Elisabeth Wellershaus talking with France-Elena Damian about: DIE ZIGANIADA
Elisabeth Wellershaus: Ms. Damian, you are from Romania. Why did you choose to do a project that involved Roma artists and the enduring clichés that they are still associated with?
France-Elena Damian: As you have already noted, the prejudices endure and are deeply anchored in Romanian society. For me, this was a good reason to take on the subject. As a child, I also grew up with prejudices against the Roma people, and the Hungarian minority in Romania as well. In Germany, I was then confronted with them and then, when dealing with the issue of discrimination, I determined that the same prejudices are used towards all kinds of marginal groups. This phenomenon will be what we focus on in our project.
Elisabeth Wellershaus: What are the differences in perception of the Roma people from a German and Romanian perspective?
France-Elena Damian: When the Balkan conflict began in the 1990s and Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, many Roma people took over the streets in the European capitals. Thus the issue came back to the forefront. In the meantime, many initiatives have been founded that address the needs of the Roma. They complain about administrative discrimination and the lack of perspectives when one tries to find a home or a job for Roma. On the other hand, there is more solidarity here than in Romania. Initiatives and citizens’ movements do not differentiate – like the bureaucracies do – between refugees from Syria or refugees from the Balkans.
In Romania, hate once again grew towards Roma as they fled to EU countries. Roma and Romanians were considered the same in other countries – this caused an even greater rift. The Romanians then even referenced the measure that Ceausescu had once initiated. He had high-rises built for Roma and introduced compulsory education. But since these regulations were not effective, the populace now believes that they can’t be integrated. But there is a decisive difference between how Roma are dealt with in Germany and in Romania. Romanians are very superstitious and are very afraid of being cursed; at the same time, they believe that the Roma people have magic powers. So they have been living in an odd symbiotic relationship for decades now.
Elisabeth Wellershaus: Why did you use the Tiganiada epos as the point of departure for dealing with this tense relationship? And where do you, Peca Stefan and the actors meet in an artistic sense?
France-Elena Damian: Stefan told me about Ion-Budai Deleanus’ work from 1820; it belongs to required curriculum in Romanian schools. We decided to use the structure of the 12 songs as a source of inspiration and to explore the work’s message, which is rather cliché in part, in our project. Franz Remmel’s timeline, which documents the events related to Roma in the 1990s in Romania, will also flow into the project. And, of course, the experiences of the involved Roma artists from Romania and Germany. The piece’s language will depend on their forms of expression and will be a mix of Romani, Romanian and German. It is important to me to work with people that the respective projects need in terms of content. In the case of “ZIGANIADA”, I am especially inspired to find the necessary form together with Peca Stefan and Roma artists on the basis of various genres.