THE sun shone on the Southside of Glasgow for yesterday’s International Roma Day celebrations.

More than 250 people – members of the city’s Roma community and their supporters – assembled in Govanhill Park for a rally and march celebrating Romani culture and history, and taking a stand against the racism and discrimination that the Roma people face here in Scotland and internationally.

Assembling in the park, many of the Roma women and girls wore the ornate, brightly coloured dresses that are typical of their culture. Flying above them were dozens of distinctive Roma flags.

The flag – like the Romani anthem Gelem, Gelem, and International Roma Day itself – was established at the first World Romani Congress, held at Orpington in England on April 8, 1971. The flag consists of a background of blue and green (representing the sky and the earth), with a red cartwheel (or dharmachakra), symbolising the itinerant tradition of the Romani people, at its centre.

The National: The vent is now in its tenth yearThe vent is now in its tenth year (Image: Gordon Terris)

Supporters joining with members of the Roma community included activists from the campaign group Stand Up to Racism and local campaigners, including Southside Central councillor Elaine Gallagher from the Scottish Green Party. The crowd heard speeches from the young Roma community leaders, who spoke of the confidence they have gained through the local organisation Community Catalysts.

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Members of the Community Renewal group, which aims to improve the conditions of life for the more than 3000-strong Roma community in Govanhill, read a poem they had composed about their pride in their Roma identity and traditions. The poem also spoke movingly about the racial discrimination Roma people face, and the need to resist it.

The key organisation in co-ordinating the various Roma community organisations, and, indeed, in planning the International Roma Day events is Romano Lav (Roma Voice). Rahela Cirpaci, who is project coordinator for the group, is a leading voice within the Roma community.

She told the rally: “Today is a very important day for us. It is a day when we can be proud to be Roma and celebrate our culture and traditions.”

Speaking of the Roma community in Govanhill (which is the largest in Scotland and one of the biggest in the UK), she commented: “I am proud to say that Roma people consider Scotland to be their home.”

Cirpaci spoke of the Roma people’s anguished history in Europe. Having come from northern India more than 600 years ago, they suffered slavery in Romania for over 500 years.

During the Nazi Holocaust, as many as 500,000 Roma people were murdered by the Hitler regime. The number who died in the Porajmos (“the destruction”), as it is known in Romani, is uncertain because the Nazis did not keep records of their Roma victims.

“Roma people don’t have a country of their own”, Cirpaci told the rally. “As a stateless people, we have been persecuted throughout our history ... We have been discriminated against for too long.

“We need to end it. We are equal, and we should all be treated the same, no matter what background we are from.”

This sentiment was echoed by Davie Donaldson, chairperson of Romano Lav. As a member of the Scottish Traveller community, he feels a strong sense of solidarity with the Roma people.

He told the Sunday National: “The importance of International Roma Day cannot be overstated. It’s a day when Roma people from around the world are able to be visibly themselves in a world that is so discriminatory and prejudiced towards them.

“Today is one of the only times when we can march and raise awareness of the issues that the community continues to face.”

Donaldson pointed to the political success of the far right in various European countries – from the election of the fascist Giorgia Meloni, political heir of Benito Mussolini, as prime minister of Italy, to the ongoing presidential challenge of Marine Le Pen in France – as a real danger to the Roma people.

As recently as March 31, he commented, the European Court of Human Rights had to instruct the far-right government of Viktor Orbán in Hungary that its policy of placing Roma children in segregated schools was unlawful.

Indeed, it is less than four years since racist thugs desecrated a memorial to Roma victims of the Holocaust which Romano Lav had erected in Queen’s Park on the Southside of Glasgow.

“Hate is on the rise”, Donaldson warned. “Days like today remind us that there’s strength in numbers and strength in solidarity.”

For him, the annual International Roma Day procession and celebrations are “a real show of solidarity, not only among the Roma people themselves, but also, importantly, from non-Roma people towards the Roma, to show that Scotland is a welcoming place for Roma people.”

That solidarity was certainly on show on the march, which took the participants from the park out onto the major thoroughfare of Victoria Road and on a winding route through the Govanhill community. Everywhere, Roma and non-Roma people looked out of their windows to watch the procession.

The National: People took to the streets to celebratePeople took to the streets to celebrate (Image: Gordon Terris)

Traditional Roma music played from speakers along the route, and members of the community sang and danced as the march made its way back to its starting point. If one listened carefully, one could hear echoes of the past.

The Roma are only the latest migrant community to make their home on the Southside of Glasgow. The area – which today is the most culturally diverse in Scotland, boasting at least 88 languages, including Kurdish, Arabic and, of course, Romani – has welcomed migrants and refugees from places as diverse as Ireland, Italy and the Indian subcontinent.

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The area has a rich history of Jewish migration, mainly of people fleeing antisemitic persecution in the lands of the old Czarist Russian Empire.

Yesterday’s rally and procession should be considered as part of the vibrant, multicultural history of Govanhill and the Southside of Glasgow. The day ended, as is tradition, with everyone being invited to the International Roma Day party, at which they could partake of traditional Roma food and music.

For more information on Romano Lav, click HERE