First published in ekathimerini.com.
What business does the Byzantine Museum have marking International Roma Day on April 8? We’ll find out through a series of events set to continue through the summer and which are aimed at raising awareness about the history and culture of the Roma people, or Gypsies.
The first event, on April 8, provides a crash course for beginners, while ensuing day conferences, exhibitions, concerts, films screenings and workshops will try to answer why the Roma people have been the subject of prejudice and social exclusion through the centuries, and why in these financially troubled times they are seeing very little progress made on this front in Greece and other European countries. “There is only one way to go about it,” historian Stathis Gotsis, who is in charge of the museum’s education programs, told Kathimerini. “We need to take a scientifically proven and levelheaded approach to the history and culture of the Roma in order to strengthen the public’s critical skills.”
But why the Byzantine Museum? “Because,” Gotsis said, “the history of Byzantium is intrinsically linked to the history of the Roma. Scholars note that their first appearance in Europe was in Greece in the Byzantine period during the 14th century and probably sooner in the 11th century. It also seems that this was when Greeks began to use the terms ‘Gyfti’ and ‘Tsigani’ to describe them, terms that are still used today, in variations, all over Europe. The Byzantine Empire represented an organized multiethnic cultural realm that contributed to a great degree toward the cultivation of a collective identity among the Roma populations that passed through Europe. At the same time it made them more visible to non-Roma, who saw them as a distinct entity.”
The Byzantine Museum’s program is part of a broader two-year initiative by the Council of Europe on “Roma Routes,” which is aimed at raising awareness across Europe in collaboration with museums.
The April 8 event in Athens also includes lectures on the history of the Roma, followed by a concert performed by the popular Roma clarinetist Yiannis Vasilopoulos.
Byzantine Museum, 22 Vassilissis Sofias, tel 213.213.9572