"Oh you, my old Nasife, I can see myself in your eyes and my worn-out clothes which you made for me with your weak hands – in the long and hard nights spent next to the gas light. I fell asleep to your fairy tales, and stories, until late in the night your sweet stories accompanied me. We are surrounded by your shadow, it is present among us. And your laughter, too, it is still present for the inhabitants of this house, and they remember your name. You played the part of mother, who had left me when I was fifteen months old. You were my mother, and I your son. In the foggy room you picked me up from the dust – in the small house of the Roma settlement, built from unbaked bricks. There, you sifted dusty flour which you had got in the most remote towns, in order to be able to bake a cake for me, and from stinging nettle and corn you cooked a soup for me. Your suffering stays in my mind, just like your gentle rocking of the cradle in the long and hard nights. You were my uncle’s wife, and your youth and your old age are mingled with my tears in the poor, crumbling cradle. On the floor of the old house you fed me – with a slice of bread which you had got in the town. And you quenched my thirst with the water from the well of the Roma settlement. You were the sun that warmed me in the hardest and most painful days of my childhood." ("O tu, puranije Nazife!", translated into german by Mozes F. Heinschink)
The writer Ali (Alija) Krasnići was born in 1952 in Crkvena Vodica, a town near Obilić (Kosovo). He is a member of the Gurbet group – a group of the Vlach-Roma - , who moved to Serbia and Macedonia after slavery and bondsmenship were abolished in the area of today’s Romania. [History of the Vlach-Roma / Gurbet]
The epic poem "Oh you, my old Nasife!" which precedes this text gives insight into the author’s childhood. His mother’s early death and a great poverty were as formative for his future life as the devoted care and love of his foster mother. It was she who made him familiar with the force and beauty of the Roma fairy tales.
Already at an early age, Ali Krasnići knew about the dark sides of life, which can be overwhelming if no possibility is found to ’know’ them, to describe them and compare them to the positive sides. From the beginning, literature was this possibility for Ali Krasnići, first as listener and later as author.
Thus, however, it was necessary to chose a carrer which was unusual for a Rom. He never questioned his identity as Rom and his mother tongue (Gurbet-Romani); they were a natural and central part of his life. In this sense, Krasnići is a tradition-conscious Rom. However, he does not consider the traditional values of his forefathers nor Romani as something static which cannot be subject to change.
He started studying at the Faculty of Law in Obilić as extraordinary student. In traditional Roma societies, the educational establishments of the Gadže (Non-Roma) are not valued highly. Apart from a fundamental suspicion of Non-Roma, this low opinion is caused by the fact that many institutions, like universities, show no consideration for the Roma’s culture. This disdain is gradually decreasing now, but in the 1960ies and 70ies Krasnići’s studies equaled a breach of a taboo.
Due to intensive insights into the life and thoughts of Non-Roma, and among them mainly the educational elite, he became aware of the fact that very little and, at the same time, a lot of false ideas were known about the life of the Roma. He also saw that the status of Roma culture and literature was considered very low in the eyes of the Non-Roma. Krasnići’s later concern to publish his book whenever possible in two or three languages (Romani, Serbian, Albanian or English) probably is a result of this experience.
At that time, his decision to turn towards literature became more and more concrete; at first following his personal interests, later, however, with the need to bring it before the public. In the years and decades that followed, Ali Krasnići became one of the best known Roma authors in former Yugoslavia. Until now, he has written and published more than 40 books, is represented in numerous anthologies, has written articles for the radio and radio plays. He was awarded several of the most important prizes for his literary work.
What is his significance and what are his particularities? Ali Krasnići is one of the very few Roma writers who write prose in Romani Other Roma writers like Menyhert Lakatos or Matéo Maximoff also wrote novels, but wrote exclusively in Hungarian and French respectively.
Because of the comparatively small lexicon and the lack of many abstract terms, most Roma authors limit themselves to lyric poetry and drama. Ali Krasnići, however, did not let himself be put off by that fact, and made a virtue out of necessity. Ever since his beginnings as a writer he has been creating new words, and has written them down in his own dictionary, which in the year 2000 included 25.000 entries and is now almost completed. To cite only two examples: Romani does not have a word for the noun "drop", only for "it is dripping" (pićal). So he derived the noun pić (drop) from the verb. For the abstract notion "home" Krasnići used the two words than (place) and bijanipe (birth), and combined them to thanbijanibe (home). Generally, it is not necessary to understand Ali Krasnići’s second and third language – Serbian and Albanian – in order to understand his word formation process and the new constructions.
It is further noticeable that Ali Krasnići writes in may different literary genres. Apart from prose and lyric poetry he also writes children’s books and dramas, and additionally works as translator from Serbo-Croatian into Romani.
His main concern, which he deals with in a literary form, is depicting the life of the Roma in all its facets. He deals with suffering, privation, poverty and need, but also with the longings, the happiness and the every-day pleasures of the Roma in his region. Stylistically, Krasnići’s works remind the reader of Emir Kusturica’s film language. Both use alienation effects and ironical exaggeration in order to approach the character traits and particularities of a certain culture. Krasnići’s literature is shaped by the use of pictures and humor, and he stands out through his extraordinary talent for focusing on seemingly unimportant details without losing sight of the context.
Additionally, the authenticity of his descriptions is guaranteed because he has experienced the dark and the good sides of Roma life himself. In 1999, he and his family – like a hundred thousand other Roma – were robbed off their home and possessions in the course of the war in Kosova. The Albanian nationalists accused the Roma of collaboration with the Serbs. Latent prejudices and stereotypes appeared again and cause an ethnic cleansing of undreamt-of dimensions. [Racism and Human Rights]
The association Rom e.V., in Cologne, estimates that since June 1999 more than 100.000 Roma have been driven away, 15.000 houses destroyed and raided, 40.000 Roma injured physically or traumatized psychologically. Approximately 1.000 Roma have been murdered by Albanian nationalists or died in camps due to lacking medical care. Ali Krasnići had to hide in a cellar for three months before he and his family could eventually flee to the refugee camp Kragujevac (Serbia-Montenegro). They lost all of their possessions, only Ali Krasnići’s manuscripts could be saved. Their future is uncertain. Will they ever be able to go back? What remains for Ali Krasnići is his family and his literature. From both, he draws the strength and the hope that one day the Roma will be done justice, and the culprits called to account.