Dikh-TV, a Roma Channel in the Hungarian Media: From a Grassroots Self-representation to an Elite, White-dominated Media Platform

Recurrently, cultural programs on Roma people in the media and on news platforms are either marginalized or portray Roma in an exoticized, poverty-related or criminalizing manner. Either way, the representation of Roma people is construed by the ‘white gaze’, and they have little room for shaping their own depiction. Having a look at the many attempts for Roma self-representation throughout the last decades, we might understand that these endeavors have not been welcomed by the reigning elite.

Dikh-TV, which started as a Romani-led grassroots YouTube-channel in Hungary in 2015 with the aim to transform the negative depiction of Roma, through a media platform “about Roma, not only for Roma”, did not succees either [1]. Soon enough, the political elite infiltrated it and then took over the lead for good by making a TV channel from Dikh-TV. Although the channel still portrays Roma people and culture in its current form, it is done under the control of the right-wing pro-government white elite. The reason why we need to be attentive to these moments lies in a Spivakian and Gramscian understanding: the cultural and economic spheres are intertwined. Dispossessing and then owning the means for cultural production through the act of silencing and speaking for others is a prominent way of sustaining the socioeconomic order [2] [3].


Sead Kazanxhiu: 8 for 8th of April
Installation infront of the Albanian Parliament, Tirana, 2013
Sead Kazanxhiu Archive
Roma People Living at the Margins in the Central-Eastern-European Region

Roma people have historically been positioned at the margins along ethnic lines everywhere: by politics of segregation, discrimination, cheapening of their labor and demolishing their culture and sources of income. In the CEE region, the neoliberal transition had devastating effects on the socio-economic situation of Roma. After four decades, Roma people’s disadvantaged position in the labor market remains a burning issue. Due to the neoliberal economic, political and social reorganization, Roma have become marginalized in the formal labor market. In the last two decades, a number of comprehensive social policies have aimed at Roma people’s labor market integration, but the end results have rarely been effective [4] [5]. Importantly, some authors stress that the reason for the intertwining of marginal class position and ethnicity is not necessarily to be found in the high rate of lack of education or skills among the Roma. The degrading Gypsy-Hungarian (Gypsy being undervalued compared to Hungarian) distinction and Roma people’s ‘otherised’ inferior position is justified by Roma people’s ethnic and cultural subordination in the mainstream value production [6].

From 2010, the Hungarian right-wing ruling party, Fidesz, started to build up the ‘System of National Cooperation’ (NER), as the party itself refers to its regime. The name, ‘System of National Cooperation’, clearly indicates that the leading party intends to present its regime as the collective will of the nation. The illiberal, populist, pro-Christian, and racist rhetoric of NER serves and normalizes the idea of a white middle-class family and the ‘hard-working small men.’ In this value production, Roma people appear as opposed to the ‘hard-working small man’as the ‘undeserved poor’, implicating that the only possible road for integration is to be a part of the accumulation of the regimealthough, in fact, only at the margins.

“Othering” Mechanisms in the Media

To gain a deeper understanding of the media representation of “otherized” groups, it is worth looking at Edward Said’s [7] prominent work on the white ex-colonial power’s exoticized depiction of the formerly colonized East. Said’s work, on the one hand, feeds on Foucault’s discourse terminology [8], and on the other, Gramsci’s concept of hegemony [9]. Revising mainly European literary resources on colonized people, Said developed the concept of orientalism for the systematic, inaccurate depiction and knowledge production of the Eastern World. According to this portrayal, “oriental people” are inferior to those in the West, as they are primitive, violent, uncivilized, exotic, as opposed to the normal, enlightened, civilized European way of being. In line with Foucault and Gramsci, Said considers this phenomenon not only a form of cultural harm, independent from other spheres: It is a deeply political instrument, one of control and exploitation, which helps to sustain the globally dominant position of the West.

It would be a mistake to neglect Spivak’s account of silencing and speaking for here [10]. Spivak investigates the historical and ideological infrastructure that hinders the possibility of marginalized people being heard. According to her, knowledge production is never an innocent act—it is parallel with Said’s thoughts above—but something that underpins the economic interests of those who produce it. She theorizes that Western power has the means to speak for those who cannot. In her understanding, the fundamental component of subordination is systematic silencing, which differs from “merely” being oppressed. She, therefore, argues against the western power’s speaking for others, as it presents subordinated groups using its own hegemonic vocabulary.

Said’s theoretical contribution has been utilized and extended to other contexts in which the economic and political dominance, intertwined with certain ideologies, depicts social groups as inferior in various segments of cultural production. In postcolonial cultural and feminist studies, and also in the wake of Foucault’s work on power and discourse and Gramsci’s work on hegemony, many scholars have investigated how mass media is construed in a way to serve the dominant order, in which variously oppressed groups appear as the “Other”. Along with this, Stuart Hall’s post-Gramscian stand recalls the bond between hegemony and cultural production, as a way of gaining consent, and how visuality, media, and popular culture serve economic and political purposes and normalizes images that are represented in manipulative ways, having effects on ‘othered bodies’ [11].

Othering mechanisms in cultural production have been pointed out in the case of Roma people as well. In line with this, Angéla Kóczé—mainly drawing on Said, Judith Butler and bell hooks— writes about Roma female and male bodies that are construed by the racializing gaze and discourse in the media and visualized as culturally inferior, criminal, sexually deviant others [12]. Through media, consumers are learning of Roma in these interpretations and the othered Roma are forced to internalize this devalued position. Similarly, Veronika Munk investigated the representation of Roma in the mass media news and found that in the last 50 years, the image of Roma have been defined by the alternation of the poor—criminal and the entertaining—musician gypsy. Either way, Roma were passive in shaping the media discourse [13]. Munk points out that although the “musician gypsy” has historically been the somewhat positive depiction of Roma, this image is also deeply racialized and builds on exoticization. The minority program about Roma people in the state media—approximately 25 minutes a week—most often serve the depiction of the culture of poverty and assorted crimes, ridicule figures in reality shows and ‘rough diamonds’ in talent shows [14].

Roma-Led Countermoves: Acts of Roma Self-Determination in the Media

Critical race studies emphasize the importance of self-representation, regaining agency and building Romani identity. Other authors suggest that counterculture built by people of color is an important field of research. For instance, Ken Chen sees counterculture of ethnic/racial minorities as a praxis: not simply resistance, but a new, for mainstream power structures unintelligible way of being together [15]. Ioanida Costache, in her argument for the self-determination of Roma people, highlights the importance of “reclaiming Romani-ness” [16]. As she puts it, it is a process by means of which epistemic and symbolic racialization and minoritization can be resisted and challenged through narratives of self. She further argues that Roma identity is not only a construed oppressive social category but also a means to empowerment, solidarity and a chance to reclaim a collective Romaniness. Thus, Romani knowledge and cultural production, together with opportunities for creative self-representation and Romani identity-building are crucial, where the countermove to the hegemonic discourse comes from the margins, from the othered.

It should be noted that Dikh-TV has been far from being the only and the most significant Roma-led media platform in the spirit of self-determination in Hungary. The Roma emancipatory and cultural movement, which started in the 1970s, gave room to Roma self-awareness and political, cultural activism to an extent never seen before and since [17]. Open thematization of different social groups’ socioeconomic and cultural disadvantages was not in line with the socialist regime’s ideology. To sustain the illusion of equality and of socialist development, the political elite sought to curb system-critical voices. In line with this, Hungarian Roma were subject to an assimilative policy, which obstructed their cultural and political autonomy and criticism concerning the system’s mishandlings of Roma people. However, from the 1970s, cultural and civil rights movements, the weakening of party-state politics, and the flourishing discourse in social science provided room for the formation of a Roma intellectual circle and for its cultural and political activism [18]. The greatest Roma poets, writers, and folk educators, such as József Choli Daróczi, Béla Osztojkán and Károly Bari, spoke openly and bravely in their work about the social reality of the Roma and the oppressive powers [19]. As journalist and activist Ágnes Daróczi once put it: “we were messengers, we showed an existing, yet unknown world and we brought it closer to people with our own sufferings and fallible beauties” [20].


 The 3rd World Roma Congress in May 1981, Göttingen, Germany
Adam Bartosz – Private Archive

Roma clubs provided space for community building and the cultivation of authentic Roma music and art. In these decades, various printed press products, magazines and periodicals appeared, such as Rom Som, Romani Nyevipe, Cigányfúró, or Amaro Drom [21] [22]. Later in the 1990s, a Roma program appeared on TV, first edited by Ágnes Daróczi. From 1992, Patrin Magazine (later Roma Magazine) appeared on the Hungarian Television, on a weekly basis. Until 1998, this program played a prominent role in representing Roma in the Hungarian television, where Roma people had earlier been most often seen through the images of exoticized and racialized poverty and crime [23]. Through these different platforms, the Roma intellectual medium accessed the public sphere and shaped the narratives of Roma, speaking about and for their social reality, traditions and culture.

Neither the decadent socialist regime nor the rampant neoliberal power could tolerate the active cultural and political self-organization of the Hungarian Roma for too long. The socialist regime, striving to keep the social disadvantages of the Roma hidden, declared their political and cultural movement to be a ‘new left Roma nationalism’ and tried to curb and deny their cultural autonomy [24]. After the regime change in 1989, Roma self-organization was established through the Minority Act introduced in 1992, which then limited the path of Roma civil organizing. This, however, created a system of representation that was heavily exposed to local governments, and Roma people had no real organizational power. The attempts and fights of Roma activists to shape public opinion in this limiting cultural, institutional structure, took away capacities and energies from Roma self-organization. Local and regional organizations lost their autonomy and former resources, and became subject to the will of power. [25] By 1994, in part due to constant fights with the government and in part with other Roma organizations, Phralipe, the most prominent Roma activist organization of the time, had crumbled. [26] Roma organizations now are unable to create the scale of collectivity they had in the 1970s. In terms of Roma media platforms and self-representation, Radio C was a notable grassroots initiative, started in 2001, that focused specifically on Roma culture but was permanently discontinued in 2011 due to the lack of adequate funding [27].

Recently Dikh-TV, a civil initiative with the potential of a Roma-led counter space emerged and then in a painfully short time was merged into the cultural production of our right-wing government. Dikh-TV first appeared in 2015, on Youtube, then after four years, with the appearance of a pro-government company in the leadership, it entered cable-TV. As expressed by the founder of the establishment, it was a purposeful initiative toward Roma self-representation. The Roma creators aimed to represent Roma culture and to contribute to the normalization of Roma people acting, speaking and representing themselves— being agents in the cultural production about themselves [28].

The founders of Dikh-TV did not come from intellectual circles with high cultural or economic capital. Ex-owner Elek Balogh grew up in a lower-class family in a rural Roma settlement. By his own account, it was his interest in film-making and Roma community building that made him start the channel. Everyone on screen and behind the scenes was Roma in Dikh TV, without any previous experience or degree in the field of media [29]. In the first four years of the programme, they did not receive a salary—they worked for the Roma community and an for an alternative representation of Roma in the media. They also aimed to provide opportunities for young Roma, for whom similar positions would have been less accessible in the mainstream media, so that they were not only passive objects but also creators and performers of the material displayed.

Having a look at the YouTube videos they produced from 2016, it becomes clear that the channel consisted of a colorful, and overall veritable program, contrary to what is commonly produced in connection with Roma people in the mass media. The number of programs addressing cultural, public, political and social issues gradually increased: meetings of the National Roma Municipality were regularly broadcast in an effort to report on internal events and tensions, interviews with representatives of local municipalities in opposition were conducted, they organized and broadcast a talk on the decline of the Roma Parliament [30]—a civic inititative to support Roma culture started in 1990—, made reports on evictions of Roma and on the work of Roma civic organizations, talked to the “man of the street” in Budapest’s Eighth District [31] and made programs about Roma entrepreneurs. In addition, the channel had musical programs on Roma folklore and pop music in the form of video clips, a request program, during which viewers could ask for songs. Informative programs on Roma culture and public issues were also of high significance. However, the most-watched show was the series called Minden Álmod (All Your Dreams), depicting everyday lives of Roma people.


Filming of Dikh TV’s series Minden Álmod (All Your Dreams)
Photo: Bődey János / Index, 2020, Source: https://index.hu/kultur/2020/04/18/roma_dikh_tv_balogh_elek_radu_morar_schatz_peterne_kihuztak_a_ciganyok_alol_az_elso_roma_tevet/

In addition, Dikh-TV was outstanding in that it sent a message “from Roma not only to Roma” as stated in its motto. It was also a countercultural platform that created linguistic and artistic norms of intellectual, dominant cultural production. In a sense, Dikh-TV’s music programs did not differ from other music channels that broadcast Roma pop music, mainly intended for the lower classes. Here, however, it gained a new meaning: it did not appear with the support of the institutionalized media industry, but by the portrayed themselves, as part of their self-representation and reclaiming. The channel did not seek to meet the requirements of the non-Roma “civilized” cultural norms with a normalized non-Roma appearance. Roma people’s appearance on the channel recalls the exoticized depiction of Roma, regarded as inferior, primitive, or uncultured by non-Roma mainstream norms and values. Actors, presenters, and musicians were sometimes dressed as “gipsies”(e.g. in video clips lacy, floral dresses and long skirts, long black hair), presented “gipsy” music, often speaking the Romani language, or a dialect associated with Roma people. However, in this case, the difference is the “reclaimed Romaniness”. Roma people were not silent subjects of mockery or hatred: Roma people spoke, felt, and acted in the context of Dikh-TV.

Steps Toward Cultural Appropriation

Having reached more than 300.000 followers on YouTube, in 2019, Dikh-TV appeared on public television, as the country’s first Roma channel. However, this happened with the appearance of pro-government companies around the ownership. Approximately one year before, Marianna Schatzné Kovács, who is related to the business circle of Árpád Habony (the chief strategic advisor of Orbán) bought a small stake from the owners. By now, the whole ownership had fallen into the hands of Schatz, and the Baloghs, the former owners had been completely excluded from the decision-making process. Based on several interviews with the ex-owners, the new management turned into a totally different direction, transforming Dikh-TV into more of a ‘party music channel’. Balogh had faced obstacles in following his original intentions (entertaining programs, documentaries, and discussions on Roma-related topics) and then completely left the TV. There is no Roma in the management now, everyone stepped out or was sent away.

The new management has visibly changed Dikh-TV’s program, and although the channel seemingly continues to focus on Roma culture and public life, significant changes have taken place concerning both content and staff. Dikh-TV, in its current form, is no longer a platform of self-representation and cultural autonomy. At the most visible outset, this cultural dispossession is perceptible in the fact that the TV no longer broadcasts critical reports on Roma public issues—for instance in relation to the state-funded Roma institutions, which are often criticized for serving the will of power without actually representing the interests of Roma people. Moreover, the old series, Minden Álmod (All your dreams) has been replaced by a new scripted reality show – Tesók (Bros), with new actors. Also, in addition to the most prominent, Roma pop and party music entertainment music shows, a religious program of a charismatic church has also appeared, together with concerts of church orchestras, moments of conversion and with “Roma mission”. Along with these changes, an educational program got a place, where a Roma activist teaches about Romaniness—Roma identity, stereotypes, history of Roma people, in a seemingly informative manner.

The new management visibly curbed any potential for critical political voices, although it is hard to detect radical changes in the depiction of Roma in the renewed channel. There is still place for public programs in which Roma are invited to speak and host programs. Overall, Roma culture is portrayed in a positive manner. Also, the cable TV channel has perceptibly more resources for producing better quality content. However, the fact that there are no longer Roma people behind the scenes and in control of what they want to say in relation to Romaniness, makes things radically different. Given the displacement of Roma people from leadership positions, it seems probable that with the programs positively depicting Roma culture, the management is only dangling the carrot to pursue its own interests. Even though there are still Roma people on the screen, they have been deprived of real autonomy. Drawing on Spivak, they have been pushed back into the passive, silenced role in which the power elite speaks for them in a way that serves its interests. These reorganizations clearly deadened the potential for a public Roma self-narration through an easily accessible media platform. It is not self-representation anymore, but rather making profit out of Roma depictions by the non-Roma elite.

The act of dispossessing the self-determination of a historically non-dominant ethnic group can be understood as a way of cultural appropriation. According to Eric Hatala Matthes [32], cultural appropriation is grounded in uneven power dynamics. Silencing, speaking for and misrepresenting a certain marginalized cultural group underpins and interacts with other forms of oppression. Cultural appropriation is a way of disrespecting cultural autonomy, restraining people from being agents in representing their own cultural heritage. If groups have no power over their cultural representation, it cements them in inferior, victimized and othered cultural categories. Respecting group autonomy is a way of fighting oppression, thus cultural appropriation can be a coercive act of reassuring a social group’s silenced marginal position. Dikh-TV was a Roma-led grassroots initiative for self-representation, which, when it gained significant attention, has been hindered and turned into an element of a systematic silencing and cultural misrepresentation.


About the author

Lilla Eredics is a second-year MA student at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology of CEU. Her master project examines Roma women’s roles in and beyond the labour market in a rural locality in Hungary. She is an alumna at the College for Advanced Studies for Social Theory at the Corvinus University of Economics in Budapest. From 2021, she is editor of the Hungarian Social Science Quarterly, Fordulat


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Notes:


[1] The official YouTube-channel of Dikh-TV:
https://www.youtube.com/c/DikhTvGipsyTv/featured

[2] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Colonial Discouse and Postcolonial Theory, eds. Patrick Williams, Laura Chrisman. (London, Routledge, 1994), 66-111, http://users.uoa.gr/~cdokou/TheoryCriticismTexts/Spivak-Subaltern.pdf

[3] Antonio Gramsci,  Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci ed. and translated by Hoare, Quentin and Smith, Geoffrey Nowell. (London: The Electric Book Company, 1999), 138–40, https://abahlali.org/files/gramsci.pdf.

[4] Angéla Kóczé, “Roma Emancipációs Törekvések – Egy Kutatás Margójára,”Egymás Szemébe Nézve – . (Budapest: Centre for Social Sciences, Institute for Sociology. 2017), 5-14.

[5] István Kemény, Béla Janky, and Gabriella Lengyel, A Magyarországi Cigányság 1971 – 2003. (Budapest: Gondolat – Centre for Social Sciences, Institute for Minority Studies. 2004), 81-110.

[6] Márton Czirfusz, Zsófia Ivanics, Cecília Kovai, and T.Tibor Meszmann,  “Magyarországi Munkásság a Hosszú Lejtmenetben,” Fordulat, 2019, 26, 158-62, http://fordulat.net/pdf/26/FORDULAT26_CZIRFUSZ_IVANICS_KOVAI_MESZMANN_A_MAGYARORSZAGI_MUNKASSAG_A_HOSSZU_LEJTMENETBEN.pdf,

[7] Edward W. Said,  Orientalism, (US: Pantheon Books. 1978)

[8] Michel Foucault, “The Order of Discourse,” In: Untying the Text: A Poststructuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 1981), 51-78.

[9] Antonio Gramsci,  Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci ed. and translated by Hoare, Quentin and Smith, Geoffrey Nowell, (London: The Electric Book Company, 1999) 138–40. https://abahlali.org/files/gramsci.pdf

[10] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak , “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Colonial Discouse and Postcolonial Theory, eds. Patrick Williams, Laura Chrisman. (London, Routledge, 1994), 66-111, http://users.uoa.gr/~cdokou/TheoryCriticismTexts/Spivak-Subaltern.pdf

[11] James Procter, Stuart Hall, (New York: Routledge Critical Thinkers, 2004) 124-127.

[12] Angéla Kóczé,  “A Rasszista Tekintet És Beszédmód Által Konstruált Roma Férfi És Női Testek a Médiában,” Apertúra (2004), http://uj.apertura.hu/2014/nyar-osz/kocze-a-rasszista-tekintet-es-beszedmod-altal-konstrualt-roma-ferfi-es-noi-testek-a-mediaban/.

[13] Veronika Munk, ”A Romák Reprezentációja a Többségi Média Híreiben Az 1960-as Évektõl Napjainkig,” Médiakutató Médiaelméleti Folyóirat 14, (2013) (2): 89–100, http://epa.oszk.hu/03000/03056/cikk/2013_02_nyar/07_romak_a_hirekben.pdf

[14] The article investigates Dikh-TV’s success, considering Müllner’s statement according to which Roma people’s representation in the media is 25 mins / week: https://index.hu/kultur/media/2019/10/02/dikh_tv_elso_roma_kabelteve_balogh_elek_minden_almod_kispest/

[15] Ken Chen,“Ethnicity As Counterculture – Counterculture Is a Praxis,” N+1, (2019), https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/paper-monument/ethnicity-as-counterculture/.

[16] Ioanida Costache “Reclaiming Romani-ness : Identity Politics, Universality and Otherness or, Towards a (New) Romani Subjectivity, Critical Romani Studies 1 (2018): 30–43, https://doi.org/10.29098/crs.v1i1.11.

[17] A report on the situation of Roma and the Roma political and cultural movement under the socialist regime. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go3uz_Oky1I&t=3873s

[18] PartizánINFO, “Struggle with the state party – the situation of Roma Hungarians between ’45 and ’89”, (2020)

[19] On the Roma Cultural Movement: https://prherald.hu/roma-kulturalis-mozgalom/

[20] Ágnes Daróczi, „Mivé lettünk – Roma Kulturális Mozgalom az Emancipációért”/”What have we become? – Roma Cultural Movement for emancipation”/ ,Új ifjúsági szemle. – 4. (2006) 2, p. 51-57, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2oa_RDz3XqqUjZKalJSd192NVU/view?resourcekey=0-Y0K831Nln6w6zf09hV-n7g

[21] „Rom Som – Cigányklub a Kádárkorszakban” /”Rom Som – Roma club under the Kádár-regime”/ Napi Történelmi Forrás (2018).

[22] „Roma Lapok: Felemás Támogatás”/”Roma Magazines: Ambiguous Support/” Nol.hu (2001), http://nol.hu/archivum/archiv-18647-8035

[23] János Daróci Jóka, „Roma Magazin,“ Barátság, 10 (2003),  http://www.nemzetisegek.hu/repertorium/2003/04/bar15.pdf

[24] PartizánINFO, “Struggle with the state party – the situation of Roma Hungarians between ’45 and ’89”, (2020).  

[25] Gábor Bernáth, Anna Csongor, Tibor Derdák, Gábor Havas, Márta Pánczél, Péter Szuhay, „Roma Polgárjogi Esték Záróbeszélgetése”/”Closing Discussion of the Roma Civil Rights Roundtable,” led by Mária Neményi. “Egymás Szemébe Nézve” – Az elmúlt félévszázad Roma Politikai Törekvései, (2017), 184-271.

[26] Interview with Jenő Setét https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX1aN6zSPBU&t=1682s

[27] Index.hu, Csoda, hogy egyáltalán létezik, (2019).

Article about Dikh-TV’s success as a Romani-led grassroots initiative:  https://index.hu/kultur/media/2019/10/02/dikh_tv_elso_roma_kabelteve_balogh_elek_minden_almod_kispest/

[28] Mérce.hu, An article on the renewal of Dikh-TV’s leadership, 2020,
https://merce.hu/2020/04/18/az-alapitokat-kizarva-vette-at-fidesz-kozeli-

[29] Noizz.hu, An article about Dikh-TV, as a Romani-led grassroots media platform, 2020,
https://noizz.hu/big-stories/a-dikh-tv-sztorija-se-penz-se-politikai-akarat-nem-volt-megis-csinaltak-egy-cigany/5vgws5h

[30] The Hungarian Roma Parliament started its operation together with Phralipe in 1991. During its 25 years of existence, the institution gave home to countless activities of Roma self-organization, cultural and community life. In 2016, the Ministry of Human Capacities declared that a Roma Cultural Center would open in the place, and they were forced to leave. The building has been empty ever since. More details on this issue:

[31] The eighth district is most often considered an “ethnic ghetto” due to its large number of disadvantaged and marginalized Roma populations: Eszter György. „A „Nyócker” – egy városnegyed, mint reprezentációs eszköz,”Regio, 2009, 4:119-134,
https://www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=62815

[32] Erich Hatala Matthes. “Cultural Appropriation and Oppression,”  Philosophical Studies 176, (2009): 1003–13, 1003. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-018-1224-2.

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