Some days I feel like there must be two parallel worlds: the one I live in (together with my colleagues, friends, families and children I work with in the ghettos of Bucharest) and another which is almost the same, but somehow perplexingly different.
In my world we have successes and failures, but most days are a mix of the two: good things and bad things happen, many of them out of our control. We do our best to cope, and to help the people around us. We talk to people in order to communicate, to share information, and to understand what other people are experiencing and what they need.
You can know that you’ve entered the parallel world by looking for a few telltale signs. In the other world, the actions taken by the ‘elites’ of that world are always good. The language spoken in that world is another give-away sign: certain words and phrases seem to have different meanings there. You might also notice the almost complete absence of “ethnic and religious minorities” (or ‘darker people’ in the ordinary language of my world).
Let’s call this parallel world ‘Euro-Narnia’. In Euro-Narnia we always see ‘significant progress’. Euro-Narnia is accessible through some special doors in Brussels, and in capital cities where governments sit. Practices initiated by Euro-Narnians are always ‘positive’, and there have been many ‘leaps forward’ when it comes to the social inclusion of Roma (quotes courtesy of the holy reports of the Roma Ministry of Euro-Narnia).
As I mentioned, one of the special features of Euro-Narnia is the language spoken there. Let’s have a closer look.
The workings of Euro-Narnia are based, among other things, on Respect for the Human Rights of Roma. Now, Respect is not a code of law handed down by a talking lion, as you might imagine (nor is it the name of that lion either: let’s call the mighty ruler of Euro-Narnia ‘Baroslan’). In fact, the meaning of the word
Respect in Euro-Narinian is difficult to fathom. The governing institutions of Euro-Narnia show (and here I use another Euro-Narnian phrase) the worst signs of ‘structural racism’ when it comes to Roma. In our language: you are not likely to spot a Roma person in any important job in Euro-Narnia. Respect seems to mean that Euro-Narnians love Roma as long as they are only visiting (preferably briefly), and as long as they praise the Royals and Seniors (blessed by Baroslan be their names) leading the Euro-Narnian institutions. The Euro-Narnians do not trust us, and decisions about how to ‘fix’ us are placed in the hands of those untainted by direct contact with our realities, and of course, by the mighty Queen charged with the care of Gypsies.
I know this seems difficult to understand. Maybe an example will help. The Euro-Narnian Ministry for Roma organised a huge event on Roma this year; they called it the ‘Extraordinary Meeting on Roma Social Inclusion’. The Queen honored us ordinary folk (you can call us peasants, if you wish) by breathing the same air as us for almost five minutes after her speech. She spoke in Euro-Narnian: we peasants did not understand much. She maintained her usual dignified and imperial pose, and certainly did not get involved in any discussion with the audience.
However, the Queen and her Ministry exercised Respect by inviting 2 Roma peasants as speakers (out of 29 speakers). One of us even stood next to the Queen. The Euro-Narnians kindly made sure that those two peasants spent enough time in Euro-Narnia and spoke good Euro-Narnian, in order to not scare away the High-Level Euro-Narnians or the Royals that might have found themselves lost in the building during the event. Both of the peasants were polite and used the compulsory Euro-Narnian almost fluently. “Mainstreaming Roma multidisciplinary intersectionality of multistakeholder’s positive practices will allow better flexicurity within the framework of the flagship initiative Euro-Narnian 2020” was said by both and impressed the Euro-Narnians greatly –some of them woke-up, some even smiled and the lower grades even clapped.
The Respect thing is mentioned relentlessly by the Euro-Narnians, and I am beginning to suspect that they believe it will protect them from the Gypsy evil eye. It seems to work: it keeps us, Roma, away most times of the year. (Note for myself: I should try it with some of my relatives.)
Another puzzling word is Experience. Let’s start with a quote from the Euro-Narnian holy book of rules: ‘Very experienced people work in the Ministry for the Social Inclusion of Roma.’
The experience of the senior and middle-management level Euro-Narnians in question is drawn mainly from rare, well-chosen and protected visits to Roma neighborhoods, talking to carefully chosen Roma peasants, participating in Roma conferences (where one might find Roma) and reading some (not too many) books about Roma. So you see, they are courageous as well as experienced! Any significant hands-on or academic experience in the field of Roma might taint their superior thinking and judgment. In order to maintain her perfectly unbiased position, the Queen herself has never visited the places where most of us live. According to rumor, she does not read her carefully-prepared speeches before delivering them, and she forgets them immediately afterwards.
Now, I often talk to surgeons and my mother worked in an emergency room (spent a good time of my childhood there). I’ve visited hospitals (a lot more often than the brave Euro-Narnians visit Roma neighborhoods). I watch ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ and ‘MASH’ religiously (both are serials about doctors) and from time to time I read books that talk about surgery. I’ll now share my secret hope: I thought perhaps that all this Experience could make me a surgeon, if not the King of Surgeons, in Euro-Narnia. It didn’t work at all. Therefore, I can only conclude that the meaning of the word Experience in Euro-Narnian is evasive, and needs more studying.
But enough about language. The way Euro-Narnians at the Roma Ministry help our social inclusion is also rather intriguing. In the first place, they make sure to listen to nobody but their own people about what should be done. Another compulsory and important step in the social inclusion of Roma is to assist the 4 and 5 star Euro-Narnian hotel business by holding regular meetings and events at these places.
In fact, most of the money allocated to Roma social inclusion is spent for meetings in 4 and 5 star hotels, trainings in Euro-Narnian language, salaries for Euro-Narnians or Euro-Narnian experts and producing papers that can be read by Euro-Narnians only. The criteria for such papers to be read is that they must not disturb the well-being, disposition, or the bright and always correct ideas Euro-Narnians at the Roma Ministry have about Roma and the impact of Euro-Narnian actions.(more about the holly papers will follow)
And I haven’t even mentioned the per diems yet! As compensation for the inconvenience of attending meetings at 4 and 5 star hotels, the Euro-Narnians receive hefty per diems. Sometimes the per diem for a two-day conference exceeds the average annual income for many of the excluded Roma. And the total costs for one of these meetings is on average much bigger that the yearly budget of a medium-sized Roma village. But blessed be their souls and their leader: we know they deserve rich compensation for the long hours of work and severe hardship they endure. Lately the best of us Roma (still small in number, but certainly the cream of the crop) have started to follow the Euro-Narnian trend, and are completely unable to meet anywhere aside from luxurious hotels. Our meetings are still rather unsophisticated and our elite will still talk to any old peasant – but surely that will progress. We are moving in the right direction.
It is almost forbidden that Euro-Narnian money be spent in a ghetto. As Euro-Narnians in the Ministry are highly sensitive to unfiltered air and any source of contamination to their pure thinking, they are understandably reluctant to enter ghettos. (Ghettos also tend to be too far away from the 4 and 5 star hotels.)
There are many more stories to be told about Euro-Narnia; this is only the beginning. More tales will come.
But before closing, I should mention, in warning, that from time to time there are Euro-Narnians (even in the Roma Ministry) who run away from Euro-Narnia and are genuinely interested in talking to us and working with us to find solutions. You might say they have ‘gone native.’ These people risk being stigmatized and labeled as ‘virused’ by their colleagues. They are treated with well-deserved contempt and sometimes fear. Most are pushed away and become outcasts. For example, some of the Royals close to Baroslan (a German, a Czech and a Hungarian one come to mind) were genuinely interested in us peasants, spoke a dialect we could understand, and spent time talking and thinking with us. I suspect this brought shame on the Euro-Narnian government. Two of them have since departed, and the third is thought to be ‘different.’ Perhaps this is why Baroslan decided we needed an untainted and aloof Queen.
* The original Narnia is a fantasy world created by a talking lion named Aslan. Its Chronicles were written by C.S Lewis.