Born in 1932, at a time when antiziganism was rife, Katarina Taikon became one of Sweden’s most popular children’s books authors, but she was also a civil rights activist and her fight for Roma people’s rights earned her the moniker “Sweden’s Martin Luther King”.
This autumn, a documentary about Taikon’s life will screen in Swedish theatres and Lawen Mohtadi – the writer whose book the film is based on – tells Radio Sweden that the movie will allow a wider audience to learn about Taikon and about a part of Swedish history that is not talked about enough.
Mohtadi says that while working on her book, called The Day I Will Be Free, she discovered a wealth of archive material. The film, she says, offers a chance to see this material and to hear about Taikon in her own words.
Taikon was born in a tent near the central Swedish town of Örebro. Back then, the Roma community faced discrimination in Sweden. Taikon was not allowed to go to school, for instance, and only learnt to write at the age of 26. Five years later, her first book – Gypsy Woman – was published. This was in the early Sixties and the book marked the starting point for Taikon’s struggle for equal rights for the Roma in Sweden.
Mohtadi, who wrote the script for and directed the documentary titled Katarina Taikon, says that the writer and activist is best known in Sweden as the author of the popular series of books about Katitzi. Those books were partly auto-biographical and were turned into a TV series in the late Seventies.
Mohtadi’s film, however, focuses on Taikon’s political activism.
In a clip from the movie Taikon says: ”School, housing, the chance to work: we should enjoy precisely the same opportunities as all other Swedes.”
Mohtadi made the documentary together with the journalist Gellert Tamas, who says he hopes the film will spark discussions about how the Roma have been treated in Sweden in the past and how they are treated today.
Tamas hopes the film will spark discussions about how the Roma have been treated in Sweden in the past and they are being treated at present.
Tamas says the film about Taikon shows that there are great forces for good within the Roma community. The message is that we should all enjoy the same rights, he says.
Taikon's daughter, Angelica Ström, is pleased that her mother's political struggle is in focus in the film - and she hopes it will be shown in schools.
Ström says the question of Roma people's rights is more relevant than ever. She insists that the Roma in Europe are living in conditions that are worse than those found in Sweden in the 1960s.
Katarina Taikon has been dubbed "Sweden's Martin Luther King" and that is a description that Mohtadi supports.
"Sweden hasn't been great at celebrating its civil rights champions - and Katarina Taikon is one of them," says Mohtadi. She hopes the film will help demonstrate that Taikon has meant a lot for Sweden and that her legacy needs to be harnessed.