"It was when I started here in 2002 that my big love affair with this work began,” says Iveta Demeterová, Director of Programming at Radio Rota, the first Romani internet station in the Czech Republic, founded and operated by the Dženo Association.
“None of us at the station took the work as a mere job; we considered it our life’s mission and our passion,” recalls Demeterová. “For us, it was a matter of the heart. None of us ever looked at the clock; we worked until we were happy with what we produced.”
[Iveta Demeterová, photo by Tereza Bottman]
During Radio Rota’s heyday between 2002 and 2006, the station attracted tens of thousands of listeners from the Czech Republic and around the world each month. Radio Rota aired news, public affairs programming, talk shows, and cultural programs in three languages: Czech, English and Romani. The radio presented organizations to which the community could turn for help.
The hope is that if enough funding is raised, the station will soon resume broadcasting, this time in digital satellite format, reaching listeners in more languages, across as much as three quarters of Europe.
“The station served as a a link, connecting Roma who before the year 2000 immigrated to Canada, England, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand,” explains Demeterová. “We provided a way for them to communicate together, obtain information from us, and, in return, pass on information to us about how they were doing abroad; how they were faring in areas of housing, education, work; how they were perceived there and whether they had problems based on the color of their skin.”
The audience also included the majority population.
“Our motto was: ‘Radio about and for, but not only for the Roma,’” says Demeterová, who, as of September, will also be the new Director of Romani programming on Czech Radio, a publicly funded station with a weekly listenership of nearly 3 million.
“I was most thrilled by the fact that there was such great cooperation between the station and its listeners," beams Demeterová. "The telephone rang off the hook. We received so many emails, it was a challenge to respond to all of them.“
One of the regular programs was a show called Voicemail. “The messages that people sent to each other through us were incredible,“ remembers Demeterová. “People called in to confess their love for each other, to make birthday wishes, to express regrets that they cannot be there to celebrate their grandparents‘ anniversaries.“
Radio Rota even brought people together; not only couples, but friends or relatives who had not been able to find each other for years.
“I did not live my own life doing this work,“ Demeterová confesses. “I lived the lives of the others; the listeners, because I was their fan. I provided advice and contacts for organizations that could help them.“
During the time of campaigns, politicians were regularly invited to the Radio Rota studio to be interviewed and to discuss their platforms. Informally, many of them expressed their support for the station, but in the end, their words were mostly empty promises, says Demeterová.
“Funding was always an issue,” she explains. “The station was built for money from abroad. We asked the Ministry of Culture for funding, and we received it twice. We were glad we received the support, even though it was less than the amount we had requested.“
“We had to prioritize,“ says Demeterová. “There were times when we were only able to pay the bills and the contractors, still we continued working. We weren’t thinking about ourselves; we were thinking about the listeners who were waiting for the services the station provides.“
The importance of independent, minority-run media such as Radio Rota cannot be overstated. Demeterová says the station played a unique role in Czech society in that it emphasized a positive image of the Romani community.
“If the majority population truly wants to have a multicultural society and to be a lawful member of the European Union,“ Demeterová asserts, “if they want tolerance to preside over this land, one way to achieve this is [for the majority and the Roma] to continue getting to know each other. Radio Rota could be a vehicle to open the way for that process.“
Several years later, fans are still writing in, wondering what is happening with the radio station.
“People are still waiting for something to happen, hoping that the radio will continue,” says Demeterová.
The station provided not only information and entertainment, but also a sense of community as well as pride.
“When the radio was created, the community felt part of the experience,” Demeterová explains. “The people felt that they belonged there: ‘We, too, have our own radio station now.’”
“When the listeners wrote in, they did not call it ‘your radio;’” she concludes.“They called it ‘our radio.’ We gave them something to feel proud of.”
[This article originally appeared on Tereza Bottman's Advocacy Project blog]