Stories 2022


In Carașova, besides Croats (who are the majority), there are also Romanians and Roma. The latter are traditionally the community’s musicians and the keepers of Carașova’s folk music, as local librarian Jacob Domăneanț explains. 

The Roma have lived in Carașova for over 150 years, he tells us. They speak Romani, Romanian and Croatian. “They’ve adapted to the way of life in Carașova. They work the land, many sing at weddings. That’s their main job. Many are musicians. They sing traditional local folk music from Carașova, they are the ones who know it best. When Professor [Mihai] Rădan, the former deputy, [linguist and ethnologist], tried to collect all the songs and put them on a hard-disk or CD, he looked for musicians who played at weddings and who knew the songs well.” 

Ion Dragan is one of them. He’s 65 and has been playing the accordion since he was a child. His grandfather played the bass, his father the violin. He chose the accordion for its novelty value: “the accordion had just appeared back then”. He taught himself to play. “In those times, there were no televisions, there was nothing. There were just musicians and I would look at what they were doing. And then my dad managed to buy a transistor radio and I would listen to the radio. I didn’t have any toys other than that radio and the accordion. (…) My dad sold the geese to get me the accordion. Those were hard times.” 

His father was a day labourer in the village. “When I was little, my father used to take me cutting and making the hay for people in the village, we worked for the whole village. (…) There was a lot of poverty. (…) I was happy just to have bread on the table.”

He did his compulsory military service in Timișoara, in the music division, where he played brass band and folk music. Afterwards he got a job at CSR (Reșița Steel Plant) as a maintenance locksmith. Later, “because of the dust”, he tells us, he transferred to Doman as a heavy machinery mechanic. “When I didn’t have work, I would take up the accordion,” he says. He played at weddings and baptisms. In 2002, he quit his job because of the poor pay and went to Austria with the accordion. He worked and played at events and on the street. He speaks Romanian, Romanian, Croatian, Serbian and a little German.

“I played for Romanians, Croats, Germans,” says Ion Dragan. “If you’re Romanian, I will sing to you in Romanian, if you’re Serbian, in Serbian, if you’re Gypsy, in Gypsy.” He played with Sandu Florea from Timișoara. He was also in the band created by Professor Rădan, of whom Mr. Drăgan also speaks with respect and admiration. “He did a lot, we went on shows [with the band] all over the country. (…) He was a good man, now he’s retired.” 

Ion Dragan got married when he was 17 to a girl on his street, Ecaterina, who was 12 at the time. They married for love. Their parents saw that they liked each other, talked and arranged the marriage. The wedding took place on 15 September 1974. 

As we talk, Ecaterina moves efficiently among us, bringing us chairs, preparing and serving us sweet Turkish coffee and plum brandy. From time to time, she and her husband discreetly exchange lines in Romani, seemingly about organisational matters. “When we’re old, we’re scatter-brains,” Mr Dragan explains to us. “When someone asks us for a spoon, we give them a plate.” Ecaterina looks delighted to have guests, her face beaming. In fact, during our visit, she calls her children on the phone, putting on the webcam so that we can meet them too. 

Ion and Ecaterina have three children and five grandchildren. The children are away working in Austria, while the grandchildren are in their care. Three of the grandchildren were present during the interview.

“It’s hard to live here. Most [young people] are away. [Only] the old people have stayed.” Mr. Dragan has stayed home because his legs don’t work anymore. “Me, as far as I can see, people leave to earn a living. Once they earn some money, they come home, invest in a window, in repairs, they do something [to the house] and then keep coming back. Others stay abroad for good. But 90% come back.”

We ask him if he liked Austria. He tells us, “If you earn money in a place, you like it. If you have money, anywhere is good. No money, everywhere is bad.” 

Of his children, he says: “They would come back tomorrow if they could, but they send money home, [and we use it to] buy more food, pay what needs to be paid, electricity…. So they have to stay. (…) You can give mountains of toys to children,  if there’s no mum and dad around, it’s no good and the child isn’t brought up properly either.”

However, of the three grandchildren present during the interview, one boy is a student at UBB, another is attending the high school in Carașova, and the girl is in 6th grade. In school they are taught in Romanian and Croatian. “They [the children] used to get married early,” Mr Dragan tells us. “Now we’ve progressed. It wasn’t good [before]. You have to have a job, you have to have some means of earning money for the children.”

“There are no more musicians,” Mr. Dragan continues. “This modernization… Now they don’t… Before music was sought after, you see, and now these young people don’t…” he says in reference to the change in the way music is now produced and consumed. Yet Mr Dragan’s middle grandson plays the organ. He taught himself. He learned it out of passion, but it’s just a hobby, he says. 

Now Mr Dragan plays “only when needed”. We ask him to give us a demonstration. We all go into the house, where Mr Dragan picks up a beautifully crafted accordion – “this accordion is 20 years old, from back when I first went to Austria” – and plays us a a Gypsy song, a song from Carașova and a German waltz.

Photo credit: Diana Bilec