European Child Forum

5 Jun

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Aristotle

For the last two days I took part in the European Child Forum meetings. It was better than most of the EU meetings I was part of in the past but still far from what is needed. There were some good discussions but we are still well stuck in wrong habits.

The Commissioners and high level bureaucrats and representatives of the governments came and lectured to the experts and the lower level bureaucrats that deal directly with the issues. People who should listen and learn lectured to people that should be teaching them. There was little discussion taking place afterwards – mainly focused on diplomatic niceties. With one exception the speeches were carefully sanitized,  as expected full of jargon, generalities and ambiguities meant  to please as many as possible and avoid any risk to upset anybody.

This was followed by a second part of the conference where most important discussions took place. The panels were dominated by a second tier of bureaucracy of different intergovernmental organisations that have limited exposure to the grassroots, academics and leaders of European Networks. It was very unlikely for any of those to bring in discussions the most critical issues as, again, those risks to upset some of the high level people in the room. Courage, discussing failures and finding together solutions was prevented by a much safer, polite but rather impotent discussions on jargon, documents, research, directions, recommendations and sharing of positive practice. These discussions have little effect but proved in the past to preserve or advance careers of many.

The very weak institutional mechanism to deal with the very complex and hugely important issues related to children within the European Commission was not discussed. Neither were the very inefficient  ways most of the little money available is spent.  Inability or unwillingness to discuss critically and openly about the discrepancy between rhetoric and budgets at the level of Member States and the very low priority that children issues get from the most powerful within the European Commission were all things that we needed but failed to address .

The dedication and hard work of a handful of people within the European Commission and Fundamental Agency cannot replace the lack of budget, mandate and leverage that neuter the European Commission’s impact on the subject. Concrete solutions for getting more people to work with the most vulnerable children were barely discussed and got lost in sometimes bombastic and empty rhetoric.

Far too many loosing routines are wrongly but solidly entrenched institutionally within the EU project.  Very weak senior leadership is in my opinion to be blamed.

Leaders should be validated by the excellent things they do and not by the positions they have or rhetoric they or their speech writer produce. Good deeds make good people. Good words and no deeds make just good sociopaths.

Leaders should be exceptional good people – therefore people that do extraordinary good things. The fact that our EU political and civil society elites are dominated by exceptional blabla-ers incapable to listen to anybody but themselves is a dangerous habit and not at all one that can bring the much needed and in my opinion deserved excellence to the European project. Even worst is that we as Europeans encourage openly and reward the production of words/jargon rather than deeds.  In order to have an inspirational Europe you need inspirational leaders that do inspirational things. In this  particular case I would have loved to listen a lot more to people that work with children and not those that work with words.

At the forum there were some amazingly good people.  The saddest thing was to understand how far away these are from the decision power. In order to fix institutions we need to fix ourselves. And that requires courage not compliance.

Some progress – anti-Gypsyism

28 May

In 2013 I wrote two articles about what we, Roma, are not. Today I published in Dilema Veche ( arguably the best Romanian weekly) an article talking about anti-Gypsyism in its day by day manifestations. For the Romanian readers you can find it here   http://dilemaveche.ro/sectiune/editoriale-opinii/articol/rezolvarea-problemei-tiganilor

The Council of Europe also published a good manual on Anti-Gypsyism  that can be found here – http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/ . A Romanian was at the core of the initiative.

It seems we are making some good steps forward at least in Romania.

Here some excerpt from my old postings

I decided following a very recent meeting that I should make my views about the Roma stereotypes known in order to avoid yet another silly meeting with well-wishing cretins. I hope people will read this before meeting me.

We have an innate gift for music and dance.

Yes .We can also walk on water and fly whenever needed on brooms and in some countries (where people call us crows) without brooms just using our gifts: hollow bones and strong arms. We can even teach the most gifted non-Roma how to do it.

This is also the main reason why the state airlines in Hungary went bankrupt and the Romanian airlines are almost there.

There are numerous cases of Roma children born holding their beloved musical instrument or a silver flute in their mouth. The rest of us have just divine voices.

We can tell you your future

Indeed. For instance – you my reader –  you will struggle, go through cycles of happiness, boredom, sadness, depression … You will love some people and hate others. You might or might not have children but the probability is better to have children. Ultimately and irrevocably you will die.

All the other people that say they can tell your future –teachers, coaches, scientists, shrinks, politicians, priests, sociopaths etc most probably will lie to you.

If you plan to  go soon for a Roma fortune telling -the future will be much clearer. In the immediate future you will be cheated.  You might feel good about it but that is the best you will get out of the experience. Go if you want to boast that you met Roma, know Roma or that you have a Roma friend.

Roma are unable to live like normal people – 

if we receive social housing (flats) we will destroy them. 

we will make fires using the existing wooden floors 

Indeed – and that is because the fires made out of wooden floors are what we are born for and love to do. We love the challenge to rip these floors apart and try to set them on fire as we think is much better to sleep on the cement than wood (as it is well known we hate sleeping on beds). We also enjoy the toxic smoke that comes from setting on fire lacquered wood. We use this as a treatment for keeping everybody healthy in our families. 

 we  keep our horses in our  flats.

Yes, we do this because through a magical spell that can take place only in these flats we are able to transform regular horses in unicorns and Pegasus type horses much needed by the fairy industry.

The production of a Pegasus type of horse can be done only on the 4th floor flat of an old communist apartment building in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia and Hungary. Any other Pegasus horses are fake.

Did you ever see a horse in your life ?  In case you honestly believe that “work-shy people” will go trough the miracle of putting a horse into a social housing flat every day for years you must be absolutely nuts. What do you think will happen when the horses shits or pees ? Do you believe we toilet train them?

We do have our spectacular idiots. But I have a hard time believing and a long experience working and living in Roma communities that shows that even most of our idiots will try to keep their horses in a 18 square meters , 2.5 meters high room – the average dimension of a room in social housing flat. Despite not trying the thing with the horses I surprise myself being an absolute idiot regularly.

Abject poverty is what makes people live in appalling housing conditions and not the genes. Centuries of exclusion push people in living abnormal lives.

Education – Roma are stupider and do not value education the same way as normal people do

Yes, as any parent – Roma parents want their children to be functional cretins. We believe that the dirtier, hungrier and poorer our children are the best for their future. Because we are care free closer to nature free souls we prefer our children to drink dew and eat rainbows. We would much more prefer our children to be barefoot in the winter and feel the soul of Gaya trough their skin and beg than lose their spirit in the warm comfort of private schools and be corrupted by wealth and luxuries.

Research shows that students from the poorest quarter of population have a 8.6 percent chance to get a college degree. For the top quarter the percentage is 75. Nine times higher. And this is in the US.

The fact that you do not see a link between centuries of slavery, abject poverty, exclusion and educational achievements it doesn’t make you either smart or pragmatic. Quite the opposite.

 Roma are magical and dangerous – they can spell different curses on you

 Yes we are magical indeed. That is why we embraced happily hundred of years of slavery and we enjoy so much the racism it is gracefully bestowed upon us. Being able to perform magic and spell curses it proved to be very productive as we are obviously overrepresented in the ruling elites. The fact that practically all Roma in Czech Republic were wiped out during the Holocaust and other hundred of thousands were killed –some concentration camps during the second world war or during deportation in Romania is another clear indication of our magical and fortune telling powers.

There was never any Roma minister in any country in Europe. We are the most unrepresented ethnic minority in all intergovernmental institutions. The most important people in charge of taking decision on Roma issues at the European level come from countries that have either no Roma or an insignificant number of Roma. When appointed in those positions they  had no experience whatsoever on Roma issues.

The fact that despite all the above-mentioned facts there is a good number of people that believe  that we Roma have some extra powers is indeed magic. Magically stupid that is.

Engage – He says !

26 May

On May 26 the director of Social Platform Pierre Baussand – the largest network representing the EU civil society – publishes an article called “The EU does not have to change its dream – it has to live it”.

Spectacularly boring (for such a short article), poorly argued,  a bit arrogant and rather useless, it is exactly what one might  expect from practically the most important leader of the EU financed civil society in Brussels.

The article starts from the call for the “need to rethink the EU project”  of the Vice-President of the EC – Mogherini . Elegantly, Pierre writes : I want to say one thing: don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater – the debate should be on the EU we want and not about whether the EU should exist or not. So what are the changes we want to see?”

Ignoring the logical fallacy ( Mogherini argued about the need to rethink the EU and not if the EU should exist or not) , the fact that he promises to tell us one thing and ends up writing many and not really linked to the title, the rather poor choice of metaphor; the interesting part is the switch from I to the we at the end of the first paragraph.

Either there is a Royal “ we” or He talks in the name of many which is even more disturbing. As the rest of the article is written as “we” without any indication of who those we are and it is signed as Pierre Baussand I couldn’t decide either way.

What “we” want is explained in a perfectly wooden language  “ We want to move forward with a more social Europe; it is time to work on greater social convergence in the EU. For that reason we want EU leaders to implement what is already written in the treaty such as the social clause…”

How “we” do it is even better – a perfect example of civil society leadership –“ we will continue to push for the roll-out of social standards …[and]… we call on these key policy-makers to ensure that Europe lives up to the spirit of its word by making concrete proposals for improving the social situation in the EU, rather than allowing negative rhetoric to diminish the European project to a pipedream.”

Yes, rolling-out the social convergence and having concrete proposals to match the spirit of words in order to avoid pipedreams is the type of visionary talk we badly need from our civil society leaders.

I was wondering how the push and the call are concretely done but probably is better not to get into the details of the work of “we”.

The article ends up dramatically with an appropriate call “ let’s engage !”.

Too bad it is not signed captain Picard as that will make a whole lot more sense.

The article can be found here –

http://www.socialplatform.org/news/the-eu-does-not-have-to-change-its-dream-it-has-to-live-it/?utm_source=Weekly+Newsletter&utm_campaign=506014c807-The+Social+Compass+May+26&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dc7a954080-506014c807-323820461&mc_cid=506014c807&mc_eid=39daf22502

How to waste (yet another) 3.450.000 EUR

20 May

These are the actions proposed by the last call on Roma of the European Commission*.

  • Data collection and surveys;
  • Conducting scientific research or other scientific activities in the field of antidiscrimination;
  • Monitoring the implementation of non-discrimination legislation;
  • Training of professionals;
  • Mutual learning, exchange of good practices, cooperation, including identifying best practices which may be transferable to other participating countries;
  • Dissemination and awareness raising activities (including at local level), such as seminars, conferences, campaigns or social media and press activities.

In short 3.45 million EUR spent on same things that we used (overwhelmingly) the public EU money for Roma during the last decade – paper and word production. The problem remains that at this moment there is not much real positive practice to share but just a lot of imagined ones. The imagined ones in general sound a lot better and are mostly the result of other similarly designed EU financed “actions” therefore much more likely to be promoted.

Instead of offering incentives to stimulate work in the most vulnerable communities we continue to offer incentives for yet more proof for what we already know. There is very little work done in the communities and lots of work done in hotels and nice offices. As long as we do not reverse the existing trend we can not have reliable data, good research or useful exchange of good practices during conferences and seminars.

In fact previous reports, conferences and seminars agree Roma remain the most excluded ethnic group in Europe, there is not much progress on the ground and we risk serious crises due to the spread of Roma slums in Western and Northern Europe. None of the above proposed “actions” will solve the problems we have. Work at the grassroots can. And that is exactly what is missing.

http://euroalert.net/en/calls.aspx?idc=3137*

First fix ourselves – then fix Europe

7 May

The European Union seems complicated (often incomprehensible), boring, and aloof for most Europeans. However, blaming the mediocre EU political elites, or the successful populists who make a good and often hypocritical career (i.e. Nigel Farage) going against the EU, for the existing situation is superficial.

Before the Greek crisis there was widespread agreement that the EU project produced direct, indirect, and sometimes accidental benefits for all the EU member countries that hugely offset the inherent losses that come with being part of such a Union. Even nowadays the overwhelming majority of experts still agree with this view. Awful communication*, a democratic deficit, and the challenge of finding acceptable compromises among countries with very different agendas are serious problems that contribute to an increased distance between Brussels and the average European. Still, none of these problems justifies the extent to which Europeans seem to be increasingly unable to recognize and support what is obviously one of the best democratic projects ever – the EU.

The EU bureaucracy is an amazing pool of extremely smart, diverse, and talented people. The EU is a top employer in terms of remuneration and job stability. The EU provides the most money for development in the world and is also the main funder of civil society (jobs with most Brussels-based NGOs are both prestigious and lucrative). Top jobs are usually occupied by people with impressive resumes and exceptional qualities.

The strength of a Union rests in its people and its mechanisms The EU’s bureaucracy and EU paid civil society are the people tasked to ensure the success and popularity of the EU. On paper this sounds almost like a perfect situation.

The main weakness of the EU is exactly these people – people that, again, are among the best and smartest in Europe; people that should be the backbone of the Union. Unfortunately, institutionally neither the EU bureaucracy nor EU-financed civil society seem preoccupied with having a strong backbone. In fact, far too often there seem to be no backbone at all, and a strong disinterest in growing one.

I have repeatedly heard terrible explanations from very good people to justify their cowardice, numbness, and overall irrelevance working within the EU bureaucracies. In the end, it often amounts to the suspension of one’s professional ethics, morals, and ambitions in order to continue to receive a good salary and enjoy a comfortable life.

The fact that the “system” is nowadays plagued by conformity, lip service and opportunism doesn’t justify keeping quiet about it and pretending everything is fine. Quite the opposite: it requires people to speak up and force change.

Indeed, among the leaders of the EU bureaucracies, there are still too many cronies of shady but powerful national politicians, some “professionally challenged” people, and a few loonies. They are an ignorable few compared to the bureaucratic and civil society EU elites.

The situation of the EU-funded civil society is similarly problematic. At this moment the typical civil society organisation is trying (understandably) to stabilise and extend its comfort zone. This equates to being likable for donors: lip service, conformity, and good connections are the most often required incentives.

There is significant movement of people among the EU bureaucracies and EU-funded civil society. Ideally that would be a good thing, if it were not for the very strong negative incentives mentioned above. The result is that the two systems mainly enforce each other’s comfort rather than their accountability and efficiency.

Civil society needs to have legitimacy and much better accountability. It also needs to play the role of watch dog and avoid the risk of becoming a transition phase for opportunists and future numb and rationalising bureaucrats. There is a very similar risk with people that transit from jobs within the EU bureaucracies to NGOs. Far too many times ex-EU bureaucrats that became leaders of civil society in Brussels will do their best to justify inaction as a way not to upset their previous and sometimes future colleagues and bosses in the EU bureaucracies.

‘Fixing’ Europe needs start with fixing ourselves, and then the European elites in Brussels. The problems with national bureaucracies and national civil society – especially in Eastern and Central Europe – are similar if not worse than those in Brussels.

We, the civil society activists at the grassroots need to become a lot more accountable and responsible first. We can start by calling bullshit what it is and not promising practices or other ambiguity. We need to call on the mistakes on people in power rather than finding all kind of excuses to cuddle up to them. There is also a solution on making this systemically.

Independent watch dog organisations focused on the accountability, transparency, and relevance of the different EU and national bureaucracies and their actions, as well as of the EU paid and national civil society organisations is the solution. A fraction of the money wasted on irrelevant trainings only on Roma issues could easily solve it.

At the end of the day elites are needed for their courage and ability to reform, not for their abilities to pay lip service to those in power or to rationalize the status-quo.

*An example of awful communication is the recent interview given by the president of the EU. Juncker talked to BBC from a private, luxurious plane. Many Europeans feel that austerity measures are pushed from Brussels.. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32501737

PS. More in detail about the wrong incentives of the EU based civil society here

https://valeriucnicolae.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/a-sick-european-civil-society-brussels/

About Carnegie and Roma “ordinary citizen” Katarina

2 May

Carnegie Europe published at the end of January 2015 a rather long article” Emotional Intelligence for EU Democracy”.http://carnegieeurope.eu/2015/01/26/emotional-intelligence-for-eu-democracy

I discovered it and started reading it with lots of interest. It has been a disappointment.  The article manages two things: it proves that indeed the EU lives in a Brussels bubble but also that the authors and the editor of Carnegie Europe live in an even bigger one.

As a passionate pro-European  I expected from a leader of the Brussels based civil society and an academic with long experience working within a strong diplomatic service to come up with some clear analysis of the many problems that EU civil society as well as governments (focusing on MFAs)  face in coming up with ideas and implementing these ideas together with the European bureaucracies ( both authors have extensive experience within the EU bureaucratic apparatus – European Commission and European Council) .

What I got was a 13.000 words boring, inconsistent ( though at times smart), often ambiguous, plagued by logical fallacies, mistakes and platitudes article.

It starts with   “To ordinary citizens, EU institutions appear distant, elitist, and difficult to understand.” Using the word appear creates an ambiguity that is unnecessary. I thought it might be understood as paternalistic towards the “ordinary citizens”. But it got worst.

I doubt any academic paper published by Carnegie in the US will go so far and describe the typical “ordinary citizen ” ( after a pensioner from Alabama, a blogger from North Carolina a store -clerk from Miami,  and a businessman from New York),  – a black mother named Beyonce poorly educated, working in a factory plucking chickens in Chicago and supporting an extended family of ten.

This is exactly the way Katarina the Roma woman in Kosice is described in the article published by Carnegie Europe. Considering the very strong emphasis of the Open Society Institute (OSI) on fighting prejudices against Roma and the fact that one author is leading the OSI office in Brussels the choice seems at least odd. Confusing the main center- left party in Slovakia SMER with the protofascist SNP happens in the same paragraph.

There are some good, enough debatable and some poorly argued statements in the article. Overall is a hard read even for Brussels experts therefore hardly “emotionally intelligent” at all.  But what is the most worrisome are the solutions proposed. Most work in the same wrong direction – transforming the EU into an even bigger talk-shop. The problems are not that “ordinary citizens” don’t know enough about the EU, that the EU bureaucracies and citizens are not connecting through Internet-based technologies or that there are not enough opportunities for blabla as the authors suggest. I found this in the article:

If the EU held a poll in Slovakia on discrimination and how to prevent it, Katarina and her neighbors could speak directly with non-Roma people in Košice about the problems Roma face in housing, employment, education, and healthcare. That would help generate new policy solutions.

For anybody with hands on expertise on Roma this will sound simply delusional. I wrote far too much on the subject to go here in detail.

The problems are that EU citizens feel they are just cogs in a system that doesn’t value them , that rarely (if ever)there is anything inspirational coming from Brussels ( due to a rather poor quality of leadership and a catastrophic communication) and that far too much of EU public money is wasted or spent in ways that makes little sense for the ordinary citizen. It is hardly comprehensible how such an amazing intellectual capacity within the EU ( the overwhelming proportion of the EU bureaucrats are honest and highly intelligent) make such enormous intellectual compromises  in justifying  what far too often is a  wrong status-quo instead of fighting and reforming what is the best thing that happen to Europe – the European project.

When it comes to the article the problems come with putting the responsibility outside of the expertise of the authors.  It would have been logical to have some clear solutions on how we could make the civil society in Brussels better at helping (and not conforming and behaving as a second grade EU bureaucracy) the EU to become more relevant and inclusive. I was hopping to read more about how we could ensure that people that represent us in Brussels are those that deserve it and not the many cronies and loonies that populate now that political appointments in the EU. How we could make the EU inspirational through giving it more substance and not just fancy new clothing.

What I read was a rather inconsistent and a bit offensive critic of Eurotalk in relationship with “ordinary citizens” written (mostly) in Eurotalk.

About intersectionality, elevators and Euro-Narnian

28 Apr

Intergovernmental institution meeting. I ended up there as the organisers – people I admire and like – thought my experience/expertise would be useful.

I decided that for once, I would work hard trying to fit, be constructive, and well-behaved all at the same time. This is truly not easy: it takes quite an effort to ignore the protests of the many sarcastic and dissenting voices in my head. I swallowed so much intersectionality, mainstreaming, framework, flexicurity, holistic, scalable, proactive, leverage, and streamlining that I felt ready to give birth simultaneously to a recommendations document, a strategy, a directive, and a 10 to 15 years experienced senior rank bureaucrat.

At one moment I felt the urge to search on YouTube for a communist speech about the amazing achievements of my nation; the kind of speech I recalled from my childhood. I wanted to play it for the participants at the meeting. But I restrained myself: I reminded myself that I had planned to have manners today.

My outlandish idea that we should focus on practical things rather than churning out jargon was elegantly ignored by most of the participants: people with important jobs that contribute to the design of public policies at the European level. They seemed intent on inventing brand new words, comprehensible only for them and their relatives with Ivy League or similar degrees, as the best solution to solve the problems of disabled children forced to beg. This, and “thinking outside the box,” of course.

I tried to make myself heard. I wanted to make sure my points about funding direct actions that would help the children and their families rather than paper manufacturers would be considered. No success whatsoever: it was like they couldn’t hear me at all. It got to the point that I decided to check if I was having an out-of-body experience. I asked for a piece of paper, and for a marker. It worked – the kind and helpful people around me gave me the items I had requested. I was awake, seemingly able to speak English.

But as soon as I mentioned hands-on experience in working with the poorest children with disabilities and communities living in abject poverty, things started to get eerie again. People looked at me with a mixture of pity and compassion, and seemed unable to understand the words that were coming out of my mouth. I thought of trying sign language, but the voice in charge of behaving for the day vetoed it.

And then it struck me: I was inside the box they were talking about; most people around me were already outside of it, and therefore couldn’t hear me.

I felt like I did during my first visit to the ‘mother-ship’ (the Berlaymont building, where Brussels’ Euro-Narnian royalty work). When I got to the elevators I rushed into the first one with open doors, to the stupefaction of the assistant that was taking me to the meeting. I did what any good Romanian who had lived through Ceausescu’s times would do: you see something open, you get inside as fast as you can, because you never know when it will be possible to get in again.

To my surprise, there were no buttons inside the elevator. It stopped on the 4th floor and my meeting was on the 7th. I was left alone in the elevator, the assistant left behind on the ground floor, and no phone service.

I think (many times delusionally) of myself as a smart guy, and after two years in Brussels, I also thought I was fully competent in dealing with EU stuff. I decided that the elevator must be voice activated, so I announced in my pure Romanian-French: ‘siet’ (seven, for those of you that do not speak French). It did not work. I tried in English: I am, at the end of the day, an educated, multilingual Roma/Gypsy. ‘Sieven’ did not work either. I considered saying efta – Romani for 7 – but at that moment being a Roma within an EU institution was quite exotic, and I did not want to waste public money and risk a full evacuation of the building.

Eventually the lift went back down and I learned how it worked. There was a control panel outside the door. You had to press your desired floor number, and the panel would display the number of the elevator you were supposed to take. For years, I had the desire to get in the elevator, wearing a large Romani hat, at the peak hour and start yelling siiieveeen just for the fun of it. I never did it, but still feel a pang of regret.

But I digress.

The meeting went much better after I decided to adapt and input the words in a similar fashion as the EU elevator works. I said in my most serious voice: “I very much agree with the previous speakers, and I think street children holistically and in a streamlined way are often leveraged in their flexicurity and take the mainstreamed framework of intersectionality deeply personally. They are also seriously concerned about the difficult semantics of whether to use the word vulnerable or excluded in the documents of the Gods in Brussels.”

The looks on their faces: priceless. I was happy – finally they heard me. Nobody laughed (tough crowd). I almost took the occasion to say that “now that we have, hopefully, woken up from whatever dreams we were working within, we should try to get a grip and start making some sense,” But again, I obeyed the voices in my head directing me to behave well. The next day was one of the best I have had, attending such meetings.

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