Roma Civil Rights movement


Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka and Elżbieta Mirga-Wójtowicz

The Roma Movement in Poland


Roma in Poland have the status of a recognized ethnic minority. During the 2011 census,1 16,723 Polish citizens self-identified as members of the Roma ethnic minority; however, according to unofficial estimates, there are around 25,000 Roma persons.2 Broadly speaking, there are five Roma groups in Poland: Polska Roma, Carpathian or Bergitka Roma, Kalderash, Lovari, and Sinti.

Polska Roma and Bergitka Roma, two of the largest Roma groups, have, over the years, played the most significant role in building Romani civic awareness. Until the 1960s, Roma existed in the social and political space as objects of the country’s various compulsory, and restrictive policies. Currently, the Roma movement in Poland is undergoing constant development; Roma elites are organized, consciously and consistently negotiating the conditions of common life and cooperation.

Nonetheless, the development of Roma culture, the rise of a Roma intelligentsia and the slow progress of Roma inclusion in Polish society, have been accompanied by negative socio-economic processes of social exclusion and marginalization, stereotyping and increasing prejudice. These, as well as increasing acts of aggression towards Roma and incidences of hate speech, have characterised recent decades. The Roma community is in the most vulnerable position, of all of the ethnic and national minorities that live in modern Poland. These problems are, however, being tackled primarily by Roma leaders and activists.

The Historical Background – from the Middle Ages to the Roma Holocaust

The first evidence of a Roma presence in Poland, can be traced back to the early 15th century.3 Existing archival documentation suggests that Roma came to Poland from Southern and Western Europe – Bergitka Roma, from the Carpathian Mountains and the Great Hungarian Plain, Polska Roma, fleeing persecution from Germany in the 16th century, Kalderash and Lovari Roma from the Transylvania and Wallachia regions.

Since the mid-17th century, Polish rulers treated Roma as taxable communities, and appointed so-called “Gypsy kings” or “overlords” to ensure control over their presence and activity. The first two documented “overlords” were Roma, but subsequently, they were nominated predominantly from amongst the Polish nobility.4 Following World War I (1914-1918), the practice of establishing “Gypsy kings” resurfaced, this time in a self-appointed monarchy, established by the Kwiek family, from the Kalderash group. In 1930, Michał Kwiek proclaimed he was “the king of all Gypsies”, and in 1937, Janusz Kwiek, was crowned “the king of [the] Gypsies” by priests of the Orthodox Church and attended by government officials, during a ceremony held at the Polish Army Stadium in Warsaw.5

unknown | Program of coronation celebrations of the Polish King of Gypsies (1937) | printed material | Poland | 1937 | Rom_10086 Licensed by: Adam Bartosz | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Adam Bartosz – Private Archive

Despite the publicity of the event, the Kwiek monarchy was neither seen as representative, nor universally recognized by Roma in Poland.

Until the first half of the 20th century, Roma traversed well-established economic routes, often motivated by fear of forced settlement and persecution; the latter were reinforced by a number of antigypsy laws. Roma persecution reached its peak in Nazi Germany.6 They were confined together with Jewish people in the ghettos, imprisoned in camps, and murdered in gas chambers throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Many Roma people died during roundups and mass executions, such as those that took place in Szczurowa7 and Borzęcin Dolny.8

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp is a particular execution site – where between 1943 to 1944, a special ‘Gypsy sub-camp’ (Zigenunerlager) was created. Almost all out of the 23,000 Roma registered there died in KL Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps. The last group of some. 3,000 Roma were gassed during the night of the 2nd August 1944; the Second of August is now commemorated as a symbolic Remembrance Day of the Roma Holocaust.

Lacking a state or any other institutionalized forms of social organization to represent their interests, Roma were unable to estimate their losses, or demand war reparations after the war. The total number of deaths of Polish Roma is estimated to be between 300,000 – 500,000 people. According to Adam Bartosz, of the 50,000 Roma living in Poland before the war, about 35,000 perished, amounting to 70% of total Roma population in the country.9

Agnieszka Południak | Situation of Roma communities under communism | Non Fiction | Poland | 2017 | rom_10045 Licensed by: Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka| Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

Forced Settlement During the Communism Era

After the Second World War (1939–1945), Polish society was mobilized to rebuild a country devastated by war. The Soviet influence over post-war Poland and the guaranteeing of the new boundaries of the Polish state, by the Soviet Union, ensured that the Polish communists and socialists gained a (disputed) mandate in the elections of late 1947. By 1948, the new communist political framework had been established – the period of so-called “productivization”, and work for the common good was meant to include all citizens.

Adam Bartosz | Roma from Tarnów on a Labour Day march, circa 1990 | photography | Poland | May 1, 1990 | Rom_10085 Rights held by: Adam Bartosz I Licensed by: Adam Bartosz | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Adam Bartosz – Private Archive

In 1952, the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party (PUWS) adopted a law (no. 452/52) entitled, ‘On Helping the Gypsy Population to Adapt to Settled Life’ (W sprawie pomocy ludności cygańskiej przy przechodzeniu na osiadły tryb życia) and began the process of forced sedentarization of Polish Roma, as part of the process of ‘Roma productivization’. At this time, over 75% of Roma in Poland led a nomadic lifestyle. Initially, the enforced settlement process was not very effective. Following the publishing of the ‘On the Situation of the Gypsy Population’ (O sytuacji ludności cygańskiej) report in 1964, the authorities turned to using police powers and repression, to force Roma to relinquish their nomadic life; however, only in the late 1980s did Roma caravans disappear from the Polish landscape.10 The aforementioned bill, assimilationist and paternalistic in nature, defined the policy of Polish authorities towards Roma from 1952 until the mid-1980s, by designating them as a ‘social problem’.

The communist era also saw the dawn of the Roma movement. The first Roma organizations were cultural and educational in nature and as such, they did not (or could not), have political or civic ambitions. The first Roma organization in Poland, Komitet Cygański (the Gypsy Committee), was founded in Wałbrzych in 1951, with the support of the local authorities, Andrzej Siwak was its first chairman. In 1952, the Committee was transformed into Wojewódzki Zarząd Stowarzyszenia Cyganów Osiadłych w Wałbrzychu (the Provincial Board of the Association of Settled Gypsies in Wałbrzych).

In 1963, backed by the administrative authorities, a second Roma organization was created in Poland, on the initiative of the Roma settled in Tarnów (among them Andrzej Siwak who had moved there with his family), Cygańskie Stowarzyszenie Kulturalno-Społeczne (the Socio–Cultural Gypsy Association), which remains Poland’s longest functioning Roma association. At the turn of the 1970s and 1980s, further Roma cultural associations were established in Olsztyn, Żyrardów, Andrychów, and Płock – a testament to increasing cultural and organizational activity among Roma. In 1984, the Tarnów–based Roma association, under the leadership of Józef Kamiński, changed its name to Stowarzyszenie Kulturalno-Społeczne Romów (the Socio–Cultural Roma Association), and renamed its headquarters, Dom Kultury Romów (the Roma Culture House).11 The change of terminology, from “Gypsy” to “Roma” was symbolic, reflecting the emergence of an ethnic self–awareness amongst its members.

unknown | Chronicle of the Gypsy Cultural-Educational Association"Novo Drom" ("New Life") in Tarnów, by the Roma Association in Tarnów | historical document | Poland | 1963 - 1982 | Rom_10087 Rights held by: Roma Association in Tarnów | Provided by: Adam Bartosz – Private Archive

This association, together with Adam Bartosz (an ethnographer and respected Romani Studies scholar), played a significant role in popularizing Romani culture and history. This cooperation resulted in opening the first Polish Roma exhibition, entitled Cyganie w kulturze polskiej (‘Gypsies in Polish Culture’), in one of the branches of the District Museum in Tarnów, in May 1979. This 1979 exhibition was an important step in creating the first permanent exhibit devoted to Roma, which opened in 1990 on the occasion of the Fourth World Romani Congress in Serock12, in the newly-established Ethnographic Museum.

Heightened religious activity played an important role in the process of Roma mobilisation. In the 1980s the priest, Edward Wesołek propagated the idea of Roma pilgrimages to Marian sanctuaries, especially to the Jasna Góra monastery, where he managed to gather the representatives of all Roma groups on 8th December 1981, facilitating the integration differing groups of Polish Roma. This date became established as the focus for annual Roma pilgrimages.

In 1979, Wesołek also began editing the first Roma magazine, entitled Deweł Sarengro Dad ('God, the Father of Everyone’). The magazine was primarily devoted to religious topics, but it is worth noting that it also highlighted the need to strengthen the Romani language. In 1986, another priest, Stanisław Opocki initiated the tradition of Roma pilgrimages to the Marian sanctuary at Limanowa, a tradition that continues to today.

Adam Bartosz | Romani pilgrimage to Limanowa | photography | Poland | 1992 | Rom_10081 Rights held by: Adam Bartosz | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Adam Bartosz – Private Archive

During times of crisis or political turmoil in Poland, Roma were frequently made the scapegoats for social frustrations. The rise of antagonism and aggression towards Roma is illustrated by incidents during the period; in Łuków and Kłodawa in 1976, in Konin and Oświęcim in 1981, and in Mława in 1991. After anti-Roma incidents in Oświęcim, the authorities permitted Roma to leave the country for Sweden and West Germany, with the so-called ‘wolf tickets’ (one-way tickets). It is worth noting that the first group left for Sweden on 13th December 1981, the day announcing martial law in Poland under General Jaruzelski, in the wake of strikes and social rebellion led by Lech Wałęsa and the trade union, Solidarność (Solidarity).

Agnieszka Południak | Anti-roma pogroms during communism | Non Fiction | Poland | 2017 | rom_10046 Rights held by: Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

Transformation Period – Roma in Democratic Poland

The political transformation of 1989 brought about a florescence of the Roma community, both culturally and politically; the result of emerging new opportunities offered by the democratic system, as well as the effect of contacts through the international Roma movement. A number of Polish Roma, such as Andrzej Mirga, Stanisław Stankiewicz, and Józef Kamiński, participated in the Third World Romani Congress in 1981.

The subsequent Fourth World Roma Congress (1990) was organized in Serock near Warsaw, in collaboration with Stanisław Stankiewicz from Białystok. This was the first Congress that included the participation of Roma from the former Eastern Bloc. For this occasion, the magazine Rrom p-o Drom was produced, edited by Stankiewicz, who was elected as the Vice President of the International Romani Union, at the assembly.

Agnieszka Południak | Transformation period – importance of democracy for Roma | Non Fiction | Poland | 2017 | rom_10047 Rights held by: Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive
Adam Bartosz | 3rd World Roma Congress in Göttingen | photography | Germany | May 16, 1981 - May 20, 1981 | Rom_10080 Rights held by: Adam Bartosz | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Adam Bartosz – Private Archive

A tragic car crash in 1991, sparked a Roma pogrom in Mława; giving direct impetus to the creation of Stowarzyszenie Romów w Polsce (the Association of Roma in Poland). The organization was intended to represent the Roma communities in relations with the rest of the world. The organization was created through the initiative of Andrzej Mirga, representative of Bergitka Roma group, as well as Roman Kwiatkowski, representative of Polska Roma group. It was no coincidence that the association was registered in Oświęcim (Auschwitz). It is important to note that this was the first association with clear political and representative aspirations.

The organization also respected tradition; it was created with the full knowledge and the consent of the Šero Rom,13 the highest traditional authority amongst the Polska Roma. The statutory objectives of the association were to support the full participation of Roma in Polish society, to seek legal recognition of Roma as a minority, to provide legal protections, and to ensure conditions for the preservation and cultivation Roma traditions, language, and culture (for example, through actions such as publishing Dialog-Pheniben, a quarterly journal since 1995).

The organization played an essential role in commemorating the Roma Holocaust (Porrajmos) and seeking reparations for Roma victims. It was supported by important figures from Polish politics, such as Lech Wałęsa (leader of the Solidarność trade union and president of the Republic of Poland, 1990-1995) and Jacek Kuroń (leading dissident and intellectual of the Solidarność trade union; Minister of Labour from 1989-1990 and 1992-1993; he was also a close adviser to Lech Wałęsa). The Association of Roma in Poland established contact with the then Pope, John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła, a Polish cardinal elected to the Papacy in 1978), who symbolically supported the organization’s activities of promoting Roma rights in Poland and in Europe, with his papal statement of the 26th May 1991.14

Agnieszka Południak | Setting up the Association Of Roma In Poland (Stowarzyszenie Romów w Polsce) | Non Fiction | Poland | 2017 | rom_10049 Rights held by: Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

Political Activity – Participation in Elections

The period of transformation and the emerging Polish democracy, opened up new opportunities for participation in political and civic life, for Roma. In 1991, Andrzej Mirga and Stanisław Stankiewicz were the first Roma in Poland to stand for election to the Polish Parliament, as candidates for the ‘German Minority Party’.

In 1993, Mirga stood for election once again, this time representing Unia Demokratyczna (Democratic Union Party), though was on this occasion, as on the previous occasion, unsuccessful. Mirga had campaigned in Kraków along with important figures from the Polish political scene, such as Jan Maria Rokita, a conservative politician and formerly leader of the SKL, the Conservative People’s Party (2000 to 2001) and of the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska), and Professor Hanna Suchocka (University of Adam Mickiewicz 1968 to 1980; Polish Prime Minister between August 1992 to October 1993; Minister of Justice 1997 to 2001; Ambassador for the Holy See from 2001). No other Roma representative has stood for election since.

Agnieszka Południak | Participation in the parliamentary elections | Non Fiction | Poland | 2017 | rom_10048 Rights held by: Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

A few Roma have managed to be elected at the local level, for municipalities and civic councils (e.g. Ryszard Rzepka was elected for the Czarny Dunajec City Council, 1998–2002). A special case of participation of Roma in political life was the role of the Plenipotentiary for National and Ethnic Minorities; Elżbieta Mirga-Wójtowicz held the position in the Małopolskie Province (2008–2014), and Justyna Matkowska was nominated to the position in the Dolnośląskie Province, in 2016.

Unia Demokratyczna (Democratic Union Poland) | Andrzej Mirga's Electoral Flyer 1993 | leaflet | Poland | 1993 | Rom_10042 Licensed by: Andrzej Mirga | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Andrzej Mirga — Private Archive

Commemorating the Roma Holocaust – a New Element of Roma Identity and Solidarity

The issue of the Roma Holocaust has been at the foundation of the post–war Roma movement across much of Europe. Acknowledging the racial character of the World War Two destruction of Roma and Sinti communities, and the commemoration of these victims, were some of the primary goals of the first Roma organizations in Poland. The Oświęcim Association of Roma in Poland was a principal actor in this regard. From 1992, the organization initiated a programme of actions that changed the former character of commemorations carried out by Romani Rose and the German Roma and Sinti organizations, at the Nazi’s Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The commemoration gained new aspects; it became an event that gained widespread political recognition, thanks to the participation of representatives from the Polish government, ambassadors from the USA, Germany, Israel, and other countries.

These events also grew to be pan-Roma, more inclusive of all Roma, due to a wider participation of Roma and Sinti from countries other than Germany. The commemorative ceremonies acquired a new dimension by referencing the works of ‘Papusza’ (Bronisława Wajs), the Polska Roma poetess, to invoke Roma culture and Roma identity. Previously, the events were more institutional, related only to history and the atrocities of the past; they did not invoke a collectively shared Romani identity, making references and connections to Romani cultural production. This marked a significant turn in the processes of remembrance.

The 50th anniversary of the liquidation of the Zigenunerlager in KL Auschwitz-Birkenau (the 2nd and 3rd of August 1944) was of particular importance. In 1993, Księga Pamięci: Cyganie w KL Auschwitz-Birkenau (‘Memorial Book: Gypsies in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp’) was published by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Press. A commemorative event, featuring music written by Jan Kanty-Pawluśkiewicz for Papusza’s poems also took place. Księga Pamięci... was presented to John Paul II, during an official visit of the Association of Roma in Poland (with the participation of Karl Stojka) to the Vatican in 1994.

Agnieszka Południak | Commemorating the Roma Holocaust | Non Fiction | Poland | 2017 | rom_10050 Rights held by: Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

Kanty-Pawluśkiewicz developed a few of these songs into a symphonic poem entitled, Harfy Papuszy (Papusza’s Harps),15 performed at a premier in 1994, at Kraków’s Błonia Park as a part of the commemoration events of the Roma Holocaust. An audience of 10,000 saw the spectacle (directed by Krzysztof Jasiński with stage design by Władysław Hasior), and performances from Elżbieta Towarnicka, Bożena Zawiślak-Dolny, Andrzej Biegun, and the American opera singer, Gwendolyn Bradley. The show was broadcasted by Polish public television. The spectacular success of the event contributed to a greater historical awareness amongst Polish Roma and moreover, amongst majority Polish society and the authorities.

In 1997, after several years of effort by the Association of Roma in Poland and supported by the actions of the German Roma and Sinti (in particular, Romani Rose), a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Roma Holocaust opened in Block No. 13 of the KL Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

In 1996, Adam Andrasz, the chairmen of the Tarnów Roma Association, and Adam Bartosz of the Tarnów District Museum, initiated the International Romani Caravan of Memory, an annual event that takes place to today. It is a reconstruction of a Romani caravan, featuring both Roma and non-Roma participants, which visits the sites of murders and mass killings of Roma, during the Roma Holocaust. The 12th edition of the International Romani Caravan of Memory saw the unveiling of the Roma Holocaust Monument in Borzęcin Dolny, designed by Roma artist, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas.16

In 2011, following the initiative of Roma members of the Joint Commission of the Government and National and Ethnic Minorities, the Sejm (Parliament) of the Republic of Poland established the Second of August, as the Day of Remembrance of the Sinti and Roma Holocaust. The Commission... operated within the framework of the Working Group on Roma, in collaboration with the Parliamentary Committee on National and Ethnic Minorities. President Bronisław Komorowski was the honorary patron of the first anniversary.

Today, commemorating the Roma Holocaust is an important constitutive element of Roma identity. Forgotten histories related to the Roma Holocaust are revived, and dates and sites are commemorated, establishing a narrative of collective memory and solidarity. The memory of prominent figures in Roma history are also recognized. Alfreda Markowska or Noncia (her Romani name), is a Polish Roma woman, who miraculously survived a pogrom during the war and saved as many as sixty Roma and Jewish children from being killed or transported. In 2006, President Lech Kaczyński honoured her with the Order of Polonia Restituta, ‘for heroism, extraordinary courage, and a special contribution to saving human lives’.

The Roma Holocaust remembrance is also exceptionally important to the younger generation of Roma. Since 2010, ternYpe, the International Roma Youth Network, commemorates the Second of August by organizing youth meetings in Kraków and at the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the Roma and Sinti camp (2014), TernYpe organised one of the biggest commemorative events in history gathering over 1,000 young Europeans from twenty-five countries.

ternYpe – International Roma Youth Network | Booklet of 2014 Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative "Dikh h na bister!" | printed material | Poland | 2014-07 | Rom_10009 Licensed by: TernYpe — International Roma Youth Network I Licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International I Provided by: ternYpe — International Roma Youth Network

Representation and Roma Organizations

The fall of communism and the 1989 transformation allowed Roma in Poland to acquire a more engaged political role as agents of change. New Roma organisations came into being (several dozen during the first decade after 1989); new Roma leaders emerged with ambitions to participate in political and civic life; Roma initiated relations with authority representatives and commenced in building a social dialogue around such issues as the Roma Holocaust, or traditional social structures (such as the meeting of the Šero Rom Kozłowski, with Jacek Kuroń, following the Mława pogrom). The state created frameworks and institutions for minority policies, which supported positive initiatives and activities by minority ethnic communities.

The new leaders and organisations that have emerged have made significant contributions to the Polish Roma movement; one such example is Związek Romów Polskich (Polish Roma Union), established in 2000, and its chairman, Roman Chojnacki. The organization has a seat on the government’s Joint Commission... and, within the framework of the government Programme for the Roma Community in Poland (2004), it is responsible for the creation of lists of Roma students eligible for bursaries. The Union also participates in the commemoration of the Roma Holocaust, particularly remembering those Roma murdered in concentration camps and in other places in central and northern Poland (for example, by erecting a monument devoted to Roma who died in Treblinka concentration camp).

The National and Ethnic Minority and Regional Language Bill

Towards the end of the communist era in Poland, the issue of human rights became one of the fundamental themes taken up by dissidents who fought for democracy in Poland. With the establishment of democracy, human rights became a constitutive element of the new parliamentary system, including the issue of minority rights in Poland.

Since the early 1990s, the Sejm Committee on National and Ethnic Minorities, led by Jacek Kuroń (and formally established by a bill presented to the Sejm as early as the 31st July 1989), began the work on a law protecting minority rights.

Piotr Wójcik | Meeting between Sero Rom, Henryk Kozłowski and the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Jacek Kuroń | photography | Poland | Oct. 19, 1992 | Rom_10052 Rights held by: Piotr Wójcik | Licensed by: Gazeta Wyborcza/Agora | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Gazeta Wyborcza/Agora (Poland)

The initial drafts of the bill were reviewed in 1993 and 1994, and representatives from Roma organizations participated in the debates on the eventual shape of the final law regulating national minority rights in Poland. The National and Ethnic Minority and Regional Language Law was finally approved on 6th January 2005. The legislation defines Roma as a minority ethnic community in Poland; significantly, it was also translated to two Romani dialects (Polska Romani and Bergitka Romani). The Bill established the Joint Commission of the Government and National and Ethnic Minorities, an opinion-making and advisory body responsible to the Prime Minister. Given the diversity of Roma communities in Poland, the Commission included representatives of the two largest groups, Polska Roma and Bergitka Roma. The Commission oversees the Working Group on Roma, incorporating Roma from all over Poland, with twenty-two members.

Agnieszka Południak | Towards legal recognition of Roma as a minority | Non Fiction | Poland | 2017 | rom_10051 Licensed by: Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka| Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

Programme for the Roma community

Since 2001, on the initiative of the Polish government and Roma activists (including Andrzej Mirga, Marian Gil, Zenon Bołdyzer, Andam Andrasz, Janusz Kamiński, Tadeusz Gabor, Paweł Becherowski, Krystyna Gil, and Sylwester Szczerba, among others), the Małopolskie Province carried out the “2001–2003 Pilot Programme for the Roma Community in the Małopolskie Province”. In 2005, the Harangos Roma Educational Association carried out an evaluation of the educational section of the “Pilot Programme...”, reinforcing the 2003 decision of the Council of Ministers, that approved the nationwide “Programme for the Roma Community in Poland”. In 2011, independent research evaluated the “Programme...”, on behalf of the Ministry of Interior and Administration. The eventual report, served to devise the new program for the years 2014-2020, together with conclusions and recommendations, various EU guidelines and consultations undertaken with Polish Roma.

The Development and Promotion of Roma Arts & Culture

After 1989, the situation in Poland offered many possibilities and means of promoting and developing Roma arts and culture. In the 1990s, many Roma song and dance ensembles were established, including Kałe Bała (1992) based in Czarna Góra and directed by Teresa Mirga, a poet, composer, and singer. Don Vasyl (Vasyl Schmidt) became a genuine Polish pop star.17 Numerous festivals and concerts were organized as well; as early as 1989, on the initiative of the musician and virtuoso Edward Dębicki, the Romane Dyvesa International Gypsy Band Meeting Festival was established in Gorzów Wielkopolski. The International Roma Culture and Song Festival in Ciechocinek, broadcasted on public Polish television, has taken place without interruption since 1997. Karol Parno Gierliński, a sculpture, painter, poet, and writer, honoured with both the Distinguished Cultural Service Award in 2001 and the Gold Cross of Merit in 2011, was a very important Roma figure, combining political activity with artistic and educational endeavours.

Since the 1990s, and especially following the adoption of the bill regulating minority rights, Roma organizations and leaders have actively worked towards promoting Roma culture and identity. Numerous publications written by Roma are published, and a number of workshops and festivals devoted to Roma culture and art has increased as well. In 2007, Karol Parno Gierliński created the Roma Primer book, published in Polska Roma and Bergitka Roma dialects; in 2009, Jan Mirga published a Polish-Roma dictionary. Teresa Mirga, Izolda Kwiek, Edward Dębicki, and Stanisław Stankiewicz all published volumes of their poetry, whilst other authors have also published short stories and children’s stories.

2007 saw the creation of the “Romani Art” group, bringing together artists of Roma origin, and the Jaw Dikh International Open-Air Residency (initiated by Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, a Roma artist from Czarna Góra), has also been organized since 2010.

Roma Movement in Poland Today

The process of ethnic mobilization in Poland is very much underway and is still evolving, striving to provide direction for the changes towards Roma development. Today, a large and varied group of conscious, educated, and competent Roma work in the fields of education and culture, as well as promoting tradition and identity. Together, over-arching generational and group divides, they are building community awareness and highlighting the need for cooperation and solidarity, considering this the only effective way of operating. The numerous waves of emigration of Polish Roma over the last decades, have strengthened international collaboration and the impact of Roma political culture, at home and abroad.

Currently, there are about 120 Roma organizations registered in Poland today; amongst them, are many organizations of Roma women, or those led by the new generation of young Roma activists.

Rights held by: Anna Mirga | Licensed by: Anna Mirga | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC 3.0 Germany | Provided by: RomArchive