Our wonderful fellow citizen Bejhan Ramov
By Denko Maleski
You haven’t heard of Bejhan Ramov? I haven’t either until recently. He is Roma, 45 years old and lives in Bitola. He is a construction worker. He is a phenomenal singer. When does he exercise? I work for ten hours, I sing for ten hours, too, says Ramov. Zhika, from the Belgrade-based show “It’s never too late”, feels sorry for him that he had to work all day “in draught”, before attending the show and says: “My heart is full as you are here with us”. Mare, on the other hand, predicts a great singer’s future from which he can earn. If so, says Bejhan, “I will leave Macedonia and come to Serbia” and gets the answer: “You and your family are welcome”. This is not the first time I feel amazed by the fact that the Serbian show business is so open to singers from Macedonia that we would never know about if there was not for its valuable professionals. And distressed that the Macedonian show business is so closed to its own citizens, especially to talents from other ethnic backgrounds. Bejhan Ramov and his brother, on keyboards, are real “Balkan jazzers” one to be proud of. And, in our case, to be embarrassed or at least to conceive. Namely, we are all aware of something that neighbors may not know, that the musically-talented Roma community is discriminated against in Macedonia. Both in music as it is discriminated in everyday life. Such discrimination does not make us better people and is not only theirs, but also of mutual harm because it excludes the great contribution of Roma to the music. Where does this discrimination come from? As elsewhere in the world, in Macedonia, too, it comes from prejudice, from a sense of supremacy with elements of racism…
Here is the ideal written in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. In a world dominated by prejudice, it is clever that this is written in the first article. The UN Declaration was written immediately after World War II when humanity experienced discrimination in its most extreme form: genocide and ethnic cleansing. Namely, the Nazis, in their death camps, burned over six hundred thousand Romas together with the six million Jews. We often forget this, when we mark the Holocaust, the terrible testimony of what a person can do to another, one nation to another. And it all comes from prejudice towards the other. What is prejudice? It is a violation that is the result of a position or action towards another by violating his rights. Or, to put it differently, an irrational attitude of hostility directed at an individual, group, and race or to their alleged characteristics.
Studies show that no one in the world is immune to prejudice, that a deliberate effort is needed in people to discover prejudices within themselves, but that with sufficient motivation it can be accomplished. Education is described as the most powerful tool in the fight against prejudice. Studies, however, have shown that children aged three can develop racial prejudice, mimicking the attitudes, words or gestures of the elderly. A good example must be the parents under whose influence the values of the child are formed. The Bible, I read in one analysis, says: “Put the boy (or girl) on the right path, and he/she will not leave it even in old age”. Our Balkan prejudices are a product of our nationalisms, a feeling that raises its own nation over all others and primarily takes care of the promotion of its culture and its interests, as opposed to those of other nations. Feelings that make people, as enchanted, to repeat that terrible mantra: “With my nation, no matter it is right or wrong.” If you add to this a little racism that, openly or secretly, is convinced that race produces differences in human character or abilities and that a particular race is superior to another, you have evidence of the great injustices made towards others, to the extent of denial of their human rights. Some authors warn us not to forget man’s haughtiness that makes him subjected to prejudice expressed in the sense of superiority and disdain for the poorly educated and materially poor.
Our Roma community deserves a far better treatment than the one it receives. The conditions in which they live are often miserable, and unemployment is high. The pictures of premature aged Roma, with mouthfuls of caries, and their children entering containers looking for garbage, hang over our conscience on a daily basis. They say the situation is changing. 14 years ago, during a visit to the school “Brothers Ramiz and Hamid” in Shutka, I understood two things: that, that sharp winter, people died from cold and that there were a lot of parents who could not pay 200 denars per month for a snack for their children. I wonder if today there are such cases. They say, Macedonia, compared with other Balkan countries, behaves decently towards its Roma minority; that the Roma have their own self-government and are represented in the government and parliament; that there are projects to improve their position in society; that the government has taken measures to improve the position of the most vulnerable in this category of citizens…I know it is so. But is that enough? Do we really know what it means to be a poor minority in one, anyhow, poor society? Intellectuals in Macedonia are proud of their freedom of speech and often spend it on nonsense. And what about the freedom from discrimination, and freedom from poverty?
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