WEEK 12: Yehudi Menuhin’s speech at the European Roma Youth Congress

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European Roma Youth Congress – Barcelona, 19 October 1998

My first encounter with the Romani or Gypsy soul was in Romania when I was 11 years old. And I heard the first violin, the first violinist in a small tavern in the village that was the summer capital of the royal family. And the truth is that I found myself transported to another world. I had never heard any other music that described the sky, the earth, the birds, the feelings, nature so directly, because up until that moment I had only had a classical musical formation, so I was a prepared musician. But, at that moment I realized the importance of improvisation of direct expression, without having previously learned a text.

Romani people are people who live traditionally according to the heart, with the impulse, with the intuitive knowledge, their knowledge of the life of human beings are direct, they don’t start from a previous text. They have spontaneity, they improvise and they have a lot to teach us. They will present values that are totally different from the recognized, accepted values of our time.

They are not materialists; they are not armed. In fact, they have been God’s sacrificed sheep. They didn’t have any territorial imperative, they didn’t want, they didn’t want to dominate the earth or the people. They are among the last of the oppressed peoples, who are innocent. Innocent in the sense that they are not prone to resort to arms, nor do they seek to oppress their neighbors. They are people who know freedom in its purest state. The freedom not to impose the will, but the freedom that allows everyone to breathe and nature to breathe.

It seems to me that they have a great mission in the world. And that mission is to enable those of us who live too much according to the dictates of the clock, the dictates of credit that we are subjected to the slavery of the credit card, the schedule. They share with us a little bit of their way of thinking, their way of improvising, we need them.

I speak to you not only as representatives of your people, but as part of today’s world youth. They are not isolated, even if they are different, but they cannot hope to achieve their dreams or improve the current sad reality of the sights of most of their people, focusing solely on their own improvement. It has to be an improvement in which you help others, not just the Roma, because unless you can help the whole of humanity, you are never going to help yourself.

As I say, you have a lot to contribute. For example, your identification with nature should make you belong to one of the most effective peoples in the world in defending nature; the sky, which is part of your flag; the earth and the freedom to move, which is the wheel, your wheel. That flag represents much that you could contribute to the rest of the world.

You also know the value of music, because one of the traditions that I have heard about and that excites me the most, is that of your parents who sang positioned on the stomach of their wives, before the arrival to the world of a baby, not yet born. I think it’s a wonderful habit. It is something that is worth teaching many parents, that not only do they never sing for their unborn child, but they also leave the woman to take care of the upbringing of their child alone. We have many such families and you have a very strong family tradition.

I say this, to give you an idea of what you can bring to the world, because you are not going to achieve what you need on your own. Of course, you have to get to know our world as it is, in terms of the great disciplines we have in the sciences, in the arts, in architecture, in medicine, etc.

I have the feeling that you’re like innocent children. Children who are innocent and who have had an extraordinarily cruel experience and, at the same time, notions of body and dance and exuberance has been a very strong and very rich concept. And these still innocent children I hope that you retain, that you maintain your innocence and that you become adults who are the same or, in some cases – of that I am sure – some extraordinarily creative genes, because you carry, in yourself, the creative germ. But it is now limited to creation in its pure state among its own people and sometimes for our delight, when we can join you in your music and your dance.

But that creative element is going to find its expression in a global worldwide form, when you become our greatest musicians, our greatest scientists, our greatest artists, humanists and the leaders of a kind of morality that we still lack / Morality based not on violence, because you are not a violent people. You are full of temperament, but you are not violent, you are not violent in a destructive way, so that when you can gradually give us, teach us, learn and retain those qualities you still have, that will be the Golden Age of the Romani people.

In knowledge. The own knowledge has to go together with the general knowledge and in this way,  they are going to shorten us the maximum of what they are capable. I see the gypsies as the measure of civilization. When they are persecuted, when they are tormented, it indicates that they live in an uncivilized society. When your people can move freely from Istanbul to Dublin, it will indicate that Europe is a civilized society. You are the measure, the barometer of civilization that surrounds you.

That is one of the ways of measuring whether we are really civilized or not. What we need in this violent age is precisely the example of a people that achieves the highest levels in a non-violent way, because the greatest difficulty, the greatest curse of our time is violence.

I randomly opened the pages of Le Figaro three days ago and there were big articles, very extensive articles about school violence. In schools, human violence, in cities, fascist dictators. And this mission of yours, this mission of yours to bring balance and intelligence to the world is one of the missions you still have to achieve. You have to maintain, you have to keep your qualities but, at the same time, you have to learn to agglutinate, to agglutinate yourself so as to become a power. Not an armed power, but a power for good.

I would like to see both the identification and the representation of the gypsy culture, the Romani culture or the Roma cultures in Europe. I would like to. I can imagine that the Roma have a passport that is valid for all of Europe, perhaps with a preferred residential place, depending on the region for which they feel the greatest degree of belonging, be it Hungarian, the Czech Republic, Spain, in the same way that we have European passports valid for all countries, I see no reason why there should not be a passport for a Romani people, which is a passport for all European countries with a specific place of residence, as I say.

But it does not seem to me that the problem, that the European countries have infringed on themselves, that it is now the problem of the many races that are tuning up in Eastern Europe, in Western Europe of Eastern Europe, the problem of the Romani people will not be solved until they are solved in the other problems. The refugees, the immigrants, the homeless and the many who were brought in as cheap labor. We always pay a price for this.

There was a very high price for exploitation. A very high price for not defending the principles of morality, the principles that would protect the Romani and other persecuted peoples from exploitation, torture, imprisonment. We did not do that. And the current condition of the European Union has not yet evolved democratically to represent the cultures of Europe, nor to courageously defend the cultures of Europe against exploitation.

I’d like to go into this in depth. It seems to me that the next stage in the evolution of Democracy beyond the stage of voting Political Parties, is the representation of groups, the representation of cultural groups. That is not yet the situation. It is not only the representation of cultural groups, but to facilitate that all the cultures of Europe can communicate directly among themselves. That is to say, not only the Roma of Romania with their electronic offices, would be in permanent contact with the Roma of France, Spain, England, not only that, but they would be in contact with other cultures such as the Scots, the Basques, the Catalans and the small cultures of Europe that in the present moment continue without representing themselves at any level.

There are several hundred European cultures that lack any kind of representation. And when I think that millions of Roma, I don’t know exactly, but nobody knows exactly but there are many. Let’s say 10 or 12 million. We are going to say these 12 million, when I think that these millions of people do not even have representation in Brussels, but the millions of Roma have no representation in Brussels and I would like to remedy that. And, in fact, we are working on what we call or what we have called an assembly of cultures.

This starts with the selection of a spokesperson. A spokesperson who represents your group in a given mission for a given purpose. Let’s say that some of you from Romania would like to talk about the conditions under which you live; or about the lands that surround us, or whatever, about atmospheric pollution, about the factories that you do not own or control. You have to have that representation. You can’t afford to have an Embassy, and besides, an Embassy is like a very formal, rigid and expensive matter. What you need as all cultures are specific people who are chosen and appointed to represent you, for a specific purpose, let’s say in Brussels.

My foundation would act, let’s say as a sieve, as a filter through which this would pass. We will receive the people you choose and decide who would be the most suitable people. There would be several conditions. You should enjoy the total and complete trust of your group. You should know the subject to be debated. You should be able to speak with enemies, with graciousness and courtesy, in a civilized manner. And, of course, they must not be terrorists.

(…)

We need the European Union to declare itself the protector of European cultures, because cultures have to be protected, and we have to contribute to their protection. But these cultures then have to become autonomous. Now we are witnessing an outstanding example of that intelligent opinion in Cataluna. A people with a great tradition, that has chosen to be an independent and autonomous culture, instead of being an independent and sovereign State. An independent and sovereign state only means a repetition of wars, nothing more, because it protects borders, it protects limits.

Unlike the Romani symbol of the wheel, it is entrenched behind walls, behind walls, while you represent freedom. Therefore, we don’t want more countries in Europe, we don’t want more sovereign states. We want autonomous cultures that come from the heart and mix and unite and speak to each other without walls. And this is what will create a European conscience and a voice in Brussels that will represent the cultures of Europe, that will balance the Political Parties and the Sovereign States.

(…)

There were acts of generosity to the people who suffered in the former Yugoslavia, but there was no political intervention, there were no decisive steps to put an end to the horrors. At the beginning of its history nothing happens suddenly, but we live in a world where we measure everything and know the time of everything and know the time of everything. We are always caught off guard by catastrophes, because as long as we know that there is going to be a tomorrow, we do not care whether there is a holocaust or a war. And this is wrong.

 

The European Union must provide the foresight to see, it must have the foresight to see where it is going to see a danger or where it is going to see a disaster. The gypsies can feel it. Any Romani knows whether there will be hostilities within a week, or two weeks, or 24 hours. But people go to school, they get their salary and they don’t know it. All they want is their beer and, perhaps, a horrible television problem.

That is why we need you to teach your duties and responsibilities to the European Community. What will your custody consist of? And to protect you, as you should have protected human beings in the former Yugoslavia, be it Serbian or Muslim or whatever. There is a basic human obligation that has nothing to do with religion, or race, or anything like that.

I hope therefore that I have convinced them of their own importance, of the importance of their own mission. I hope that I have weighed on you what you can contribute and what we can contribute to each other. And I hope you will take me seriously and meet me at four o’clock at the foot of the steps. That three or four young people come and I hope to meet them, the choice will be mine, you have to trust me and I hope to invite him or her to the next Summit. Thank you very much.