Phone: 01568 760333
20th March 1997
School of Law
University of Wales
As I am sure you know, the County Council of Hereford and Worcester has signed an Agreement of Cooperation with Bekes County in Hungary. Bekes is a rural area similar in many ways to our County and shares some of the same problems and challenges. One of these similarities is the presence in both areas of a significant Gypsy/Roma minority.
In Hungary, however, the Gypsy minority is far better organised in its growth towards attaining a structure of political leadership and also better served by the local authorities with officers who specifically focus on developing Roma social structures and aspirations.
The Gypsies/Roma also have a much more active cultural sector, especially in the field of music. I was able to witness this at first hand during a recent British Council sponsored lecture tour of Hungary at which I spoke and gave workshops at three different universities and also met members of the Roma community and learned of some of the work being done there.
I was particularly impressed by the Ghandi School in Pecs of which we have no equivalent in this country. Already with some 300 Roma pupils, it plans to expand to some 500 pupils, and its declared aim is to provide a professional class of Roma who can serve as role models to the rest of the young Roma community. If only we could have something like that here!
I had been asked by the Herefordshire Travellers Support Group and by the County Council European Development Officer to visit Bekes County and form links with the community. Among many other engagements, I attended a day connected with the study of Gypsy Folklore at which Gypsy bands and dancers performed.
I strongly believe that both the political and cultural framework of Gypsies in Hungary have many elements from which both the local authorities and the Gypsies in this area could learn. My visit has already resulted in interchange of school teachers and a penpal scheme.
I now, in conjunction with the Travellers Support Group and with the support of the County Council, am trying to organise an exchange visit to bring a group from Hungary comprising senior figures from the Gypsy/Roma fraternity, minority rights officials, interpreters and the Gypsy band and dance troupe ‘Gyémánt Gyüru’ (Diamond Ring) to Herefordshire in August.
An invitation has been extended to the latter to play and give workshops for musicians and dancers in the Three Choirs Festival Fringe and at other venues in different parts of the County.
As I’m sure you’ll agree, the Gypsy/Roma people are increasing their awareness of their legal status as a minority group throughout the countries of the European Union. Along with this comes a consciousness of the unfavourable and insensitive treatment they receive, and have received, in almost all the countries where they are present.
Both you and I have been involved in seeking to help Gypsies/Roma towards this goal. I think you will agree with me that the situation could be drastically altered if there were to be a further development of the will towards policitcal self-determination. This will involve, among other things, the further development of the Gypsies own political structures and organisations so that they can formulate and pursue policies aimed at combating the discrimination they now suffer and achieve a more established place in the structure of European peoples.
Such developments would, of course, help to create a greater attention to the impact of national laws on the Gypsy/Roma minority and result in more effective ways of, for example, bringing Gypsies/Roma under the protection of anti-discrimination legislation.
One most important step towards achieving this, it seems to me, is to develop international links and to build upon the best examples of the structures and opportunities that currently exist. If the cultural heritage that Gypsies undoubtedly possess can be more widely known and appreciated, both by Gypsies and non-Gypsies, this will result in a marked raising of community pride and morale.
I feel that a visit from another Gypsy community such as the one that I met in Bekes could have a great impact on the Gypsies in Herefordshire.
Funding has been found for the two other projects but the much more expensive project of bringing the musicians and dancers over remains an obstacle. Discussions have taken place and the enthusiastic agreement of those in Hungary to a proposed trip has been secured. A budget has been drawn up and we are approaching interested people like yourself to see if you have any ideas about where funds could be made available.
I attach a proposed budget, provisionally agreed with Bekes, and would very much welcome any suggestions or ideas you may have.
A bit about myself. As you know, I was for many years an executive member of the Gypsy Council, the most influential Gypsy organisation in Britain, and for them edited their monthly illustrated newspaper ‘Romano Drom’. At their request I wrote the book ‘Gypsies’, published by Secker and Warburg and in paperback by Abacus Sphere, the first, and still probably the only, full length book collection of the oral history of the British Gypsy people. I have represented the travelling people at public enquiries, am a member of the Herefordshire Traveller Support Group and have recently rejoined the Gypsy Council as a non-executive member.
I have travelled extensively collecting the music of our Gypsy population and this has resulted in a book ‘Songs from the Roadside’, an audio cassette with the same title, and a radio programme. I tour a musical show with two Gypsy singers which has played at a large number of Gypsy and non-Gypsy gatherings, and am currently preparing a video cassette version of Gypsy songs which I believe will be very popular with our Gypsy community and possibly further afield, and will be sponsored by the Gypsy Council.
I see the bringing of the Hungarian band over as a continuation of the many projects I have been engaged in aimed to be of positive value to our Gyspy community.
With all best wishes
Trip from Bekes County to Hereford for Three Choirs Festival and other performance venues to give workshops and performances and for Hungarian Roma to make formal and informal contact with Herefordshire Gypsies and council officials, to meet British Gypsy musicians and Charlie Smith, the Gypsy President of the Gypsy Council, and other Gypsy activists.
Gypsy Band and Dance Troupe ‘Gyémánt Gyüru’,
Mrs Erzebet Kovacs, President of the Gypsy Self-Government in Bekescsaba,
Hevesi József, a representative of Bekes County with special responsibility for minority groups.
Travel by minibus.
Staying at Lucton School (self catering) or as the guests of Jeremy Sandford at his home, Hatfield Court, near Leominster (also self catering).
Travel - Hire of minibus/petrol £1,435.00
Ferry fees £740.00
Salary for 2 drivers/interpreters £245.00
Accommodation for 16 people at £5.00 per night for 7 nights £560.00
(or equivalent at Hatfield Court as my guests) (£300.00)*
Meals/pocket money @ £120.00 per day £840.00
Contingency, including payment to English Gypsy musicians
to perform £400.00
Total (if staying at Lucton) £4,320.00
Total (if staying at Hatfield Court) £4,060.00
* nominal cost of heating, cleaning, etc.
Funding so far promised:
Three Choirs Fringe £250.00
Arts in Action £100.00
Leominster District £250.00
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