Romani people on stamps

Although present in Europe for at least one millennium and part of the daily life of cities and villages, Romani people did not find their proper representation on stamps. In fact, it is only in recent years that they do so, mostly at the level of ‘minority populations’ and mostly in schematic representations. What is curious about this story, as is of any representation story, is that it seems that these again are stories told in the third person, with the Romani subject being in fact turned in an object. The different postal authorities which made what seems a positive step in representation still have some work to do to promote self-representation, without stereotypes and without implicit meanings.

There are not so many stamps representing Romani people, but there are luckily some that escape the ‘ethnic’ representation of anonymous Romani persons, and make a positive step in representing known and named Romani personalities. More on this below.


Croatia

In 2012, the Croatian post issued a unique to this date stamp, featuring text in Romani dialect (Romani: sa themenqo dǐves e Rromane ćhíbaqoEnglish: World Rromani Language Day) – which is celebrated on November, 05. It also features the ‘cartwheel’ from the Romani flag (Romani: o styago le romengo). Although it does not represent Romani persons, it is a notable stamp due to the fact it gives neutral representation to a minority language.


Moldavia

Moldova started in recent years to issue single stamps in a cross-year series called ‘Ethnic groups’. For the 2018 issue, they chose the Romani minority to illustrate the series. The illustration shows visibly itinerant Romani schematically represented in stereotypes: a beautiful woman and a man as fiddle-player. Although schematic, and although portrayed by the other, we can take this as a neutral example of representation.


Ukraine

Ukraine as well has in recent years issued series of 4 stamps each representing different minorities. So far, such stamps were devoted to the Jews, the Tatars, the Greeks and the Romani.

The set issued in 2017 represents the Romani minority and features 4 scenes: the witch, a traditional dance, an ironsmith, and a Romani caravan. In my opinion, just like the Moldavian stamp above, it is really schematic and stereotypical.


Romania

Romania issued a set of 4 stamps representing ‘Roma people in painting’ in 2014. The four paintings are also available as a minisheet with a vignette representing a fifth painting.

The paintings come from Theodor Aman (vignette); Iosif Iser; Nicolae Grigorescu; Pierre Bellet and Nicolae Vermont. They are predominantly feminine portraits and co-work tacitly with the tradition of using the stereotype of the ‘beautiful Romani woman’ in painting. As it is objectifying and stereotypical, I do not consider these stamps in good taste. I would have preferred the Romanian post pay tribute to a vast Romani minority taking into account different facets of the Romani culture.


Hungary

I am particularly pleased by this Hungarian stamp series from 2018 – including 10 stamps brought together by a common theme: Roma heroes of the 1956 revolution. We are talking about real Romani persons being commemorated on these stamps, in what seems an exercise in positive representation: István Szentandrássy, a painter who was awarded the Kossuth Prize and who is of Romani origin created the compositions that serve as basis for the stamps.

Commemorated on the stamps: György Cziffra (1921–1994, pianist); Sándor Csányi (1929–1959, freedom fighter); Gyula Dandos (1938–1957, freedom fighter); Gábor Dilinkó “Bijou” (1929–2014, naive painter); István Fátyol (1934–2004, freedom fighter); Erzsébet Hrozova “Spotty” (1938–2013, nurse); Mátyás Kolompár (1924–1957, freedom fighter); József Kóté Sörös (1927–1959, freedom fighter); Károly Strausz “Gypsy Charlie” (1928–1986, freedom fighter); Ilona Szabó “Shock-head” (1939?–1956, freedom fighter).

As a side note, this is probably the first example of stamps that quote Romani persons and show their contribution to the society they live in. Way to go, Hungary, I would like to see more examples like this!


Luxembourg

I close this entry with a nod to this Luxembourg issue from 2015. It was issued to commemorate 70 years from the end of WW2. It is apparently unrelated to the topic of Romani people on stamps, but actually is bigger than it seems in a first view. The second stamp from the top features numerous signs used in concentration camps to mark different populations in the totally disturbed Aryan policy. A place is found on the stamp for the brown triangle, as well, which was used to mark Romani people. It is estimated that half a million Romani perished in the Porajmos (Romani genocide) perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Note should be made on the stamp of another ‘first’, the pink triangle which was used to mark homosexuals.


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Stamps featured in post: 26; Period: contemporary (2012-2018); Pricing: low; Availability: not readily available.

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