“And what do you show in that museum anyway?” A question I’ve been asked countless times in various ways, both vulgar and sophisticated ones, only the latter have the absurdity of the connection of “museum – Romani” hidden between the lines.
Yet the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno is the only institute of its kind in Europe and is actually based on an incredible treasure of Romani culture and history. It’s been collecting it since the beginning of the 1990s, but the foundations of its collections are much older – from the times of the Prague Spring in 1968 when the first official Romani organization called The Association of Gypsy-Romany was established and worked here until it was banned by the Communist regime. And the museum follows in its footsteps. Since then the museum has collected over 30 thousand objects in its depositories, and you can come see the selected ones at the permanent exhibition named The Story of the Romani. Throughout five halls, it traces the path of the Romani through history, from their ancient motherland India to the turn of the millennia.
Muzeum of Romani Culture
You can easily spend half a day in the permanent exhibition, as it’s entirely up to you how much you let the story embrace you. Get enchanted by the first hall, with its mirrors placed under your feet, above your head and all around you, leaving you feeling as insecure as the Romani when asked about the origins of their nation. Let the second hall impress you, with its spirit of the Middle Age persecutions when the Romani had to literally fight for their lives almost wherever they went. Make sure you let the fourth hall send shivers down your spine, as it stirs up images of a gas chamber with the authentic voice of Růžena Danielová, one of the survivors of Auschwitz, singing Aušvicate, hi kher baro/In Auschwitz, there’s a big house. Composed and sung by the Romani imprisoned and tormented there, it tells a story of deep sadness and immeasurable pain.
There are lots of things to do in the Museum of Romani Culture, though. Enjoy the permanent exhibition on your own, with a live guide or with a Czech, English or German audio guide. And there’s always a temporary exhibition as well as lots of other programs for children and schools, including various artistic workshops. Also, the museum is one of the few places in Brno to offer quality Romani music from jazz and various fusions to traditional genres.
A video invitation to the exhibition
Andrej Pešta: Mire sveti
It is located just two stops by tram from the city centre or a short walk through the Brno Bronx where Jewish, German and Romani histories intertwine and where you’re reminded that life takes place even beyond the fences and doors of our microworlds. Here, the Romani still show that they need to be together, meet, have the sky above their heads, and to that end they use the public space perfectly. The Museum of Romani Culture plays an indispensable role in this location, as it contributes to all the major events from the celebrations of the International Romani Day to Ghettofest. It houses Beng! Café – a truly exceptional place where you can meet the local Romani as well as various major personalities (and a lot of regulars belong to both these categories).
The significance of the museum goes far beyond the borders of the city of Brno. Last year, it became an administrator of two memorials to the Romani holocaust; one of them is the former concentration camp in Lety u Písku, which used to serve as a pig farm until it was ultimately purchased by the government and recently shut down. All the experts from Europe now watch Brno and the museum closely, as the challenge it’s accepted is by no means a small one.
Andrej Pešta: O Fotki
The best Czech film (Čadca Etnofilm festival 2018)
I myself used to live close to the museum for several years and am still involved with it professionally as well as personally. A big part of my Czech–Romani identity is formed by the fact that I feel at home in the “Brno Bronx”; in this village in the middle of a city, in what I know very well and where I feel safe, and where I feel like a part of the modern history of the Romani through this open-minded and unique institution.
If you are open-minded too, come to the Brno Bronx and to the Museum of Romani Culture. We may come cross paths there, talk until it closes, and discover the magic space where differences simply disappear and where people really meet one another. The Museum of Romani Culture is an ideal space for that. And I’m looking forward to it!
Alica Sigmund Heráková
She comes from Slovakia, but settled down in Brno, where she studied culture management at Masaryk University. She is in media and communication and has worked for Czech Television, Czech Radio, Museum of Roma Cultura, Ghettofest, Drom and more. She is freelanced and makes living by TV production. At the same time she hosts Masaryk Debates and her own Talk Show with Alica on the first Roma television Tuke TV. She i salso member of Government Council for Roma Minority Issues.