creating our symbols (Anthem and Flag) we are reacting, in order to show that we are not willing to accept the role of underdogs and outcasts any longer. It is only a reaction against the action of non-Roma, who have treated and still are treating us like some special kind of human race. I sincerely do not believe that one day we will have our own country, but we must still look forward in order to achieve at least some self-respect and independence as a minority. I am sure that being united worldwide will help us.
Margaret Moon, an American Romani woman, noted that: ‘It is a national anthem of a people whose ethnic nation has no borders. I think the Roma have been accustomed to the double concept of a kind of patriotism for a long time now.’
There are still Romani people in the world who have never heard ‘Gelem, gelem’ or who do not consider it their anthem. Roma in Hungary, for example, have their own anthem. Sinti, many of whom have a strongly separate identity from Roma, may feel that the international anthem does not pertain to them. One Sinto member of a discussion wrote: ‘We are not interested in a Romani anthem because we are not the same people.’
For his part, the late Russian-Israeli Romani activist Valery Novoselsky summarised the significance of ‘Gelem, gelem’ as follows: ‘The Romani national anthem is important not only for our politicians and representation, but also for ordinary people. When non-Roma hear it, they can understand more of who we are.’
Musical diversity mirrors Romani diversity
The reasons for the anthem’s wide dissemination include the song’s adaptability to the range of musical styles favoured by Romani performers and audiences. The multiple existence of the anthem in a number of tempi and text versions and with varying ornamentation seems to work well for the aesthetic needs of different groups.