Archive | September, 2012

Happy things

30 Sep

Friday 28

Martin Harris – UK ambassador to Romania and his mother came to visit the club at 136. They brought a one-meter Paralympics mascot with them – children were impressed. So was Edi, as he received a “get-well” card from Martin’s family. I never got any of those despite many injuries as a child – no nice Ambassadorial families around…life is never fair. Edi makes good use of the crutches and he is healing fine (read more about that at )

Martin talked to the new principal (we have a nice a helpful one nowadays) and let himself abused by the children. He wore the red (girls) tie of the school and listen to lots of stories. His mother is very good with the children too.

To make things a bit more exciting one of the new children (first grade) we have in the club threw up. The reaction of our guest was as normal as it could be – children throw up – part of life. He ate a bit too much and too fast and then ran up to the stair to be in time for the start of the class at the club. We did not let them help us with cleaning.

Saturday 29

The event of the Ministry of Labour and National Agency for Sports at which we were invited was organized as well as everything is organized within the Romanian politics.

Basketball hoops were well placed on the “bicycles –only” lane in the park on probably one of the narrowest and most circulated alleys. Nobody seemed to be responsible for anything and the schedule we received for the events was as realistic as the political promises of our political leaders.

The guys in charge of organizing the football event seemed not only to have never done anything as such before but to have an amazing gift of making everything ten times more complicated.

Together with the grassroots manager at the Romanian Football Federation(FRF) – Adrian Pigulea- we decided that we will better do it ourselves and let the guys” in charge” deal with bringing water. They managed to do it after almost 2 hours when nobody needed it. We bought water ourselves.

So we had to make up a football pitch, to choose the teams and to be the referees. Teams were dressed in the Romanian National T-shirts and UEFA’s T-shirt.

We had over 40 of our children in the park and together with the FRF and the help of UEFA (thanks William and Patrick) we made sure we sent a strong message against racism. We used a RESPECT ball but a hole in it forced us to use another one for half of the time.

United Against Racism T-shirts provided the most visible message in the Herastrau Park yesterday. More than 250 disadvantaged children took part in the event and thousands of people watched what happened.

Miodrag Belodedici and Daniel Prodan – some of the most recognizable ex-footballers in Romania joined us.  Belo wore the United Against Racism T-shirts during the entire time he was in the park and played a lot with some very happy children. Didi did more photos than playing and I am proud to say that at this moment I play better than him. Hopefully he will not read this as the 110 Kg defender might try to prove me wrong next time. It might get me a “get-well” wishing card from Martin. The two times European Champion Belodedici is still a tiny bit better but he is also a bit younger.

Not only the children were happy playing with Belo so was I. Most of the times as we lost 4 times out of 5 I played against Belo. A win is still a win and I did not have proper shoes and wore basketball shorts.

Children also danced and took a ride on the boat around the lake. It was for free and for most if not all of them the first time to do it.  In the morning we also took them to the Antipa museum (they accepted to let us bring the children for free).

All in all a very good day after a rather tense weak due to the racist incidents during the Steaua- Rapid game. ( if interested read more here

The ugly game

26 Sep

The ugly game

On September 24, 2012, over 30 000 people at the Romanian National Arena, joined by millions on TV,watched the football game Steaua – Rapid Bucharest.

In recent years, almost all games between the two teams have been marred by racist incidents. UEFA has fined Steaua Bucharest for racist incidents in the past but national competitions are under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Professional League (RPL). The RPL is led by a former MP of the extremist party Romania Mare, and he has always dismissed racism against Roma in Romanian stadiums as an innocent display of rivalry among football clubs. While he was a member of Romania Mare, the president of the party, Vadim Tudor, called repeatedly for special working camps for Roma.

The owner of the club, Gigi Becali, a member of the European Parliament, is well known for his racist and xenophobic statements. Prior to the game he stated that he is not afraid the other team would win the game as it is a well-known fact that “they drown just before reaching the shore”.

The phrase derives from a punishment enacted on Roma during the many hundreds of years Roma were slaves of the Romanian aristocrats and the Romanian Orthodox Church. Roma were covered in tar, rolled in feathers, and then thrown into a river. The Romanian aristocrats would watch them drown.  It may also related to incidents during the Holocaust, when Romanian officers shot at boats transporting Roma over the river to Transnistria  – many Roma drowned before reaching the shore. Many others died of starvation.

This week’s game started with the usual chants “we have always hated and will always hate the Gypsies”. Calls for “die Gypsy” could be heard throughout the game. The justification for the lack of official response to these racist chants in the last years is that the fans of Rapid are nicknamed “the Gypsies” (while Dinamo fans are called “Dogs”).

However, this time, among the many racist banners displayed, there was one with the text “Respect Eugen Grigore.”

Eugen Grigore was a mass murderer who killed 24 Roma in 1970.

During and at the end of the game, Steaua officials incited the fans to racism and yelled racist chants together with fans.

The president of UEFA has called for zero tolerance for Anti-Gypsyism or any other form of racism in the stadiums. It is necessary that leading politicians in Romania, as well as those in charge of Romania football, take a similar stand.

It certainly would do not harm if the European Parliament, the European Commission, and others concerned with human rights did the same.

The never ending story -racism and stupidity

25 Sep

Last night the football game Steaua Bucharest – Rapid was once again full of racist incidents. Thousands chanted their hate against Roma. The lack of reaction of Romanian authorities remains a proof of both racism and stupidity. Today OSCE published in their latest booklet an article I wrote months ago…

For those ready to say that this is something normal with the football fans … there was a banner which thanked to Eugen Grigore. He is a serial killer that in the 1970s killed 24 Roma.

Kids, the ghetto and the magic of sports

Twice European Championship league winner Miodrag Belodedici and our children

 As a child I did lots of sports. I played football and basketball in some of the best teams in Craiova a town in the south of Romania I ran 800 meters and I was a decent swimmer and tennis player. For the poor Roma child I was, the state rations of sometimes-fresh meat, fruit and vegetables received by youngster playing sports was an extremely strong incentive during the Communist times when good food was a luxury. Hot showers, equipment as well as warm gyms and training camps were some other things I thought to be almost magical, especially during the cold winters or summer holidays.

But what I liked the most was that in my teams I never felt I was the stinky Gypsy most of the people around me said I was. I was just a good player and my teammates treated me with friendship and respect. Some of my stronger friendships created then remain strong after three decades. I learned most things I know about hard work, discipline, competitiveness, ambition and respect from sports. I believe my personal success was possible because of what I learned playing sports.

No wonder I focused on sports when I started working with ghetto children in Bucharest. Drugs, violence, prostitution and petty criminality infest the ghetto. Everybody, but everybody I talked with told me either that I was crazy to try to work there or that I had no chance whatsoever to have any positive impact. I asked a friend from the European football governing body UEFA to give me some T-shirts and I told the children in the ghetto that I was starting a UEFA-sponsored team. My colleagues and I at the Policy Centre organized street-dance, basketball and volleyball classes. The children got hooked. No drugs, no violence – just sports was our motto.

It is less than two years since we started working in the ghetto and we have some great results. Our children (around two hundred) stay in school – their attendance has improved dramatically. We have a national vice-champion in street-dance and very good football and street dance teams. None of our children abuses drugs. Our campaign against violence and racism is visible on stadiums throughout Romania. Banners with No Racism No Violence are nowadays compulsory for all first league teams.

Violence and racism in and around football stadiums are still a huge problem. The last game of the Romanian season at the end of May 2012 saw two teams from Bucharest, Rapid and Dinamo, playing for the Romanian Cup. I took my son to the game. At one point over 10,000 people in the stadium started to chant against the Rapid team – perceived in Romania as a team of Gypsies. “We’ve always hated the gypsies, f— you Rapid,” reverberated around the stadium. My child, a 10-year-old who loves sports, froze and started crying. He asked me if we were going to be killed. I tried to calm him down and I yelled at the people that were chanting around me. Some of them seemed thunderstruck and deeply ashamed. My child doesn’t want to watch football anymore. Words can kill not just innocence and love, they can kill people. Racism has been the motive for abject killings – some of those crimes have had sports people as victims.

Some of the most famous football, basketball and volleyball players in Romania have come to the ghetto and played with or trained the children we work with. The Romanian Football Federation(FRF) has done some positive things in the last years trying to stop racism and violence. We run together with the FRF twice a year tournaments against racism and violence for children and we play exhibition games with famous journalists and personalities promoting same type of messages.  UEFA has in the past years sent a very strong message against racism and violence in the stadiums. Stronger than any European government. UEFA’s president is the only visible European leading figure who has dared to say openly and bluntly that anti-Gypsyism is a problem that needs to be fought seriously.

I still believe sports are magic. But I have learned that magic is simply not enough to stop violence and racism. For that we need serious and constant campaigning, education and prevention. We need governments and inter-governmental institutions to step in and do what some sports bodies have already been doing for years. Recognizing that there is racism and violence in our societies and in sports is important, but only a first step. What we need most now is to fight against them, openly and efficiently. We all need to feel that we are playing in the same team.

Valeriu Nicolae is a Romanian Roma. He is the president and founder of the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities in Bucharest. The Centre won the 2012 UNICEF Sport for Education Beyond Sport Award for its work as well as a prize for Exceptional Contribution to the Romanian Civil Society at the 2012  Romanian Civil Gala   More information can be found at

On Commission’s speeches and solutions

18 Sep

2004- “Yet the social exclusion and discrimination of Roma communities are well documented and despite all available legislative and financial instruments remain often extreme… it is an urgent issue that also demands a response from the European Union.”

European Commission represented by the Director General Odile Quintan of the DG Employment and Social Affairs

 April 8, 2010 “…I don’t believe we should waste energy in developing special laws or funds for Roma. Existing legislation and available funds are there to deal with the challenges.” 

European Commission represented by the newly appointed in charge of Roma issues Commissioner and  Vice-President of the Commission Viviane Reding

 The European legislation concerning social inclusion of Roma in 2004 remain the same legislation in 2010. European financial instruments are still completely inefficient in changing the existing exclusion. There is just one relevant change in the regulation of Structural Funds an initiative lead by one of the most committed bureaucrats. She left the Commission frustrated with the lack of effectiveness and the abundance of bureaucratic obstacles.

April 4, 2011-“Now is the time to change good intentions into more concrete actions.”

May 23, 2012- “It is time to translate ambitions into actions … We are now strong enough to meet the challenges and find solutions.”

Vice-President Viviane Reding

Some conclusions reading the above quotes are not very pleasing for the Commission. First it looks like the Commission tends to contradict itself and has either limited communication or institutional memory as it tends to go backwards on its own words. It also seems there is a minimum eight years from the time the Commission acknowledges an emergency till the time it gets “strong “ enough to start “finding solutions”. “Now” means at least one year for the bureaucrats of the European Commission.

There were some “informal” steps taken by the European Commission – the start of an inter-service group on Roma that proved to be far from what was needed and was supplemented with another initiative – the European Roma Platform. No formal steps were taken yet besides the fact that in 2012 a unit received an ambiguous extra task of “Roma coordination”.

During the speech from April 8, 2010 Viviane Reding made a reference to the European Roma Platform:

“The European Platform for Roma Inclusion launched a year ago has the potential to support policy-makers in the Commission and in the Member States to develop their strategic approaches and to organise such a culture of learning…We think the Spanish Presidency’s proposal to develop a concise, mid-term work programme for the Platform is a good idea.”

For many people that work with the European Commission in Brussels a Platform means a window dressing measure. The definition given by the European Commission to the Roma Platform is relevant and  quite exceptional in its ambiguity. It defines the platform as “… an open and flexible mechanism of governance organised by the European Commission … [it] aims at making existing policy processes more coherent and prepares the ground for synergies…[it] is not a formal body but rather a process driven by participants.”

Hard to understand how a mechanism of governance is not a formal body but rather a process – even harder is to work with such a thing.

Now, September, 2012 there is no follow up on the “good idea” of the Spanish Presidency.

A number of serious Roma crisis culminating with a scandal that saw the French president attacking Ms. Reding for her courageous position on Roma evictions in France forced a radical change in approach from the speech in 2010. A European Framework of National Strategies for Roma Social Inclusion became inevitable due to pressure from European Parliament, civil society and some Member States.

Progress indeed, but will mean nothing in practice without significant institutional and policy changes both at the Member States and Commission level.

In her last speech on Roma (May 23, 2012) Commissioner Reding pointed correctly to what was needed:

“Most important: while we see a lot of nice words in the national strategies, what is missing are concrete deliverables, quantified targets and clear, ambitious deadlines for action.”

Somehow she failed to notice that the Commission never delivered on the exact same things it asks the Member States. It never managed to move from nice words to concrete deliverables, quantified targets and clear, ambitious deadlines for action in the case of Roma. Fortunately it did so in some other cases including tackling gender discrimination a task outstandingly well addressed (comparatively with the Roma discrimination) by the EC and Commissioner Reding.

In the European Commission’s Decision on the Year of Equal Opportunities from 2007 Roma are described as the “most disadvantaged ethnic minority group in Europe”  that face “significant barriers in employment and education”. “Disadvantages experienced by some communities, e.g., the Roma are so wide-scale and embedded in the structure of society that positive action may be necessary to remedy the nature of their exclusion.”

European Commission has made significant progress in tackling the discrimination through significant funding stimulating positive action. Commissioner Reding is a very strong advocate on “women representation in the workforce and in top jobs”.

This summer Viviane Reding made a very strong argument for quotas for women. In her speeches she praised the example of Norway that made compulsory the presence of women in the boards of large companies. She talked numbers and deadlines. She talked about legislation. She talked about her own initiatives to boost the presence of women in leadership – the pledge for companies to increase the number of women in their boardrooms and the “Shadowing initiative”.  Some of her speeches are truly inspirational. They lack reference to women suffering multiple discrimination as it is the case of Roma women. Still, they are exceptional. The discrepancy when it comes to her Roma speeches is strident. There numbers, targets and concrete actions of the Commission or Commissioner Reding herself that abound in the women empowerment speeches are nowhere to be found in the Roma speeches.

The overwhelming majority of women in position of power in Europe are women from the majority populations and coming from families of medium to high income. That is also the situation of Commissioner Reding. There is a large consensus that Roma exclusion is far worst than women exclusion in European Union. The situation of Romani women is catastrophic when it comes to employment.

The Commissions targets gender discrimination affecting the majorities’ women in Europe far more effectively than it tackles Roma issues. The difference is much better incentives but also much better legal and institutional mechanisms.

Closing the gender gap is a major success of the European Union. It was possible due to targeted measures and significant long-term investments on behalf of the European Commission.

It can be replicated in the case of Roma discrimination too. But that means a serious effort and political will within the European Commission. It means that the existing Framework Strategy will be complemented with the minimal requirements to make it work – such as an Action Plan for Roma Inclusion, an European Institute capable to act as a much needed think thank for the very complex issues related to Roma inclusion and formal mechanisms within the European Commission.

This was the winning formula in the case of gender related discrimination. It will work in the case of Roma too. The Commission needs just to replicate what it does successfully for tackling women discrimination.

At this moment the cabinet of the Vice-President Reding employs eight more women than men. It gives Commissioner Reding legitimacy when she talks about women empowerment. Her cabinet doesn’t include anybody with any hands-on or academic experience in Roma issues. The Commission in its entirety shows worrisome signs when it comes to structural racism against Roma and other ethnic minorities.

That might suggest the Commissioner dealing with Justice and anti-discrimination an idea about some much-needed and Commission recommended positive actions. It could be quotas. It worked for women in Norway might work for European Commission in Brussels. And that might be the good example some of the Member States badly need.


17 Sep

Edi – one of the children from the club in Ferentari broke his leg a week ago. Not the first one but I do hope is the last one .He loves basketball and dance and he is a very kind child. He lives in one of the worse if not the worst apartment building in the ghetto in Livezilor. He is 12.

He broke his leg in the park – a silly accident- caught his leg under him. I took him to the emergency room. After he got his leg put in a cast the taxi drivers refused to take him and his parents back to the ghetto, it took a while till we manage to persuade one driver to do it. My car was full with the other children from the ghetto that were in the park.

Yesterday we went for a check-up radiography. His bone is broken but for now it looks as good as it could after one week spent with the cast and immobilized in bed at home. The doctor was very kind and helpful. She certainly couldn’t care less about his ethnicity.

Edi needed crutches. We posted an add on the Bucharest mum’s list asking if anybody has some and could lend them to us. A fast answer came from somebody named Linda.

This morning I went to pick up the crutches. Just when I parked I realized that the address was the residence of the British Ambassador. The guards  there started questioning me. I was dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt. Not shaved. I helped carry some furniture earlier for one of our clubs at school number 2 so not particularly clean. I didn’t look very trustworthy I guess. When the very sharply dressed Ambassador came out with the crutches the guard asked me to stay away. The ambassador came towards me, shake my hand chatted a bit about the club he knows well and left. His wife Linda seemed very please to be able to help.

They made my day. I went to Edi gave him the crutches. Gave him also Harry Potter to read. I told him that the Ambassador will be very happy if he knew he will read the book. I read the first chapter with him and when I left he was completely absorbed in reading.Much needed considering the view one can see from the only window in his tiny one room flat.


Small gestures can change lots. It is not the first time the couple living in the British Residence helped us and each time they did it in a way that felt right and natural. I wish that when I help I do it the same way and that I will see many others doing it the same way.

Scrisoare deschisa

5 Sep

Stimate domnule Mălin Bot,

În data de 2 Septembrie 2012 ați publicat în ziarul Adevarul un articol pe tema romilor deportați ( jos aveți prezentată o reacție. Textul dumneavoastră este citat în italice.

De fiecare dată, ţiganii sunt aşteptaţi de câteva rude şi mai mulţi reporteri care consemnează ştirea. De fiecare dată lipsesc din peisaj „activiştii” pentru drepturile romilor.

Deși nu sunt un jurnalist profesionist, formarea mea de inginer îmi spune că “de fiecare dată” este un argument riscant. Lecturile mele cum ar fi Hume, Mill, Popper și mai nou Taleb îmi întăresc prezumția și îmi zic că, dacă voi găsi măcar o singură excepție la ceea ce scrieți întregul argument e dovedit a fi fals. Din păcate pentru dumneavoastră sunt cazuri documentate în care activiștii pentru drepturile romilor au fost prezenți la revenirea romilor din Franța, inclusiv în Timișoara. O minimă cercetare v–ar fi scutit de greșeala de mai sus.

Sunt o mulțime de ne-romi români deportați de diverse țări pentru diverse infracțiuni. Nu am găsit nicio informație care să releve faptul că ziariștii s-ar aștepta ca activiștii ne-romi pentru drepturile omului să fie prezenți la revenirea lor în țară. De asemenea, în zdrobitoarea majoritate a cazurilor lipsesc ziariștii. Se poate concluziona că, în general ziariștii prezenti la revenirea romilor sunt în căutare de subiecte senzaționale care se vând bine. Cum singura diferență între cetățeanul român neașteptat și cetățeanul român așteptat constă în faptul că cel din urmă este rom, putem spune că interesul este motivat de rasism sau confirmarea stereotipului rasist. Pentru mai multe detalii asupra acestui aspect, vă recomand să citiți Balibar, Taguieff , Apiah sau Bar-Tal.

Nimeni nu-i ajută să schimbe ceva în viaţa lor din România, astfel încât să nu mai fie nevoie să plece de acasă. Nimeni nu se oboseşte să încerce să-i convingă că stilul lor de viaţă şi mentalităţile în care trăiesc sunt greşite, să le explice de ce e rău să furi sau să cerşeşti.”

Aceeași greșeală de logică: generalizare sau risc asimetric. Eu personal ajut. Știu și alți oameni care o fac. Mă obosesc și încerc să conving atât adulții cât și puștii cu care lucrez că este rău să furi sau să cerșești. O bună parte dintre ei au furat sau au cerșit în diferite țări din Europa.

Asta deşi în România sunt finanţate, din diverse surse, o grămadă de organizaţii care spun că luptă pentru drepturile romilor. În realitate, multe sunt ONG-uri cu sediul într-un laptop, cu nimic diferite de firmele de apartament care căpuşează licitaţii publice. Pentru a-şi justifica existenţa şi fondurile încasate, din când în când vânează cuvinte prin presă şi răcnesc „discriminare!”. La asta se reduce, prea des, activitatea multor „activişti” pentru drepturile ţiganilor.

Multe este un termen ambiguu. Un articol profesionist ar trebui să fie bazat pe o cercetare minimă și să includă cifre. ONG-urile rome din România care au un buget anual de peste 100.000 de Euro sunt mai puțin de 15. Cele care au un buget de peste 500.000 de Euro sunt maxim 8 și nu există nicio organizație care să figureze cu un buget de  peste 5.000.000 de Euro. Din cele menționate niciuna nu se încadrează în definiția dumneavoastră, iar majoritatea organizațiilor de acest fel angajează atât romi cât și ne-romi. Toate își plătesc datoriile la stat. Niciuna nu a facut afaceri cu statul de pe urma cărora să fi devenit cineva milionar. Niciuna nu a folosit bănci în diverse paradise fiscale pentru a înșela statul român. Desigur, sunt destule organizații care ar trebui să dispara. Însă, este greu de crezut că organizațiile de romi au căpușat măcar 0.01% din valoare totală căpușată de cel care vă plătește salariul și deține ziarul la care lucrați. Presa din România estimează numai datoriile către stat ale lui Dinu Patriciu la peste 600 de milioane de Euro.

Este un obicei ipocrit care ascunde, de fapt, lipsa unor soluţii eficiente pentru situaţia în care se află această minoritate, lipsa interesului de a schimba ceva sau pur si simplu foarte multă lene. Pentru mulţi, un ONG e doar o sinecură şi etnia e paşaport către o destinaţie călduţă, unde munca nu e necesară.

În întreaga istorie a guvernelor României nu a existat nicicând un ministru care să fi avut o minimă expertiză în incluziunea socială a romilor. Niciodată o persoană în poziții de decizie pe această problematică nu a fost numită pe criterii de experiență sau expertiză. Sunt parțial de acord cu faptul că exista lene și lipsă de interes dar, în principal vina este a organelor competente- guvern, ministere și administrații publice, nu a ONG-urilor. A ignora cele de mai sus, e greu de justificat pentru un jurnalist de calibrul dumneavoastră. Desigur,  lenea, aroganța sau necunoașterea pot fi invocate.

E mai comod să vânezi cuvinte dintr-un birou, decât să mergi într-un sat uitat de lume şi să convingi trei familii să-şi trimită copiii la şcoală. E mai comod să te cerţi cu un jurnalist la TV, pentru că a spus ţigan în loc de rom, decât să convingi un bulibaşă să renunţe la nunta copilului minor. Este mult mai uşor să redactezi un comunicat de presă la trei luni, decât să convingi o companie multinaţională să se implice social pentru o comunitate săracă.

Sigur că aveți dreptate. Așa cum este, de asemenea, mai comod să scrii un articol slab sau deloc documentat, plin de generalități stereotipice și în majoritatea lor false, decât să te chinui să schimbi ceva în România reală. Atâta timp cât dumneavoastră nu faceți un lucru pe care îl cereți altora să îl facă, riscați să fiți acuzat de ipocrizie. Sunt o mulțime de familii de ne-romi din zone rurale care ar avea mare nevoie de ajutor și care ar putea să vă ajute pentru a scrie articole mult mai documentate și mai de success. Există o mulțime de alcoolici violenți români cu care este greu să porți o discuție să nu își bată copiii și nevasta și pe care sigur ați putea să îi convingeți că sunt niște nemernici și trebuie să se transforme. Ziarul dumneavoastră câștigă bani importanți  prin reclame la tot felul de băuturi alcoolice și alimente nesănătoase, sau din anunțuri care în mod evident prezintă prostituția mascată. Poate ar trebui să schimbați asta mai întâi și apoi, folosindu-vă experiența, să învățați și pe alții cum ar trebui să o facă în mod eficient. În mod sigur vom fi mulți oameni din ONG-uri care vă vom asculta.

Este comod, dar inutil, pentru că astfel nu se schimbă nimic în bine în viitorul comunităţilor cu probleme, indiferent de etnia care le formează.

Vă propun să faceți ceva incomod și util. Veniți la centrul nostru din Ferentari și voluntariați pentru noi. Învățați câțiva dintre copiii noștri să facă jurnalism. Vă promit că o să vă simțiți bine și că o să vă schimbați, măcar unele dintre ideile preconcepute pe care le aveți. Și poate, veți avea un subiect foarte bun pentru articolul următor.

Valeriu Nicolae este fondatorul Policy Center for Roma and Minorities (PCRM). Organizatia a primit premiul UNICEF 2012.

On structural racism and Fundamental Rights Agency

3 Sep

A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a survey for the Fundamental Rights Agency. Then they asked me again and again. I decided to reply to the evaluator and include the ad-interim chair of the FRA board in my reply.


Dear Karin Attstrom  and Maija Sakslin

After some serious consideration I decided I should reply to your email. I decided sometime ago  that I will not participate to any of the FRA Agency meetings and ignore anything that comes from the FRA. I very much doubt that any of the things I write here or I will say to you will matter at all. I will be happy if you want to share this with the entire board of FRA ( representatives of the EC included) and with the management and staff. I spend most of my time working in a very rough ghetto in Bucharest. I lost most of my diplomatic skills and I do not plan to change that anytime soon. If you do share what I write here with the boards then I will take part in the interview, otherwise I am happy to continue ignoring what FRA does.
In 2004 as a representative of the ERIO I worked on a position on the role of the FRA ( you can find it here ) . The most important points we made are still very much needed 8 years later.
I repeatedly said to the director and staff that 5 star hotels meetings on Roma are at least a waste of money and if FRA wants to have an impact should organise their meetings in the places where Roma live – not many of the discriminated Roma do leave at Hilton or Intercontinental.
I believe that the consultations as they are done by FRA at this moment are rather useless. People in the boards are sent there not for their hands on experience or critical views but for their diplomatic success. That is built on connections and political support.
My opinion about the FRA and Roma are public. FRA is probably the worst example of institutional racism when it comes to Roma. It organises and produces very expensive  research on Roma issues – produces lots and lots of hot air about Roma inclusion and affirmative actions while it has done nothing concrete at all and failed dramatically to attract within the Agency any experts with hands on expertise on Roma and employs zero Roma. Within all the boards there is just one Roma person and none of the scientific advisory board is known for his/her research or activity on Roma ( this is while a significant percentage of the research and event organising budget of the FRA went towards Roma related things)
Some of my opinion and the links to the articles here – 
Open Democracy

Neither the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, nor the Council of Europe European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) employ any Roma, according to their human resources departments[3], despite the fact that they spend a significant, sometimes a majority, of their yearly research budgets on Roma-related issues. The same watchdogs have argued numerous times in the past for affirmative action to bring Roma within institutions relevant for their social inclusion.

Failure is a bitter pill to swallow. But we all need to recognize failure in order to improve. Otherwise, the situation on the ground will only get worse, while the rhetoric becomes more and more empty.

The hardest thing to accept may be that most of the money spent in Europe on Roma issues is spent on bureaucratic administration (mostly for non-Roma human resources) and expensive meetings held in four or five-stars hotels in capitals all around Europe. None of the Roma suffering from social exclusion live there.


7. When it comes to Roma, institutional racism – translated as a lack of significant access and participation to an institution – is at its worst in the European institutions. The lack of hands-on or even academic experience in dealing with Roma inclusion at the level of the European institutions is appalling. Some of the worst examples are the European Commission and Fundamental Rights Agency, the main organisations in charge with social inclusion of Roma at the European level. This strips the institutions of legitimacy when they make recommendations to member states about measures for the social inclusion of Roma, particularly when they refer to affirmative action.

8. The presence of Roma politicians in mainstream parties or governments is abysmal. So is the presence of Roma experts or officials in decision-making positions.

9. Since 1984, it has been recognised that Roma are discriminated against and excluded. But EU member states have failed dramatically to do anything substantial even to stop the trend toward increasing exclusion. The current situation is the direct result of decades of inaction or inept policies designed by well-meaning people with no experience in Roma issues.

Also in their paper version the European Voice published this  – it gives a stark example of how institutional racism works ( the FRA director is part of the example)

Eurozine – an interview with me at a conference where I was a speaker as it was also the president of the FRA – 
The Fundamental Rights Agency – the watchdog organization of the European Union – receives annually over 20 million euros. Over half of this budget goes on staff expenditure. In recent years it has released a number of studies on Roma (on racism, discrimination, women’s issues, violence) and a significant amount of resources has been directed towards Roma-related activities. Its director has been very clear about both the need for positive measures to help a better representation of Roma. The FRA employs around 80 people. It has an executive board of 7 and a scientific committee of 11. Not one of them is Roma. Among the 62 people in the ceremonial management board of the FRA, there is one Roma, appointed by the Slovak government. 

These institutions call for others – be they national governments, local administrations or businesses – to demonstrate strategies that involve Roma in decision-making. Yet they themselves have no plans to attract Roma human resources or experts on Roma issues. At the national level it is the same: you have lots of people who, while not incompetent, have no practical experience with the Roma and who design the wrong kind of strategies without having an idea about what it’s all about. 

Response to the UNDP regarding the monitoring of the National Roma Strategies by FRA –
The monitoring through the fundamental rights agency is ridiculous. FRA has tons of other things to do and has no expertise within on Roma. There is ONE employee that has some exposure to Roma issues but she does another 10 things at the same time. How on earth would the FRA that let’s pretend very optimistically will dedicate a full 4 -5 people ( with no expertise as I wrote before) could monitor the strategies of 26 Member States ?Only to go an see what happens for real in the 26 Member States will take one at the very minimum a 78 working days per year ( and that only if she/he visits the capital and one other city outside of the capital…). EU institutions and UNDP has been very productive in producing paper and hot words but I expect at one moment the same institutions will start to be realistic about what is going on . To monitor one EU project in Romania requires the work of 3-4 people for 10 days – and we somehow believe that all the strategies for 10 million people all around Europe could be monitor by a similar team that sits in Vienna and has no expertise whatsoever besides reading all kind of copy and paste reports sent by governments or people that have very limited experience in producing reports that make sense.
We do not have the EU mechanisms or the national mechanisms to implement Roma strategies. What happens at this moment is a great word-producing industry that does nothing but frustrates even more everybody around. As long as decisions about Roma at the EU level continue to be taken by people that has nothing to do with Roma whatsoever and Commissioner Reding is a very stark example of such a person we will continue to go backwards in the social inclusion and very much forward with the empty and useless rhetoric.

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3 Sep

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