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Roma Establish Academy of Arts and Sciences in Belgrade

9 September 2011 1:47 pm
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The Roma flag.

Europe's largest ethnic minority, the Roma, has established its own academy of arts and sciences. The academy, founded on 1 September in Belgrade, plans to promote, organize, and disseminate research into Romani culture, language, and history.

The Roma—sometimes called Gypsies—have their roots in South-Asia; they currently number around 12 million, most of them living in Central and Eastern Europe. They have been persecuted and discriminated against for centuries and are often still outcasts in the countries they live in. The new academy is an effort to meet the Roma's "spiritual and cultural needs," says its co-founder and president, Rajko Djuric, who adds that the idea had been developing over the past 2 decades.

Djuric, a philosopher, writer, and campaigner for Romani human rights, has worked with the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts on publications about the Roma. Systematic research on Romani life will contribute to building "the most stable bridge" between the Roma and the societies they live in, Djuric writes in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. The academy will also "become a barrier to pseudoscientific research on Romani people and to a racist understanding of their lives," he says.

So far, the academy has 21 regular members, many of them prominent Romani academics and public figures hailing from 11 European countries, India, and the United States. There are 13 honorary members, including former Czech President Václav Havel, who defended Roma rights after the Velvet Revolution swept him to power in 1989.

In his speech at the academy's launch, Djuric pointed out that despite a history full of hardship, there are notable scientists of Romani descent, such as 1920 medicine Nobel laureate August Krogh from Denmark, and "the first lady of mathematics," Sofia Kovalevskaya. Although none of the founding members come from the natural or technical sciences, the academy plans to reach out to Romani researchers in those fields in Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Ukraine. Djuric says the academy will be open to all people of "clean hearts and free minds."

Initial funds to support the academy's work will come from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a German human rights and ecology think tank, but Djuric is hopeful that the European Union and other international bodies will lend their support as well.

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