Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.
Last August 8, the great Romanian sociologist Nicolae Gheorghe passed away. He was only 66. I first met him in 1990, when he was just embarking on his project of elevating Roma issues to the highest level of European politics. Because he spoke English and had an academic background, he was often the lone Roma representative in European human rights meetings or on TV panel discussions. He worked on Roma issues at the Council of Europe, at the EU, at the UN, and for many years at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.
I saw him again, and for the last time, in Budapest last May. He was very sick, in the late stages of colon cancer, and he moved with great difficulty. And yet he had pushed himself to travel from Italy to Hungary to be part of a seminar and book launch with his comrade-in-arms Andras Biro at the Central European University. The book, From Victimhood to Citizenship, is a dialogue among several people in or knowledgeable about the Roma community, and it provides an opportunity for Gheorghe to reflect on his own work and the contrasting views of others. He used his trip to Budapest to speak with a wide variety of people, including Roma students at Central European University. I managed to interview him in the lobby of his hotel on the morning before he was to return to Italy where he was staying with his sister. His day was scheduled with back-to-back meetings, and even his trip out to the airport was an opportunity for a conversation. He seemed to know that he did not have much time left, and he was determined to squeeze as many interactions as possible into his day – with old friends, new faces, and even just passing acquaintances like me.