On Roma civil society and donors

I argued in a number of articles published on this blog that there are many things that go wrong within the European Union, the donors  and the state of the European civil society in general and in particular the Roma civil society.

There are surely good things that happen too but my concern remains that those good things are mostly accidental rather than systemic, unsustainable and dependent on personal dedication and drive of individuals rather than anything else. Moreover the existing good practices are far from enough to even stop the accelerate decline in the efficiency of use of EU funding targeting Roma social inclusion as well as the dissolution into groups of interests of the Roma civil society.

I do strongly believe that there is too much negativity within the Romani movement (especially among those committed to do something) and not enough peer support for reform, promoting the good practices or valuable ideas. I am also at fault for this. Unfortunately most of the good people in the Romani movement are not part of the elites I wrote about.  It is true that a good number of these good people told me they felt offended by what I wrote about the Roma elites. I argue that they failed to read my text as it was intended and are oversensitive to criticism. Again, I am no better.

It is obviously I hit some sensitive nerve in a number of some of the best Roma activists we have. This is indeed worrisome on one side but at the same time refreshing as it means we have a good number of people that can still react to criticism.

The peer pressure at this moment in the Romani movement is against improvements and very much for keeping the status quo. Old Roma activists as well as the political elites do their utmost to bully into submission or to block any groups or initiatives that might undermine their positions or ideas. Criticism is confused with virulent personal attacks, labeling, smearing campaigns or threats. This is no different from the Romanian society for example but then the much smaller elite makes everything more strident.

Conformity, opportunism, careerism, nepotism, self-sufficiency, corruption are more the standards of the Roma elites than dedication, honesty, professionalism and grass-roots experience. As with anything none of the above are dichotomic therefore( I think )the reactions of some of the people that I believe are overall good for the progress of Roma civil society.

The Roma activists in their overwhelming majority do not feel like they are themselves part of a vast and just social enterprise that will lead to an end of discrimination and a significant progress of their societies. I argued in the past that even the European civil society in Brussels lost this feeling as it lost a significant amount of its drive for civil activism. That has been replaced by careerism, conformity, opportunism, self-sufficiency…

There are indeed many reasons why we do not have such a social enterprise but that is something I am not going to examine.

I think the easiest and most effective way to change the existing status quo is somehow paradoxically not having anything to do with politics, education, professional skills, racism etc but with the way the donors work.

Focusing on institutionally supporting small to medium size grassroots  NGOs capable to adapt fast to opportunities and produce an impact in their communities needs to be the priority for future funding.

Creating national expertise capable to monitor, asses and help the capacity building of these NGOs is cheaper and much more effective than creating expensive and mostly useless jobs for highly paid but mostly aloof bureaucrats.

To reform the way donors work is simple but against the interest of some very well paid and powerful bureaucrats. It needs to be done but only a very serious crisis would be able to push such a painful reform.

This article is also the last one about the Roma civil society.  I do not know if I will be ever involved in the Roma civil society but I decided to use the time I dedicate to writing here for something else.


  1. Ai Valeriu, i am sorry that people rected in this way on your post. I want to say i found it suporting for myself as young Roma woman and only thing that had any sens to writte about and for me to read about in context of elite since we all know, i guess, it is like that,but people do mot want to say it in public…and we do not have honesty and strenght to deal with that, i guess. I lost faith in Roma activist an politicians and „elit” and stop expecting any critical thinking,so i am glad you wrotte about this. I felt when i red post that might be some chanse things will change and that there are Roma activist who are ready not to conform and whant to deal with problems. Thank you for that. Best,Jelena

  2. Hi Valerie, I would have to agree with Jelena, your last paper on the Roma „elites” gave me some pretty good insight on firstly myself and then the way I should behave as an activist. It is sad that people are unable to accept criticism and at the same time do some changes within themselves so the change and impact can be bigger within our people. I would only like to leave one comment: The Roma elites behaves like Gadze elites meaning that they forget to keep their eyes on the prize when it comes to money. I really hope that will change! Take care and Upre Rroma!

  3. Isn’t elite the root of the word elitism? When you call someone an elitist is that meant as a compliment? Who/what designates a member of the elite, isn’t that usually the result of shameless self promotion, oportunism, (pseudo) wealth show-off and such? Or is there a democratic process for selecting the elites and I don’t know about it?

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