Vania de Gila-Kochanowski The great Roma scholar Jan Kochanowski (Vania de Gila) departed on 18 may 2007.
He was born on August 6th 1920 in the forest surrounding the city of Cracow (Poland). He would have been delighted to meet the late Pope John Paul the 2nd who was born on the same year a few months before him. His motherly clan came from Latvia and had a nomadic lifestyle wandering from Poland to Bielorussia. So he used to live in tents among horses until the age of nine. His father belonged to a traditional military clan and was an officer in the Red Army, he died while defending the city of Smolensk in 1942.
Vania studied at the catholic lyceum of Aglona and passed his final secondary examination in Riga where he also attended his first year university course before the invasion of his country by the Nazi troops. During the war, more than half of his family members were exterminated, he was twice deported and he also escaped twice. He was transferred to France in order to build the Atlantic Wall. From there he joined the Resistance forces in the north of Paris. He received the War Medal 1939-45 of the British Army. Then he chose France, the Human Rights country, as his new fatherland.
Vania was the first Rom in the world and maybe is still the only one to have brilliantly upheld two doctorate theses : the first one in linguistics at the Sorbonne in 1960, the second in ethno-sociology at Toulouse university in 1984. Having to pay for his studies, his exceptional career was accomplished in extremely difficult and precarious financial conditions. He unceasingly kept on informing the civil society about the charity organisations who were supposed to act for the benefit of his People. He was an activist, fighting against the international corruption. He struggled for the recognition of the huge Roma genocide during the Second World War and for the creation of an International Indo-Romani Cultural Center (CICR) in France.
Fighting intensely for his People’s rights, he practically attended every Romani world congress as a member of the Praesidium. He was one of the first researchers to launch interdisciplinary field investigations through the Balkans with his friend Dr Bernard Ely, and also in India, the Roma’s mother country. There, he was invited by the most famous universities and the most well known pandits. He was the only western scholar to attend the official meeting when Hindi was adopted as the national language of the Indian Union. All over the world he was appreciated and recognised by every ethnic group : Gitanos-Kale, Sinte-Manush, Le Roms, Banjaras from India... etc.
He left us an enormous work, embracing linguistic, anthropologic and ethno-sociological discoveries. His works were published under the names of Jan Kochanowski (his civil name), Vania de Gila (his fatherly mother’s clan) or Vania de Gila-Kochanowski. Among his most recent books : Parlons Tsigane and the prominent Précis de la langue romani littéraire L’Harmattan edit, Le roi des serpents and La prière des loups, bilingual tales and narratives, Wallâda edit1. His scientific career shall not overlap his artistical talent. He was the most famous Gypsy dancer of the Paris’ cabarets after the war, a friend of the Dimitrievitchs. He didn’t hesitate to come on stage wherever he was in India2 during the International Conference “Art, Culture, Literature, Education” in New-Delhi (1995) or at the European congress of the Roma youth in Barcelona (1997) where he was acclaimed. One may notice that both his sons have been following traditional Romani careers, one of them as choreographer in charge of the National ballet companies of the Culture Ministery of Gabon, the other one as a General3 in the French Air Forces.
He was a member of the Paris Linguistics Society (1955), as well as of the National Council for the Regional Languages (1988), member of the Latvian union in France (2002) and Transparency International (1998), President of Romano Yekhipe France and he had been appointed Plenipotentiary of the Romani Union at UNESCO in 1984.