Attila Landauer is a minority researcher. He started his academic studies in Gypsy culture in the mid 90s, and since August 2010 has been working as the coordinator of Roma minisry of the Reformed Church in Hungary. In the following interview, Mr. Landauer discusses history of Gypsy culture, their connection to Reformed church and the role of István Wáli Reformed Roma Collegium.
In Hungary, Roma communities have been an inseparable part of society for centuries and in the life of churches, service among Roma has always primarily meant spreading the Gospel. Over the last century, this activity has gradually been complemented with other forms of help to facilitate their integration into society.
Church ministry among Roma is unique, because it is centered around the community. Instead of the individualist approach that has been prevalent for decades, we consider solidarity and mutual respect the opportunity for development. Mission work among the Roma cannot necessarily be separated from everyday congregational work of the pastors. That is why we only know generally that 70-80 congregations of the 1200 present Hungarian Reformed congregations participate in regular activity connected to Roma Ministry. A significant amount of this is located in North-East-Hungary - dominantly on the territory of the Cistibiscan Church District (centre Miskolc).
What are the first traces of Gypsy mission efforts in church history?
I wouldn't necessarily use the word Gypsy mission here. Both the term and the specific activity it refers to developed much later than the time we see evidence of a relationship between the Christian churches and Gypsies. If the question is, which do I believe to be the earliest document in church history that proves the church's concern for Gypsies, then my response is a Protestant source named La Discipline des Églises réformées de France, a Huguenot church order from 1559. One particular paragraph discusses the issue regarding the christening of Gypsy children, and what the minister had to take into consideration on such an occasion. First of all, it had to be clarified whether the child had been christened before or not, but the minister also had to remind the godparents to examine themselves, whether they were ready for the long-term commintment of being godparents or not. The fact that these issues even arose makes it obvious that among French protestants, even as early as Calvin's time, there were examples for Gypsies being christened. But we also have some more specific sources from the Carpathian basin. The earliest of them is dated 1567, the year of the Debrecen assembly, where the Hungarian Reformed Church was formally established.
The decrees of this particular assembly – which were most probably recorded by none other than Péter Méliusz Juhász – discuss some Gypsy issues and the church's responsibility for the Gypsy population. It is important to emphasise, however, that here – as was always customary in Hungarian history and is still common today – the term Gypsy appears with a social shade in its meaning. The earliest assemblies of the Hungarian Reformed Church almost always had to put the topic of Gypsies on their agenda. We have numerous sources to justify that.
As we look at other churches' records and examine the first occurrences of the Gypsy issue in them, the second one chronologically following the Reformed example is one of the Hungarian Lutheran Church. More specifically, it is a document from the 1603 Assembly in Murány, where the wording of the order relating to the conditions and the manner of christening Gypsy people is quite similar to that of the aforementioned Huguenot source from 1559. Out of the Catholic sources that I am familiar with, the documents of the 1629 Nagyszombat (now Trnava in Slovakia) assembly are the earliest to tackle the proper conduct of Gypsies and the acceptable attitude towards them.
Reviewing the evidences of the relationship between Gypsies and the churches of the Carpathian basin, it is once again worth mentioning the Reformed Church, as the first Gypsy church wedding with a Reformed reference was registered in Nagybánya (now Baia Mare in Romania), in the summer of 1613. What makes this case unique is that it is mentioned in a Catholic source. This Latin note communicates clearly that its anonymous Catholic author is deeply upset about the event. The first reference to a christening also dates back to the first half of the 1600s. More accurately, it is dated 25 February 1626, and appears in the earliest Reformed registrar of Hungary, the famous Registrar of Kiskomárom (presently called Zalakomár). In addition to this note, a source from Győr, 1650 gives account of a Catholic Gypsy wedding ceremony.
References to Gypsies becoming incorporated with the Protestant school system – probably as a consequence of a decree issued at the Gyulafehérvár Diet in 1624, preceded by Prince Gábor Bethlen's demand that talented serves be educated – also occur in the 1600s.
The first Lord's prayer in the Gypsy language was most probably recorded in the second half of the 1600s. Later, in the 1770s it was published as the "old translation" by Sámuel Augustini ab Hortis. We even know of a church worker in the 17th century who took great pains to make Gypsies recite the Lord's prayer in their mother tongue. This person was Ferenc Otrokocsi Fóris, the highly talented but spiritually disturbed galley slave preacher, who became a Catholic in his old age.
Otrokocsi's somewhat younger contemporary, Dávid Grausser is most likely to have been the first Gypsy intellectual in the whole world. Grausser registered at the Reformed Collegium of Nagyenyed (now Aiud in Romania) on 3 October 1687. It is only based on this information that we think he must have been born around 1670. The Matricula of Nagyenyed preserved only one Latin word in reference to his origin, and that was "ciganus", which by itself leaves no doubt about his being a Gypsy. At the same place we read the addition "rector in Gy.Sz.Király", which makes it obvious that he graduated, and later on worked as a schoolmaster, most probably in Gyéresszentkirály (now Ghiriş-Sâncrai in Romania). It is a mere stroke of luck that some other sources have also been preserved in relation to his person. For example, József Hermányi Dienes noted down a story from Grausser's youth in his fragmented autobiography. In the story, the professor István Kolosvári once called on a Gypsy student with a mathematical question. This Gypsy student – although in the memoir we read the name "Grausa" – was undoubtedly Dávid Grausser himself. József Hermányi Dienes must have heard the story from someone – since he was not a student of the Collegium in Grausser's time – nevertheless, he recorded the story in great detail. First of all, he reported that the student called on by István Kolosvári was a Gypsy, and he went on to specify that he was the son of a Gypsy serf in service of Ferenc Belényesi, vidame of Prince Mihály Apafi I. From this we also know that Grausser's studies were financially supported by the Belényesi family, or possibly by the vidame's own foundation. Another fact Hermányi Dienes' source informs us about is that later on Dávid Grausser also used the name Belényesi.
This is quite exciting, because in a source from 1700, Dávid Belényesi Grausser appears as a minister in Brád, Kristyor and Zaránd (now Brad in Romania) – and this is obviously the same person who once was a Gypsy student. At this time, however, he was already struggling with drinking problems, he had failed to fulfil his tasks as a minister, therefore, on many occasions he was summoned by the Regional Synod. Strangely enough, his Gypsy origin was never directly mentioned. In the source, we can find an interesting, minor reference to it, though. When he was warned that due to his lifestyle he might not be able to keep his position in the church, he responded that he was not too concerned, because he was good enough a fiddler to make a living just by playing music. Still, his Gypsy origin was not mentioned in any of the documents from his years of ministry. In 1702 his controversial lifestyle finally led to a divorce, but surprisingly, in 1715 he was again employed as a minister by the Kendeffy family. The date of his death is unknown, and we do not know if he had any children. If he did, they were most probably not considered as Gypsies.
Grausser's life story is significant not only because he made a start from below and became a Gypsy intellectual in the 17th century, but because his Gypsy origin is only referred to in the sources from his youth. This means that having become an intellectual, he ceased to be considered a Gypsy. And this applies to several Gypsy intellectuals in the following centuries.
Not long after this, we know of another Gypsy individual who took part in Protestant higher education. His name was Mihály Császlai, and he first appeared as a student of the Reformed Collegium of Szatmár in 1719. An interesting fact – although it hardly surprises us in the light of Grausser's example – is that although Császlai was recorded in the registrar several times, only on his registration to the school was his origin described as "poor Gypsy". This term was recorded in Hungarian, and the fact and level of his graduation ("magister factus") was in Latin.
An even better known example than Grausser or Császlai is Mihály Vistai Farkas, who graduated in the 1780s in Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca in Romania). What is more important than the fact of his graduation in Kolozsvár is that it was there that he compiled the most significant, almost dictionary-size Gypsy glossary of the 18th century. It is a great deficiency of not only Hungarian, but European Gypsy Studies that this manuscript has not been published to this day. We also know of other Gypsy students from the time of Vistai, because an article of the "Magyar Hírmondó" in 1780 mentions – although not by name – a Gypsy individual who at the time was studying at the Reformed Collegium of Nagyenyed. This information confirms our assumption that the Gypsy students of the time, more accurately, their Gypsy origin, was not always recorded in the matricula studiosorum of the schools. For example, the student lists of Nagyenyed have been preserved, but other than Dávid Grausser, none of the students are referred to as Gypsy. This applies to 1780 as well. All we know is that somebody on the list was a Gypsy. Judging from the surnames, we do have a suspicion.
Sources from the second half of the 1700s – more importantly, from Transylvania and the Partium – make it obvious that Reformed Gypsies of the larger Protestant, or dominantly Protestant areas played an essential role in not only everyday life, but church life as well. It is quite exciting to read, for instance, what a scandal it caused in a certain settlement that a certain Gypsy person did not take part in the holy communion for a long while. This also tells us something about the other Gypsies living there: namely, that they did take part in the communion.
Were there Gypsy intellectuals from other denominations at this time?
Not in the 17th-18th century... at least, not to my knowledge. In the 19th century, however, we know of some Catholics too. For example, Endre Pozsár, who must have been the first Gypsy priest. He was born in 1856 into a Hungarian Gypsy family in Vác, and died in 1930. His contemporary was István Kolompár, who studied in the 1870s in Kalocsa, at the teacher training school. He is most probably identical with the teacher who in 1886 worked in Póhalom and changed his name to Bácskai.
In 2011 September, the István Wáli Reformed Roma Collegium opened its doors to Gypsy students who participate in higher education. Where did the idea come from to found a Collegium?
I'm afraid I can't answer that, as I didn't take part in the process. I've heard various versions as to how it all started. By the time I joined in, there had been some negotiation going on between the churches – which at the time involved the Reformed Church in Hungary and the Hungarian Catholic Church. They were discussing the idea of launching educational institutions for Gypsies. The Reformed church was represented by Dr Tamás Kodácsy, the Catholic group mostly consisted of Jesuites. At the first meetings that I attended in the Autumn of 2010, we were also working with Father József Hofher, occasionally Ulrich Kiss, Tamás Forrai Jesuite Provencial Superior and János Báthory minority specialist. Later on the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church joined us as well. In March 2011 a statement was signed by Zoltán Balog state secretary and the aforementioned church leaders, and the collegiums were founded last year: the Jesuite school in Budapest, the Greek Catholic one in Miskolc, the Lutheran one in Nyíregyháza and the Reformed one in Debrecen. Obviously, there is a forum where the representatives of these four churches meet to discuss any questions regarding the management of the schools.
This is the Christian Roma Collegium Network. Let me add, however, that within the Network we have to deal with a number of professional and conceptual differences. The management groups of the other three collegiums – in agreement with János Báthory's original plan – think that their institutions should be places where Gypsy-Hungarian coexistence can be established and practiced, so they also register some non-Gypsy students into their collegiums – to my knowledge, they aim for about 25 percent. In the Reformed collegium, however, we do not follow this principle. Gypsy origin is the only criterium for application. We think that for those who graduated from secondary schools and have started higher education, coexistence should not be an issue. If we were to take on 5 non-Gypsy students per 15 Gypsy applicants, that would only mean that we have 5 less Gypsies.
We believe that these young people experience coexistence with non-Gypsies on a daily basis. They graduated together with non-Gypsies, they live their life among them. Our task is quite simply to walk with them on the path that takes them to becoming well-educated individuals of integrity, intellectuals who can cope with every challenge, and, last but not least, who possess a healthy spirit. We handle each one of them according to their personality and skill, in their own field of interest.
Was it obvious that the Reformed collegium had to be placed in Debrecen?
Yes, there was no doubt about it. We received a lot of help in Debrecen from the leaders of the church. Since it was one of our main goals – in agreement with the common objectives set by the Christian Roma Collegium Network – to promote the forming of a Gypsy group of intellectuals who have a healthy attitude towards the historical churches; we thought that this town had the best conditions for that. The decision was a good one from all aspects, and it was justified by the fact that out of the 16 students we registered last year, seven were Reformed, even though only a relatively small part of Hungarian Gypsies are Protestant, and an even smaller part are Reformed.
Who was István Wáli, namesake of the Reformed Roma Collegium?
In order to move forward in the Gypsy issue – here I'm using the broadest possible interpretation of what is considered scientific in relation to Gypsies – we have to demolish some misconceptions that go back many centuries in time. If we look into the literature of Gypsy studies to see who István Wáli was (often spelled as Váli or Vályi), the sources will tell us that he was a minister in Dunaalmás, who, sometime during his studies in the Netherlands, in the 18th century discovered the relationship between the Gypsy language and one of the Indo-Aryan languages.
Both foreign and Hungarian details of the story have now been clarified, thanks to Wim Willems, a Dutch researcher, and a number of Hungarian researchers. The truth is that the person by the name István Wáli, who recognised the Indo-Aryan nature of the Gypsy tongue is not identical with the minister in Dunaalmás. Without a doubt, Dunaalmás – then called Almás – had a Reformed minister called István Wáli between 1756 and 1780, but in the 1750s, when "our" István Wáli registered in Utrecht (more accurately, in 1753-54, according to the Utrecht sources) this particular person was an elderly man. Now we know that there were two people by the same name: father and son. The minister in Dunaalmás was the father, and the István Wáli who studied in Utrecht and discovered this fundamental fact about the Gypsy language was his son. His life, however, is a mystery from various aspects. One thing is for sure about him: although he was highly educated, for some reason he never held a church position in Hungary. We find no evidence that he was ever a schoolmaster or a minister. All we know is that he lived in Neszmély, a settlement near Dunaalmás. We also know that his wife's name was Erzsébet Barki.
Another fact about him according to the registrar is that on 29 May 1779 he died of exhaustion after a severe illness at the age of 50. At this time, his father was still a minister in Almás. We only know from the Neszmély registrar that he must have been born in 1729 or 1730, and in that light it sounds quite realistic that he was a student in 1753-54 in Utrecht. It is quite exciting to know that his fellow students in Utrecht were people like István Weszprémi, father of Hungarian medical historiography, Ábrahám Szathmáry Paksi, a later bishop of the Cistibiscan church district, or the greatly honoured Ferenc Kolmár, the later-to-be dean in the Danubian church district. Considering the successful careers some of Wáli's school-mates had, it is all the more interesting why he did not have higher positions. The most likely reason is that he was coping with a long-term illness. One thing is for certain: as we compare the lives of the elder and the younger István Wáli, we see a significant relapse in the son's life – and an even stronger one in the life of his off-spring: István Wáli's son, Sámuel Wáli died in 1831 as a cotter.
How do we know about István Wáli's discovery regarding the relationship between the Gypsy language and the Indo-Aryan languages?
A series of articles was published in a Viennese periodical called Wiener Anzeigen in 1775-76, which to this day determines the principal theories of Western romanology, even though until the most recent past the author of these texts was unknown. This series was published anonymously, or, to be more exact, at the end of the final article the monogramme "ab H" was indicated. Scolars of Hungarian historiography discovered that the author was Sámuel Augustini ab Hortis, Lutheran minister in Szepes county (now in Slovakia).
The name of István Wáli appears in one of Sámuel Augustini's articles – although in a very indirect way. Augustini names his source as Sámuel Dobai Székely, a former officer, collector of certificates and coins. This man gave an account of being visited by István Szathmárnémethi Papp in the early 1760s, who told him that he had met a minister in Dunaalmás, an István Wáli, who shared an interesting story with him. As the story went, Wáli – spelled as Vali in the Wiener Anzeigen – said that during his studies in the Netherlands he met some "Malabari" people, and he noticed that their language resembled the tongue of Hungarian Gypsies. According to this story which had been passed on so many times, Wáli compiled a glossary of approximately 1000 words and had it revised by Gypsies living in Győr.
Without any difficulty, they were able to recognise their own words in this language that they could not even identify. The source calls the language "Malabari", which in most cases refers to the Malayam language, a member of the Dravidian family. (It's important to note, however, that this story was written in Latin, and it was published as a footnote to a German text.) In the 18th century the word "Malabari" could have referred to a number of South Indian languages, so initially it was debatable, exactly what language led Wáli to his observation. Luckily, the aforementioned Wim Willems investigated whether there were any Indian or Indian-related students in Utrecht or Leiden in Wáli's time, and he managed to identify three Ceylonese youth by their names. They were children of officials living in Ceylon, a Dutch province. It is without a doubt that these were the students István Wáli met, so it is also likely that the mysterious "Malabari" language was none other than Sinhala, the Indo-Aryan tongue spoken in Ceylon, presently called Sri Lanka.
What is your personal task in the István Wáli Reformed Roma Collegium?
Theoretically, as the Gypsy mission representative of the Reformed Church in Hungary, my task is to tackle any questions related to the Gypsy community, to make decisions regarding professional issues, to create educational modules in the Gypsy topic, or Gypsy studies – but not romology – to maintain the professional level of these studies, and to participate in the education itself.
And in practice?
In practice I do a bit more. Every teacher who is on some level connected to the collegium, not to mention the full-timers – I only go there once a week – has to face much more diverse tasks than what the work contract includes. It can be anything from maintaining the outer contact network of the institution, correspondence with the ministry or seeing to the students' everyday needs. We have to bear in mind that some of the students come from very difficult backgrounds, they carry hurts, and they occasionally struggle with temper problems. These challenges sometimes put us in the shoes of a spiritual councelor. Despite all the good intention, good skill and commitment, the appointed minister of the school is not enough to fulfil all the needs.
So you go to Debrecen once a week. Do you teach then?
I teach, but I also participate in other activities.
What do you teach?
In the last term I held a course with the working title "Gypsy languages and communities", which is practically the basis of what a properly trained Gypsy intellectual needs to know about the Gypsy issue, according to our vision.
What is this vision? And what is the collegium's goal with these courses?
The collegium's most important goal – which is somewhat different from the other three institutions' goals as announced at the assembly sessions - is that our students complete these courses with the best results possible, according to their skill, and that they become highly trained, if you like, elite Gypsy intellectuals. This means that we, as opposed to, for example the Jesuite Roma Collegium, don't want to "send anybody back". We don't think it will be possible, we don't think we should, and we don't think it would be fair. We don't even think there is a place in every case where they could go... Solving the Gypsy issues is not the Gypsies' or the Gypsy intellectuals' task or inner mission. The Hungarian intellectual society in effect has to find solutions to these problems.
Some of them will probably be willing to "go back".
Under no circumtances will we talk them out of that. But let us see clearly in this: in most cases our students are working hard to get away from the place where they are now. In every sense. Not to mention that we cannot expect an engineer – we have several engineering students – or a flutist to voice an opinion regarding social or economic issues, to strive for catching-up, to work on legal cases or to aim for pedagogical goals – especially out on the field. In this circle, young people ideally strive for their own good. Our real purpose is that they complete their courses according to the best of their skill, and that by the time they finish their studies they become confident in at least one more language in addition to Hungarian.
What courses can the habitants of the collegium take?
Theoretically, the programmes of all the collegiums have been created along the same principles. This means that education takes place within three modules. Originally, what we called the "cultural" module was meant to develop a dual identity, and the idea belonged to János Báthory. In the other three collegiums this module might still be called the same. We, however, do not think that identity is something that can be shaped in 45 minute sessions, twice a week, within compulsory modules. So we have taken a different approach. We try to present the situation of Gypsy groups, larger and smaller communities, their past and present characteristics through historical facts, ethnological information, in an economic and socio-historical context. This is what we believe should be the foundation, rather than the approach of "passion", a history of suffering, which radically fakes real history.
Since the Network's institutions are church collegiums, the educational programme of each includes a module that has a spiritual feature. In our case this means that other than offering devotionals, church history lessons and Bible studies, we want to involve the interested Gypsy students with the young intellectual life of Debrecen. Of course, those who do not wish to participate, we will not push, but we are making efforts to maintain a good relationship with the Reformed Student Conregation of Debrecen.
There is also a public awareness module; in our case it covers language learning and a computer course which we haven't been able to start yet. In this module we are planning to provide the students with information that will enable them to cope with crucial situations like unemployment.
If it is the school's aim to introduce them to Gypsy studies, it also seems important that they grow more confident in their Gypsy identity.
As I have mentioned, it was János Báthory's idea to establish a dual identity in the students. As far as I know, the other three collegiums are still working on that feature. We, on the other hand, think that as intellectuals, these young people will definitely have a healthy identity – whatever that identity might be – if they thoroughly study modern sociology in relation to the history of Gypsies, if they look at the current social, economic events. Then they will see clearly that Gypsy history was never a "history of suffering" in this part of Europe, or elsewhere. Gypsies were not despised for ethnical reasons. Instead, merciless social processes determined the fate of people who were called Gypsies by others, or of people and groups who mostly called themselves Gypsy.
Do you usually take a historical approach in these lessons?
Yes, historical, ethnological and linguistical approaches.
It seems to be vitally important to you that these young people get to know various aspects of Gypsy culture and the social problems Gypsies are facing. This could also be a way to develop Gypsy identity in them, although the point in these issues is not "identity". But you are definitely not trying to direct them into a different reality, causing them to sterilise themselves from the old Gypsy world – whose benefits and drawbacks, whose unique flavour they can still feel – to establish a completely new existence for intellectuals. It seems important to you to hand down as much social and cultural knowledge about Gypsies as possible.
In one sense, this might generate a dual identity. But it's up to these young individuals whether it develops in them or not.
Of course. I don't think we can tell them things like, "you have typically Gypsy-sounding surnames and most of you have a darker skin-colour than the majority of Hungarian population, so you have to stand under the Gypsy flag". If an Vlax youngster tells me – which actually happened once – that he is a Gypsy who lives in Hungary, and therefore, although he even speaks the Gypsy language, his flag is the red-white-green one, I don't have the right to tell him anything different – and I don't intend to.
What sort of cultural knowledge did the students have when they first arrived?
Their cultural knowledge varied, but that was hardly a surprise. The situation is the same with Hungarians; people are not necessarily taught about Hungarian ethnic groups in their homes. In many cases, the students' lack of knowledge was quite shocking. Of course, this lack of information might only be considered as ignorance from the aspect of my own field.
Do they usually know which Gypsy group they come from?
Yes, they typically do, but I have met some groups in Hungary who don't. For example, some Romungro in the Tisza area have no idea what type of Gypsy they are, they just know that they are Gypsy. Our students, however, mostly know.
Which groups are represented in the collegium?
Mostly the Romungro. In a smaller number we also have Vlax, or partly Vlax and some Baias.
What sort of questions do your students ask in your classes?
This could be the topic of another, longer interview. To put it short: the questions are related to history, ethnology, sociology and linguistics. Since I'm trying to promote variability, and I'm working hard to teach them not to think in clishés, not even in relation to their own small communities, these classes are more like discussion groups, sometimes quite informal ones, although strongly based on personal foreknowledge. The starting point is sometimes a scientific issue, sometimes music or free brainstorming inspired by photographs.
Are they open to these?
It looks like they are. They are definitely interested. All of this depends on their personalities. We were able to select the best students from the applicants, but it is a general tendency with Gypsy students that only the most talented ones aim for higher education, so we had an easy job. We had 23 applicants, and we started the programme with 16 students.
Was there ever a real debate in these classes?
It's hard to have a community without any debates and differences between the individuals. Yes, we did have some debates, and that's natural in a group.
Do the students feel like they've been put in the limelight due to their placement in the collegium? To what extent do they experience their present role as an intense one?
This is not a problem, since they are not in the limelight at all. Our approach to this is different from the other institutions' within the Network. If our students decide to give an interview and they allow themselves to be photographed, it's up to them. I can't mention their names to anybody in connection with the István Wáli Reformed Gypsy Collegium, I can't even give information to the students about each other. However, I can create an atmosphere – and this is also a purpose of our classes – where they can honestly speak to each other, with my guidance. As a matter of fact, some tough opinions were voiced initially in class about people who live in Gypsy settlements. I couldn't interfere to tell them that I knew of someone in the classroom who had actually come from a place like that, but things had already been said, and this very talented girl raised her hand, saying, "Excuse me, I live in a Gypsy settlement", and people were taken aback.
Can the habitants of the collegium resolve these differences of "origin"?
The initial conflicts were formed along a different matter. There was a palpable Vlax-Romungro opposition. What's more, some students made things very clear by saying, "I've learnt from my mother that the Vlax are to be hated, and so I hate them.". This incident makes me say that it's hard enough to work on the resolution of such conflicts; we don't need another 5 non-Gypsy students per 15 Gypsy ones to get involved, just to keep an illusion that we are working to establish co-existence.
Which careers do these students typically choose?
We have four engineers, two-three social workers, a flutist, a theologian, a language student, a physicist, an economists, an andragogist and a teacher – so there is a variation.
Did the idea of mobility come up during the discussions? Do the students have supportive family backgrounds, or did they get into the collegium on a different route?
In one sense, every student's path is unique. None of them are met with opposition from the parents' side. Some of them are supported beyond measure, or at least the intention is there. Of course, some of them are not so much supported. One student has to take two jobs along with his studies, because he is practically the one who feeds his family. But, because the students don't easily open up, it is very difficult to gain insight into these matters, even though we try hard to get to know the families of our students. We are convinced that this is also necessary for following them all the way to graduation.
Can the denominational secondary schools and primary schools support Gypsy youth in their upward mobility? How conscious are these efforts in the schools?
Although I have not done an indepth research in this issue, based on some personal experiences I have to say that the efforts are not conscious enough. For example, I know a school which has achieved really spectacular results with Gypsy students, but on taking a closer look we see that the outstanding results come from the children of one particular Gypsy community. The values of the small Gypsy communities, their inner relationhips and their attitude towards the so-called outer society significantly determine a child's progress in school. This, again, is a group of problems on which we don't wish to reflect at an academical level...
These Christian collegiums might be able to shape the attitudes of these primary and secondary schools, but also of Gypsy society. The collegiums can offer a different perspective.
That is our hope.
What sort of problems, challenges do you see in the Gypsies' current situation?
It depends on the level of the problem. I think there are certain irrational obsessions that are taking the Gypsy issue into the wrong direction. A great threat is the illusion of ethnical competence. This phenomenon was named by Zita Réger and Katalin Kovalcsik. And it means the following: for some strange reason, it is believed by many that the person who is most capable of solving the problems related to Gypsies, must be a Gypsy. Apparently, a German linguist in Russia called Wilhelm Radloff once said that being a bird does not make one an ornithologist. I don't know whether he really said this or not, but it applies very well. Unfortunately, it is a tendency in politics and in our intellectual life that whenever a Gypsy issue needs to be discussed, they call a Gypsy. I think when the history of Gypsies has to be discussed, we should call a historian; if the topic is ethnology, we need an ethnologist, if it's linguistics, then we need a linguist, and so on. It is of secondary importance whether the person is a Gypsy or not.
Interpreting or re-interpreting Gypsy history and culture, or cultures, if you like, might also involve some danger. There is a tendency to depict Gypsy history as if it's only a sequence of suffering and persecution, full of incidents when non-Gypsies seek to harm Gypsies for all kinds of irrational reasons, and this has been going on for centuries. But history is not about this. It might sound strange, but our everyday work is also affected by this way of thinking.
What is your opinion on the current role of churches in the Gypsy issue? How could their service be different, better?
I miss professionalism. It would be important to recognise that a professional basis should be the foundation, or the essential part of Gypsy mission, Gypsy pastoration, beyond spiritual knowledge. It is not enough to be a good minister or priest or monk, it is not enough to be a highly trained spiritual consultant in order to achieve good and lasting results in a Gypsy community.
It should also be recognised that a firm and productive "upward movement" cannot be realised through "instant" solution models, within one generation. The diversity of Hungarian Gypsies is too great for that, in every aspect. Every community and every part of the country is different. What's more, I have to say that every settlement, every family and every single individual differs, too.
„Prominence – Ways of Roma Integration" – concise version of the interview published in Ferenc Faludi Academic Publication.
The interview was conducted by Ágnes Lukács, translated to English by Katalin Burns.