Archive | May, 2013

On Roma civil society and donors

31 May

I argued in a number of articles published on this blog that there are many things that go wrong within the European Union, the donors  and the state of the European civil society in general and in particular the Roma civil society.

There are surely good things that happen too but my concern remains that those good things are mostly accidental rather than systemic, unsustainable and dependent on personal dedication and drive of individuals rather than anything else. Moreover the existing good practices are far from enough to even stop the accelerate decline in the efficiency of use of EU funding targeting Roma social inclusion as well as the dissolution into groups of interests of the Roma civil society.

I do strongly believe that there is too much negativity within the Romani movement (especially among those committed to do something) and not enough peer support for reform, promoting the good practices or valuable ideas. I am also at fault for this. Unfortunately most of the good people in the Romani movement are not part of the elites I wrote about.  It is true that a good number of these good people told me they felt offended by what I wrote about the Roma elites. I argue that they failed to read my text as it was intended and are oversensitive to criticism. Again, I am no better.

It is obviously I hit some sensitive nerve in a number of some of the best Roma activists we have. This is indeed worrisome on one side but at the same time refreshing as it means we have a good number of people that can still react to criticism.

The peer pressure at this moment in the Romani movement is against improvements and very much for keeping the status quo. Old Roma activists as well as the political elites do their utmost to bully into submission or to block any groups or initiatives that might undermine their positions or ideas. Criticism is confused with virulent personal attacks, labeling, smearing campaigns or threats. This is no different from the Romanian society for example but then the much smaller elite makes everything more strident.

Conformity, opportunism, careerism, nepotism, self-sufficiency, corruption are more the standards of the Roma elites than dedication, honesty, professionalism and grass-roots experience. As with anything none of the above are dichotomic therefore( I think )the reactions of some of the people that I believe are overall good for the progress of Roma civil society.

The Roma activists in their overwhelming majority do not feel like they are themselves part of a vast and just social enterprise that will lead to an end of discrimination and a significant progress of their societies. I argued in the past that even the European civil society in Brussels lost this feeling as it lost a significant amount of its drive for civil activism. That has been replaced by careerism, conformity, opportunism, self-sufficiency…

There are indeed many reasons why we do not have such a social enterprise but that is something I am not going to examine.

I think the easiest and most effective way to change the existing status quo is somehow paradoxically not having anything to do with politics, education, professional skills, racism etc but with the way the donors work.

Focusing on institutionally supporting small to medium size grassroots  NGOs capable to adapt fast to opportunities and produce an impact in their communities needs to be the priority for future funding.

Creating national expertise capable to monitor, asses and help the capacity building of these NGOs is cheaper and much more effective than creating expensive and mostly useless jobs for highly paid but mostly aloof bureaucrats.

To reform the way donors work is simple but against the interest of some very well paid and powerful bureaucrats. It needs to be done but only a very serious crisis would be able to push such a painful reform.

This article is also the last one about the Roma civil society.  I do not know if I will be ever involved in the Roma civil society but I decided to use the time I dedicate to writing here for something else.

Advertisements

Intre -despre identitate, alcolism si declaratii de dragoste

27 May

Taica-miu (cu care am crescut) a fost un mare domn. Nu atat de mare pe cat era unchiu Gigi Bourosu, dar oricum un domn. Gigi avea o carte de vizita pe care scria cu pixul administrator sef unic si principal. Un fel de Bill Gates al familiei. Era administrator de bloc spre mandria familionului si in timpul liber un instalator foarte priceput. Ca si Gigi Bourosu, tata era un gustator profesionist de arta in format lichid – aprecia atat arta traditionala cu gust de pruna sau strugure, pe cea modernist- proletara cu gust de pufoaica si cea post-modernista de alcol medicinal strecurat prin paine.

Efectul artei asupra creierului lui a fost impresionant. Pe la 10 ani am priceput ca tata avea un IQ care putea rivaliza linistit cu IQ-ul sapunului facut de mama in fata blocului. Orice intrebare pe marginea temelor de la scoala era primita fie cu tacere si o privire pierduta, fie cu spume si raspunsul sa nu il frec la cap. Daca nu era indeajuns de pilit, imi luam si o injuratura.

Tot plin de spume era si daca mancam din chestiile pe care le ascundea de noi sau daca faceam cheltuieli care ii puneau in pericol nevoia pentru studiul lui zilnic despre arta. L-am surprins de cateva ori in pozitii aristocratice, meditand in sant despre lume si felul nenatural in care modernitatea ne-a impins sa ne pisam. Traind intr-un bloc de ceferisti, tata avea de infruntat o competitie serioasa si adesea necrutatoare;  competitia pentru cine moare primul din cauza cirozei a fost stransa. Tata a iesit pe un onorabil loc patru.

Am luat parte la cateva discutii profunde la Cateaua Lesinata – muzeul unde se strangeau iubitorii de frumos din blocul meu si de unde incercam sa il conving pe tata sa vina (inainte de a trebui sa il caram) acasa. In urma experientelor de la Cateaua Lesinata, am decis ca nu vreau sa ma fac intelectual. Nenea caruia i se spunea “Intelectualul” vorbea mult, ilogic si putea ingrozitor, un miros intre voma, bere si pisat.

Pentru tata, eu am fost continuu copilul tigancii – el fiind un descendent direct al imparatului Traian si o daca din Ghelmegioia.  Tiganca era mama. O super femeie cu un nivel de energie infricosator  si o inaltime sub 1.40. Tin minte ca odata fiind furioasa l-a trosnit pe taica-miu cu un faras. Farasul pe vremea aia era facut din fier. La nervi ii zicea roman prost. Mama are intodeauna dreptate.

In principiu nu prea am avut de ales ce sunt – tigan sau roman – nici atunci nu exista alternativa de timan sau rogan. Oricum, independent de cum as fi vrut eu sa ma indentific, eram tigan. M-am obisnuit cu ideea pe la 14-15 ani, desi nu a fost foarte simplu. In liceu colegii mei au preferat sa creada ca nu sunt tigan (am aflat asta dupa mai bine de 15 ani) in ciuda faptului ca profesorul meu de electronica nu ezita niciodata sa reaminteasca intregii clase cand vorbea de mine cat de folositori ar fi tiganii daca nu ar exista. Ce e drept, era un profesor bun si indragit de o mare parte din colegii mei.

Cretinatatile pe care le-am facut in liceu au fost interpretate de un fost coleg de-al meu doua decenii mai tarziu ca o dovada ca intr-adevar as fi tigan. Felul  surprinzator in care memoria noastra selecteaza ceea ce ii convine devine aproape magic cand avem nevoie sa ne justficam marlania, fie ea si rasista.

Oamenii cu care m-am inteles cel mai bine si pe care i-am iubit cel mai mult in afara mamei si bunicii nu au fost tigani.  Nu sunt mandru ca sunt tigan asa cum nu sunt mandru ca sunt roman. Sunt mandru de cateva din lucrurile pe care le-am facut si dezgustat de cateva din tampeniile mele, dar asta nu are legatura cu faptul ca sunt tigan si roman.

***

Pe la 24 de ani, fratii mamei au venit in vizita la noi. Atat nenea Ghica cat si nenea Gogu erau la fel de dedicati criticii de arta ca si tata. Era o zi de vara, in august, venisem de la mare. Amandoi erau negri, negri.  Incepusera devreme cu studiul artistic si jucau intelectual table. Erau imbracati in niste chiloti tetra albi cu urme de stropi galbui distribuiti aleatoriu si in maieuri albe cu urme de vin. Nea Ghica avea un maieu cu gauri prin care ieseau fire de par albe.

M-au pupat, pe gura bineinteles. Pe atunci nu ma americanizasem si nici nu eram prea simandicos, m-am sters cu podul palmei si m-am asezat la discutii. M-au intrebat daca am de gand sa ma casatoresc. Le-am spus repede ca nu. Unchiul Ghica s-a incruntat. Am crezut ca si-a amintit de fi’su care era cu vreo 5 ani mai mare decat mine si nu era casatorit.

–          Cum ma, chiar nu vrei sa te casatoresti ?

–          Nu

–          Cati ani ai ?

–          24

–          Si nu vrei sa te casatoresti ?

–          Nu

S-au uitat unul la altul destul de lung.

–          Bai tie iti plac baietii ?

Am fost un pic surprins de intrebare. Nu am priceput firul logic.

–          Da, imi plac, am raspuns un pic ezitant

Mi-am luat o palma peste cap. Una serioasa de om care dadea la sapa.

–          Ce ai, nea Ghica ai inebunit ?

–          Cum ma, iti plac baietii!

–          Da, imi plac. (In retrospectiva imi dau seama ca daca as fi facut spume as fi putut sa demonstrez fara dubii o legatura genetica cu sapunul maicamii)

Inca una peste cap. Si o injuratura urata.

–          Esti bulangiu, ma?

Cumva a doua palma mi-a restartat creierul. I-am lamurit ca nu sunt interesat sexual de baieti si ca am o prietena.

Cam peste o ora a sunat la usa prietena de atunci. O blonda miniona care s-a trezit pupata pe gura de cei doi unchi fericiti ca nu eram “bulangiu” si care nu numai ca aveau chilotii pisati, dar si miroseau a Cateaua Lesinata, un amestec de pileala, voma si tigari ieftine. Au facut comentarii finute  indeajuns de sonore cat sa stie macar vecinii de pe acelasi estaj despre curul si tatele ei, clar satisfacuti de gusturile nepotului. Comentariul cel mai de bun simt a fost:

– Buna curva asta a lui Valeriu, dar putea sa isi gaseasca una de-a noastra.

Faptul ca fata a continuat relatia cu mine a fost cea mai convingatoare declaratie de dragoste pe care am primit-o pana atunci.

On the Roma political and civil society **[1]ck-ups

19 May

The very existence of the vast majority of Roma organisations depends on the abject racism of a part of the majority populations, the ineptitude of a good part of  the bureaucracy responsible for Roma issues, the abysmal lack of civil society in a good many of our communities, and the fear of an interethnic explosion. We, the Roma civil society, are an artificial creation, a project run by a number of international organisations and donors. Most of these funding organisations have only vague ideas about the problems Roma face, and laughable expertise on Roma inclusion. Their main concern is not to help social inclusion of Roma but to prevent Roma from migrating and settling in the rich and politically powerful donor countries.

Accordingly, our involvement in our communities is largely imaginary, as are the reports submitted to donors and the effects of funding targeting Roma social inclusion in the communities.

Most Roma ‘elite’ are quite confused about the skills and qualities that it takes to be part of the ‘elite’. Here I will try to address some misconceptions.

1. The improvement in your family’s, extended family’s or friends’ wealth and living standard due to your work addressing Roma exclusion and poverty is not a proof of your professional competence, but rather proof of intellectual dishonesty or corruption.

2. ‘Hands-on experience in the communities’ doesn’t mean you go by car once every blue moon and visit some communities (while receiving a per diem), or you talk about those communities regularly while spending most of your time in elegant offices or conference rooms. Giving or facilitating ‘projects’ to some communities while asking for votes is bribery and not political astuteness.

3. Being part of an NGO and at the same time engaged in political parties in order to secure a well-paid political career or other financial benefits is not a sacrifice for the good of Roma, but selfish and delusional opportunism (and usually also a sign of a corrupt personality).

4. Attending high-level meetings, snapping photos with celebrities, wearing expensive clothing, and driving expensive cars are not indicators of your involvement in the communities or your value for Roma social inclusion. In most cases, they are a sign of ineptitude and corruption on behalf of the international organisations, and usually your own corruption too.

5. Accessing special scholarships designated for underprivileged Roma doesn’t make you special. In fact, it demonstrates your mediocrity if you cannot try harder and compete in the mainstream society.

6. The ability to talk incoherently for long periods of times about any subject, on TV, radio or in conferences is not an achievement, but rather a sign of self-delusion about your own importance.

7. The ability to rationalize stridently contradictory systems of values may suggest schizophrenia. You cannot require others to treat you like a saint, suffering from prejudice and abuse, while you yourself do not hesitate to be  racist, sexist, homophobic, corrupt and violent.

8. Dismissing the results and opinions of people that work on Roma issues but are not Roma is not a sign of being a good or true Roma. It is simple stupidity, especially if those people have much better academic and hands-on experience than you. Despite all your beliefs, some 20 or 30 years of ‘life experience as a Roma’ is not a replacement for professional skills.

9. The fact that you have some talents (i.e. music, writing, ability to learn foreign languages easily) doesn’t make you a good diplomat, bureaucrat, technocrat, manager or politician. More likely, you are in fact a corrupt, hypocritical, self-deluded, violent idiot who also happens to be a multilingual, talented writer or musician that ended up due to luck and favourable circumstances in a high-level position.

10. Meritocracy has nothing to do with your ability to lie or exaggerate your academic and professional background. Also, ass-kissing, bribing your way up or out, threatening, intimidating or blocking anybody that can challenge your power position have nothing to do with meritocracy, but more with cowardice and corruption. Not speaking up in order to preserve your position in the organisation is not being politically smart, but proof of a lack of spine.

I believe that a good part, if not most, of our Roma political and civil society elites are profoundly delusional. The discrepancy between their self-perceived importance, education, achievements and professional qualities, and reality is often at – or beyond – the limits for the need of professional psychological help.

I believe – and hope- we will soon witness a serious crisis of Roma elites. The hypocritical discourse of most of these elites, their corruption, unprofessionalism, and abysmal results, compounded  with the increase in migration of Roma, the explosion of racism against Roma, and the swelling of the number of Roma living in ghettoes in big cities around Europe are all signs of a looming crisis.

In times of crisis, the ‘impossible’ reforms become logical and obvious measures. One of the most important measures needed is to adopt a basic standard for Roma political and civil society organisations. A similar standard should be applied to the other stakeholders working for Roma social inclusion.

  1. Roma political and civil society leaders should be limited to two mandates of maximum four years each. This measure will address the overall tendency of Roma leaders to self–sufficiency, autocracy or royalty.
  2. Significant hands-on work/volunteering in the communities, together with a meritocratic-based system of employment, should be basic requirements for any representative job in the Roma field.
  3. Public financing of any organisation, including Roma organisations, should require full transparency of expenditures and salaries.
  4. Nepotism should be banned. Roma politics and NGOs are at high risk of becoming family businesses.
  5. Roma political and NGO leaders should invest a percentage of their own income in the improvement of Roma social inclusion.

If you feel offended about any of the above you might be one of the people that I thought about when writing this text. I strongly believe that we can improve continuously and most of those I target in this text can do it. Having high expectation from yourself justifies having high expectations from your elites. It is also a text for myself.

This text can well apply to Romanian political and civil society elites and if you felt superior just because you are not a Roma then you might be a racist.


[1] Can be read “hi” or “fu”. I prefer hi

Built for racism, corruption and self-deception

10 May

I believe the most perverse effect of racism is neither the dehumanization nor violence (both are in fact punishable by laws in most countries) but the collective shrinking and sometimes-complete abandonment of our self-perceived (higher than average) morality and ethics in favor of prejudice.

May 10, 2013 –Romania Libera –“ 777[Romanian] families out of 900 that received the right to adopt a child have written in their application that they do not want to adopt a Roma child”

A few disturbing facts.

The Romanian birth certificates do NOT include the ethnicity of the child.

There are no clear-cut physical differences between Roma and non-Roma in Romania besides stereotypes and prejudice.

It is very likely that some of those families (around 10%) did not want a Roma child but avoided writing it as that could have had exposed them as racist.

Statistically at least 5% of those 900 families include a Roma.

Considering the above the even more disturbing conclusion is that well over 90% of what we believe are nice and caring Romanian families that want to adopt a child are in fact racist.

It is also hard to accept that our Romanian or European society is profoundly racists and corrupted. It is even harder to accept that we are too.

The worst effect of corruption for me is similar with the end-result of racism. It is not that it affects the economy but that it leads to a collective abandonment of what should be the most basic societal morality and ethics.

Studies show without doubt that in fact we are particularly good at rationalizing and very skilled at self-deception.

I was for years surprised/annoyed by how very few of my friends will dare to speak up publicly against a racist joke or comment against Roma whenever that happened. I had girlfriends that would never disclose to their parents that they were dating a Roma. But then it was rare or exceptional when I spoke up against homophobes or confront violent, abusive sexist males. I still shut up much more than I should about corruption and the prejudices of those around me.

Many of the best people I know not only accept the systemic corruption and institutional racism as a given but they do not hesitate to use these characteristics of the system to their own advantage.

We are educated towards deceit (our history manuals are basically convenient lies) and the acceptance of authority without dissent. The fact that our brains are built to believe and accept the authority as long as whatever we are told is not stridently against our beliefs is a significant advantage for those trying to deceive.

Habits come from repetition and they are very hard to overcome. Studies show that once a habit is built in, it is a primitive part of our brain (basal ganglia) that takes over when we need to access the habit. This practically reduces to a minimum the thinking process of our brain and allows us to drive (a habit), listen to our favorite show on the radio and drink our coffee or smoke a (another habits) at the same time. It is convenient and makes our lives a lot easier.

Racism, corruption as well as self-deception I argue are some of the strongest habits not only in Romania but also in Europe. It is a habit to think Roma are sub-humans, to give bribes and to see ourselves better than we are. It is easier for our brain to work with habits and therefore much more convenient for us.

Professor Simon B Cohen of Cambridge University discovered that “the capacity to deceive is a marker that a child is actually developing typical social skills.” The fact that developing social skills means developing skills to deceive might seem troublesome enough but it is our capacity to self-deception that is plain scary.

Self- deception is the main reason why “hedonic adaptation” (a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a stable level of happiness) exists.  The involvement of “normal” people in the killings during the Holocaust as well as those in Rwanda, Cambodia, ex-Yugoslavia etc  is a stark proof of its existence.

An institutional or societal culture that has a high rate of conformism and discourages critical thinking it is almost impossible to change if provides enough to allow life standards that are acceptable or slightly above acceptable. Either the European Commission or the poorest local administration in Romania shares the same characteristics. In my experience so does some of the most powerful NGOs.

The fact that we abandon our sense of justice, morality and ethics whenever it is convenient for us, that we are build and educated flawed (it is very hard and sometimes impossible to change our strong beliefs and very easy to ignore overwhelming proof that goes against our beliefs) proves how good we are at self-deception and a strong argument that we are built for being racist and corrupt.

We can overcame our disgusting habits. But the basic of it is to recognize that they are bad for us. And up to this moment regardless how revolted we are about the racism, corruption and deceit of others we seem to be almost incapable to accept that we are not just victims but perpetrators of racism, corruption and deceit even in the best case when we are guilty of only avoiding to react against any of them.