Personal testimony of Roma media activist 

   There were times in my life when I had to hide my Romani background, because there were many people around who were intolerant and prejudiced … There were times when I was feeling the fear and shame when IT became known to the others … There were times when I did not hide IT and faced the rejection as a consequence … Slowly the pride for my Romani heritage and the strong desire to manifest my Romani background got victory over the feelings of fear and shame. And there is the time now when I am feeling proud for IT and meet a lot of good-willing people on my life`s path, on my Romano Drom (Romani Path)!    

   If you ask me about the identity then I can say that my main identity is defined by what I do in this earthly life. Then my internal environment comes into the scene. And only afterwards the external environment matters. My inner personal perceptions and goals are greatly influence my actions (the things that I do or do not do). My parents, other relatives, close friends, colleagues and neighbors form internal environment (small Fatherland). The society of the country where I live and then the whole world with humanity represent the external environment (big Fatherland)

   Since my childhood I am active in the life of civil society, since I was taught to do so in the kindergarten, through school and university. I was a Little Octobrist, then a President of a Club of International Friendship while being a Pioneer, and then I was the member of Youth Communist League. For me the activity in public life based on political and/or religious convictions is more important than ordinary labor in industrial or agricultural sector.

   Right after the disintegration of USSR in 1991 I was thinking that my religious activity (as an Evangelical missionary-in-training) can contribute greatly to the progress of humanity, but after a decade I realized that the spiritual world is very diverse and there could be more ways to God, then just “an Evangelical Doctrine”. Since then I stopped to feel that the activities in Evangelical movement and related perceptions define my personality.

   At the same time I always feel the connectivity to Roma community despite the years of assimilation my family went through. Despite my great efforts in integrating into Jewish community (first, in Ukraine, then in Moscow, then in Israel) I did not succeed to reach my goals and experienced the rejection of Russian Jewish and then Israeli civil society based on deep prejudices against the people from a mixed background. In my personal case the rejection had been strengthened by my Romani background which became a reason for personal insults coming from the representatives of rabbinical council in the town of Ashkelon (where I first settled after the emigration to Israel in 1995). It was the time when I was trying to convert to Orthodox Judaism, but was not welcomed, which was openly manifested in rabbinical racist claims not in favor of my Romani background and me as the one against whom “the criminal file is launched on Heaven!” …

   … When I was a small child my mother told me to hide from the others that we are “tzigane”, even so the Roma neighbors always knew who we are … The fact that at the age of 7-15 she was raised in orphanage among the Russians (in Kursk region, Central Russia) inserted the Russian mentality in her, but did not erase the number anthropological and psychological features which still link her to Roma ethnicity.

   My father also told that it is easier to be even Jewish since Jewish people have more chances to escape and to be helped when the persecution takes place. The fact that his father (i.e. my paternal grandfather) was born Rom (his parents` last name – Arshinnikov, they were Servi Roma of Eastern Ukraine) and then was adopted by Jewish family (last name – Novoselsky) at the age of 5, still helps my father to understand well the situation in both communities.

   In addition to this, in the official papers (passport, library formulars, application to enter university, etc.) I was listed as “Russian” and not as the member of any other ethnicity. But I was not an exception in this phenomenon, because the significant part of “full-blooded” Roma and Jews in then USSR were also listed by other ethnicities (rather than their own), mostly as “Russians”. This formal matter helped us to minimize the ethnic discrimination that was a factor of social life (much more in the western part of USSR, then in Volga region, Siberia, Russian Far East, Caucasus and Central Asia).

   Actually, when I was living with my parents in Eastern Siberia in 1974-75 and then in 1979-80 we did not feel any discrimination, neither from neighbors, neither from colleagues, and neither from classmates. There were some areas in the former USSR where Roma and Jews were not subjected to discrimination due to the tolerant character of population.

   … I started to be more open about my Romani background in 1993 to emphasize to the others the fact that the part of my family which was Romani was subjected to Nazi genocide in World War Two even to bigger extent then the Jewish one …

   The unsuccessful attempts to be someone else other then “Tzigan” made me think A LOT about my real place in this life, in this world. Slowly the pride for my Romani background and the strong desire to manifest it got victory over the feelings of fear and shame. In the result of this inner revolution I have started my activity in the international Romani movement, which I carry since July 1999 and which gives me reason to live with dignity. And the affirmation of Roma identity was brought to a new higher level then for two reasons:

- The suffering of Roma in Kosovo during the war in 1999 and the search for the ways to help them.
- The stubborn rejection of Jewish community to my efforts to be recognized as it`s member (due to my Romani background). Thus, I was feeling the necessity to be someone rather than a person of “non-identified ethnicity” as the Israeli law defines me in official documents …

   Since the summer of 1999 I openly declare myself as Rom and the obtaining of Romani ethnic passports in August 2009 by me and my parents is a strong affirmation of this fact.

   There are still a lot of challenges to overcome and a lot of things to learn, but one thing I know for sure – I am on the Right Path, on my Romano Drom!

   With hope in a better future for all!