May 17, 2007

Kassandra and the perception of Gypsies (Roma) in Serbia

The gypsies (Roma)
have been the victims of racism and segregation throughout Europe. Serbia is no exception. Nataša Simeunović, a graduate student here at Belgrade University, analyzed the media representation of Roma and found that they are depicted as uneducated, beggars, dirty and animals. These representations perpetuate racist attitudes towards the Roma people. Nataša, who is also a secondary school teacher, told me that her students, whose ages range between 15 and 18 years old, hold negative attitudes towards the Roma, who they consider almost subhuman.

At the same time, Nataša told me that during the time in which extremely successful telenovela Kassandra aired here, attitudes toward gypsies improved markedly since Kassandra was a Roma herself.

Once again, and despite the many years I've been observing how telenovela content influences the social formation, I'm fascinated with my conversation with Nataša. I know that telenovelas are a business. But, I would really like that all who write, produce and direct them would understand that telenovelas are much more than just a business.


Christian said...

Kassandra is for sure a very beautiful woman, and I'm truly glad I see one way the Gypsy community can use to improve their general image and perception.

As a Romanian, my problem is different. We're sometimes associated with Gypsies (and not just Romanian Gypsies) and we're said we are strongly discriminating against them. While I agree there are enough racist Romanian people by their nature, who go too far, I think rich country should also get some common sense and make the difference between the 90% Romanians of Latin origin and the less than 10% Romanian Gypsy population, with completely different lifestyles, culture, language and occupations.

More at Romanians and Gypsies - Two Worlds Apart

What bothers me a bit in your story is you completely ommited WHY Gypsies have a generally bad image. It's not just people's prejudice and racism against them but, statistically speaking, SOME groups of Gypsies (one being the Romanian Gypsies, and I'm not proud of this) are also associated with unethical and small criminal activities, like stealing.

Unless the Gypsy community doesn't realise they have to fight first against this kind of negative display, just complaining about others will never help.


Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Hi Christian,

Thanks for leaving your comment and for sharing your insights.

I wrote this post while I was participating in a diversity workshop at Belgrade University. My post is about media representations, which are not merely a reflection of reality, but are always a construction and interpretation of it. Therefore, the key finding in Nataša's research is how Roma are represented in the media via negative stereotypes.

The fact that not all Gypsies are "good" (just like not every member of every group, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity is) underscores the dangers of simplified media representations. It's never good news when any group is essentialized in the media. Particularly if the simplification tends towards the negative. (Reading your post I have the feeling that Romanians have also been victims of misleadingly simplified media representations).

It is very hard for underrepresented groups to fight against these kinds of representations. As media consumers we take media content as an authorized version of reality. This version has even more authority when we don't have direct experience with that which is being represented.

The other point in my post was regarding the impact of telenovela Kassandra as a representation of the Roma. Here again, representation stands as much more than mere reflection. After all, Kassandra was written by Cuban writer, Delia Fiallo, and personified by Venezuelan actress Coraima Torres. She's a construction/version/interpretation of the Roma. Hence, Kassandra is one more media representation.

What is remarkable about Kassandra as a representation of the Gypsies, (and all media representations), is their power to create and modify perceptions.

Again, thank you very much for your comment.

Best wishes,