[lg policy] Musicians in Kosovo fight anti-Roma prejudice

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Mar 14 15:34:09 UTC 2016

Musicians in Kosovo fight anti-Roma prejudice
A Path to Progress

A growing movement is using music to challenge negative perceptions of the
Roma, or gypsy, community in Kosovo.
By Morgan Meaker, Thomson Reuters Foundation March 11, 2016

    PRISTINA, Kosovo — As a child, Kafu had no idea he was Roma. Growing up
in Gjakova, western Kosovo, he was called "gypsy" everywhere he went.

Kafu only discovered what the word Roma meant when he was in his 20s. Now
30, he is part of a growing movement that is using music to challenge
negative perceptions of the Roma community in Kosovo.

As the front man of the band Gipsy Groove, Kafu has shaken off his own
experiences of discrimination to focus on healing the divides between Roma,
Albanian, and Serb communities in the Balkans.
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The band has six members, a mixture of Albanian, Turkish, and Roma
musicians. Together they blend traditional Roma music with jazz, punk, and
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"As a band, we're not just doing music because we love it, but as a
political statement. We want to bring the people together," Kafu told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation during an interview in a bar in Pristina,
Kosovo's capital.

Although the Roma community suffers discrimination throughout Europe, in
Kosovo – where Roma make up 0.5 percent of the population, according to the
CIA World Factbook – there is another dimension to prejudice, a legacy of
the country's 1998-99 war for independence.

During the conflict, Roma were torn between the two sides, the Albanians
and the Serbs. Kafu lost family members to both. But after the war, the
idea spread that Roma communities had sided with the minority Serbs.

For years after the war, Roma in Kosovo faced intimidation and attacks by
members of the country's ethnic Albanian majority.
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"They [Albanians] would come into our home to check we hadn't stolen
anything," says Kafu. "My father was paralyzed in one of these attacks. But
still I cannot hate people."

It took years for the anti-Roma violence to subside. Today, distrust
lingers, and the Roma in Kosovo still suffer chronic poverty, widespread
discrimination, and an unemployment rate of more than 90 percent.

In its 2016 world report in January, Human Rights Watch criticized Kosovo's
treatment of minorities, blaming "a lack of political will, funds and
cooperation between central and municipal authorities" for their

Roma children, with drums wedged between their legs, line Pristina's main
street – Mother Teresa Boulevard – singing, distractedly, for money.

Gipsy Groove's song lyrics reflect the outsider status of the country's
Roma population. In one song, "Run Away," Kafu sings: "To beg for crumbs to
the beat of your drum, but not be invited to the dance, in the end you are
just the gypsy."

Kafu believes that Gipsy Groove's concerts are the first time Roma songs
have been played in public since the war. In the five years since the band
formed, it has already succeeded in changing people's perceptions of the
Roma community.

"They're amazing, just amazing," said 19-year-old Albanian student Plator
Gashi, who said he had been to every Gipsy Groove gig in Pristina. "They've
made many people see that Roma are just like us; ordinary people."

In January, another group of Roma musicians, the Jimmy Mustafa Band,
released their first album on iTunes, with all 10 songs written in the
Romany language.

Guitarist Jimmy Mustafa, singer Ersad Bunjaku, and drummer Isak Osmani –
all in their 20s – grew up together in Plemetina, a Kosovo village where a
camp was set up in 1999 to shelter the Roma and other minorities displaced
during or after the war.

"We don't do regular Roma music," said Mustafa, who writes the band's music
and lyrics. "We want to give something new to people. We combine Roma folk
with a little bit of pop and rap. We are still experimenting."

To make the album, the band received funding from the Hotel Graçanica,
where they play every Sunday, and the Swiss Embassy, which has a budget to
support minority groups.

Cultural activities can unite people of different backgrounds and challenge
negative stereotypes, said Anita Schlüchter-Roth, the embassy's deputy head
of mission, although it is just "one part of the puzzle."

For Mustafa, it's important that the music carries a message. "Our track
'Robert' is about the discrimination; about unemployment; about how Serbs
and Albanians get jobs and Roma people don't. We want to raise awareness."

Isak Skenderi, director of the NGO Vorae, which supports Kosovo's
marginalized communities of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, helped Jimmy
Mustafa apply for Swiss funding, but said there were better ways to improve
Roma rights.

"I don't buy the story that music can be the mechanism to change attitudes.
It plays into stereotypes – the stereotype that Roma people are good at

Like many in Kosovo, Kafu is frustrated by the way his country's
politicians have failed to heal ethnic divides.

But he believes a nation is defined by its culture, not its politics:
"Right now, artistic movements are showing the good side of Kosovo," he

• Editing by Ros Russell. This story originally appeared on the website of
the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that
covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption, and
climate change. Visit www.news.trust.org.

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