‘It’s a fight for freedom for the Roma’

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‘It’s a fight for freedom for the Roma’

After hundreds of years of government exclusion a new generation of Romani activists is fighting back. Conrad Landin writes about three campaigners leading the protest.


Illustrations: Jason Ngai


Actor, campaigner, karate master

Milan, Italy

After she grew up in Serbia during the Balkan wars, Dijana Pavlovic was used to living in danger. But when she moved to Milan in 1999 to work as an actress, she found it was very different, ‘In Milan, it was all lights, beautiful, rich’. They asked her to work with Romani school children and soon she found deep segregation in Italy. ‘I could not imagine that people could live so badly in a city like this,’ she says.

Dijana remembers that children came to school on a ‘Roma bus’ from the camp where they lived. In the years that followed, she understood that the problem was ‘not about helping those children, those families. It’s a political problem’. Dijana has a successful acting career and she works with Roma communities to make a change. It’s a fight for freedom for us’, and that’s why we have to be organized to fight. We have to fight in the same way as the others who are fighting against us.’

Roma are ‘people without a voice’, she says, ‘because when they decide for us, they decide it without us’. It is important for Dijana’s that Roma civil rights organizations do not need to be only for the Roma, but the Roma should lead the fight.

Dijana is often on Italian broadcast media and she has often received threats. Her husband was attacked. The attackers said to him, this was ‘because your wife is the Gypsy that is on TV’.

Dijana says, ‘It’s not pleasant, it’s not nice, but I’m not afraid. I cannot change my life because some fascists are threatening me. Or I wouldn’t be what I am, or who I am. I’m also a karate master – and I try to protect myself and my family as much as I can.’


Illustrations: Jason Ngai


Community leader, cook, miner

Teplice, Czech Republic

Josef ‘Jožka’ Miker’s parents met as children in a Nazi camp. After World War Two, they went to Sobrance in Slovakia. Jožka was born there in 1965.

Later, the family moved to Teplice in then German-speaking Sudentenland. Jožka found a job in the mines like his father. The Sudetenland was Czechoslovakia’s most industrialized region, and there were good jobs – but not very often for Roma. ‘When the Germans left the Sudetenland after 1945, the Roma had to do the hard work here,’ he says. ‘Here was all this industry – the glass works, the chemical works. Roma always got the worst work – digging by hand, electrification, gasification.’ He began political activity after the fall of communism in 1992. He organized to stop groups of skinheads marching through Teplice’s Roma district, including Dubska, where Stanislav Tomáš was killed 29 years later. Jožka has long been a leader in the Czech Republic’s Roma community. He helped to start the volunteer-led Konexe organization, and organized protests against the killing of Tomáš and police brutality in 2021. He too has suffered for his activism. In 2021 a group of thugs attacked him in the street for being ‘a Gypsy in a Pirate shirt’ – (he was wearing a T-shirt in support of the Czech Republic’s Pirate Party).

Jožka retired from the mines in 2011 because of ill health. Then he got involved in feeding Teplice’s poorest people. ‘When I started cooking for the homeless ten years ago, there was not one Roma,’ he says. ‘Today, about half of the Roma are homeless and will join me for food, and are happy to have at least one hot meal a week.’


Illustrations: Jason Ngai


Language teacher, organizer, mother

Glasgow, Scotland

Rahela Cirpaci was born in Belgium into a Romanian Roma family, and they moved to Ireland for a ‘better life’ when she was two. After finishing school and college, she met her partner on Facebook when she was 19. He was living in Govanhill, Glasgow – Scotland’s most diverse neighbourhood. ‘He came over and met me in Ireland. From there things moved very fast – he stayed a couple of days and then went back to Scotland, and then the following week I came here to Govanhill. And I never left. I got married here and I just fell in love with the place.’ After hearing about the community organization Romano Lav (which translates as Roma Voice) from her husband, Rahela was excited. ‘I was amazed by the idea,’ she says. ‘There’s such a big Roma community, there are over 3,000 Roma people – maybe more – just here in Govanhill. In Ireland, not many Roma people live together in the same areas.’

Just months after working for the organization with her husband, Rahela became Romano Lav’s project co-ordinator, organizing their activities. ‘I was pregnant at the time. It was a big thing for me because it was my first real job. I never thought I would get an opportunity like that. It gave me a lot more confidence and made me the person I am today.’ Rahela has just taught a beginners course in the Romanes language for people in Glasgow.

‘A lot of Roma women don’t have the confidence to get involved,’ she says. ‘They might have children, and that might stop them, too. But they just need a bit of support, that’s all a Roma woman really needs.

‘When she gets some support, she can do amazing things and do so many things in life. We don’t want them to be quiet and just hide away – we want them to be active in their local communities.’



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)