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Radu Jude: Rassismus kann vielleicht nie gestoppt werden, aber wir können ihn zumindest reduzieren

Radu Jude + еine Szene aus dem Film Aferim! Unknown From Stanislav Petrov

From what I’ve heard when talking to people. I've noticed that people generally don't seem to about the plight of the Roma people or any other minority group. I dare even say that there is a sort of latent disregard for the welfare and a sense of otherness when people talk about them. How did you decide to make movies about these groups and to make their voices heard?

Well, of course, it’s not a simple or an easy answer. I’ve made films dealing with both the present and the past of these topics, and many of them deal with the Holocaust in Romania perpetrated by the Romanian authorities and army - mostly against the Jews, but also against the Roma people. I made this film, which deals with the slavery of the Roma population even though I myself, I'm not Roma and I'm also not Jewish. My name In German means jew, but that is another question.

Of course, now there's a lot of talk, which I think it's important to have. You know, what kind of stories are we allowed to tell? How to make films about them? Yes, one ethical question has always been there - is a non-Roma person allowed to make a film dealing with Roma?’’ Is a non-Jewish person allowed to make a film dealing with the Holocaust and so on and so forth. And my answer is always, not only is it important and allowed. I think it's even more important. Because it's making a story from the perspective of let’s say the majority.

Eine Szene aus dem Film "Aferim", Radu Jude Eine Szene aus dem Film "Aferim!", Radu Jude | ©Big World Pictures
There is something a Roma person, who has an NGO, once told me. After he watched the film, he said to me “Well, I think it's very good and it’s made by a Romanian, so it doesn't look like a Romani victimization against Romanians.’’ Because the film is made by a Romanian it cannot appear like this.

Of course, I would like a lot of Roma voices to be heard. I would like that. and...there are Roma, theatre directors, and actors like Mihaela Dragan who makes Roma feminist theatre, there is also Alina Serban, who also makes films also about slavery. But my perspective, and this is something I've already said from the beginning, is not the perspective of a Roma, it is a perspective of a Romanian, who sees the history of slavery from a distance. It is, of course, Roma history, but it is also Romanian history. Like the Holocaust, It’s a German question and a Romanian question, and first and only then I would say it's a problem of the Jews. And so this is why i consider it's important to make a to make films about this topic, and this is, to answer your question finally, because it has to do with the fact that you see these things in the society, you notice them, you grew up with them, like racism and like, well, mild anti-Semitism. Huge negationism regarding the Holocaust and sometimes slavery is also a fact.

I would like to say again that I really liked the movie Aferim! For real! I do not consider myself the typical journalist and I do not state that as an obligation. But your movie truly shook me to the core! I noticed that at the end it said that some of the depicted events were taken straight from the historical archives. Did you do any research on the topic beforehand, which real story shocked you the most?

Well, yes, the story itself is fictionalized, but it has been structured from many stories that I encountered researching documents, collecting data and speaking with historians. I had many historians as consultants, mainly Constanta Vintila-Ghitulescu., who was the main historical consultant, but also some Roma historians. It’s a film based entirely on historical research, and research in the language and literary research. All the scenes are pictured from documentary sources, that are more or less reliable, so to speak. Because of course, you never know. What happened 150 years ago or 200 years. So yeah it was a lot of research to do, a lot of reading of first-hand accounts, studying of all the paintings or drawings of that time. So yeah, the movie is based on big research, it’s not very systematic research, I am not a historian. I haven't written a historical book, but I have done the research for 3 years or more.

I wanna ask you then, do you remember any story from your research regarding Roma people that shocked you? Like persecutions, or pogroms against such minorities, or normalized violence towards them?

Еverything was shocking. The situation itself. I cannot name a specific one that shocked me. There was a lot of cruelty, a lot of violence. And now some enemies of the film accuse me of this. They say: “But you know, Romanian peasants weren’t in a much better situation,’’ which is partly true but it was still a better situation than the one Roma people were in…

Yeah, it was better than being a slave.

Yes. It’s true, the peasants lived in a kind of semi-slavery because they had to work the land that belongs to a landowner…

So they were serves?

Yeah, So it’s a different situation altogether. Now, I think everything  I read was impressive, shocking as you are saying. And so all the specific stories that I encountered, I somehow put in the film. But I think, as you said in the beginning, one of the most shocking things was the church itself owning slaves.

Yeah, it was a shock to me!

And as I said in our pre-talk, there was quite a big scandal as it turned out that the church doesn’t allow researchers to get into the archives of the church.

While we’re on the topic of normalized cruelty and violence. When I watched your movie, what I noticed, what I realized was that all these acts of brutality - hunting slaves, the church owning slaves, of people beating each other - they were always being perpetrated by normal people. How do you think the sentiments that allow them to do such inhuman acts came along and how have those sentiments not only survived but even do this day thrive, even though we are aware of them?

Oh, well, you know, it’s always been a complicated question! We can always say that things were different back then. People had different values, different attitudes towards life. So maybe we judge them too harshly because this is how people lived. The same thing can be said for us today. We eat meat and maybe people will stop eating meat in 100 years. They’ll look at us like barbarians for that. But on the other hand, they could’ve also advocated for the liberation of the slavery of the slaves and for the abolition of slavery. So, it means that it was possible to think otherwise.

Unfortunately, most of us, do whatever it is around us. So if you were born in a world where there was already slavery, you wouldnät have been so shocked about that. You would get used to it. It is very difficult to make a step outside of yourself and of the society you live in, to imagine another world. I think it's difficult, especially for people, who maybe don't have a lot of education or maybe it’s something about personal sensibility. I don't know. Maybe a historian would be better to answer your question.

Still, the most interesting thing is that the hatred towards the Roma people is still going on in a sort of way, it is still normalized. I've read many stories of policemen beating Roma people in Bulgaria and not even putting it on record.That was kind of shocking to me. Do you think that not knowing what the history of the Roma people is and being ignorant about their life is the reason why they’ve always been seen as sort of inferior to other people?

For sure, this is one of the reasons for the racism and the hatred towards the Roma ъommunity, but I think there is a number of other things I am not gonna comment on since I'm not a sociologist. However, such an attitude has always been around. I can remember in my teenage years when we were all racist against Roma at a certain point. ‘’No, you have to stay away from the gypsies’’. That was the Mantra that I heard from my grandparents. I heard this from my parents, as well. I heard it also from the teachers.

Like "Never trust them", "Don’t give them money",  "Don't go into their neighborhoods"...

...or "Don't play with them’’.... Or you know when we were in high school, teachers were telling us to not hang out with the "gypsies" around the school because. This creates a kind of normalization as you say of hatred, well... actually not of hatred, but at least a desire to stay away.

I think the education or the exposure of the people to all possible media if it’s educational. Mass media or whatever it is  has to teach us how to understand each other. To understand how this population was always kept on the margin, how it was always discriminated, oppressed, enslaved. Do you know, for instance, that after the Roma Holocaust, the Communist times didn't do much better? Then there was the rise of the neoliberal society, where people said: ‘’Well, I don't care if they were slaves or not. They should be an educated part of the population’’.

It always is doubleblind. There is a very good film of Mona Nikuala and Mikula Coca-Cosma, which i recommend you see. It speaks a lot and shows how is racism spread in schools. If there are Roma kids in school, they're always the ones kicked out somehow. And then, of course you can see why they're not educated - even if they come to schools they are kicked out. So it's a vicious circle. Just goes on and on and on.

I know of a lot of similar cases in the employment sector - if a person has a Roma name, it's highly unlikely that person would end up being hired.

I’ve seen it too, because I used to be in the ad sector, doing film commercials. Whenever we had the casting meeting with the client, we made proposals, consisting of 3,4,5,10 actors. The client then could choose who will be the face of his product. And then I remember, very vividly that there wеre situations where darker-skinned people, not necessarily roma, appeared. They were always kicked out - sometimes violently, sometimes elegantly. But the violent version would be something like “I don't want this crow (a Romanian slang insult towards Roma people), or this Gypsy in my commercial’’. The elegant one would sound more like: ‘’We don't think this actor is good for our target audience’’. But the end result was always the same. This is kind of a structural racism in a way. The choice, in that case, doesn't need to be personal or to be made out of hatred. But those clients, the marketing directors, whatever they were... even though they were not hating Roma people, they still thought of them as a "complication" 

Yeah, as we said, most of this like discrimination and violence is perpetrated by completely normal people, and it was the same in the Holocaust. The Roma people exist in a vicious circle where centuries and centuries of oppression and segregation have rendered them living in squalid conditions. And now, when they try to not live in such conditions, they are rejected from getting into high society, because they've got a reputation for living in them. Can you propose any kind of solution or at least a beginning of a solution of how we break this vicious cycle?

I know that part of the solution is the small individual solution, like to do as much as you can to not discriminate people based on their ethnicity or on their skin color and so on and so forth. But of course, the individual solution is very, very limited. I really believe that this is a question of state policy and it's a question of huge investments aimed at helping these people to be integrated. There's also a huge need for education in all the levels of society for all ages, especially for the young, of course. Maybe racism will never be stopped, but at least we can reduce it. Let's just make it smaller and I already see that with my kids. My big kid is 16 and a half and he's starting to understand. He was always against me like any teenager, even when discussing these things. But little by little he starts to see the things in the correct light. If you expose the people to ideas in a repeated way, maybe these ideas can change your reality.

So it will become the new Norm!

Yeah in a way, I think what's left is state policies. People ask me, how can we attract an audience to be interested in art and cinema and it’s educational purposes. And of course, it’s a very easy answer. But if you want people to be interested in art you need a good standard of living and of course a good education. And leisure time!
So yeah, if you don’t do anything,  you can’t expect the results to come!