During my visit to Tampere on 7 June 2013, I was walking around Finlayson , the rehabilitated cotton mill factory area, now home to cafés, restaurants, offices, museums, galleries and other creative spaces.
I had just visited the fascinating, cleverly arranged Media Museum (see my separate blog post for photos) and a neighbouring gallery featuring an environmentally conscious exhibition centred around the theme of waste, when I spotted a large tent being pulled up in one of the open-air squares within the complex. I found out from the couple of young people setting up the tent that a Roma cultural event with music, dancing and food would commence in a few hours’ time, at 3pm. So I wandered off to town, visited the Klubi venue and Epe’s Music Store (I had already purchased my ticket for the Sauna Open Air Metal Festival the next day in Swamp Music earlier in the morning – I had a brief chat with the staff, they assured me that there was quite a vibrant local music scene, even if most of the acts are not known outside Tampere) and returned to the Roma Café location. It wasn’t extremely busy, about 25-30 people were present while I was there, but the atmosphere was very pleasant; the Roma guests performed and taught dances, while those who weren’t brave enough to participate ate cakes and drank coffee.
I chatted to Elina Niinivaara, one of the organisers, who told me that the Roma had come from from Romania and were travelling around Europe trying to find jobs; most of them have children and other family back in Romania, and they are trying to earn something to send back to them. This year the Roma involved in the event had come to Finland because they had heard there might be jobs for them – which turned out to be not quite true. Since finding a job remains so difficult, the travelling Roma remain economically and socially marginalised. Elina explained that in Finland, they mostly stayed only for the summer months, when it is possible to sleep in cars or outside without freezing. In the autumn they go back to Romania or to other countries, and many already leave during the summer – many are disappointed when they find out the miserable work situation in Finland and try to collect money for the trip back home as fast as they can.
The purpose of this event was to actively facilitate the social involvement of this population, and besides raising awareness about the issue, to enable this minority group to assume a position whereby they have the opportunity to share their own culture and knowledge (e.g. through the teaching of dance and sharing their cuisine) and thus, so to speak, reverse their passive political position. Elina also invited me to the evening event that would follow, with a live music performance at a local bar. This proved to be much busier and livelier than the afternoon event; the first performance featured three musicians performing mostly popular Roma songs, and even some rock and roll; the second act was, interestingly, sitar music.
Of the group that performed the evening club, at least some had been in Tampere the year before as well, but the Roma people at the café event were there for the first time, as far as the organisers know.
I wanted to record an interview with Elina but she was too busy; however, she and her colleague Stina Riikonen were kind enough to send me responses to my questions via email afterwards, so the following is based on the responses of both.
The organisers are a working group of 5-6 persons (plus several helpers). Some of them are visual artists, some students, some have been working in the social sector. The initiative had come from two of them who had met through a network working for migrants’ rights – they wanted to do something with the traveling Roma. As there was only two of them, and as they had started to think about some kind of a café event, they contacted a their friend Stina Riikonen, a visual artist who had been developing and organising a series of multicultural café events with changing cultural themes (http://kulttuurienkahvila.net/). Together they began to develop the idea further.
They contacted the Roma in the streets, in collaboration with a church-based centre that had opened a place for the Roma this spring where they can have a shower and get some clean clothes. They advertised this place for the Roma and at the same time created contacts and talked about their plans. They had an interpreter working with them a few times, which they found extremely helpful – it probably wouldn’t have worked without.
In the end they had more people willing to participate than they were able to take. They were trying to make sure that the selected participants would all be from different families, so that the payment would be equally distributed among the groups; and they were also looking for people with different kinds of skills and ideas.
They had several goals, including the following:
1) “to give some Roma a decent job for at least one day”
2) “to turn around the everyday situation so that at the event the Roma would be the guests of honour and the ones who teach and perform to the audience”
3) “to create contacts with the Roma and get to know their situation better”
4) “to break prejudices by creating interactive and intimate atmosphere where people can meet the Roma”
5) “to show that we see that all people are truly equal.”
In terms of evaluating the event, they have been very satisfied with the results: they feel that they mostly reached our goals and in some cases even achieved more than they had expected to. It is, however, difficult to determine how exactly the participants evaluated the event. But it is telling that they all spent the whole afternoon together (this was not expected from them, they could simply have performed their bit and left with the payment), danced and laughed. Several also asked if they were planning to continue, and at least one hoped for a common private party. The most touching evaluation for the organisers came from somebody who said that the day reminded him of his childhood, when they used to travel around in Romania with his family and work together, dance and play together and eat together.
To the question of whether they were planning anything similar for the future, the answer was yes and no. It was a lot of work for them to organise the event, and none of them got paid for it. However, they have been talking about possibilities to continue working with the Roma. The multicultural café event series will continue, but most likely with a different theme.
The event was financed through small grants from different sources: NGOs, the city of Tampere, the Social Forum etc. Roma Café was organised in collaboration with Tampere Social Forum – it was not exactly part of it but a parallel event. They got a lot of help from the Social Forum and also visibility. The Forum was organised in the museum in the square at Finlayson, which explains the location for the afternoon event. For the evening club they looked for a place for quite a while and ended up in Artturi after some compromises regarding money, space, equipment etc.
(Tampere Social Forum is connected to other Social Forums – see Wikipedia)
The organisers thought multicultural events were quite commonplace in Tampere and there was quite significant interest in them, but the culture of travelling Roma was definitely not among the popular ones. Indian food, African music, or South American art sells well, but no-one would organise an event about the culture of travelling Roma (Finnish Roma minority, on the other hand, does interest quite many people). So in this sense this was also a political act: to invite and give stage to the people “most despised in our society.”
My many thanks to Elina for her company throughout the event, and to both her and Stina for the informative responses.