INTERVIEW: Patrik Čonka

A Brief Interview with Patrik Čonka
by Karolína Ryvolová

Where and when were you born?

I was born in 1982 in Zvolen, Slovakia but grew up in Bohemia (editor’s note: now the Czech Republic). We lived in Prague until I was five, then we moved to Velký Osek near Kolín.

What kind of education have you had?

Between 1998 and 2003 I attended Josef Ščuka’s Romany Social Studies and Law School in Kolín. After graduation I was self-employed for four years as a translator from German. Later I worked with several international companies as an IT expert, e.g. Honeywell, or currently with Pfizer in Berlin. My posting in Berlin will end in January, then I’m probably going to be moved to Switzerland.

Where and how did you learn German?

I’ve been studying German since primary school. I also studied in Austria for almost two years, at the linguistic department of Karl-Franzens University in Graz. This was the project of Romani language headed by Dieter W. Halwachs.

And how did you learn Romani?

It has always been used at home. I’ve been using it since childhood.

Between 17 and 18, several of your literary works were published in the Romano Suno2 almanac and the journal Romano džaniben. Eventually, one of these early short stories was published in the recent anthology of Romany prose A Soul Well-Fed. Have you written anything since?

No, I haven’t. I have absolutely no time for writing.

Have you ever considered going back to writing?

What can I say... I’ve never considered myself a writer. I was young when I wrote it and my life has changed a lot since. Everyday routine keeps me busy.

I can imagine writing again. It’s not like there is nothing to write about. But I’ve lost the naivety of my youth when I was actually hoping to achieve something with my writing.

You are ten years older; it would be interesting to see the change in perspective.

I wrote it because it was a school assignment. I had no idea it would be received so well.

How useful is it to use Romani as a language of literature? Should it even be used for writing?

It definitely should. It’s a language like any other, only it has no written tradition. The written tradition needs to be encouraged and supported.

Do you think the Roma in general read what other Roma write in Romani?

I don’t really think so. When I read something in Romani for the first time ever, I didn’t understand it. Or to put it differently, I knew what the words meant but the content made no sense. I wasn’t used to reading written Romani at all.

Would you say that it is important to educate people in Romani, then? Offer training opportunities? Or will the language one day disappear off the face of the earth?

I find that teaching Romani at primary schools is a good idea. But please, God, let it be an optional subject! Yes, I agree, the knowledge of Romani needs to be cultivated in people. My use of the word 'people' is intentional: not just Roma, but also non-Roma should learn.

I don’t expect thousands to be flocking to learn Romani. But it’s a way to show that Romani is a perfectly legitimate language with grammar and rules. That it is no gibberish. A lot of people believe that Romani is some kind of jargon. Understanding the language may help change stereotypical thinking about the Roma...

Your story The Morning is fictional or based on a true story?

It’s a fictional account. But this is how I view the Roma in the society nowadays. See the end of the text – 'Screw it...' We’ve got to get up. We all know it. But – screw it...

Do you have time to read at all?  If you do, do you read what other Roma authors write?

I have hardly any time to read. But at the moment,  www.romea.cz is running a series of Romany texts and these I read. Often at work.

You have been in Berlin since August. Are you looking forward to going home to your family and your 'Romany self'?

Oh, very! The Germans are terribly cold, like the weather at the moment.

 
NOTES:

Romano suno (Romany dream) is a Romani-language competition for primary and secondary schools. Since 1997 it has been run by Nová škola NGO http://www.novaskola.org/pilot/. Every year an almanac of the best works is published. Romano džaniben is a journal of Roma studies published bi-yearly by the Roma studies department of the faculty of arts of Charles University.

Šukar laviben le Romendar presents the works of both well-established and emerging Romany writers, with stress on their most recent pieces. Usually one or two texts/extracts/poems are featured, followed by the author’s biography and an online interview. It has gathered a reasonable following, with most texts in Romani being read 250 times on average.







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