Obituary - Vania de-Gila (Jan Kochanowski)

Vania de-Gila (Jan Kochanowski)
August 6, 1920 – May 18, 2007

It is with great sadness that we acknowledge that our dear brother “Kako” Vania de-Gila Kochanowski departed this world on Friday, May 18, 2007, at the age of 86.

This is indeed a great loss to all of us for he was one of the greatest Rom that was; unassuming and humble throughout. Those of us who have had the privilege and pleasure, for indeed it was both for sure, will, I am sure, never forget him. I certainly won't.

May the Gods of our Ancestors grant him the rest and peace he so rightly deserves. Our prayers and thoughts are with his family and friends.

Jan Kochanowski (Vania de-Gila) was born on August 6th 1920 in the forest surrounding the city of Krakow (Poland). 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 organizations 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 pundits. 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 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.

© M V Smith, May 2007
Biography excerpt © Jean- Claude Megret (Balval)
Photo © Jean-Claude Megret (Balval)