A film by Ioana Constantinescu made for the Roma Congress jubilee on the history & background leading to the 1st World Roma Congress in 1971

The first World Roma Congress took place in London in 1971. Delegates came from across Europe. The congress met in Orpington. It was attended by 23 representatives from nine nations (Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Spain and Yugoslavia) and observers from Belgium, Canada, India and the United States. Five sub-commissions were created to examine social affairs, education, war crimes, language, and culture. At the congress, the green and blue flag from the 1933 conference of the General Association of the Gypsies of Romania, embellished with the red, sixteen-spoked chakra, was reaffirmed as the national emblem of the Roma people, and the song “Gelem, Gelem” was adopted as the Roma anthem. Usage of the word “Roma” (rather than variants of “gypsy”) was also accepted by a majority of attendees; as a result, the International Gypsy Committee (founded in 1965) was renamed the Komiteto Lumniako Romano (International Rom Committee). Subsequent congresses met as follows:

Second World Romani Congress

Was held in Geneva, Switzerland in April 1978 and was attended by 120 delegates from 26 countries. Attendees helped transform the International Rom Committee into the International Romani Union.

Third World Romani Congress

Was held in Göttingen, West Germany in May 1981, with 600 delegates and observers from 28 different countries. Attendees supported the call for Roma to be recognised as a national minority of Indian origin. The Porajmos was a major topic of discussion.

Fourth World Romani Congress

In 1990, the fourth Congress was held in Serock, Poland with 250 delegates attending. Discussion topics included World War II reparations, education, culture, public relations, language, and a Romani language encyclopedia. The International Day of the Roma was also officially declared as April 8, in honour of the first World Romani Congress meeting in 1971.

Fifth World Romani Congress

Was held in Prague, Czech Republic in July, 2000. Emil Ščuka was elected as president of the International Romani Union. The Congress produced the official Declaration of the Romani non-territorial nation.

Sixth World Romani Congress

Was held in Lanciano, Italy on October 8 & 9, 2004, with participation from over 200 delegates from 39 countries of world. Delegates chose a new president for the International Romani Union (Stanisław Stankiewicz of Poland) and a new president of the World Parliament of the IRU (Dragan Jevremovic of Austria). A new committee was set up to examine issues surrounding women, families and children.

Seventh World Romani Congress

Was held in Zagreb, Croatia in October 2008. Almost 300 delegates from 28 different countries attended the meeting, which released The Roma Nation Building Action Plan, a document which outlined plans for the development of Romani nationalism and representation. Esma Redžepova performed the Romani anthem.

Eighth World Romani Congress

Was held in Sibiu, Romania in April 2013. Approximately 250 delegates from 34 different countries attended the meeting. Ninth World Romani Congress Was held in Riga, Latvia in August 2015, Approximately 250 delegates from 25 countries were in attendance. Outstandingly, 21 countries out of the 25 in attendance formed a Federation to tackle the issues afflicting the Romani people.

“The Congress was organized in an attempt – which proved successful – to overcome the separation of Roma by what Churchill had called the “iron-curtain” that divided Europe. I had been in Jugoslavia as early as 1952, the first year “western” visitors were allowed. The idea of the Congress was discussed in Paris as early as 1965. Vajda Vojvod and others of the Comite International Rom, the predecessor of the IRU, talked a lot about it. I had joined the CIR the year before while in Ireland. Vajda visited our camp, where about 70 families, with horses, wagons and tents were “occupying” a big field called Cherry Orchard. For Travellers (Pirutne, both Pavees and Roma) the issue was about obtaining legal camping places. Education too was a big issue. We had built two small make-shift schools. The first had been burned down during an eviction, one of many from pieces of land around Dublin”. Grattan Puxon.

Romanies 1971

“The global need was to unite and have a common voice. The same need we have today. The more local need was to end police harassment of those on the roads in caravans. In Paris, the major issue was the destruction of the “bidonvilles”, the settlements of Roma around Paris, many of whom had come from Jugoslavia. The CIR was also concerned, of course, about the genocide carried out against Roma by the Nazis under their New Order in Europe. We were inspired by the Roma partizans who had fought the Germans and Italians, and I listened avidly to the stories told by Zarko Jovanovic, from Batajnica, and others. Later in the 1970s I heard more about all that from my own parents-in-law in Sutka”. Grattan Puxon.


Invitation to the 1st Congress sent to Siobodan Berbershi, who was then elected it’s first president.

The Times 1971

Raya Bielemberg sang in London and attended the 1st Congress. As reported in The Times 1971.

1971 World Romani Congress
Brian Raywid
Secured Cannock House as the venue

1971 World Romani Congress
Tore-Jarl Bielenberg
Organised the Festival 

1971 World Romani Congress
Ian Hancock
Was new to the Romani Movement 

1971 World Romani Congress
Peter Ingram
Went to the Congress in his trailer

1971 World Romani Congress
Thomas Acton
Student helper at the Congress 

1971 World Romani Congress
Will Guy
Student helper with the Czech delegation

The statutes for the Romani Union were drawn up.

“We were working with a blank piece of paper, if you understand. So it was not difficult to fulfil some of the immediate needs; adoption of the blue and green Roma Nation flag, embossed with the red Ashok Chakra; the national anthem Dzelem Dzelem. For which new lyrics were composed by Zarko during the bus journey to Walsall, near Birmingham, where Congress delegates carried out their first protest action. That was over the death three of three children in a caravan after an eviction. Finally, the designation of Roma Nation Day. As for other aims and long-term expectations, nearly 50 years later are we not still fighting for these”?
Grattan Puxon

Of course. The location of the Congress had to be kept secret because of anti-Gypsy racists and hostility in London. Gypsy were encamped on the roadsides near that location. Those who were members of the Gypsy Council (funded in 1966) attended parts of the Congress. They applauded when at the final session Fajk Abdi announced the word “Gypsy” should no longer be used but instead Roma. Fajk was the most impressive delegate at the Congress. He could connect with the people. Later in Sutka I saw how he led the Phralipe; a combination of discipline and inspiration. I miss him very much.

He was my neighbour. We discussed many things at that time, including the possibility of a European-wide political party. I went to Parliament and saw how Fajk operated there. Roma status was being promoted also in Beograd by Slobodan Berberski, the first president of the Congress. That struggle to be raised from ethnic group to narodnost. We were supported by Ales Bebler, Jugoslav representative at the UN. Indian Ambassador Menon visited Sutka, remarking that it was like seeing a part of India.

Zarko Vanko Rouda and Grattan Puxon, 1971.

“Both. Roma Nation Day was initiated by the 1971 Congress. Be aware, it was not intended to be a lesser version such an “international day of the Roma”. It is a day to celebrate the solidarity of the Roma Nation. It is an opportunity also to coordinate action across frontiers in the fight against anti-Roma racists, against fascist groups; against the killings and violent attacks; against mainstream political policies that have see tens of thousands expelled from France; camps destroyed in Italy; houses bulldozed in Bulgaria. Here in Britain 200,000 migrant Roma face the threat of deportation because of Brexit. In this situation, we in London will be holding protests on “8 April” outside Parliament and at a number of foreign embassies. This we’re coordinating with organizations across Europe, and in America too. We shall come out in the street to raise Roma flags with a common theme. What better way to demonstrate unity; to demonstrate the existence of a vital Roma Nation”?