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ROMA MINORITY IN CENTRAL EUROPE
Terne Romani Bacht - WroclawFoundation of Social Integration PromIII Roma Festival WroclawMuseum of Romani Culture in BrnoRómovia očami Jaroslava Balvína
Museum of Romani Culture in Brno
Muzeum romské kultury
Bratislavská 67
602 00 Brno
Tel:+420 545 571 798
Mobil:+420 608 972 782
Tel.:+420 545 581 206
Fax:+420 545 214 418


www.rommuz.cz




         The Roma community creates a numerous minority in the whole Europe, however, there have not yet been created many museums dedicated solely to the Roma culture and history. It has been suggested in previous compilation, (Natalia Gancarz: Sometimes named Amaro Museum, The Gypsy Museum in Poland) how a museum institution can serve Roma community in their self-reflection as well as a teaching tool for the majority society.

The importance of sharing the common history and culture with other Roma and presenting this to the non-Roma society was also one of the impulses for a team of Roma intellectuals when setting up a Museum of Romani Culture with its seat in Brno, Czech Republic. The Museum was founded in 1991 as a non-profit non-governmental organization. The mission and activity of the museum follows the heritage of the Union of the Gypsies-Romanies (1969–1973).

 

The development of the organization was a long and often difficult way from a space of one temporary leased office with no own exhibition space into a full-bodied museum organization with its own building which it is today. There were two most important milestones on this twenty-year journey. The first was in 2000, when the organization was able to move into a separate building, owned by the city of Brno. This building, located in the center of one of the Brno Roma neighborhoods, was originally in a desolate condition but, thanks of the state intervention, was fully reconstructed for the needs of the museums. Not only was this a great shift for the exhibition possibilities, but also the new location of the museum allowed much more closer and personal relationship with the local Roma community.

The second milestone was the transformation of the museum into a state subsidized organization under the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. This brought much bigger stability as the affiliation with the state institution ensures a regular annual budget.




Exhibition activities

 

The Museum of Romani Culture is so far unique organization in its aim of collecting exclusively records and documents which give evidence of the culture (material and spiritual) of the Roma and their coexistence with the majority population from the past to the present time. Its collections contain over 30.000 items so far that are displayed during regular topical exhibitions and some of them have become a part of the permanent exhibition.

Before the museum obtained a permanent building, it was not possible to organize exhibitions in own space. Nevertheless, its vast collections were presented to the public in the form of temporary theme exhibitions several times. The first exhibitions were therefore organized as guest exhibitions. In 1992, the first exhibition was opened in the Institute of Ethnography of the Moravian Territorial Museum of Brno and was titled The Roma in Czechoslovakia. This exhibition was for a big part of public the first possibility to familiarize them-selves with the Roma culture and history in the then Czechoslovakia. Another travelling exhibition that visited also USA, Norway, Netherlands, Russia or Austria was a show of art pieces of Roma artists called The World through the Eyes of the Roma/E luma romane jakhenca. Many other exhibitions followed.

With the new spaces, the exhibition activity started to be more regular. The exhibition were targeted not only to the art production of Roma but thanks to the growing number of academic staff members, also many new exhibitions dealing with specific parts of Roma culture and history started to be created. These were eg. Kaj šunďol e giľi, e dukh našľol presenting the traditional music culture, S´oda pre tute presenting traditional Roma clothing in different regions, Kaj sas, kaj nasas, guleja bachtaleja dealing with Romani fairy-tales, Sikhľardi buťi – somnakuňi buťi describing the traditional Roma crafts or The Union of Gypsies-Roma (1969-1973) talking about the first official Roma organization in the Czech lands.

 

In 2005 and partly in 2007 the museum completed and opened one half of its forthcoming permanent exhibition (1939–2005) to the public with the financial support of the government of the Kingdom of Holland and under the patronage of ombudsman Otakar Motejl. The permanent exhibition called The Roma Story will, once ready, show the Roma history since the origin in India to the present. The entire exhibition, which will cover one floor of the museum building (6 exhibition rooms), an area of 326 square meters, is planned to be open by the end of year 2011. The room dedicated to Roma history between the years 1939 and 1945 is a reminder of the fate of Roma in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and in Slovakia. The later rooms describe the post-war history, the traditional crafts and art production as well as the contemporary situation in Czech society.




Research

The growing number of expert workers also allowed to focus more on research activities. The aim of the research activities is to extend the information about the Roma history and culture primarily in the region of former Czechoslovakia and also to obtain new collection items for the museum collection funds (these are traditional crafts, fine arts, types of dwellings, interior, textile, jewelry, written materials, posters and invitations, audio, photo and video documentation, response of Roma culture in majority society and self-documentation). The research activities have been an inevitable part of the museum activities since its beginnings. The new collection items are acquired through a collecting, purchase or donation from the owner or author. An important part of the research is also recording of Roma witnesses by the method of oral history. This allows supplementing the historian facts with personal testimonies describing the event of the 20th century. As such information is gathered about the 1st Republic or 2nd World War, after-war period and everyday life such as employment, living, diet, language and others. The findings gathered during research are then often utilized in new museum temporary exhibitions.

 




Educational Activities

In order to be successful mediator, the museum needs to be an active space. The MRC feels the need to hold a social role as an educational institution and socially responsive cultural institution. As such the educational activities try to support a dialogue between different groups.

The most numerous target group in the Museum of Romani Culture are school groups. These are predominantly non-Roma pupils and students who come to the museum with often negative presumptions about Roma and with many stereotypical ideas about the Roma culture. The role of the educator is therefore very difficult, as she is seen as standing on the other side of the barrier. Firstly, therefore, she has to create a confident relationship with the student. Only then the educational programs can be effective.

The museum educator prepares a broad range of interactive programs and animations in the permanent exhibition and short-term exhibitions for school groups and other organized groups. These are shaped based on the specific request of the teachers. All programs are built in order to support cooperation and communication among students. It is accompanied by drama methods, cross-words and short movies. As part of these programs, the museum also offers lectures and discussions with witnesses of Roma holocaust or with Roma activists. This is requested mainly by the older student groups.

 

Another big target group are the Roma children and students from the museum neighborhood, especially from disadvantaged families who are socially weak. The museum offers a wide range of leisure-time activities and tutoring to these children. They can, therefore, not only spend their free time meaningfully and cope with their school curriculum better, they can also learn about their own history and culture through the exhibitions. The diverse leisure-time activities are based on alternative educational methods, drama, art and musical education. The tutoring classes are organized in order to support the school attendance of the children form disadvantaged families and to improve their school results. All the activities of the children’s club and tutoring at the museum have been supervised by the museum tutor and volunteers, mainly university students.



When tutoring, the workers of the museum have realized that one of the problems of the obstacles for the children from the Museum vicinity is the attendance in segregated schools. These schools are often more than 90% Roma. Very often pupils in these schools miss motivation for continuing to higher level of education. It was this problem that led the museum to apply for a project called „The desegregation of Roma children“. Thanks of a grant from the Roma Education Fund, selected children got a chance to attend schools in non-Roma Brno neighborhoods. Two mentors are employed through this project in order to help the children with the school curriculum, to communicate with their parents and with their new teachers. The activities that are undertaken in working with this target group may be considered as secondary in comparison to other museum work. On the other hand, when looking into the future, building a trustful relationship with the local community is a key part for sustaining its position. It is this part of the museum activities that has shifted the reputation among Roma community and Roma NGOs from a passive place to an organization that is actively involved in the Roma social and cultural life.


Public events

For presenting the museum to the public, a very successful method is organizing different public events. These events often attract visitors that are not traditional museum goers. Public events then spread the information about Roma culture and history to a wider range of public. The most successful event that is held annually is our participation in the Brno Museum Night. During one May night people are welcomed in the museum free of charge until late night hours. For this night a special program is prepared and visitors can see fashion show, theatre, musical and dance performance, children can visit all kinds of workshops or listen to Roma fairy tales.

 

The museum’s activities include also regular lectures within the museum building and at the universities and other educational institutions, study video projections, chamber concerts, fashion shows presenting cloths and accessories from museum’s textile collection, celebrations of the International Day of Roma etc. The Museum of Romani Culture provides its visitors with a library and up-to-date, fully equipped reference room with an internet access. The museum also publishes literature and music media that can be purchased personally or through internet.



 

Roma holocaust education, research and remembrance

 

A substantial part of the activities in the Museum of Romani Culture is connected with the topic of Roma genocide during the 2nd World War, within the research activities, educational activities as well as through public events. The research and documentation that is targeted to the period of the WW II., especially from the territory of former Czechoslovakia, has been carried out by a museum historian since the foundation of the museum. Historical documents as well as audio and video recording of the period survivors have been collected and brought into the collections. The educational department together with the historian provides, among others, lectures on Roma holocaust. Different kinds of recourses are used during these programs and depend on the age group, level of education and length of stay. If possible, a holocaust survivor is invited for a discussion. In other case we show a movie called “These are painful memories” that was created in 2002 in cooperation of the museum with Association Film and Sociology and Czech TV. Apart from educating young generation, the museum has also accredited courses for teachers and educators. In the topic of holocaust the museum cooperates with several local and international organizations, such as the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, NGO Živá Paměť/ Living Memory or the Jewish Museum in Prague. As a keeper of history, the museum feels responsible for passing down the information about Roma holocaust also to the wider public. As part of this, the museum annually organizes two memorial events for commemorating the victims of Roma holocaust. On 7 March, the first mass transport of Moravian Roma to Auschwitz concentration camp is commemorated. On 21 August, the museum organizes an all-day event in a former „Gypsy“ camp in Hodonín u Kunštátu, to commemorate the biggest transport of Roma from this camp to Auschwitz. The museum had memorials built there and at the cemetery in the neighboring village of Černovice.


After twenty years of existence of the museum it is possible to say, that the organization has built a strong position both among the Roma community and majority society. In the beginning of its existence, the museum was often seen just as “another museum”. Thanks of all the additional activities, there has been a stronger identification with the Museum and higher knowledge of what is hidden in the interiors of the exhibition halls.






 

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