Interview by Ivana D’Alessandro
Esma Redzepova, the so-called « Queen of the Gypsies » is one of the amazing artists who co-operate with the Dosta! campaign for promoting a better understanding of Roma culture and the recognition of Roma as European citizens. Nominated for Nobel Prize for Peace in 2003, Esma was also the first Yugoslavian artist to act in Paris’ Olympia. Proud of her origins, Esma started singing when she was 13. Her marriage with a « gadjo », Mr. Stevo Teodosievski, was a scandal before becoming the symbol of the dialogue between the Roma community and the majority society. We met her in Freiburg, within the framework of a joint activity which is still a surprise but which will be soon announced on www.dosta.org.
Interview with Mrs Esma Redzepova
Mrs Redzepova, you are an internationally renowned singer, you have been nominated to the Nobel Prize for peace; you married a non-Roma…. Many people would say that you do not correspond to the image of Roma from ordinary people’s viewpoint. Do you consider yourself an exception?
Esma: This is a very important question: whether I am an exception for the Roma population and for having been nominated to the Nobel Prize for peace. I feel that I have done a lot for the Roma population. I am the first singer who has sung in Romani language in the world, I am the official Queen of Roma music crowned in Chandigarh, India in 1976. However, I feel special in the world of music, not an exception for being Roma. It is true that I have done a lot in for giving visibility to Roma culture and for bringing together Roma and non-Roma, but this is just normal, nothing exceptional.
Roma are still the most discriminated minority in Europe. According to you what are the reasons for this and how the example of personalities like you can reverse the situation?
Esma: I can say that the discrimination against Roma people has always existed, but Roma people have always faced it with dignity and have always fought against it. I must say that the Roma are tough people, living as cosmopolites all over the world, and they are probably the only people that never fought a war against anyone, the only people that haven’t assimilated others.
Roma attitude should be emulated and their culture should be recognised. Even me, in my youth as a young Roma girl I suffered discrimination. For example, when I was in first grade in school a girl did not want to seat next to me, because I had darker skin, because I was different from the others. I must say that I have had difficult moments in my life as a Roma singer, but I try always to forget those bad moments and I try to remember the pleasant thing that have happened to me as Esma Redzepova Teodosievska.
How would you explain to non-Roma who Roma are and what being a Roma means in today’s society?
Esma: Being Roma means for me happiness. It may seem strange to some people why someone should feel happy for being Roma. But I’m proud of my ethnic origin because I’m proud of the history of my people, of the richness of my culture and of the pacific behaviour and cosmopolitism of my people who have always been open-minded. Roma people should have the right to choose the place where to live because they do not have their own country.
How do you see the condition of Roma women in our societies, and what is their contribution to the Romanipen, Roma culture and identity?
Esma: I must say that in Macedonia there is a great number of Roma women who play an active role not only in family life but also and more particularly in social life. Many Roma women work on Roma issues, defend Roma rights and struggle for the recognition of Roma culture. The presence of Roma women in society is also demonstrated by the number of educated Roma women which is constantly increasing. In Macedonia there are many Roma girls and young women who have high education level or great knowledge of Roma issues. I am one of those women working on Roma issues and doing a positive work for the Roma community.
Which messages would you like to address to non-Roma that are reading this interview?
Esma: my message to everybody would be to stop fighting each others, to teach tolerance, respect and mutual understanding for granting a better future to our children and a better world to live in.
This interview was made for the Council of Europe’s Dosta! – Basta! campaign. "Dosta" is a Romani word meaning "enough." Dosta is also an awareness raising campaign which aims at bringing non-Roma closer to Roma citizens. For more information about Dosta, go to www.dosta.org.
Photo credits: photo 1© asphalt tango production, photo 2 © Christian Scholze