The (weird) debate around European Roma Institute (ERI)

15 Apr

I was excited to read the position of Yaron Matras on ERI. I heard him talking a few weeks ago in Bucharest and I was pleasantly impressed. An academically argued paper on the good and bad parts of ERI was something that I was looking for especially after a ranting and at best confusing position of the ex-president of the ERTF.

It turned out to be another unpleasant surprise. The published text is plagued by manipulative, poorly argued and some offensive statements. The full text can be found here https://theconversation.com/eu-initiative-risks-turning-roma-into-entertainers-not-real-people-with-human-rights-40100

In italics fragments from the text.

Manipulative statement.

Billed as a “Roma-led” initiative, its declared purpose is to sponsor Romani artistic cultural production, to raise awareness of the Roma and to advise the Council of Europe on policy in relation to Roma.

ERI is not billed as a Roma-led initiative. It is a Roma led initiative. “Declared purpose” suggest that there might be some other purpose and leads the reader from the start in thinking that ERI is something bad without bringing any (logical) argument why is it so.

Manipulative statement.

Western governments in particular reacted sceptically when the ERI was first announced in April 2014as did the ERTF and the Romani Study Network.

Not all western governments reacted. Ignored is also that a good number of governments including at least one western government (Belgium) were positive. The ERTF and Romani Study Network have only to lose (influence, funding, visibility) if ERI becomes a success therefore their position risks to be seen as biased if not properly argued. Moreover, there were many western governments that reacted against or skeptically (UK, Spain, Netherlands, France, Italy, Belgium) when the first proposal for the establishment of ERTF came about.

Manipulative statement.

Academics were worried that ERI’s declared ambition to “license research and teaching on Roma” would allow a circle of appointed individuals to interfere with the content of research and so potentially with academic freedom.

The correct statement should read I(Yaron Matras) and (other 3, 4, 5…), are worried. There are hundreds if not thousands of academics that could claim their opinion on ERI would be relevant. The overwhelming majority of those do not know anything about ERI therefore would be hard to argue that they are worried about its ambitions.

Manipulative and offensive statement.

This concern was amplified by the fact that those individuals, who were at the time known to be part of the circle of designated leaders of ERI, issued an overt challenge to established academic research in Romani studies, claiming that it lacked representation from scholars of Romani ancestry and was therefore inherently biased.

There is no logical link between the fact that there is a valid concern regarding institutional racism among academic outlets that are funded (some heavily) for Roma work and dominated by non- Roma and the establishment of ERI. The fact that Yaron Matras automatically assumes that “ those individuals…part of the designated leaders of ERI” will interfere with academic freedom is a worrisome and rather offensive statement that could be interpreted as a sign of racism.

Manipulative and offensive statement

In a well-choreographed effort to pre-empt the critics, the second attempt to launch ERI was announced on March 26, 2015 in a joint online commentary from the Council of Europe’s secretary-general Thorbjørn Jagland and George Soros.

It is illogical and therefore it needs a rock solid  proof to back up the statement that two of the best known people in the world decided to silence the critics ( almost unknown in comparison) by publishing an article in a newspaper that is part of the Economist group – one of the most respectable publishing group there is. This proof is missing.

Manipulative statement.

The public statement, which caught key advisers to the secretary-general by surprise, came just one week before a scheduled discussion on the topic at the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly.

It is irrelevant if there were some of the many key advisers caught by surprise (moreover, this is once again a statement impossible to prove) . What would have been relevant to include in order to support such a statement is if their surprise should matter, why so and what is wrong with it. Neither one of these issues are addressed by Yaron.  What seems to be also ignored is that any decision of a leader of a huge organization has a very high potential to surprise a few.

Manipulative, contradictory and offensive statement

In the very same week, it was announced that German parliamentarian Phillip Missfelder – who had tabled a motion on ERI at the Council of Europe back in March 2014, had been appointed as rapporteur on Roma for the parliamentary assembly, thus ensuring that the ERI would command support from all sides.

Yaron assumes that the parliamentary assembly is stupid enough to be manipulated to support ERI because of Missfelder’s appointment as a rapporteur. There is nothing in the text that will explain why Matras thinks that Missfilder will command support from all sides.

Manipulative and possibly offensive

As for the concept itself, while Council of Europe officials continue to insist in informal conversations that the recruitment process for ERI’s management will be open and transparent, OSF has made it quite clear that it has a fixed idea as to who would run the institute. It hints at an alliance which in fact includes individuals who have been referring to themselves in discussions with Council of Europe officials as “the Roma elite”.

Some of them have a track record of rising up against both grassroots representatives of Roma, accusing them of everything from corruption to misogyny, and against academic experts in Romani studies, accusing them of a power monopoly.

Informal conversations are again something that can not be proved. Hinting at an alliance contradicts the sentence just before it which reads that the OSF made it quite clear. Using quotes for “Roma elites” might be interpreted as offensive it has been in the case of other minorities. Some of them is an ambiguous terminology that leaves open the imagination of the reader. The author implies that rising up against corruption and misogyny within Romani leadership or contesting academic experts in Romani study disqualifies people from being Roma elites. This is a terribly poorly thought statement coming from an academic expert.

Manipulative statement

Overall ERI appears so far to be a conflation of financial muscle and top-down political power, pitched as a way of handing the power over the dissemination of knowledge on Roma to those who self-identify as Roma.

Again there is nothing that proves this statement. The fact that something appears to be in a certain way to Yaron Matras still needs to be proven by arguments. The author offers none.

Manipulative statement

Such an initiative risks rupturing the respect that the Council of Europe commands as the leading European institution on human rights – and one that is governed by consensus rather than muscle.

Again there is no argument that can back up the statement above. The Council of Europe risks also to be lead by aliens together with ISIS but as long as there is no good enough argument that can prove this risk there will be very few that will take it seriously.

Manipulative and possibly offensive

It also risks using Roma as tokenistic representatives to legitimise an agenda that has become driven primarily by the need to maintain contracts for funded service interventions. Worse, it risks delivering a setback to the efforts of the past two decades which aimed to highlight the plight of the Roma as a human rights issue by foregrounding the more popular image of Gypsies as entertainers, best represented by the romantic imagery in the joint commentary by Jagland and Soros.

There is always a risk for using Roma as whatever. A respected academic needs to prove that such a risk is something that makes sense to be taken in account. It is possibly offensive to talk about the efforts to highlight the plight of Roma ( a good number of those efforts could be argued to have been lead exactly by  the same “Roma elites” Yaron attacks ) as a way to denigrate the initiative of Jagland and Soros.

Manipulative, offensive and possibly racist

Finally, by putting forward the notion that knowledge on Roma should be the exclusive property of those who self-identify as Roma, it jeopardises the freedom of academics to engage in such studies on the basis of their qualifications and expertise. This means that non-Romani academics whose research might bring them to different conclusions than those that ERI prefers to showcase, might find themselves accused of prejudice and colonialism.

There is nothing in the concept paper, article in the European Voice or anywhere else I looked regarding  of ERI to support this statement : that knowledge on Roma should be the exclusive property of those who self-identify as Roma. Using a false statement to argument an imagined complot to jeopardise the freedom of academics to engage in such studies on the basis of their qualifications and expertise is offensive and considering the final of the statement it might also be perceived as racist.

Manipulative

If this happens, it will discourage many from engaging in the study of Romani culture – and will thereby isolate Romani studies from mainstream academia and confine it to a sector that is politically managed.

It could happen that the sun will die tomorrow despite overwhelming proof that this is rather impossible and therefore highly speculative. Arguing that the establishment of  ERI will lead to an isolation of Romani study from mainstream academia is alsohighly speculative. It is also in my opinion intellectually dishonest.

*this is not an article in support of ERI or those that lobby for it. I have a neutral position about it and no interest whatsoever to be part of the team that will manage the institute. I also think there is a very important role to play by academics such as Yaron Matras in the Romani movement ( judging on his academic work on linguistics and not on this article). I do know that some of my articles  lack some very much the needed proofs. Working on it – I do not see myself yet neither an academic nor an intellectual.

Uncomfortable realities

13 Apr

The European Commission (EC) is right that Member States have the main responsibilities in tackling discrimination and exclusion faced by Roma. The EC is wrong to expect significant changes anytime soon. The case of Romania, the country with the most Roma in the European Union is probably the most relevant.

Strategy

With 83 main “directions for action” the Romanian National Strategy for Roma Inclusion for 2010-2020 (RNSRI) it is a lot closer to a shopping list than a strategy. The only thing that seems strategic about the RNSRI is the way it avoids concrete suggestions for what should be done at the grassroots level in the communities. Instead there is an overwhelming focus on trainings, studies, and awareness raising campaigns plus some other ambiguous (in term or results) or proven corrupt measures. Many of the already implemented projects in Romania are spectacular failures in reality and successes in reports and conference presentations.

One example: the focus on actions to rehabilitate buildings inhabited by Roma was a priority strongly pushed by a powerful Romanian politician that happened to be also one of the most important mayors in Romania. The costs of those rehabilitations were hugely over-estimated and lead to the biggest corruption scandal in Romania. He is nowadays arrested and accused of receiving tens if not hundreds of millions of Euros in bribes. There are at least two similar cases investigated by the Romanian anti-corruption body. This practice is presented as a model of successful absorption of European Funds by the Romanian government.

Most of the 83 directions for actions are proven to be inefficient, wrong or corrupted. They reflect the interests of a few powerful and often corrupt players and the chaotic and neutered input of a few others mostly well intended NGOs but with very limited experience and impact at the grassroots. For example child protection when it comes to Roma children continues to be a dramatically weak point for Romania. Working with Roma children in very difficult conditions is a hard and poorly paid job therefore not many (including NGOs) are interested. The final result is that child protection is the weakest of the priorities within the Roma Strategy with three directions of actions: campaigns, raising awareness and elaborating social interventions for street children that practically avoid what we need the most – hands-on work with the most disadvantaged children.

The talk both in Brussels and at the highest political levels in Bucharest is that there is more than enough money available;  the problem, according to most in position of power, stays  with the lack of good ideas for projects. This is false.

The problem is that the framework for distributing money is illogical and awfully complicated allowing only certain types of projects that are in their majority doomed to be irrelevant ( the cases of trainings, awareness campaigns) or to fail from the beginning. The idea that there is enough money available is ridiculous.

The budget available on the official document posted on the EC website shows a dramatic but very steady decrease from 158 million RON (approx. 40 million EUR) in 2012 to 9.3 million RON (2.2 million EUR) in 2015.  From 2016 to 2020 there is no budget. Taking in account the number of Romanian Roma as estimated by the Strategy it means that for 2015 there is less than 0.004 EUR per day per Roma allocated by the Romanian government.  Even if we calculate the money available for the Roma estimated to live in abject poverty we are well under 10 cents per day.

Mechanisms and human resources

Romania National Contact Point – the main link between the government and the European Commission is a perfect showcase about how seriously the Romanian government is taking Roma social inclusion. Following a series of stupefying declarations during the last EU event on Roma she acknowledged in a discussion with me and the Romanian Roma MEP, Damian Draghici that all her experience on Roma comes from participation to “a few Roma seminars”. No other relevant experience, no leverage among other ministries, no links whatsoever with Roma communities or Roma civil society.

The situation of the Romanian Prime Minister (PM)’ Roma advisor is event worst. According to the much regretted Nicolae Gheorghe, one of the most respected Roma intellectuals : “remarkably mediocre and educationally challenged are the best euphemisms that could characterize somebody with her background and education”.

Romanian National Agency for Roma (NAR) – another governmental structure is considered a joke even by those that work there.  The agency reflects the political interests of one person – the MP representing Roma in the Romanian Parliament for now almost 16 years.  Plagued by corruption scandals and nepotism, lacking both expertise and support, NAR is more an obstacle than help when it comes to Roma social inclusion. It is true that it does employ a few good professionals; most of them of Roma origins. They even see the Agency as nothing more than an useless window dressing measure of the Romanian government. In the past it has been often used as a private electoral agency meant to keep in power the existing Roma MP. It has been led by people that had skills much better fitted to the criminal gangs than to what is expected from a professional within a governmental agency.

The Roma experts at the level of local administrations are, in general, chosen according to their abilities to bring votes for the local (and mostly corrupt) politicians. A good number of those are barely literate and play multiple functions including garbage collector. Sarcastically the Romanian Roma strategy relays on them for lots of rather sophisticated things such as monitoring of implementation of complex policies.

There are around one hundred exceptionally good Roma experts in Romania. Most of them happen to be also human rights activists that embarrassed repeatedly the Romanian government and the European Commission. Considered to be “difficult” none of them managed or wanted to transit from NGOs to position of decisions within the Romanian government. Significant discrepancies between salaries ( a good expert makes 4-5 times more money than a honest state employee) as well as reduced job safety of politically sensitive positions have also a negative effect.

Results up to now

The EU funds in Romania targeting Roma inclusion have been spent in a disastrously inefficient way. It offered fantastic incentives for corruption and created an industry of paper and word production spearheaded by powerful consultancies and NGOs that have the interest and leverage to push priorities that have minimal if any impact at the grassroots but keeps the fat cats well fed. Senior Romanian politicians are interested in the Roma issues as long as there are significant personal gains to offset the huge electoral risks that come with any “suspicion” of sympathy for Roma. Most of the time that translates into embezzlement of EU funds. The EU Funds also created “alternative” realities as many reports describe results that exist just in the imagination of the authors.

Solutions

It is clear that at this moment we do not have good enough mechanisms, structures, politicians, policies and funding lines. One good thing we have, at least in Romania, is people – some of the best experts on Roma issues are Romanians ( Roma and non-Roma).

The solution is to start with a transparent, professional meritocratic system meant to ensure the appointments in all positions dealing with Roma issues of the best available people.

At the end of the day this is nothing new – private companies and struggling governments see these as the basic requirement for a change of fortune.

It is unlikely that any governments will do that voluntary considering the quality of our political elites. In Romania a good part of these elites are in prison or on their way to prison. IGOs such as the European Commission, Council of Europe, the UN, World Bank need to force such a change.

Creating a strong meritocratic system (backed by all above mentioned IGOs) meant to stop inept political appointments and getting best available people to work on Roma issues could bring the same extraordinary results that were possible due to the strong push of the European Commission to address corruption in Romania.

Complains that these measures are just for the sake of job hunting are often, nothing but a pathetic way to disguise the existing strident institutional racism everywhere. There is an overall agreement that we do not have good enough systems, good enough policies or good enough practices but we do have some very good people around. Let’s start by putting them in positions where they can contribute to the much needed change. Results will follow.

An embarrassing celebration – the International Roma Day

9 Apr

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.

Solutions, the good, the bad and the ugly – the 9th EU Roma Platform

18 Mar

Solutions*

These solutions were inspired by previous documents, experiences and discussions before, during and after the meeting of the EU Roma Platform.

  1. Thematic permanent -EU Roma Platform Working groups

Rationale

Permanent working groups will make the meetings of the Platform more efficient as they will be tasked to help the implementation and review of the National Roma Inclusion Strategies. During the preparation of the EU Platform meetings the working groups will deal with some of the recurrent problems of EU Roma meetings.  Frustrations can be vented and solved prior to each of the two yearly meetings. Those involved will have the expertise, interest and discipline to work towards achieving concrete goals. The working groups will also have a fundamental role in capacity building as bureaucrats need to learn about grassroots experiences and Roma activists about available international, national and local mechanisms.  It will ensure the much needed stakeholders cooperation and accountability.

What

Start with some 5-6 thematic groups. Anti-Gypsyism, Employment, Education-Culture-Sport-Citizenship, Health, Housing and Crises ( Humanitarian Aid, Trafficking…)

How it should work

Example Anti-Gypsyism working group/task force

Stakeholders : Anti-Discrimination ( DG Justice), Fundamental Rights Agency ( FRA), Council of Europe (Roma Unit, ECRI, Commissioner for Human Rights), EU High Representative for Human Rights, DG Enlargement, OHCHR , NGOs ( Amnesty, ERRC, ENAR, OSI, ERGO…), governments ( Equality Bodies) and Roma experts.

Goal: Prepare action plans for each of the stakeholders involved based on a realistic analysis of their strengths , weaknesses and complementarities. Such action plans need to include clear responsibilities and accountability for achieving the targets. The end goal is to achieve equality for Roma ( in terms of both rights and responsibilities)

Needs : Each of the institutional stakeholders appoints a person in charge of this task and introduce indicators to stimulate his/her work in its performance review. One part time employed independent expert to deal with the secretariat of the working group.

What :  The working –group will feed –in  the meeting of each platform with updates on the situation and recommendations of needed steps forward.

  1. National Roma Platforms

Rationale

In the past we witnessed a rather limited pool of people and ideas that played a role at the national level. There is a strong need of building hands-on expertise on available national and international instruments among the Roma NGOs and Roma grassroots experience and challenges for the national structures. These platforms need to be built on the same principles as the EU Roma Platform – a similar working groups structure is needed together with a very clear mandate for helping the implementation and the review process of the Roma National Strategies.

How it should work: Based on similar working groups as the example above

Needs :  Budget for an independent expert  secretariat  ( some of those employed at the national level could be the same that ensure the secretariat of the EU Roma Platform working groups in order to reduce the budgets).

  1. Replicate the exceptional success of the EU Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification (MCV) in Romanian and Bulgaria for the case of Roma Social Inclusion.

Rationale

Despite being opposed, strongly criticized and often hated by a good majority of the Romanian politicians and media moguls the MCV has led to an extraordinary clean up within the Romanian society in regard to corruption. There is a possibility for a pilot project (based on the good practice of the European Semester ) covering some of the most important countries for the social inclusion of Roma to create a much stronger mechanism for helping the successful implementation of the Roma National Strategies.

How to do it : Together with EC Representations in these countries the European Commission need to appoint an expert on Roma issues capable to help the governments , NGOs and other stakeholders to transform the existing strategies in actions with effect at the grassroots. Such officers should also play a fundamental role in the success of the first 2 solutions proposed here.

Needs : One of the Commissioners dealing with Roma issues should propose such a pilot project to the vice-president in charge of Fundamental Rights. Once approved by the very senior management the bureaucracy in Brussels should be able to come up with a technical solution.

  1. Analyze the efficiency of existing structures, mechanism and practices

Rationale

During the meeting of the platform the participants made clear that we need to address the issue of accountability.  A clear recommendation for such an analysis was the conclusion of one of the two working groups. There are many mechanisms available – some of them are good and need to be much better used, some of them are mediocre and need to be reformed/improved and some are useless and need to be scrapped. The public money saved from giving –up on some existing  mechanisms and practices will surely cover not only the needs from this document but many others.

How to do it : Task an independent expert to conduct a critical evaluation focused on the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to reach equality for Roma. The evaluation should also include recommendations on structural methods meant to put in practice equality duties in order to achieve the goal that Roma have a key role in both setting up the agendas and assuming responsibilities for achieving the goals of those agendas.

The good

Most of the participants openly acknowledged that this was the best EU Roma Platform meeting they could remember.

The Commission was clearly focused on listening and facilitating – in a very strident and very much welcomed opposition to the preaching style of the last EU Roma Platforms I attended ( some 3-4 years ago).

Unexpectedly humble and emotional speech of Commissioner in charge of Roma issues very much different (in a very positive way) from the style of previous Commissioner.

Two Roma MEPs that put lots of time and heart in the meeting – discrepantly different from the previous Roma MEPs that rarely if ever  bothered to stay for anything else besides their own speeches. Some remarkable speeches and interventions of activists (Roma and non-Roma) my age and  younger.

More and higher position (ministers and deputy ministers) representative of governments were present that in any of the Roma Platform meetings I attended or covered. Good intervention from the ministers from Sweden and Luxembourg.

The bad

Discussions were at times very much unfocused and the opportunity offered by the organisers to come up with concrete solutions was partially missed. Some of the speeches and interventions were remarkably dull or unsuitable for the purpose of the meeting.

A weak show up of intergovernmental institutions and the sensation that a good part of stakeholders  see the European Commission as a pile of money and not much else. Local authorities presence was also remarkably weak and the speeches of the government representatives from countries with significant Roma population lacked anything concrete( Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria).

The ugly

Despite a very limited experience with the Roma issues ( according to her own words – only “participation to a few seminars”) the Romanian Contact Point for Roma issues had no problems to show publicly her support for the statement ;”the situation of Roma is improving”. She happened to be the only one among the many Romanians present that had such an opinion.

The Platform also provided a good opportunity for too many to exercise for hours their Facebook and shopping skills. It seems that we Roma also need to find ways to hold accountable some of our own that misunderstand or misuse their positions and waste not just public money but some good opportunities.

*Solutions focused on the role and functioning of the EU Roma Platform.

PS. Open Democracy decided also to publish my previous post – it can be found at

https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/valeriu-nicolae/no-accountability-%E2%80%93-case-of-roma-social-inclusion-in-europe

No accountability* – article published by Eurozine

10 Mar

For most politicians and bureaucrats, social inclusion of Roma is a terrifying and complex issue impossible to solve during their short terms in office.[1] Despite a few years of small efforts, and decades of very strong but mainly empty rhetoric, Roma remain the most discriminated-against ethnic group in Europe and the most unrepresented within the decision-making structures. Due to a chronic lack of expertise among senior management at the level of governments and inter-governmental institutions, tackling the situation of Roma is seen as a professional quagmire. The needed incentives to tackle this issue – opportunity for fast, impressive results, or electoral gains – are very difficult to envision.

Paying lip-service, preserving the status quo, and avoiding controversy are, pragmatically, the best career moves for many in relevant decision-making positions. For the past two decades, most of the new appointments in high positions dealing with Roma have led to long periods of non-action followed sometimes by reinventing, rediscovery and repetition. Such appointments point towards the existence of structural racism within those institutions and the very poor standards of professionalism required for occupying these positions. Not rarely, catastrophic approaches disguised as positive practices in sycophantic reports make their way back on the table of the new Roma tsars.

Accountability for failures or lack of progress in addressing Roma social inclusion is exceptionally rare for many reasons. Disinterest, or professional inability on the part of Member States and inter-governmental institutions to create systems that can hold people and institutions accountable are the main problems. Those in charge instead develop the ability to shift or avoid responsibility. Poor civic and political involvement of Roma within the European societies results in the inability of Roma to exert sufficient, or any political or social pressure to make structures and people accountable.

The outcome is that all main stakeholders struggle to define clear and distinct responsibilities, or simply avoid them. Creating dedicated, professional, transparent and accountable institutional mechanisms focused not on producing well-wishing papers but implementing actions based on strategies might help. With explicit budgets, targets, indicators, and timeframes, such strategies could ensure the success of the EU Framework of National Roma Social Inclusion Strategies.

At the moment, the existing strategies can barely be called strategies. The existing governmental Roma structures are at best irrelevant. In some cases they are in fact detrimental to the social inclusion of Roma.

Roma politicians are, in general, an embarrassment. The Roma civil society remains small, weak in terms of influence and pressure, dependent on EU and foreign aid, opportunistic, and inexperienced in dealing with the obstacles and complexities of efficiently influencing the Member States and European agendas.

The economic crisis also has had a significant negative effect. Lack of funding radicalised or silenced much needed critical voices within the Roma civil society. International organisations started to compete with Roma civil society organisations for the available EU funding, and in most of the cases won. As a result, we saw a dramatic decline in the opportunities available for young Roma professionals. The small progress made in the previous years regarding cooperation and coordination among stakeholders was replaced by suspicion and tensions generated by the lack of money.

Long-term strategic thinking was replaced with opportunistic approaches meant to ensure survival of programmes, jobs, and organisations. Senior, well-connected people without a job or in danger of losing their jobs were appointed once again in high-level positions dealing with Roma issues, waiting for retirement or a change of fortune.

There are no easy or short-term solutions to change the situation of Roma in Europe. In fact, it will probably get worse before it starts to get better. However, we need to take some basic steps in order to avoid painful and costly crises in the future.

Accountability

Not only governments, but all stakeholders need to come up with explicit Minimal Action Plans (MAPs) that can be monitored and evaluated easily and transparently. People in positions of power need to be held responsible and monitored based not on ambiguous rhetoric but clear indicators. That should include EU Commissioners, Ministers, top-level bureaucrats, and mayors, but also directors of NGOs paid from public money. The process of selection for top jobs in governments and inter-governmental institutions but also within Roma NGOs must become a lot better and fully transparent. Participation of Roma experts needs to evolve from pompous speeches and documents to every-day jobs.

Institutional mechanisms

The pre-accession mechanisms as well as the existing Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification for Justice brought about progress that nobody would have expected in Romania. A similar mechanism focused on Roma social inclusion, aimed to stimulate difficult and sometimes otherwise impossible decisions at the national level, might be a solution. There are enough precedents to make piloting of such a mechanism possible in countries with a significant Roma population. It would make a huge difference in the implementing countries.

Funding reform

Up until now, funding targeting the social inclusion of Roma failed to produce systemic and sustainable results. It is exceptional and mainly accidental when existing priorities in the strategies for Roma social inclusion match the available funding priorities. It is even more exceptional when needs, resources (financial and human), and strategies are correlated and implemented successfully. In fact, I was unable to find even one example of such a success. One solution might be a European fund for the social inclusion of Roma based on member state contributions and administrated by the European Commission/Council of Europe and a panel of independent experts.

To improve the existing situation we need systemic change. The first steps must be accountability, effective institutional mechanisms, and reform of the way social inclusion of Roma is funded. Addressing widespread European anti-Gypsyism and the role of each of the many stakeholders in addressing the overall exclusion faced by Roma within all societal spheres in Europe are also vital issues.

The EU Roma Platform taking place in Brussels on 16-17 March is in this regard a very pleasant surprise. It puts two fundamental topics high on the agenda: addressing anti-Gypsyism, and multi-stakeholder cooperation. Both require much better coordination, the attention and help of everybody involved. Unfortunately, without first achieving accountability, institutional mechanisms, and funding reform, progress on anti-Gypsyism and multi-stakeholder cooperation maybe prove unrealistic if not impossible.

* Examples to support my conclusions in this article can be found in my previous postings.

[1] Just exceptionally are their mandates longer than 5 years.

Despre Di(h)or, Cambodgia si Cretuleasca

23 Feb

Sunt iarăși în avion. De data asta pe ruta  Istanbul – Bangkok . Stau între doi domni: cel din dreapta pare că ar fi fost rezultatul unei povești minunate de dragoste dintre o dihoriță miloasă care a fericit un cioban nespălat  și- logic- neiubit de câteva deceniii. Îl blestem în gând și îi dau numele meritat : Di(h)or (h-ul din mijloc e tăcut). Și-a decojit hoiturile din picioare și s-a încălțat în papucii oferiti  în mod sadic (din punctul meu de vedere) de Turkish Airlines.  Aerul dimprejur s-a îngălbenit instantaneu și sistemul video a cedat și el. Pe bune.  Cum avionul era plin ochi m-am hotărât că o să călătoresc fericit în budă. Până să decolăm însă, mirosul m-a anesteziat și visam că mă plimbam printre butoaie de brânză împuțită. Plictisitor tare. Norocul a fost însă că celalalt domn  de langa mine sforăia tare și creativ, așa că din când în când apăreau în vis tot felul de animale care răgeau în moduri tare interesante, dar care făceau somnul imposibil. Am stat în budă cât s-a putut de mult și în rest m-am plimbat prin avion. 8 ore. Că sistemul video nu și-a revenit până când s-a reîncălțat Di(h)oru . Dacă aveți vreodată nevoie de un ghid pentru Boeing 747, vă stau la dispoziție.

Am ajuns frânt în Phnom Penh, după o escală scurtă în Bangkok.  Traficul din capitala Cambodgiei face ca Bucureștiul să pară un oraș în care circulația e o minunăție de ordine și civilizație.

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Am descoperit că trecerea de pietoni, semaforul, linia continuă și sensul interzis sunt un fel de decorațiuni care indică o speranță, în mare nejustificată , de a separa drumul de câmp și vacile de mașini.  Alte semne nu am mai vazut, dar după cum se circulă nici nu ar avea vreun rost.

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Pe stradă am fost întrebat de cel putin 20 de ori dacă vreau droguri. Dacă  doriți o experiență îndelungată și magnifică în închisoarile din  Cambodgia, atunci acceptați oferta. Închisoarea de lângă capitală oferă în mod generos  spatiul de 45 cm pe 1.60 m pe detinut și pentru doi români. . Nu pare o problemă de nerezolvat să mai apară și alții. Se plătește pentru a dormi întins.Nu am îndrăznit să întreb care sunt formele de plată.1361 din cei 3305 de detinuti sunt închiși în așteptarea sentinței. Primirea sentinței poate dura între 8 luni și sfârșitul lumii,  dacă e să te iei după felul în care sunt ținute dosarele. Dosarele sunt claie peste gramada, in camere umede unde accesul e cam la liber pentru oricine care e cu partidul cel bun . Faptul că nu există calculatoare care să fie folosite în sistemul justiției, că marea majoritate a judecatorilor nu au studii superioare ( însă sunt membri ai partidului care trebuie) și că în medie sunt cam 600.000 de locuitori pentru fiecare  tribunal ar trebui sa fie parte din informarea obligatorie a turistului care intra in Cambodgia cu chef de distractii la limita legii. Tribunalul pe care l-am vizitat avea pe rol 1087 de cazuri si judeca maxim 10 pe saptamana. Timpul de asteptare cam de doi ani si opt luni este in mod placut petrecut in inchisoare, asta daca nu se pierde dosarul ceea ce duce la o prelungire pe perioada nedeterminata a detentiei . In plus mai au si o lipsă de vreo 500 de judecatori  si 400 de procurori, lipsa pe care ministerul justitiei planuieste eficient sa o rezolve cam in 10-12 ani.

Desigur, dacă aveți un surplus de câteva zeci de mii de Euro pe care doriți să îi faceți cadou unui funcționar al partidului comunist cambodgian, atunci Phnom Penh e locul ideal pentru a accepta ofertele de distracție ilegală și de a explora felul în care funcționează corupția locală.

Am întalnit trei secretari de stat în timpul vizitei mele acolo. Toți aveau câteva caracteristici comune:  bărbat, inel mare cu diamante, ochelari cu rame de aur, ceas de aur, Lexus 4X4 ( mașinoi de lux de vreo 1000 de salarii medii pe economie în Cambodgia sau vreo 83 de ani de muncă cinstită).  Desigur,  nu puteau să scrie decât cu pixuri/stilouri Mont Blanc -brand de super-fițe- purtate în general de bogătași. Un pix Mont Blanc  costă o poală de bani, brandul având ca semn distinctiv un fulg de nea la capăt. Părul ielegant întins peste chelie ( de la stânga la dreapta) și vopsit într-un negru-corb la fel de verosimil ca discursurile lor despre cât de democratică e Cambodgia, este un alt semn caracteristic.

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Niro, Micky Spaga și Hrebenciuc sunt din acelasi film, numai un pic mai stilati- în Cambodgia se poartă unghie lungă la degetul mic. Habar nu am la ce folosește, dar ăsta este încă un lucru pe care nu am dorit cu tot dinadinsul să-l aflu.

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Săracia din zonele rurale este greu de imaginat, mai ales dacă nu ieșiți din capitala care e plină de Lexusuri și jipane. Salariul mediu pe lună este undeva în jur de 60 de dolari.

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Zecile de miliarde din ajutor extern trebuiau să ajungă undeva.  În Cambodgia te scoți fie dacă ești politician, ori funcționar în sistemul de stat, fie funcționar al instituțiilor internaționale sau unul dintre șmecherii care administrează o bună parte a celor peste 4000 de ONG-uri .

Regimul lui Pol Pot a omorât undeva între 1.4 si 2.2 milioane de oameni și a distrus orice tip de elită. La sfârșitul regimului – în 1979- nu mai exista nici măcar un singur psihiatru.  O estimare oficială spune că aproximativ 40% dintre cei care au trecut prin perioada Khmerilor Roși suferă de boli mentale. În 1991 era un singur psihiatru la 1 milion de oameni. Acum sunt 54 pentru 14 milioane de cambodgieni. În zonele rurale  majoritatea populatiei nu știe să scrie sau să citească. Statul alocă în fiecare an suma de 30.000 de dolari ( o treime de Lexus) pentru bugetul menit să trateze oamenii cu probleme de sănătate mentală. Situația copiilor este dezastruoasă.Vremea blanda permite pustilor sa doarma pe strada. Traficul de copii e in floare asa cum sunt si casatoriile fortate in marea lor majoritate cu chinezi sau vietnamezi.

Clima este o minunăție mai ales în ianuarie, februarie sau martie.  Țara are niște locuri incredibil de frumoase, iar mâncarea este absolut senzațională. Piețele sunt fabuloase, se vinde și se cumpără aproape orice. Fructele proaspete sunt de zece ori mai ieftine decât în magazinele pentru străini din capitală, iar mancarea de pe marginea drumului este o experiență care merită încercată deși există un risc de cufureală.

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Niște băieți au șparlit  anul trecut rămășitele lui Buda, dar templul de unde au fost furate, care e la o oră și jumătate de capitală merită vizitat.

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Cambodgia este o monarhie condusă de un partid comunist. Țara este varză, varză și în mod oarecum firesc regele este balerin și stă mai mult prin Paris. Au un prim-ministru Hun Sen super corupt, care e la putere de 30 de ani și care recent a spus ca planifică să se retragă din funcție la vârsta de 94 de ani. Are 64 si cred ca Adrian Nastase si-ar baga unghia in gat, binenteles prin fularul Burberry, daca ar vedea felul minunat in care coruptia este politica de stat.

La întoarcere am zburat la fereastră. Lângă mine, un israelian cu PTS ( stress post traumatic) care a vorbit cu mine în mare parte in ebraică. Am gesticulat cu entuziasm  tot drumul, nu de alta, dar din când în când băiatul își dorea să iasă din avion.In timpul zborului ca sa fim clari.

Când am ajuns în București am fost fericit să văd că încă avem un președinte neamț, un premier mincinos și  majoritatea elitei politice în închisoare sau pe drumul spre închisoare. Comparativ cu ultimele țări pe care le-am vizitat noi locuim într-un paradis al normalității. Ca să îmi revin complet am încercat o porție televizată cu Andreea Crețulescu și Lavinia Șandru . Mi s-au părut niște doamne înțelepte, calme și echilibrate.Mi-am planificat o portie de Rares Bogdan si Ciutacu ca sa imi revin treptat. As fi putut sa rezolv imediat cu un calup de Antena 3 dar am si eu limitele mele.

Broken and unholy

28 Jan

Abraham’s tomb. The bullet proof window that separates the Jews and Palestinians praying in the same place built around a tomb both people consider sacred. Praying to the same God . In a place where 29 Palestinians were massacred by a Jewish settler.

Abraham

The amazing landscape.

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Huge discrepancies. Bedouins living in appalling conditions. All Bedouins’ houses can be demolished at any time. Some were demolished. There are far too many Palestinians in the same situation.

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Jewish settlers on the Bedouins ‘ land living in a comparatively strident comfort. Palestinian Authority that seem they couldn’t care less.

Too many children/youth carrying with them heavy weapons. A paralyzing sensation that there is no solution.  Angry people. Racist  bureaucratic policies that almost nobody in the international community dares to talk about. Money wasted by international aid that makes no sense. Blabla and useless reports that costs millions and justify the good life of a few . Houses build by the UN and Norway and demolished by the Israeli government.  The world turned upside down.

Upsidedown

A street just for those that have the power in Hebron. A nearly empty street in a city that is overcrowded. Two children playing in the middle of the street.

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Snipers. Palestinian children without future. Growing angry and frustrated. Risking to be put in prison at almost any time . With or without justification. With or without proof.

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Lots of corruption and incompetence on the side of the Palestinian politicians. Ghettoes – far too many ghettoes –perfect breeding grounds for violence and radicalism.

The chilling us or them paradigm. The ugly and somehow surreal wall. The barbwire. The soldiers.Check-points. Lack of dignity.

People at war with each other living a few meters away from each other.  Some with all the power; the others more and more desperate.

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But I felt eerie happy spending time with the Bedouins despite the sad stories. Felt peaceful. A moment that could have made me forgive what I really believed.  That it would be impossible to imagine a more sarcastic word for this place than how it is advertised – the Holly Land.

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