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Frescoes bring tourists, hope to Roma village
Visitors stand in front of murals in Bodvalenke, Hungary. In the Roma village, situated some 250 km northeast from the Hungarian capital Budapest, Roma painters from Hungary and other European countries are invited to paint murals on the walls of the houses. Bodvalenke may be desperately poor, but some colourful murals depicting folk tales and figures from Roma legends are generating hope, inspiration and tourist money for the small Hungarian village. AFP PHOTO / PETER KOHALMI.

By: Gregoire Ozan

BUDAPEST (AFP).- Bodvalenke may be desperately poor, but some colourful murals depicting folk tales and figures from Roma legends are generating hope, inspiration and tourist money for the small Hungarian village.

"The concept is simple. Roma artists from Hungary and beyond come here to paint wonderful frescoes on houses," said Eszter Pasztor, a non-Roma translator and interpreter from Budapest who launched the project in 2009.

The 55-year-old hatched the idea after a visit to the Nubia region in southern Egypt where she came across a village welcoming tourists with painted murals.

"I thought this is something which could work in Bodvalenke," she told AFP, where she was "astonished by the poverty and despair when I visited it for the first time,"

The village of Bodvalenke rubs up against the border of Slovakia in a often-neglected corner of Hungary, one of the poorest parts of the European Union.

Formerly a centre of heavy industry during the communist era, the area has for many years been characterised by high unemployment, deep poverty and tensions between the Roma and non-Roma communities.

Almost all of Bodvalenke's 200 inhabitants are Roma. Nationally Roma make up Hungary's largest ethnic minority, numbering around half a million or five percent of the total population.

Parts of the village have no running water, and most people rely on social welfare payments to survive.

Pasztor's initiative looks however to be giving a ray of hope through the medium of art.

With the help of donations from individuals and the corporate sector, as well as some state aid, 29 vivid and richly painted frescoes now adorn the outer walls of houses in the village.

"On the one hand it combats widespread anti-Roma prejudice and exclusion, on the other it gives people a little chance of escaping from poverty," Pasztor says.

The paintings portray songs and scenes from Roma folk tales and mythology, as well as aspects of Roma culture and lifestyle such as music and migration.

Last year, they drew around 3,500 tourists, many during the Festival of Dragons weekend of music, now in its fourth year.

During the festival, held each July, local guides explain to visitors the meaning of the figures and symbols in the paintings.

"The walls tell some very nice stories and have a special symbolism which we don't normally get to hear about," says Peter Boros, who lives nearby and took his family to see the murals.

"It's very important to increase awareness of this culture, the abundance of colour, the people and the atmosphere," he says.

The village has little proper tourist infrastructure, no accommodation or restaurants, so local people prepare food and drink for the weekend.

Katalin Egri, a 55-year-old local Roma, says she can earn as much selling homemade cakes in front of her house during the weekend as she receives in her monthly social welfare payment.

"Before this was just a simple poor village like many others but now every year we can earn some money because of the festival and the wall paintings," Egri says.

People have more hope now, she adds, and as they have more pride in the village, take better care of it now than before.

Local children may be the biggest winners from the frescoes however.

There is no school in Bodvalenke so children have to travel to other villages and towns. According to Pasztor this was one reason they lacked confidence and received poor grades.

Since the art project began, however, some 15 local pupils have received different scholarships to help with their studies.

"Children see the results of hard work and creativity, and talented people coming into the village, and I think many have been inspired," she says.



© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse






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