An embarrassing celebration – the International Roma Day
For some good years now, April 8 is the day Europe, the US and most Intergovernmental Organizations dealing with Human Rights reconfirm that Roma are (once again) the most discriminated ethnic group in Europe.
International Roma Day continues to be more of a reason of international embarrassment than celebration. The situation in the last years did not improve much and the numbers proving the social exclusion of Roma remain staggering – 71 % of Roma live in poverty according to a research of World Bank. Roma continue to be hated by a good part of the majority populations and less than 30% of Roma children are expected to finish school.
Some good steps were taken by the European Union; the EU Framework of National Roma Inclusion Strategies represents a significant progress in terms of commitments and lately the European Commission shows good signs that it is serious about implementation of those strategies. Still discrepant the difference between the high rhetoric of national politicians while in Brussels and their actions in the countries.
Generation after generation of Roma children continue to be caught in a vicious circle generated by abject poverty. Far too many Roma children continue to be begging, collecting garbage or be used by criminal gangs in force labour of prostitution. Too many drop out from school and end up struggling at the margins of their societies.
Addressing the disastrous situation of Roma children is the key in tackling social exclusion of Roma . It can be solved but for that Europe needs to ensure that the focus of its funding and policies is the real improvement of the life of most vulnerable children in their communities. Focusing on children could work for other disadvantaged groups too.
Projects need to have a long lasting impact in the communities and in the lives of children. Children wellbeing needs to become a priority not just within the documents of the European Union and the UN but mostly in implementation at the grassroots of the existing policies and commitments of the Member States.
Clear action plans, accountability and responsibility of each stakeholders are also key for future success. So it is elimination of nepotism, incompetence and structural racism that haunts governments and intergovernmental institutions alike – Roma remain hugely underrepresented in all these structures while Roma expertise remains spectacularly low especially at the senior management level where it matters the most.
An executive European Agency for Social Inclusion, Innovation and Children based in one of the Member States with a large Roma population could be the mechanism to ensure that European policies and funding does indeed reach those that need them the most – the poorest children. Roma children are overly represented among them and this needs to change if we do not want to continue to feel ashamed to celebrate the International Roma Day. Solutions are there but moving from bombastic rhetoric to action seems to remain an insurmountable obstacle especially at the national level.
* My next posting will look at the uncomfortable truths in Romania when it comes to Roma strategy, rhetoric and mechanisms that make hard if not impossible progress regardless the efforts of the European Commission and well intended people within the Romanian government.
Very true that this celebration should be embarrassing for those who mechanically repeat how discriminated against are Roma and do not do anything to change it themselves – Roma and no-Roma. Celebrations entail different emotions and qualities. The important thing is not that we are throwing a party, but rather that we are coming together as one society to celebrate together. You know dear friend how non-Roma I am. I still show my respect for what is a significant part of my life. And I use April 8th to remember or celebrate important events or to honor Roma people from history or public figures. Some of them I met and had the chance to have as friends, some I only read about or listen to. Sometimes we lament our lack of progress and go on fruitless searches for the answer. But often what’s missing is as simple as a little jig of recognition for those who dedicated their life to see a change. You might be one of those who will be celebrated one day for what you do. And this will not come from the European Commission or the CoE or any other international organization indeed, but from the kids and people you have around you; some of them – paradoxically, part of the international community doing their best to change structures and systems.
If I look at your article as public officer in one of those intergovernmental organizations and not as a friend, I would still not feel embarrassed (although the CoE is light years away from the full capacity it could have to properly deal with Roma issues). The few Roma present at the ceremony in the CoE were all emanating pride and honor. And those who hold the power need to see this. They need to see the potential and strengths of Roma in opposition with the usual image of misery and poverty. Only when they discover the other side of the story they will change their opinion and acts. They might stop treating the poor Roma people as a herd of sheep without any destination. They might stop thinking that Roma’s destiny is only in the hands of the generous policy makers. They might start treating Roma with respect and also with a bit of anxiety that power will be shared sooner or later. Celebration also builds self-respect. Others treat us according to how we treat ourselves.
I always read you with interest and pleasure.
“For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
… A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8