Maja’s Place is Empty

Some months ago, I was approached by a young Kristiansand-based production company, De jentene der, with an idea they had for a short film. They wondered if I was interested in writing the script for them, based on an idea by Åge Henriksen.

It is a story of a country that quietly (ab)uses its social service to take children away from their families and without any real reasons, forces them to a life in orphanages. These children become victims of  physical, sexual and mental abuse. A national strategy to abolish an entire people with what is considered «degenerate genes», by forcibly sterilizing women and girls to prevent them from reproducing. Experimental «treatment» like lobotomi is carried out on those deemed mentally ill. In reality their «illness» could just be any signs of protest against this crazy inhumane policy.

It sounds almost like a science fiction surreal universe.  Shockingly, the most surreal thing about this story is that it is based on facts. And it is not a story from a distant past either. Many of the victims of this regime are still alive and live among us today. As are their persecutors.

This is not something that took place in Germany during the Holocaust. Nor is it a story from the South African Apartheid regime or pre-Civil Rights Movement in the USA. This is not Saddam’s persecution of Kurds, nor ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, Uganda or any other far-away-nation lead by a monsterous dicatator.

The story the producers approached me with is one that took place in Norway as late as the latter part of the 1970’s. The victims were the Romani people, otherwise known as «gypsies». So great were the otrocities that the Norwegian government issued a formal apology in 1998, delivered by Ragnhild Queseth Haarstad, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development.

How could I say no to writing this? The only problem is that there is too much material for just a short film. Many potenial feature films and documentaries could be made about the stories of the Romani in Norway.

For now, the producers have commissioned a short screenplay and that is what they have received. The story has been working in the back of my mind for several months. I have been dipping into the research material now and again, while my main focus has been either on «A Room With No View» or «Secrets» («Hemmeligheten»). As soon as I could turn my sole focus to this story, I did.

In short, «Majas plass er tom» («Maja’s Place is Empty») is a fictional story of a 15 year old Romani girl who is forcibly taken away from her parents, committed to a psychiatric hospital and had a lobotomy performed on her.

For me, it was a story worth writing. For the Romani people, it is a story needing to be told. For us all, it is a story of shame we need to bring out in to the open.