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Slovakia: 'Gypsies Come To Town' Could Be First Soap Opera About Roma

Plans are afoot for what could be Europe's first Romany soap opera. The Slovak writer behind "Gypsies Come to Town" was inspired by American movies and television shows that challenged prejudices against black people. Now, he's trying to do the same for Roma in Eastern Europe.

Prague, 15 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Anton Balaz is a successful Romany small businessman. But when he and his family move into an apartment building, their white neighbors are shocked.

Scriptwriter Oleg Makara says that "Gypsies Come to Town" is the story of a regular family with ordinary cares and joys -- but that "10 percent of what happens will happen because they are Roma."

Take the scene when one of them reports a theft.

"The police come, the door opens and they see two Gypsy women who are nicely dressed. The [police] start questioning them," Makara said. "Then it turns out they're not the one's [who've stolen] but the ones who reported the theft."

Roma are one of Slovakia's, and Europe's, most disadvantaged ethnic groups. They are poorer, less educated, and more likely to be unemployed than the majority population.

Added to that are widespread and sometimes violent prejudices that see Roma either as thieves or a welfare burden.

Makara wants to challenge those beliefs -- and says his successful main character can provide Roma with a positive role model as well.

The writer said he was inspired by American films and television series that confronted prejudices against black people in the United States.

"The Cosby Show" was a successful sitcom from the 1980s and 1990s about a middle-class black American family.

The 1967 film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was about a young white woman who shocks her parents by announcing plans to marry a black man.
The writer said he was inspired by American films and television series that confronted prejudices against black people in the United States.

"I think that these series -- films like 'The Defiant Ones' and 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' -- changed public opinion in America," Makara said. "I'm not saying they solved the problems; black Americans still have problems. But [today] we can see that America even has an Afro-American foreign minister [Secretary of State Colin Powell]. And I think that these films and [comedian] Bill Cosby's series played a part in that."

Erika Adamova, who works at a Romany youth center in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice, said that a Romany television series could be useful.

"[By] informing the majority population about the lifestyle, about Roma traditions, it could be beneficial to create this kind of serial," Adamova said. "It could also influence opinion a little bit, give people a different view of Roma, and it could boost Roma self-confidence in these communities."

Nicolae Gheorghe said that, in principle, he's in favor, too.

That's because Gheorghe, who advises the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Romany issues, has already discussed a similar idea.

"Years ago we discussed in a small group about a soap opera -- [like] these Latin American serials which are going for years and years and are quite popular," Gheorghe said. "We thought about it as a way to inform the general public about the relations in everyday life of Roma families and relations between Roma and non-Roma. In principle, I'm favorable to a media product which can reach the general public to address this deep ignorance of majority societies about Roma, [because] based on this ignorance a lot of stereotypes are reproduced."

"Gypsies Come to Town" could become Europe's first television series about Roma.

Makara wants to get it broadcast on Slovak Television. But the channel's Branislav Zahradnik said there's no decision yet.

"There are consultations going on about this Roma sitcom right now. The definitive decision has not been made yet because it depends on the program and financial possibilities for next year."

Makara hopes to find out soon whether the Balaz family can strut their success on television -- just like the black family in "The Jeffersons," an American sitcom from the 1970s that also defied stereotypes.