Notes for a speech
My uncle Gogu was smart, funny and for a few years rich. At the end of his life he became bitter and a bit crazy. He suffered an incredible amount of prejudice and he never managed to escape his condition – a smart but somehow odd “gypsy”.
He disliked one type of people only. He called them “guristi”. You can call them moderates. The moderates Marthin Luther King was talking about in its Letter from the Birmingham jail if you need a more precise definition. A translation in Seinfeld -English is the blabla people.
I am scared to be the blabla guy. I was the blabla guy. I know how appealing and comfortable that position can be. I also know how hard and disappointing it is to acknowledge it to yourself and how difficult to change.
To stop being one of the many Roma “guristi” was hard. To work with children that are the poorest of the poor and not just talk about them has been my greatest challenge. And as one that grew dirt poor and a “gypsy” in Romania I think I do not underestimate challenges.
There is lots of lip service being paid to the situation of Roma children. Many (sometimes feels like everybody) make recommendations about how the situation can be improved. Almost nobody (I do not know anybody) in decision making positions spends or has spent quality time with the Roma children that are the targets of their policies or funding.
I believe that money spent on recommendations are, generally speaking, a waste. That the way the structural funds are designed nowadays is stupid and of little help for those that live in poverty. I also think that us, the moderates, that know all these and shut up in order to keep our jobs, our comfortable way of life, to be able to be part of the circus of conferencing are hypocritical and irresponsible in the long term. I think focusing on the very few and mostly accidental good effects of the EU funding is intellectually dishonest and toxic as legitimizes and preserves approaches that are overall wasteful and many times damaging.
As a blabla guy I talked with passion about the awful effect of anti-Gypsyism. About how different people where racist against us. About the hidden racism of the press. About appalling statements that if about any other people would have lead to an world uproar. About positive practices that I knew where not really positive. I presented things in a much better light that they were because I thought it will help in the long run. I did talk about this in front of audiences that did not need to or did not want to hear it. To people that were bored out of their minds with my speech. To people that where there because of their jobs, per-diems, or simply, like I was, just part of the conference circus. To people that found conferences a good place to eat, sleep and relax while pretending they were working.
I needed to learn the hard way that I was wrong. That using a jargon that says nothing to normal people is not the way to prove that you know what you are talking about. That visiting places where really poor people struggle to make ends meet doesn’t make you an expert. Neither does reading about poverty and Roma give you the right to decide what to be done in these communities. That darker skin color, growing up as a Roma or pompous titles do not suffice either.
I did speak against anti-Gypsyism and I was severely punished. In 2004 I spoke up against the anti-Gypsyism of an EU Ambassador and requested his resignation. I was right – it was, from a moral and ethical point exactly what I should have done. The Commission was furious with me (embarrassing a bureaucracy I learned will always come with a punishment of some sorts) – despite acknowledging that the Ambassador was wrong. They found an euphemism that avoided calling him a racist and “retired” him for a period of time. He was later on recycled in another important position. My board went mad against me as they felt I was putting their careers in danger. There were some Roma activists in my board. None of them stood up for me. I was told I needed to be more “strategic”.
A few year after I attended a meeting with the Romanian president that told us that he had the perfect method to identify Roma – he thought that our palms are yellower than the “normal Romanians”. Then he made a racist statement about one of his main political enemies. At that moment I did nothing about it. I thought it was too risky and I hoped somebody else would have done it. It took some years to have the courage to acknowledge to myself that it was cowardice and not „strategic” thinking what I did.
I heard since Ambassadors, Commissioners, high level bureaucrats, MEPs, ministers, priests, leaders of big organisations, friends saying stupid or appalling things about the Roma. Many times I “strategized” that is better for me not to be too strident about it as that will not solve anything and will just make my life harder.
I have collected during the years a large amount of incredibly racist speeches against Roma. Do I still consider that anti-Gypsyism is the main problem at this moment when it comes to Roma social inclusion ?
I do . But it is not the anti-Gypsyism that you expect. Is not the Vadim Tudors, Le Pens, Fidesz, Neo-Nazis that worries me.
It is the “guristi” , the blabla people that worry me the most. Those that talk a lot about how good and how important Roma are for the society while making sure we remain as excluded as we were in the past. The worst institutional racism when it comes to Roma can be found among the intergovernmental organisations that spend the most money on Roma.
The Special Representative on Roma of the Council of Europe was never Roma. That is the only thing that made them in fact Special. The last two -none of them at the moment of appointment had any experience on Roma issues. The justification for their appointments was that they knew the “system”. For those of you that are fast to rationalize that this is fine just think what your reaction will be if in the position of the principal of your child school will be appointed the janitor on the argument that he knows the best the “system”.
At the last EU Roma conference – a conference that discussed abject poverty – the speakers received Emanuel Ungaro scarfs and ties. Luxury items for those of you that are not familiar with the brand. One of those cost more than the average monthly salary of a Roma mediator in Romania.
Conferences that make no sense, that are a waste of public money and help nothing but justify bloated budgets, abysmal lack of ideas and often crass incompetence are also an expression of anti-Gypsyism or its effects.
Anti-Gypsyism is also expressed in the form of the token Roma guys that are pushed in front to legitimize failed policies, practices and sometimes racism.
The only Roma MEP in the previous European Parliament was the representative of Fidesz. She was invited by everybody everywhere and presented as representing the Roma in Europe. Including me.
I do not think the danger is with the lunatics. I think the danger is with us. The delusional us that think our papers, our speeches, conferencing and our facebooking is enough to make a difference. It is with us the well-intended blabla guys. Us, that rationalize our cowardice and continue to pay lip service to people and policies that are useless. Us, that think politeness and not courage can change the situation.
At this moment(at least when it comes to Roma issues) is not real life in communities, expertise at the grassroots, solid results or hard work that lead to the design of policies and funding or to the appointments in positions of power. It is the other way around. Well „connected” dignitaries and funding create policies and „realities”. Reporting imagined good results at the grassroots level are often main/only part of the “hard work”. We created an almost perfect but delusional paradigm of Roma social inclusion that justifies a broken and often profoundly corrupt and hypocritical system.
I thought for years that the maximum that I could reach would be to match my uncle Gogu’s success. I am better than him. The reason why he hated the “guristi” so much was the same why he ended up bitter and slightly mad. He was a “gurist” and wasn’t able to recognize it to himself and change in time.
In the audience are some people that I respect and some that inspire me. I need you to be aware of how dangerous “guristi”, moderates or blabla people are . And to check ourselves/yourselves regularly for the symptoms avoiding to relapse or become one of the many blabla-ers. That alone would be much more important than anything else I could say or do today.