The age of comfortability – or how did we move from watch-dogs to lap dogs
*This is an open letter/speech that I wrote a while ago for a meeting of senior leaders of Open Society Institute. It can easily apply also to the European Commission (especially DG Justice and Roma Unit) as I can find the same type of examples involving EC leadership.
You know the successes. Roma issues are discussed at the highest levels of the European policy. Thousands more Roma went through high education and hundreds that became successful due to OSI’s investments. There are massive global changes in policies and discourse that would have been impossible without the massive investment in Roma issues by the OSI.
You know the mistakes.
You know that most of the available experience and expertise is build at the elegant desks and in hotels and not in the field. You know that nepotism is rampant; that there are very little if any incentives for OSI to speak out against failed practices, corruption and comfortability within or of other intergovernmental institutions. You know about the families of professional Roma activists, about conservative boards that recycle the same people, about conformism and lip-service.
You know that OSI bred mostly “want to be” Roma dignitaries and failed catastrophically to involve successful Roma professionals in the movement. That political representation of Roma in most of the countries is abysmal. That caution and not courage leads your actions.
You know the corruption, the cowardice, the petty politics and the institutional hypocrisy.
You know the dangers of comfortability. You know that you surround yourselves with people that do not challenge you but make you feel good about ourselves.
You know the failures.
And what you and I do is we rationalize all wrongs in order to make ourselves look good. We ignore our formidable failures but we are awfully keen on crucifying anybody around us making the same or smaller mistakes.
You here are all smart enough to rationalize anything I am telling you the way you like it or the way you want to perceive me.
Some of you will ignore me, agree with me, disagree with me, hate me or like me. Most of it will be based on a false assumption as you think you know me despite of the fact you have no idea who am I or how I changed in the last years I did not take part in any OSI meetings.
You will find ways to dismiss anything that puts you on the hot seat and interpret things I say in a way to justify your assumptions, in a way to make you feel good.
I took part in a small meeting with the ex-president of OSI. He fell asleep during the talks and somehow everybody around pretended it did not happen. I was told a few years ago before a meeting with George Soros to make sure I agree with him as “we need to make the old man happy”. Everybody did despite the fact some of his ideas were obviously wrong. I tried to speak-up. I did not get the floor.
Regardless of what my opinions are here some facts:
Roma civil society is artificially created – a donors project run mainly by people that have very limited if any hands on experience working in Roma communities. You are a lot more likely to waste money to keep “friendly” and inefficient organisations afloat than to reform your approach.
Roma identity is an extremely fluid concept. There are many cases when OSI money incentives people to imagine a Roma identity that fits their dreams but not the realities. Some of these dreams are extremist, sometimes racist, homophobic or xenophobic. Most of them are in strident opposition to the basic principles of open societies and the very dear to George Soros theory of fallibility.
OSI is far more adept at cuddling than challenging intergovernmental organisations. A good number of people transition between EC, Council of Europe, UN, OSCE , World Bank and OSI. Sure thing you can rationalize this as being great. It is not. Most people hunt jobs and it is rare they will not trade in some of their convictions for comfort. There are indeed exceptions. Some very few ones. OSI overall failed to challenge the main intergovernmental institutions and starts more and more to look at yet another bureaucracy concerned about its own survival rather than changing or challenging the world. OSI is resembling a lot more a lap-dog than a watch-dog.
What should OSI do :
- Finance a completely independent watch-dog organization capable to keep Roma civil society, governments and intergovernmental institutions accountable. Questioning the ways people in charge of Roma issues were employed, the way the money allocated for Roma issues were spent, the working plans and activities of EU Commissioners and other senior managers responsible on Roma issues can become a fantastic tool to pressure change. The ERRC should have done this but due to many reasons and institutional failures it has never been able to do it.
- Start a devil’s advocate institution within OSI willing and capable to challenge not only George Soros’s ideas but also senior leadership ideas, the conformity within the organization, the incentives for nepotism, corruption and complacency. Such an inside institution should be charged to ensuring that OSI is not yet another breeder of dignitaries and opportunistic politicians.
- Develop a real leadership school to stimulate people to do things not talk about things. Recruit people that inspire. Not people you “invested” in that are “comfortable” and “easy to work with”. Many of the leaders you created seem to be there just because George Soros or other influential people in OSI like them or think they can control them. Some others seem to be there because they talk well or because their skin color and features fits stereotypes about whom we Roma are.
- Publish a black book of Roma movement with at least one chapter about OSI. We need first to acknowledge the catastrophic failures in order to avoid repeating them.
- Identify niches and focus on them in order to avoid becoming yet another organisation bridging mainly uselessly and extremely expensively “stakeholders”.
The OSI failure is in the stepping stone: transport the Karl Popper idea of an open society through another structure in a world that is already enough overloaded of structures make no-sense (moreover if we take in consideration Popper’s positions on Platon!). I would just add that beside OSI and EC, what you wrote is completly true also for the entire civil society (Roma and non-Roma)! Me included