Last year I took a group of Australian artists to Brno. Sometimes when you run a tour, serendipity takes a hand and things just happen. They did on that tour. One example of this was the visit to The Museum of Romany Culture. We had of course visited the Villa Tugendhat and members of the group decided it would divide up to explore the city on their own.
Some decided they would follow my advice and visit the Museum of Romany Culture. Meanwhile I stayed at the hotel doing some administration. The phone rang. "Listen to this," said my friend Maggie. Gypsy music and the sound of fast dancing feet came down the phone. "There's an open-air festival here. All the gypsies are enjoying themselves." I left the hotel immediately and made my way to the museum.
The Museum is easy to get to - it's on several of the main tram routes and not far from the centre - but the area is a bit run-down, as is to be expected given that the gypsy population tends to live in the poorer areas. When I arrived the open-space outside the museum was milling with people, many in traditional brightly-coloured costumes, but the music had stopped temporarily. I looked around for my party and decided they must be inside.
The gentleman on the museum counter told me that, although the museum was officially closed for another hour because of the festival, my Australian friends had been allowed in. The museum staff had been so delighted that a group of Australians had come to visit their museum, they had opened up specially.
Inside the museum the members of the group were walking around the exhibition rooms listening to their English-speaking audio guides. The museum's story starts with the Romanies' departure from India, and then follows them as they arrive in Europe. It shows their traditional way of life on the road, their traditional crafts, customs and society. One room is devoted to the Holocaust, or the Devouring as the gypsies call it. They, like the Jews, were sent to the gas chambers, but we do not hear much about that. The last room in the museum is a celebration of contemporary gypsy culture and its influence on music, film and fashion. It is a fascinating museum offering an insight into a people and culture about which we non-Romanies know pitifully little.
When we left the museum, after over an hour's visit, the festival was still in full flow. Excited girls in their lovely red and gold dresses ran through the foyer. A Brno radio station was recording a performance by one of the local groups. We walked back to the city centre and the music faded behind us.
A few days later I went online to write a review on Tripadvisor and found that alongside the 5-star reviews, there were two 1-star ones. These were in Czech and were nothing more than expressions of the blind racism that the Romany Museum so eloquently counters. I wrote a response and I am glad to say that when I looked recently the 1-star reviews had been removed.
I will be taking The Real Moravia Tour to the Museum in May.