LONDON — One of the most common complaints I hear about Americans — and believe me, I hear plenty — is that “they think of Europe as a single place, not a multitude of countries and cultures.”
It’s a fair observation, but it overlooks a confusion that vexes even hip, sophisticated Euro showbiz types: When you’re talking about the “European entertainment business” or “European media,” there’s more than one Europe.
The folks who toil in entertainment and media in the Other Europe — better known by names like Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, etc. — describe their day-to-day work quietly and resolutely, with no hype or hysteria. Which is quite a feat, since they’re struggling daily to keep the very ideas of entertainment and media alive against staggering odds.
In a region of ethnic strife and indescribable violence, there’s no media or entertainment business as usual.
It’s hard to imagine the challenges facing people like Stephan Muller, advisor on minority affairs for the Organization for Co-operation in Europe Mission in Kosovo and Claire Trevena, the Mission’s spokesperson, especially when they’re focusing their efforts on behalf of the Romany, better known outside the region as Gypsys.
A people scorned
The Romany are perhaps the most disenfranchised minority on the continent, and have been scapegoated and subjected to discrimination and violent attacks with increasing regularity from Slovakia to Austria to the U.K.
“There are few possibilities for the Romany culture to receive respect,” Muller says wearily. “In most places they are allowed to sing and dance and that’s it.”
His statistics show that of about 150,000 Romany in the Kosovo region, “about 100,000 have been eliminated or displaced.”
“The intellectual elite has almost entirely fled, and they’re the ones most needed to build up a capacity to raise their voices,” Muller says. “To put it in friendly terms, there’s a reluctance here to accept them as an integral part of the society.”
Toward that end, Trevena is overseeing training sessions for 30 Romany media students. She says the plan is to “teach the basic tools of the trade: how to use a tape machine, a microphone, how to edit, how to put on a newscast. “We’re doing this to help ensure there’s a corps of well-trained Romany journalists and media professionals, people who can help the Romany explore their own agenda.”
Then there’s the rapidly rising prospect of another Balkan war breaking out on the Macedonian border. Trevena concedes, “It’s added tension to the situation but it doesn’t change what we’re doing here every day.”
Muller is also not going to be put off by a little war. He’s got high hopes for the April 8 International Romany Day celebrations around the world. It’s the 30th anniversary of the first Roma Day in London, and this year’s list of events will include film, theater, literature, music and dance.
While there will be festivities in New York and virtually all the major cities of Western Europe, none will face the production challenges confronting Muller and his associates.
“In Prizren on April 7, there’s a Romany theater performance called ‘Magic,’ written by Nexhip Menekshe. There are also dance and music groups from Prizren and Gjilan performing and a cultural performance celebration in Peja,” Muller explains. “To organize events, we have to ask police to accompany the cars between the towns. If we want to have an audience from other parts, we need even more cars and more police.
“And we can only do this as long as it is not dark, meaning everything must take place between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Last year on April 8, Roma were murdered in another town while the event took place in Prizren.
“And the final thing: how do we get non-Roma to attend, internationals and Albanians? The internationals do not take them and their destiny so seriously, so attention means for them even more. It is a cry for being accepted as human beings. And what is an artist without an audience?”