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Monday, 21 March 2016

We Should Fight against Racism and Discrimination Every Day and Every Moment

Nataša Tasić-Knežević

During the European Action Week against Racism, we presented a series of stories and information we encounter in everyday struggle for human rights respect. We are marking the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination by an interview with Natasa Tasic-Knezevic, the first Roma opera singer in Serbia and human rights defender ranked who OESCE among the most prominent Roma women in the world.

On racism, discrimination and importance of respecting each other’s differences 

- We should fight against discrimination and racism every day and every moment. The problem of discrimination lies in difference. Each nation and each nationality carry within themselves huge wealth and culture, and to accept difference it means to enrich oneself and one’s country in the best possible way. However, usually human vanity, greed and pride make someone feels more valuable than someone else. So it was through the centuries, and the largest escalation in the 20th century led to the First and Second World War and the great suffering of Jews, Roma and Serbs. Today's Europe, accustomed to the coziness in the last seventy years, is facing asylum seekers from the Middle East forced to leave their homes, and the fact that asylum seekers are coming from different cultural and religious areas creates great pressure and fear among the Europeans. As for the Roma, they have always been in Europe, but also on all continents. Depending on the country which they lived in, they merged with the population, took the faith, but retained its own identity. This led to the fact that today Roma live isolated in "neighborhoods", and that they are mostly unaccepted by the local population. Roma and their culture have left a big mark in the written word, painting and music. I can talk about the influence of Roma culture and art on classical music composers such as Brahms, Dvorak, Verdi, Lehar, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Kalman, Schubert, Schumann ... If not for the Roma, today we would not have "Carmen" or " Il Trovatore ". However, as long as they were an inspiration in the culture, they were killed and rejected by all.

On inhibition, life struggles, lectures and dreams

- Schooling wasn’t easy for me and my sisters. We really tried hard and were excellent students from the first grade until the postgraduate studies, and I would like to thank our mother who was a great support to us during our childhood and later. All three of us sang in the church choir, and I wanted to learn to sing in order to improve chanting the liturgy, because the priests always called me to be a soloist in the liturgy. Then I came across the first closed door, in relation to music education. At the entrance exam, I was advised to continue with the Faculty of Transport and Traffic Engineering, because I had no perspective. There were no Roma in the opera, which is here still considered “elite" art. However, the God's will was obviously different, and later, as a student of the Faculty of Transport and Traffic Engineering, and thanks to Jovan Cirilov, I met the Princess Elizabeth Karadjordjevic, who helped me and financed my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Department of solo singing. Had it not been for her, I would have never enrolled in the Academy. I am thankful also to my husband who was a great support and a loyal companion in joint performances. I cannot say that I have not been touched by remarks regarding my nationality, but I have never hidden who and what I am. The word "gypsy" really hurts me, because I know what's behind it, and I know how people can be evil, we felt it very much, but you surround yourself with kindness and arm with goodness and prayer and go on.

On the status of women and gender equality

- The position of women in our society is disastrous. They are victims of continuous discrimination and domestic violence. It is even more difficult with Roma because of greater poverty. Spouses have to go very well in order for a family to be healthy. We have been taught from the early age that a male is the boss in the house. Since I have been going to the church all my life, the priest has always told us that a neck cannot stand without a head or the head without the neck. The same is in a marriage or a common-law marriage, which is getting more popular nowadays. If there were any dispute before the birth of children, they are just deepened and that is why more and more women and children suffer violence and are often killed. Police and social workers are now trying to do something, though is too little. The laws are voted on, but almost no one does respect, nor are guided by them. The moment the state is stronger than an individual in the implementation of the law, everything will change.

On consequences of child, early and forced marriages  

- Child marriages are violation of human rights, especially the rights of a girl to grow up and live normally. This usually happens because there is no choice or children are not given any option. 

If children go to school and at school they run into rejection or neglect, they have nowhere to go but to return to the established way of life - the life that everybody lived before them. If a child does not appear in school, it is a duty of a social worker, pedagogue and a teacher to check why the child hasn’t appeared in school and to put constant pressure on parents unless the child appears in school and attend classes regularly. There are cases when an early marriage is concluded because two young children fall in love and parents are ashamed to return their children home and then they give consent for marriage. But, there are also cases of forced marriages when girls often end up as victims of trafficking. Each state should regulate the law related to conclusion of marriages of minors and if the law in violated, all those leading up to that should be automatically punished. Early marriages are not a tradition, but a consequence of the lack of a better choice. If we were given the choice, everything would work out.  

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