About The Exhibition

The exhibition “Stories of the Roma People” presents 18 stories, personal histories of important moments in life. The stories are told by members of the Roma community, primarily belonging to the subgroups of Muntenci/Munćani, Ludari and Ardeljani/Erdeljci of the Bayash branch, who inhabit the area of Slavonia and Baranja.

The history of the Bayash remains fairly unknown. As this is a nation “without writing,” the Bayash do not have their own written history i.e. their own sources from which it could be read. Written sources on the Bayash are mostly reduced to non-Roma documents that testify of a history marked by persecution, genocide, forceful assimilation, and discrimination. The more recent linguistic, cultural-anthropological and genetic research has confirmed that the Bayash belong to the wider Roma community, as well as their common Indian origin, and identified the foundation of Bayash social organisation and the characteristics of their language. The same research has shed light on the circumstances of their settlement in Croatia; hence, we know today that they emigrated from Romania, where they had lived in slavery from the 14th until the first half of the 19th century, mostly working as coalminers, which also explains their name originating from the word “bai” meaning “coalminer-slave.” During the long period of slavery, due to forceful assimilation and the prohibition of the use of their own language, the Bayash lost their mother tongue and a substantial part of their folk customs and lore, which resulted in the loss of Roma identity and the unacceptance by other Roma groups. Their language “limba d’Bjaš” is a separate dialect of the archaic Romanian language, which has been preserved until today due to social isolation and pronounced endogamy following the migration from Romania. The journey from Romania to Croatia proceeded through Hungary, which explains the distribution of their settlements in Međimurje and Baranja, near the Hungarian border. Most of the Muntenci/Munćani in Croatia live in the Baranja region, the Ludari inhabit the area of Slavonski Brod, while the Ardeljani/Erdeljci primarily inhabit the territory of Northwest Croatia, although they can also be found in Baranja (the village of Trojanci). The Muntenci/Munćani and the Ludari are mostly Orthodox, while the majority of the Ardeljani/Erdeljci are Roman Catholics.

There is no precise data on the number of the Bayash in Croatia; it is estimated, however, that it ranges between 10 and 20 thousand (Radosavljević, P. Pogled na bajaške dijalekte u Hrvatskoj // Promene identiteta, kulture i jezika Roma u uslovima planske socijalno-ekonomske integracije: zbornik radova sa naučnog skupa održanog 6.-8. decembra 2010. Beograd: Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti, 2012). Although 85% of the Bayash have Croatian citizenship, their status in Croatia is far from equal. The social and economic marginalisation of the Bayash is clearly demonstrated by the results of the research from 2009, which showed that as many as 84% of the Bayash are on social welfare, 51% have health insurance, 47% of households receive child allowance, only one member of the Bayash in Baranja is employed full-time, 23% have temporary, low-paid employment, 33% never attended school, 10% completed primary education, while as few as 4.4% of the Bayash enrolled in secondary school (Martinović Klarić, I. Kromosom Y i potraga za novom domovinom. Zagreb: Sveučilišna knjižara 2009).

The social exclusion of the Bayash is also illustrated by Bayash settlements, reminiscent of “slums” and separated from the settlements of the majority population, and mostly lacking the access to water supply and sewage system. In the more recent period, we bear witness to increased awareness of the necessity to include the Roma in general, followed by the Bayash, in Croatian society, and to the development of a growing number of initiatives by the state (National Strategy for the Inclusion of the Roma), but also by prominent individuals, leaders of Roma communities, which aim at enhancing the socio-economic status of the Roma. The need to promote ethnic self-awareness of the Roma, as well as the studying and preservation of Roma languages and culture, are becoming increasingly pronounced. It is exactly upon suggestion of a distinguished member of the Bayash community from the Baranja area – that it is necessary to research and record the history and culture of the Bayash – that the project “Museum of the Personal History of the Roma People” has been initiated, authored by the collective from Fade In Productions in partnership with the Roma Resource Centre in Darda. This exhibition is one of the results of this project. The exhibition will also serve as the first setup of the “Museum of Personal Stories,” the new museum and gallery space in Osijek, in which national minorities will present themselves through personal stories of individuals.

The exhibition project relies on contemporary museum practices of recording “the present,” based on the thesis that “memory” and identity of a community can be preserved by documenting contemporary lives of individuals, as well as by collecting and preserving everyday objects. In order to establish the foundations of the future museum, field studies have been conducted in the settlements of the Muntenci/Munćani Bayash in Beli Manastir, Bolman, Darda, Mece and Torjanci in Baranja, in Belišće and Bistrinci on the west shore of Drava river, and in Josip Rimac, settlement of the Ludari Bayash in Slavonski Brod. There were approximately one hundred persons of various age groups and social statuses included in the research, from prominent individuals, representatives of smaller communities, leaders and members of local organisations and associations, to “ordinary” people. The participants were mostly Bayash, but there were also members of other Roma groups. Extensive interviews have been conducted with each person, aimed at collecting personal life stories and focusing on the events and moments that marked their lives.

Eighteen stories have been selected for the exhibition. Even though they differ from one another – as personalities, experiences and lives of the people who tell them are also different – these stories provide a direct insight into contemporary life and the issues faced by communities to which the storytellers belong. With a force that mere sequencing of statistical data does not and cannot have, these stories testify of poverty, inaccessible education, inadequate life conditions and healthcare, the lack of employment opportunities, discrimination, stereotypes and prejudice, and their reflections on an individual’s everyday life. The selected stories speak of traditional values and customs, but also of the burden of tradition, gender inequality and double discrimination, the “internal” one by the Roma community and the “external” one by the non-Roma communities.

Bearers of personal stories present themselves at the exhibition with an image (a portrait photo), text (part of personal narrative), video interview, and a personal item. Part of the displayed objects belong to traditional heritage (e.g. a trough, horse equipment, or an accordion) and convey information on traditional artisanry and occupations, the neglected skills and knowledge that are vanishing. Other objects are “ordinary,” everyday, and some of them are even banal. Selected by their owners – the storytellers – and related to the dominant personal narrative, these objects possess an aura of “secular relics” (Bodenstein, F. The Emotional Museum. Thoughts on the “Secular Relics” of Nineteenth-Century History Museums in Paris and their Posterity // Conserveries mémorielles [Online], #9 | 2011. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/cm/834, accessed on April 4, 2019), stimulating the visitors’ emotional engagement and connection with the owner. With the portrait and the video interview, the storytellers address the visitors directly, “face to face,” thus eliminating the possibility of looking the other way. In this manner, the gallery becomes space in which the “invisible” and “inaudible” members of society become more visible and audible, a place of meeting those who are “different,” a place of the development of empathy and facing our own prejudice as the foundation of a more inclusive future society.


Kosjenka Laszlo Klemar

GALLERY: Stories of the Roma People - Osijek, Kazamat (29. 4. - 9. 5. 2019.)