Life: a treacherous protagonist

A beautiful young Roma (or Gypsy) girl with sparkling eyes was Stavros Theodorakis’s guest last Sunday on Mega television channel’s popular «Protagonists» show. The 11-year-old Paraskevoula, who lives near Aspropyrgos in western Attica, is the only member of her large family who can read and write. She does not want to marry young but wants to finish her education and become a pediatrician. Will she make it? Maybe, but she faces major barriers. The 11-year-old pores over her books in a small tent set up in an old aircraft hangar; this is her study. With her textbooks laid out on the ground, Paraskevoula studies sitting cross-legged. At night, she continues her reading by flashlight. The TV camera managed to capture the most beautiful aspects of life at the Roma encampment – the expressive faces, the joyful children playing outdoors, the swaying of bodies to music. But these beautiful and moving images are accompanied by a story which is anything but photogenic: a story of poverty, illiteracy, open sewers, health epidemics and social exclusion. And what about schooling? «The school burned down,» Paraskevoula remarks casually. This is true, but the school did not burn down accidentally. Unidentified arsonists attacked it over the Easter holidays in April. The program shows footage of three containers ablaze, a heartbreaking image of smoke and charred walls. These three containers once constituted a school. This is where Paraskevoula, and another 50 or so other Roma children, used to have their lessons – separated from the «other children.» This is the big news, the challenge for every journalist, but unfortunately it cannot be accommodated within the format of this particular TV show, which focuses on personalities, not news. The development that may influence the future of little Paraskevoula is merely alluded to in passing. The Roma school was created in September 2005 after pressure from residents who did not want their children in the same classes as the Roma. But first some of its windows were broken, then it was vandalized by offensive graffiti, its air-conditioning units were stolen, and this Easter the unknown assailants finally finished off their sabotage. When a school opens, a jail closes, the saying goes. But what happens when a school burns down? It was nearly six months after the arson attack before the incident was referred to in the media. Roma communities do not have blogs to publicize their plight. «Protagonists» is a show with a specific attitude, a quick pace, good camera-work and direction. It approaches its subjects with sensitivity and tenderness. In the aformentioned case, the 11-year-old girl was charming and moving but one must not forget that life is the most treacherous protagonist of all.

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