The Romani Elders

Archive /Library

The Romani Elders

The European Roma Cultural Foundation (ercf) is an independent non-profit foundation registered on the 2nd of August, 2010 in Budapest, Hungary. The new body operates under an independent budget provided by the founder and the founding director of ERCF. The European Roma Cultural Foundation, the operational and fundraising body, exists to strengthen and widely promote the role of Roma arts and culture in the enlarging Europe (and beyond) as a way to fight against negative stereotypes and hostile attitudes towards Roma communities.

Life stories

Ágnes Daróczi(HU)

Intellectual and activist

Ágnes Daróczi (1954 - ) was born in Berettyóújfalu, a God-forsaken village in Hungary close to the Romanian boarder. As the family rumor says, her grandfather learned to write and read when he was drafted as a soldier under the WW I. In school she found her „hobby”, that is prose and verse saying, which has been accompanying her throughout her life as well as helping her through hard periods.
In 1972 she got the fourth place in one of the prose and verse saying competitions and in next year finishing her high school education in she managed to start university education at the Faculty of Humanities at Eötvös Lóránd University. She got her first job at the Hungarian Institute for Culture and Art (at that time the name of the institute was Public Culture Institute, Népművelési Intézet) which institution approached the subject matter from a qualitative perspective, then, in 1992 she went to work for the Hungarian Television until 2000.
„At the end of the 1970s, when the Roma were not a recognised minority and did not have institutions or organisations of their own yet, it was very difficult to organise a fine arts exhibition. Gifted as the Romani painters and wood-carvers concerned were, they were little known. We sought to attract to them not less than national, in fact, international attention. The authorities did not like what we did and called it „nationalist scheming”. We wished to change the way the public saw the Roma, to free them from old stigmas. Friends advised us to entitle the show “Roma Naive Painters”. But the word “naive” would have been misleading, we thought, as some of the artists concerned were not naive at all and those who were, differed from the traditional peasant artists. That is why we settled for the term: „self-taught” because that was true of them all. Those Romany artists were so committed and persevering that neither poverty, nor their unhelpful families could dissuade them from carrying on.” She began organizing the first Romani fine arts exhibition in 1979. In May 1979, and ten years later, she and her husband, János Bársony, entitled to realize the First (and Second) “National Fine Arts Exhibition of Self-Taught Romani Artists”. The Third National Romany Fine Arts Exhibition is a natural continuation of the first two. Daróczi’s mayor field of research is the Roma Holocaust and she is committed to establish its narrative that would provide a legitimate platform upon which Roma could gain voice and demand a legitimate position in European history. She works as an activist. She reflects upon current issues concerning racism, the presence of extreme right wing, poverty.

Ceija Stojka(AT)

Writer, Painter and Musician, Survivor of the Holocaust

Ceija Stojka (1933 - 2013) was an Austrian-Romani writer, painter and musician, survivor of the Holocaust. She was from the Lovari ethnic group the fifth of six children, sister of Karl Stojka and Mongo Stojka, also writers and musicians. Together with her mother and four of the five brothers she survived the Holocaust and the internment at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Her father in 1941 was deported to the Dachau concentration camp, then he was killed in Schloss Hartheim. In 1943, the whole Stojka family was deported into the Auschwitz Birkenau II. concentration camp, where most of them were executed.
Ceija Stojka survived the Holocaust, but these never forgettable experiences become a central and eternal theme of her artistic work since 1989. Her paintings reflect upon the entrenched sorrow in the bodies and spirit of the victims. There are some books and film which are capturing her life. She was a charismatic author and she wrote the first Roma autobiographical account on the Nazi persecution. The book was published in 1988 with the title “We Live in Seclusion:The Memories of a Romni”. It made the European public aware about the struggle of Austrian Roma in the Nazi persecution. Later on in 1992 she published another autobiographical book called: “Reisende auf dieser Welt /"Travellers on This World". Besides painting and writing Ceija also sang in Romanes. In 1989, at the age of 56, she began to paint. Her work has been exhibited in western and eastern Europe and in Japan. In 2005 the Jewish Museum of Vienna organized an exhibition with the title of „ Ceija Stojka, Leben!”.  Also she had the traveling exhibit in 2010 in the United States was the first time her artwork has been exhibited in the U.S.  „I always try to portray my feelings and memories. I want to show my own world to the people. It is important to understand that, we are all human beings and art allows us to live and exist. Art can demonstrate and connect us„
Ceija Stoika, an outstanding Austrian Romani woman, who was a key figure for the history, art, and literature of Romani culture in Europe. Her artistic account offers stories and visual representation of trauma as a new means to face with the past in order to start a new and meaningful dialogue and challenge the various forms of discrimination and violence in the present Europe.

Hans Caldaras(SE)

Artist and activist

Hans Caldaras was born in Sweden of Roma ethnic background. His reputation as a popular music artist in a Swedish TV-series resulted in a recording contract. The first Roma LP in the language Romanes in Sweden was recorded. Caldaras attracted attention, appeared on TV, and have maintained an extensive tour activity throughout the years. Caldaras has done almost everything as an artist, thousands of concerts, musicals, theatre plays, festivals, many records and a variety of radio and television appearances The orchestra in which he playes, called the ’The Roma Hot Band’, consists of skillful musicians. The repertoire is roma music with influences from improvised jazz, latin and gypsy swing of Django Reinhardt. Since 1997 Caldaras has cooperated with the Rumanians most distinguished and popular Roma musicians, 'The Alexandru Band'.
In autumn 2002 Hans Caldaras was elected as a member in the swedish "Penn-club” and between 2003 - 2004 was project-leader, co-ordinator, for the Roma Cultural Centre in Stockholm, Romano Kulturako Centro. Between 2007 - 2011 he worked as a director of the Roma Cultural Centre in Stockholm. In 2003 he was elected as a member in the Roma-Council at the Swedish Parliament. In 2005 he finished his commission at the Council. Between 2007 - 2010 he was a member of the Delegation for Roma issues at the Parliament’s Department of Integration and Equal Rights.The Delegation ceased to exist in 2011. (source:; photo: Studiobild, Pelle Piano)

Nicolae Gheorghe(RO)

Intellectual, activist

Nicolae Gheorghe was born on November 12, 1946 in Rosiori de Vede, Romania. His parents belonged to Roma groups that have been linguistically assimilated in Romania for centuries. His family moved to Bucharest when he was 6. His father worked as a driver and known as (his-name) Tiganu. His socialization was an important factor for him. Based on his memory his mom did not let him visit a part of the neighborhood that was mostly inhabited by Roma.
As a child he became more and more integrated into Romanian society, and against his parents’ wishes attended military school outside of Bucharest. He graduated from military school in 1968 and finished a degree in philosophy and sociology in 1972 ranked top in his class at that time. Afterwards he began working at the Institute of Sociology in Bucharest
Following the 1974 World Conference on Population in Bucharest he started working on Roma issues. He was part of the National Commission for Demography that contributed to the elaboration of the Romanian Communist Party program to integrate marginalised population (Roma). In 1978 he wrote a letter to Radio Free Europe describing the difficult situation of Roma in Romania. Later on he was investigated by the Securitate. In 1984, together with Ioan Mirescu he organized a concert of Roma artists in the stadium of Timisoara. The concert was attended by more than 30.000 people. 
Immediately after the events of December 1989, he was an expert on minorities for the new authorities and contributed to the establishment of Democratic Union of Roma in Romania, Ethnic Federation of Roma. Nicolae's vision was to organise Roma into civic organisations and defend the most vulnerable group’s rights and to promote their interests even through project implementation.
Some Roma activists perceived him as an enemy of Roma, as a dividing force and one that fight against the unity of Roma. As a result of his unlike personality, in 1991 he was kidnapped by a group of Roma. Nicolae documented a series of mob violence against Roma in Romania and developed plans to reconstruct the houses of the victims. As he declared later, these ethnic conflicts played a significantly formative role in his life as a Roma activist.

In 1993 he founded the Romani Criss, which became one of the leading Roma rights NGOs in Romania as well as in Europe. In the same year he became a speaker at the OSCE and other international organizations’ conferences which formerly did not recognize Roma issues, to promote the rights of Roma through various international documents. He organized the campaign in 1995 to support the term of "Roma” as a denomination of the ethnic group. This action was against the Romanian Government who issued a memorandum proposing the term "Tzigan”. As a result, in 1999, the Romanian Government issued another memorandum recognizing the right of the Roma minority. In 1998-1999, Nicolae played an important role in establishing the Working Group of Roma Associations, as an umbrella structure include almost all Roma organizations from Romania. WGRA was the partner of the Romanian Government in elaborating the national strategy for Roma. He is one of the most outstanding Romani leaders in Europe and ideologist of Roma political activism.

In addition to being a human rights activist he has also published several articles, studies on Roma issues in Central and Eastern Europe. Gheorghe was banned from travelling during the last years of communist rule and was only allowed to publish elsewhere under a pseudonym. With these books he hopes to raise awareness for their cause as well as inform others of Roma culture and traditions.

Romani Rose(DE)


Romani Rose (1946, Heidelberg, Germany - ) is a Romani activist. He is the leading figure in the movement for Sinti and Roma civil rights. As a member of a German Sinti family that lost 13 members in concentration camps and the Holocaust Romani Rose has been politically active since the 1970s in the struggles of the minority for acknowledgement and material compensation for the wrongs they have suffered. His significant successes include the acknowledgement of the German Sinti and Roma as a national minority under the terms of the Framework Agreement on the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe.
Since 1982, Romani Rose has held the post of Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, and since 1991 he has directed the Documentation and Cultural Centre of the German Sinti and Roma, an institution known across Europe for presenting the first permanent exhibition on the destruction of the Sinti and Roma. Together with other representatives of minorities from the USA, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, France, and The Netherlands, Romani Rose is a member of the executive committee of the International Movement against Discrimination and Racism (Internationale Bewegung gegen Diskriminierung und Rassismus – IMAR), founded in Tokyo in 1988. In March 2006, the Polish government named Romani Rose to a seat on the International Auschwitz Council. (from:; photo: Cinematographer Stephen C. Whitehead)

Rosa Taikon(SE)

Silversmith and activist

Rosa Taikon (1926- ) was born in the town of Tibro, Sweden. Rosa’s grandfather produced silver buttons and decorative silver cane handles, and her father worked with metal, earned a living by playing music and, for a certain time, even had an amusement park. As Rosa explained, since they were of a travelling Kalderash/Roma background they had to travel and were not allowed to stay longer than three weeks in a settlement and even not allowed to attend school, so they finished their education via the adult Romani community. Later Rosa chose to become a silversmith as her career path. Since her first exhibition in 1966, her art has been shown in prestigious galleries throughout Sweden. Her silver jewellery has been displayed in group exhibitions, but usually the artist has independent exhibitions. In addition, her work is a part of permanent exhibitions and depositories in various museums in Sweden and abroad: in Finland, Norway, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the United States, Australia and other countries. Rosa’s younger sister, Katarina Taikon, is the well known writer of children books “Katitzi”, but not at least known an activist for Roma equal rights. With her fight with the government and the authorities, she opened the doors for the Swedish Roma to the society in the middle of 1960's. Katarina Taikon is an icon for lots of Roma in Sweden and in other countries. She fell seriously ill and remained in a coma for thirteen years until her death in the end of 1995.
Apart from her artistic work, Rosa Taikon enthusiastically participated in political and social activities related to Roma and never stopped fighting for their rights and the propagation of Roma culture. (Source:, photo: Nordiska museets bildförmedling)

Sandra Jayat (FR)

artist, Honorary member

Sandra Jayat (1940- )was born on the French-Italian border. She was fifteen years old when she fled to Milan to avoid a forced marriage, and then went, on foot, to Paris. On the way to Paris she joined the camp of Django Reinhardt, his cousin. In Paris she became acquainted with French avant-garde writers and artists, and about a decade later she was an acknowledged figure of French art life as a poet, writer and painter. A contemporary and personal friend of Picasso and Chagall, Sandra Jayat was known primarily for her mythic poetry, though she also painted surrealistic pictures with a peculiar air. In the early 70s, she began exhibiting in galleries. In In 1981, Sandra Jayat organised the first world exhibition of Roma artists in the Conciergerie of Paris and in 1985 the World Exhibition of Roma Artists in Paris. In the recent years Sandra Jayat particpated in many exhibitions such as at the Meet Your Neighbours, Contemporary Roma Art from Europe (2006).
As a writer her first collection of poems, Herbes Manouches, illustrated by Jean Cocteau, was published in 1961, and it was followed by a second book Lunes nomades. In 1972 she released a disc in which she reads her poems, accompanied by original music of Django Reinhardt. (Source: Meet Your Neighbours catalogue;
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