“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Giving a Face to the Invisible

20 August 2012 | Jelena Petrovic, Programme Assistant, Praxis

The true personal testimonies of the Roma unregistered at birth translated into the documentary Here I Am found their way this summer to the hearts of many.

The international film festival Supetar Super Film Festival held on the island of Brac in Croatia in mid-July, presented a diverse range of international documentary classics. The documentary Here I Am produced by Praxis in cooperation with Dokukino was presented together with twelve other documentaries originating from Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Bosnia, Great Britain, the Czech Republic and Croatia. (The Importance of) Hair by the Swedish director Christina Hoglund won the first place, the second was granted to the documentary Bye ByeC’estFini by the Swedish director Tora Martens, while Praxis’ documentary Here I Am directed by Irena Fabri won the third place.  It is extremely important to mention that it was the audience award, the award given by randomly assembled tourists who came to Supetar for their summer holidays.

The documentary Here I Am emerged as a Praxis’ desire to vividly illustrate the real torment of the legally invisible persons (persons whose birth is not registered) whose daily life is intertwined with serious existential problems. Indeed, it was an opportunity to give a face to the problems of the Roma who lack birth registration, personal documents and adequate housing and are at risk of statelessness. Praxis and Dokukino’s team visited several informal settlements while preparing for the shooting and talked to the residents. The documentary actually tried to depict the lives of legally invisible Roma living in informal settlements by letting some of them tell their own life stories. The survival of these people living on the margins of the society is often motivated by their hope and faith, as apparently the only identity they truly own. The documentary puts us, at least for 25 minutes, in their shoes, gives us the opportunity to experience the despair of not having a recognized legal personality, to feel the uncertainty of tomorrow but yet share their wishful thinking and seemingly strong desire to believe in the visible future. The documentary shows what impediments you need to overcome when you want to prove your identity, the identity of your mother or your child by purely “catching your visibility” hovering somewhere in between. Praxis actually wanted to show to the viewers of this documentary how difficult the problem of legal invisibility is and also to give a chance to these people to speak for themselves.

To remind, estimates say that about several thousand people live nowadays in Serbia without being registered in birth registry books, and who are therefore denied a fundamental human right – the right to be recognized as a person before the law. They lack personal identification documents and have no access to rights and services as citizens, even though they may have lived in the same place for generations. They suffer multiple deprivations and violations of rights as a direct result of not having a recognized identity and nationality. 

Much effort has to be put in order to raise awareness about the problem and instigate the state to take responsibility and finally provide an effective systemic solution. In that regard, this documentary will serve as an excellent advocacy tool. Also, Praxis is planning to promote the documentary at other film festivals in the country and abroad.

It yet remains to hope that such a remarkably visible recognition of this documentary will somehow affect the solution of this burning issue by making the invisible become visible and legally recognized as persons before the law. Hopefully, the state will have at least the same empathy for its citizens as the audience in Supetar had for the legally invisible Roma in the documentary.

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