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16.01.2020Why do we celebrate Vasilitza/ St.Basil's Day with the campaign 'Let's rebuild the birdges between us'

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In recent years Vasilitsa (also referred to in media as Bango Vasili) has gained popularity as the Roma New Year. In fact, this is St. Basil’s Day, marked by the so-called "Old style" (i.e. the Julian calendar). Just 3-4 generations ago this was the day when ethnic Bulgarians and other groups also celebrated New Year. Currently, Vasilitsa is not celebrated by all Roma in Bulgaria: for some Roma groups it is a major calendar holiday, while others have lost even the memory of it. Why, then, we, Amalipe Center have been organizing these celebrations for another year as part of the campaign "Let’s rebuild the bridges between us"? What do we want to achieve? And why exactly Amalipe?

The campaign "Let’s rebuild the bridges between us" sets four main goals:
First, to show the richness of Roma culture; to show that Roma are not a bunch of poor people (an image imposed by politicians and the media which unfortunately has already become a sustainable stereotype among the average Bulgarian), but an ethnic community with its culture and dignity. At the same time - a culture closely related to the culture of Bulgarians and other ethnic groups living in our common homeland. Vasilitsa is extremely  suitable because it reveals the connection and intertwining of symbols and rituals between Roma and Bulgarians: a large part of the elements in the Roma festive St.Basil’s Day ceremony today are described by Dimitar Marinov as part of the Bulgarian St.Basil traditions at the end of the 19th century.  At the level of folklore, the mutual enrichment we now call "integration" has long been a fact.

Second, to remind the main national institutions that one-tenth of Bulgarian citizens, and even more of Bulgarian children and young people, are Roma, and institutions should be aware of their culture and traditions. Furthermore, they should take this into consideration when implementing policies for all citizens, including Roma. In recent years, examples in this regard have become less and less, but Vasilitsa and the Campaign to Rebuild the Bridges Between Us continue to grow and be more and more successful. In 2010, when we have started this activity, we were welcomed only by the Ministers of Education and the Minister of Labor and Social Policy. Over the years, the number of institutions involved has gradually increased. This year respect for the Roma culture will be shown by all the major national institutions and political figures who represent them - the President and Vice President of the Republic of Bulgaria, the President of the National Assembly, the Ministers of Education, Labor and Social Policy, Health, Regional development, Foreign affairs, the National ombudsman and many more. For the last two years, we have intentionally not been visiting the United Patriots coalition ministers because of the open use of hate speech and racist language by some of their representatives.

Roma children will also be welcomed by key diplomatic missions and their leaders - the ambassadors of the United States, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Kingdom of Netherlands, Germany, Slovakia, Spain, Finland, Poland, Switzerland, South Africa, India and so on. There is hardly any other initiative involving so many ambassadors and diplomats representing their nations and countries.

Third, we want to show the indisputable but unrecognized fact that the Roma community is steadily moving along the path of its modernization… without breaking the link with its roots. St.Basil’s Day today is not what it used to be for the traditional, patriarchal Roma, and we have not been trying to restore the patriarchal conservative tradition. In the past St.Basil’s Day used to be a strictly family holiday (on the evening of the 13th of January no outside person was allowed to enter the house!). Connected with the intuitive belief that through the ritual one could influence the universe and even change the course of events for the better (which is the meaning of survakane, a traditional ritual, and all other St.Basil Day’s rituals). Young Roma today, while surfing on Facebook, can hardly believe in this power of the holiday and they do not need it. But they continue to believe in the importance of the family (universal value for all Roma) and the power of the Roma (and human) spirit to change events. If that belief is injured, it must definitely be healed! That is why we have been organizing the public celebrations of Vasilitsa: to show the modernization, which does not break with traditions and customs, but reshapes them as cultural codes, through which today's man or woman builds his/her personal autonomy and involvement in the community.

Fourth, we have decided to demonstrate again the symbolism of the bridge on which the Roma legends about St.Basil’s Day and the main holiday rituals are built. The celebration of Vasilitsa is related to an old legend, which tells that the Devil destroyed the bridge on which the Roma walked, but St. Basil rebuilt it so that they could pass over the purifying water and start their new life. Therefore, Vasilitsa is the day when - through the power of traditions and rituals - we build bridges for the coming days with the belief that they will be better! Today, all of us in Bulgaria need to build bridges between different ethnic groups, between the authorities and the citizens, between our hearts.
This is the short answer to the question "Why St,Basil’s Days?" For these reasons, it is worth celebrating Vasilitsa as a Day of Roma Culture and celebrating similarly every year!
And why does exactly Amalipe has been engaged in this? On the one hand, it's not just us. Other organizations also make various events, including visiting some of the politicians we skip. On the other hand, Amalipe has the strength to do so. Not many non-governmental organizations can campaign with 190 events across the country in one day. Moreover – with no special financial resource! The schools that come to Sofia cover from their own delegated budgets transport and even accommodation for their students. They have responded to our invitation because we share common values ​​and because we are convinced that together we are a force that can change policies for every child to have a better future. Hundreds of volunteers have taken part in the events in the country. To all of you, dear partners and friends, thank you! Let's continue to build the bridge together!

Bahtalo amaro Vasili! Bahtalo Nevo Bresh!

 

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