Opinion: Speaking with one voice
The 10 million Romani living in the European Union are not sufficiently represented in consultative bodies and working groups
Posted: October 5, 2011
By Ivan Veselý
If the role of the Romani movement is to offer and implement a strategy ensuring the Romani nation the best possible conditions in which to live, we must admit the Romani movement is in crisis.
This crisis manifests itself in an inability to expertly analyze the changing conditions in the European Union - and at the level of nation-states to anticipate development trends and to elaborate a strategy for defending our own interests and see it through to the end.
The situation is serious.
Romani civil society is wasting away, and the philanthropist George Soros, who has supported the rise of Romani civil society over the past 15 years in new EU member states, is slowly but surely losing his influence over the policies formed to address the Romani minority.
The stagnation of the Romani movement in the EU is creating room for men and women (not all of them "white") who are experimenting with addressing our Romani problems according to their own, frequently mistaken, ideas.
We must realize that this substitution of the role of Romani leaders by pro-Romani activists is not, in most cases, motivated by efforts to aid Romani people in achieving status as an equal EU nation. What lies behind this is an effort by various power groups to pursue their own interests and exploit Romani as tools for realizing those interests.
The Council of Europe, as part of the competition that is ongoing between international institutions focusing on minorities, has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the EU. Through the artificial creation of the European Roma and Travelers Fund, it has guaranteed its own further influence in the area of minority rights as part of the eventual establishment of a United States of Europe.
The little-understood political process of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, launched by Soros and the World Bank, is indirectly clashing with the digestion of the Romani agenda by EU institutions. The Decade's clearly defined program and strategy is to this day still understood by some member states and leading representatives of the European Commission as American interference in a European problem. Some Romani groups are also being perceived as an American "Trojan horse" in Europe.
EU member states, which for moral reasons need to make at least a formal show of being involved in Romani topics, are negotiating with the representatives of such groups, even when they lack legitimacy and instead of meeting with authentic Romani leaders. This behavior is followed up by a lack of political will or financing for the measures proposed. As a consequence, the results are unconvincing. They do not lead to integration, but merely ameliorate the impacts of the current intolerance against Romani people.
Xenophobia is taking on new forms. We are more and more frequently witnessing segregation in the widest possible variety of areas, from education to housing. Political forces are on the rise for which the Romani people serve as an easy target for frustrations.
Luckily, EU politicians are mostly distancing themselves from segregation practices in their own countries. However, they are not taking decisive action against segregation, evidently because they do not want to lose mainstream voters who are unconcerned by the segregation of the Roma. Moreover, in their public appearances, these politicians do not refer to segregation, but use various misleading terms.
Instead of a fight against segregation, we hear words from the mouths of non-Romani politicians about the need to address "the problems of socially excluded population groups."
Romani people need real Romani representation.
When faced with this fact, we must ask whether Romani people, who are so different in culture and physiognomy from the rest of Europe, can ever be integrated into mainstream society. It is hard to believe that such a thing is possible, when we consider that Europe has traditionally perceived Romani people as a foreign element and that the entire 20th century (at a minimum) involved unsuccessful integration efforts. We shouldn't particularly regret the failures of these policies as most non-Roma imagine Romani integration to mean that Romani people will stop being Roma. The risk of losing their own identity may even strengthen the sense of solidarity and the need for cooperation among Romani people.
A revival in the desire for Romani national emancipation, as we experienced it in the post-communist lands at the start of 1990s, will occur. Today the conditions already exist for Romani people to establish their own municipalities capable both of addressing their internal problems and defending their interests to the outside world.
Larger Romani communities can, during local elections, establish a stronger position for themselves vis-a-vis the majority and its institutions. A functioning Romani municipality at the local level could then serve as a supporting argument when later making demands for greater autonomy at the level of state or even within EU bodies.
The current crisis of the Romani movement, therefore, may result in a truly legitimate Romani representation, built from the ground up, starting at the level of local government and continuing through the regional level to the level of the state and supranational entities. If the Romani representation comes about in any other way, it will not have the necessary legitimacy and will not even be recognized by Romani people themselves - nor will it be recognized by the institutions in which it is its ambition to work.
It is the moral responsibility of existing Romani leaders to support the rise of elected Romani representation. In order to meet this obligation, our contribution must be that we do not pose as legitimate Romani representation when we aren't.
Instead of self-appointed leaders, let's become the humble servants of our nation.
- The author is Roma and the chairman of the Dženo Association, which is focused on Romani rights issues in Central and Eastern Europe.