On lazy approaches and Roma projects

28 Jul

The European project is undoubtedly the best thing that happened to Roma communities in the region in the last decades.  The anti-discrimination framework of the European Union as well as the strong focus on Human Rights and social inclusion of the different partnership between the EU and other countries have raised the awareness about the plight of Roma.  EU provides the largest amount of money available for Roma targeted projects and the European Commission ( EC) has lead a difficult but successful  negotiation process that saw the adoption of National Strategies for the Social Inclusion of Roma in many countries.

Despite all these the situation of Roma is far from improving.

The European Funding targeting the social inclusion of Roma has been insufficient to bring about enough changes to stop the existing trend that see more and more Roma, especially Roma children falling to abject poverty.

The majority of available funds were poorly used. EU Member States as well as countries that have signed different partnership agreements with the EU have been reluctant and largely unprepared for using these funds. Poorly prepared human resources, wishful thinking and corruption are some of the most important reasons for the existing failures. Intellectual dishonesty as well as lazy attitudes also, have played an important role in the existing situation.

Roma in Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria but also those in Turkey, Georgia , Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina continue to face “systemic societal discrimination”  according to international reports. More and more Roma children end up being trafficked by their families or criminal gangs to the capital cities in the Western Europe . School drop outs rates in rural area are sometimes well over 90% for children 12 years old or older. Poor quality of education corroborated with strong negative prejudice translates in the highest percentage of youth unemployment of all ethnic groups in the Council of Europe region. Among the Syrian refugees the situation of Roma groups is one of the worst, Roma children being the most vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse from all the refugee children in Turkey.

Change is not impossible but involves a few fundamental reforms when it comes to the focus of the international and national interventions.

Short term projects cannot work.  The majority of Roma communities have been exposed for decades and sometimes centuries to strong discrimination. The communities are suspicious to outsiders interventions and have still strong memories of forced deportations, extreme violence including genocide and forced instutionalisation of their children. A good majority of these communities are  resistant to change and  have either unrealistic expectations of  EU funding due to irresponsible promises of populist politicians or a very low tolerance for other interventions due to previous failed projects.

Medium to long term projects that focus on children and building trust and participation of the community need to be prior to investments focused on more complex interventions meant to address the huge socio-economic gap between the Roma communities and majorities.

Interventions focused on producing reports, organizing conferences and writing national strategies and action plans need to represent no more than 2-3% of the money invested at the grassroots especially in the poorest compact urban and rural Roma communities. A much stronger focus on interventions ensuring the wellbeing of Roma children and the real employability of Roma youth is also needed.

The involvement of independent, honest and successful Roma experts should be another priority within both the bureaucracies in charge of designing the projects but also among the implementing agencies.

At the moment I am writing this the Romanian TV stations and radios run mind-numbing advertising about EU funded projects meant to tackle social exclusion of Roma. Building Roma Resource Centers is something that has been done in the past and proved to be expensive, unsustainable and more important ineffective. Paying NGOs to run trainings for preparing Roma for employment has been statistically a disastrous approach. EU money are used to expensively advertise things that are proven to be failures.

EU funds need to have an impact in the life of the most vulnerable Roma communities . At this moment , at least in Romania a far too much amount of the available money supports TV stations, corrupt mayors,  weak state institutions and NGOs to continue doing what we already know will not work.

This needs to change. There is enough experience and expertise available within bureaucracies and civil society to be able to address the existing problems. The only things missing seem to be the mechanisms and sometimes the will to do it.

Jargon, frameworks and conformity

9 Jul

*As for the last 2 months I have a weekly editorial in the Romanian “Dilema Veche”  my postings here are going to be a lot less frequent.

The problem with the European Union frameworks is not as much as with their content but with what is outside these frameworks.  Anything outside tends to or is considered to be wrong or irrelevant.

As the expertise inside the EC is inherently limited especially when it comes to the most disadvantaged groups and the poorest of the poor some of the most important things remain always outside the frameworks and therefore the weak and sometimes disastrous results.

The EU is the main financial supporter of the civil society and the NGOs will adapt to the existing “frameworks” rather than disturb the status quo. Conformity remains a very significant problems among the EU and other international and national bureaucracies as well as among the elites of the European civil society.

On top of this we continue to develop and promote jargon that increases the separation between the EU and the common European. The EU language becomes more and more aloof and irrelevant for most of us.

The EU project is very much needed not just for us, the Europeans but for most of the world. It helped Europe to become a much better and safer place and it could help many other places in our neighborhood to make the same progress.

Producing jargon, rigid frameworks and incentives for blind conformity is not the way to do it.

Here some examples from the most recent speeches of EU Commissioners :

Commission remains strongly committed to presenting to this Parliament towards the end of the year a circular economy package which has a holistic approach on the issue.

We must pursue the path of reforms and reinforce the foundations of the EMU, as a place of prosperity based on balanced economic growth, price stability, a sound financial sector and competitive social market economy.

The European Commission is committed to creating a Europe with a Triple A Social Rating. We will only be worthy of a ‘Triple A’ when we achieve fair and balanced growth: Growth that leads to decent and quality job creation and protection for all throughout their lifecycles. But social protection must be modernised and adapted to current challenges.

Without prejudice to the prerogatives of the Council in the implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), one-off contributions by Member States, either by a Member State or by national promotional banks classified in the general government sector or acting on behalf of a Member State, into the EFSI or thematic or multi-country investment platforms established for the implementation of the Investment Plan, should in principle qualify as one-off measures, within the meaning of Article 5 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1466/97 and Article 3 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1467/97.

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/

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