Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening of FUTUROMA

10.05.2019 - Speech

Back in November 1968, a TV kiss caused an outcry in the United States. Captain Kirk kissed Lieutenant Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise. TV stations in the conservative South refused to show this episode of Star Trek.

Fully aware that this could mean the end of the series, the makers decided to broadcast the scene.

They decided to send a message against racism.

As the Enterprise’s communications officer, dark‑skinned Uhura made understanding between different worlds possible.

Martin Luther King’s dream that people should be judged by their personalities and not by their skin colour had become reality – at least on the Enterprise, in faraway galaxies.

And, let me say, Science fiction is not just about technological advances.

It’s also about the utopia of an ideal society, a world free of racism and discrimination.

A world in which people of different skin colours or the same sex can kiss in public without meeting hostility.

I couldn’t have imagined that even here in Italy today, in the heart of Europe, something like a kiss between two women could still cause such a fuss on the Internet.

However, it shows that we have to defend progress and our liberal democracy against their enemies everywhere. In the world at large, but also – unfortunately – more and more often on our own continent.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The title of this exhibition is FUTUROMA. And even if we aren’t entering a spaceship today, we can look forward to a journey through countries and ages. A journey in which the art and culture of Europe’s largest minority – the Roma – determines the route.

The artists are examining what happened to their people in the past, where they are today and what future they imagine for themselves. They have created the image of a future society in which Roma have taken their rightful place.

I’m delighted that the 58th Venice Biennale is making Roma art and culture visible with this event.

This is all thanks to ERIAC, the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture. It commissioned FUTUROMA and appointed Daniel Baker as curator.

ERIAC was founded in 2017 to form a network among Roma artists from across the continent. The goal is to make Roma art and culture accessible all over Europe.

On account of our historical responsibility, the German Government is honoured to host the institute in Berlin.

We also want to encourage other European Governments to do more to promote Roma art and culture.

Even today, Roma art is under-represented in traditional collections. I hope that this will change as a result of exhibitions like this one.

ERIAC’s guiding principle is to strengthen the identity and self-confidence of Roma. To help shape the image of Roma culture in European society.

That’s also what this exhibition is about.

14 artists from eight countries aged between 27 and 95 tell their stories.

They show us their view of the future. They tell us about their wishes and dreams, as well as the harsh reality of their lives and their painful past.

Ladies and gentlemen,
500,000 Sinti and Roma were brutally murdered during the Nazi era. Or they died of hunger, exhaustion, illness or torture. 500,000 stories, 500,000 fates of which we know far too few.

The public still knows far too little about the genocide of Sinti and Roma. We rightly talk of the “forgotten Holocaust”.

In Germany, too, it took until 2012 before we officially opened the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under the Nazi Regime. It is situated at the heart of our capital Berlin.

Luckily there are people and institutions which have searched for the victims’ stories.

Many of the places where Roma were interned, deported and murdered are still abandoned and forgotten. Many of them are even being used in ways which dishonour the memory of the victims. That’s a disgrace!

Valérie Leray takes us on a journey to these places with her photographs.

Take for example the former concentration camp Lety in the Czech Republic.

Just imagine: a pig farm was located there for a long time after the liberation. It’s now going to be converted into a dignified memorial.

In Ukraine, memorial and information centres were set up at three sites where mass shootings of Roma took place.

This was done at the initiative of the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and with the support of the German Foreign Office.

Such sites help us to remember. And the future needs remembrance. Even after more than seven decades, the racism against Sinti and Roma, which the Nazis in particular stirred up, still hasn’t disappeared.

Whether here in Italy or in Germany – time and again populists agitate against Sinti and Roma.

It begins with verbal and social exclusion and ends with racist attacks. Far too often, society looks away.

By the way, that includes the authorities, which often do not put enough effort into dealing with these cases.

I’m glad about the EU Roma Strategy 2020, there are considerable shortcomings in the integration of Roma when it comes to education, employment, housing and health. The human rights situation of Sinti and Roma is alarming in many European countries.

We cannot accept that!

We will address these shortcomings and advance a follow‑up strategy during Germany’s EU Presidency. This new strategy will require member states to continue working to achieve progress in their own countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,
At the beginning, I spoke about the controversy surrounding Lieutenant Uhura, who was played by Nichelle Nichols. When she considered leaving the series, Martin Luther King himself convinced her to stay.

Nichols was one of the first Afro-American women in a leading role. One of the first Afro-Americans to play a role free of stereotypes. A symbol of hope. She stayed.

Hope. This is also what FUTUROMA is all about – alongside all the difficult issues from the past and present.

Roma art and culture gives me hope for the Europe of the future. Their culture is part of our European DNA. For centuries they created human links between the countries of Europe. Roma have never been tied by national borders.

At a time when nationalism is on the rise, this is more precious than ever.

Thank you!


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