Why Vasilitsa and the campaign “Let’s rebuild the bridges between us”

In recent years, Vasilitsa (also known in the media as Bango Vasili) has gained popularity as the Roma New Year. In fact, this is St. Basil’s Day, celebrated by the so-called “Old style” (ie the Julian calendar) and only until 3-4 generations ago this was the day on which ethnic Bulgarians and other groups also celebrated the New Year. Currently, Vasilitsa is not celebrated by all Roma in Bulgaria: for some Roma groups it is a major calendar holiday, and others have even lost the memory of it. Why then from the Amalipe Center for another year we organize national celebrations of Vasilitsa within the campaign “Let’s restore the bridges between us”? What do we want to achieve? And why exactly Amalipe?
With the campaign “Let’s rebuild the bridges between us” (albeit online this year) we aim for four things.
  1. First, to show the richness of Roma culture, that the Roma are not a collection of poor people (an image imposed by politicians and the media and unfortunately has already become a stable stereotype among the average Bulgarian), but an ethnic community with its own culture and dignity. Moreover – a culture that is closely related to the culture of the Bulgarians and other ethnic groups living in our common homeland. Vasilitsa is especially appropriate because it reveals the connection and intertwining of symbols and rituals between Roma and Bulgarians: many of the elements in the Roma festive St. Basil’s Day ceremony today are described by Dimitar Marinov as Bulgarian St. Basil’s Day traditions in the late 19th century. At the level of folklore, mutual enrichment, which we now call “integration”, has long been a fact.
  2. Secondly, let us remind the main national institutions that one tenth of Bulgarian citizens and an even larger part of Bulgarian children and youth are Roma and the institutions should know their culture and traditions, as well as implement policies for the good of all. In recent years, there have been fewer examples in this regard, but Vasilitsa and the Let’s Rebuild Bridges Between Us campaign continue to succeed. In 2010, when we started this activity, we were welcomed by the Ministers of Education and Labor and Social Policy. Over the years, the number of involved institutions gradually increased and until last year, respect for Roma culture was shown by all major national institutions and politicians who represent them – the President and Vice President, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Ministers of Education, Labor and Social Policy. health, regional development, foreign affairs, the national ombudsman and many others. For two years now, we have not purposefully visited the ministers of the United Patriots coalition after a speech by one of them at the beginning of 2017, condemning the entire Roma community. This year, unfortunately, due to the conditions of the Kovid pandemic, the campaign will be on a smaller scale and will be online – it will include mainly the diplomatic corps and only three of the ministries that are directly involved in the most serious challenges, with which the education system is currently facing: the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, the Ministry of Health. And despite the limited scale this year, there is hardly another initiative involving so many ambassadors and diplomats representing their nations and states.
  3. Thirdly, we wanted to show the indisputable but unrecognized and unrecognized fact that the Roma community is confidently on the path of its modernization. Moreover – without breaking with its roots. Vasilitsa today is not what it was for the traditional, patriarchal rum, and we are not trying to preserve or return the patriarchal-conservative. Vasilitsa used to be a strictly family holiday (on the evening of the 13th, no outsider was allowed in the house!), Associated with the intuitive belief that the ritual can influence the universe and even change the course of events for the better (which is the meaning of survakana and all other Basil’s Day rituals). Young Roma today, surfing 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 (a universal value for all Roma) and the power of the Roma (and human) spirit to change events. If this faith is hurt, it definitely needs to be healed! That is why we organize public celebrations of Vasilitsa – to show the modernization, which does not break with the traditions and customs, but rethinks them as cultural codes through which today’s man builds his personal autonomy and empathy for his community. Today, with the challenge of remote work and online celebrations in Vasilitsa, we are even closer to that.
  4. Fourth, we decided to once again demonstrate the symbolism of the bridge, on which the Roma legends about Vasilitsa and the main holiday rituals are built. The celebration of Vasilitsa is connected with an old legend, which says that the Devil destroyed the bridge on which the Roma walked, but St. Vasil rebuilt it so that they could cross the purifying water with their purity and start their new life. That is why Vasilitsa is the day when – through the power of tradition and ritual – we build bridges to 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 government and citizens, between our hearts.

This is the short answer to the question “Why Vasilitsa?”. For these reasons, Vasilitsa deserves to be declared the Day of Roma Culture and to be celebrated in a similar way every year!

And why exactly is Amalipe committed to this? On the one hand, it’s not just us. Other organizations also do various events, including survakat, some of the politicians we skip. On the other hand, Amalipe has the strength to do so. There are not many NGOs that can organize a campaign with 190 events across the country in one day. Moreover – without a special financial resource! The schools that come to Sofia pay for the transport and even the accommodation of their students from their delegated budget. They respond to our invitation because we share common values ​​and because we are convinced that together we are a force that can change the policies for each child to have a better future. The same is done by the hundreds of volunteers who take part in the events in the country. Thank you to all of you, dear supporters and friends! Let’s continue to build the bridge together!

Bakhtalo tumaro Vasili! Bakhtalo Nevo Bresh!

And you can read more about the holiday here!

Photos: Daniela Hristova