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.*

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..

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

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”.

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.

Între intersecționalitate, lifturi și Gucci

24 Apr

Fusei în Viena. Am prestat, relativ civilizat, în timpul zilei la Agenția pentru Drepturile Fundamentale.  Mi-am luat îndeajuns de multă intersecționalitate, mainstreaming, framework, flexicuritate, holistic, ,scalabil, proactiv, leverage, streamline, încât să ma apuce dorul de niște neoșe și relativ tradiționale meandre ale concretului. Am vrut să mă uit la un discurs de-a lui Iliescu pe youtube, ca să îmi revin un pic. Dar m-am abținut, căci am zis să pretind că am maniere. Greu tare.

Ideea că ar trebui să facem lucruri practice a părut aberantă  majorității  celor care au fost în întâlnire, oameni care prin slujbele pe care le au joacă un rol foarte important în influențarea politicilor Uniunii Europene. Inventarea unor cuvinte noi- nouțe pe care să le înțelegem numai noi și rudele noastre cu facultățuri de fițe  pare să fii rămas cea mai bună soluție pentru a rezolva situația copiilor care sunt chinuiți să cerșeasca. Asta, plus folosirea obligatorie la fiecare 30 de cuvinte a sintagmei: „ gândirea în afara cutiei” – think outside of the box.

Tot ce încercam eu să zic pe partea profesională părea să nu auză nima. Am verificat de câteva ori dacă vorbeam în engleză cu oameni de lângă mine: am cerut o hârtie, un pix. Mi-au dat. Eram treaz, lumea amabilă, putea să mă înțeleagă. Cum ziceam ceva de experiența pe bune în lucrul cu copiii și cu comunități foarte sarace sau folosirea banilor europeni pentru a-i ajuta în mod direct, cum se schimbau lucrurile. Lumea se uita la mine duios, dar compătimitor . Am priceput care era treaba: eram în cutie și ei gândeau și auzeau numa’ în afara ei.

Până nu am zis că îi doare holistic și streamlined în flexicuritate de frameworku’ mainstrimat al intersecționalitătii pe copiii de pe străzi dacă folosim cuvântul „vulnerabil” sau „exclus” în documentele zeilor de la Bruxelles ,nu m-a auzit nimeni .

M-am simțit un pic cam cum m-am simțit  prima dată când am nimerit în liftul de la nava-mama( clădirea unde șăd șefii ăi barosani de la Comisia Europeană). Când am ajuns la lifturi, era unul deschis și in mod civilizat m-am grăbit să intru ca nu cumva  să îl pierd. Cred că experiența de aproape două decenii cu autobuzele și lifturile din Romania e de vină. Liftul frumos, elegant, dar canci butoane cu etajele. S-a oprit la etajul  4. Eu trebuia sa ajung la 7. Ușile au rămas închise. Competent fiind (eram deja în Bruxelles de doi ani) am zis că o fi cu activare vocală. Am zis siet ielegant, cu juma de gură. Niica. Am încercat cu sievăn. Nu a mers. Am zis din nou siet, că doar nu suntem fraieri: vorbim și franceza și engleza. Nimic, nimic. M-am gandit să zic un efta în țigănește, dar m-am abținut. Nu de alta, dar la cât de “deschisă” era Comisia la vremea aia blocau liftul și apoi se lăsa cu dezinfectarea întregii cladiri și alte probleme. Am zis să fiu responsabil și să economisesc banii publici, deși piticii mei protestau rău. Am așteptat disciplinat să mă scoată cineva din belea.  Lifturile erau cu comandă la intrare: e un tablou de control în mijlocul sălii unde sunt lifturile. Acolo  apeși numărul etajului și îți răspunde cu numărul liftului în care trebuie să te urci. M-am gandit cât de tare ar fi fost să mă duc cu o pălărie de gabor într-un lift plin cu oameni îmbrăcați super elegant de la Comisie și să încep să urlu sievăăăn…regret că nu am făcut-o, dar poate altă dată.

Să revenim însă. Am decis că ar trebui să fac cum am facut cu lifturile și a doua zi am anunțat de dimineața că eu sunt interesat să găsim soluții care să fie nu numai aplicabile dar si de inteles pentru cei despre care discutam. A fost un pic mai bine.

Seara m-am intalnit cu Vlad. Omul avea o misiune – era naș în România și trebuia să găsească țoale pentru botez. M-a dus într-un magazin din buricul Vienei, așa cum îi ordonaseră părinții domnului bebeluș. La etajul trei- țoale pentru copii. S-a dus țintă la Armani.  Suntem noi ca frații, dar gestul mi s-a parut un pic ostentativ ,că doar nu a înnebunit văru Guță să îl pună pe Vlad naș.  Am dat-o pe râs și am zis că uite așa ne copiază românii și cât de tare e să ai trei luni și să te caci în Armani pe bune. Ăsta- nimic. Să mergem să vedem și la Gucci. Am întrebat dacă e naș la Pandele și Firea, încercând să aflu în mod discret dacă e vorba de co-etnici de-ai mei. De unde, ăsta se ducea la o familie de co-etnici de-ai lui, adică bancheri. La Gucci , un sacou cât să îmi îmbrac palma a părut să fie soluția. Asta, până când ne-am uitat la preț. Un nimic de 449. De euro. Cu pantaloni, scutece, cameșe- lejer peste 1000. Am simțit nevoia să întreb dacă ne dau și o Dacie uzată  inclusă în preț.

Doamna nu a apreciat umorul, deși nu cred că o chema Dacia. Vlad a întrebat dacă sunt și reduceri. M-am și gândit :„Uite, băi, că frățică s-a deșteptat – scoatem un 15-20% reducere, le zicem la bancheri prețul întreg și ne îmbrăcăm și noi pentru anul ăsta din ciubuc”. De unde, ăsta era serios. Vroia să cumpere el – ca naș. M-am gândit că ar trebui să mă botez și eu de câteva ori și unul dintre numele noi o să fie neapărat Vlad.  Ce tare ar suna: Valeriu Ciolan Vlad Becali Pandele Firea Salam de la Craiova Nicolae!  Doamna de la Gucci a strâmbat rău din nas – atât de rău încât m-am speriat că se deslipește operatia și îi cade. Speriat că fac necaz la oameni, am decis că mai bine plecăm fără să mai supăram lumea. Acasă la Vlad am descoperit o caciulă de dac și am decis să mai adaug și Decebal dacă tot mă bag la schimbări de nume. Deci Decebal Valeriu Ciolan Vlad Becali Pandele Firea Salam de la Craiova Nicolae!

Poza aici


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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