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

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8 Responses to “On the Roma political and civil society **[1]ck-ups”

  1. Mario May 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Firstly, there are no “Roma Organisations”. Organisation implies order. What exists are “organisations”:
    1) run by Guadja intending to mitigate a “gypsy problem”
    2) run by Guadja who fantasize they are Romanies or who may have a half Romani somewhere in their woodpile. These people intend to be really cool.
    3) run by actual Romanies, raised by Romanies in Romani communities. These people are, on average, socially damaged, self educated and lacking any financial, political or other significant influence. They enjoy no support from the first two options because of innate conflicts of interests. They enjoy no support from their own communities because no one within the communities has ever experienced an honest Roma social organisation. We have the mentality that everyone is trying to “con a con”.

    Schizophrenic? You bet your ass.

    Good news is, if anyone capable ever comes around with honest intentions and a little bit of financial or other influence they may rest assured- the competition sucks.
    That hypothetical organisation will have two fundamental obstacles to overcome. It must not become dependent on people who would fit better into option 2 above and it would have to avoid eating itself from within. Lack and jealousy cause personality deficiencies which are hard to overcome.

    Romani Civil Society? What’s that?
    Real Romanies have a Romani Survival Society. To be “civil” requires security.
    We do not know security. There is no Romani Civil Society.

    The root problem is in that our culture rejects Guadja education and institutions. The Jews have overcome (for the most part) because they are “people of the book”. Until we are educated, we remain [1]ck-ups.

  2. Els de Groen May 22, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Hello,
    I happen to know people you are describing here. In a period of 17-18 years it is inevitable not to meet with them. It is disappointing that Roma behave like this; they look like the many non-Roma who are active at the same levels and in the same circles, inspired, as they presume, by the same ideals. What you describe, is tokenism: a rampant human behaviour. Don’t you think that the almost total indiference, that lies at the bottom of the failure of Roma inclusion, increases the tokenism among non-Roma officials and paves the way for the kind of Roma elite you call here to account? Don’t you think that the failure arises from the tragic misunderstanding that humanity can afford to think in terms of “us and them”?

    • valeriucnicolae May 25, 2013 at 5:59 am #

      Sure thing Els. The main problems stay with the system of funding, the governments and IGOs. But we do have a problem with Roma elites and as with any other problem we need to expose the problem in order to start addressing it.

  3. Valery Novoselsky May 22, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    My personal opinion is: not more and not less then any other socio-political entity. A lot of newly modern states and ethnic movements in the very beginning also depend from external donors and big international organizations, while their human resources are not perfect. But then the process of evolution comes into picture and the state or movement proves to be the real one and not artifically born.

  4. Valery Novoselsky May 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    The Roma civil society “an artificial creation” not more and not less then any other socio-political entity. A lot of newly modern states and ethnic movements in the very beginning also depend from external donors and big international organizations, while their human resources are not perfect. But then the process of evolution comes into picture and the state or movement proves to be the real one and not artifically born.

    • valeriucnicolae May 25, 2013 at 6:00 am #

      True. At the same time we need to address the problems with our elites don’t you think so ?

      • Valery Novoselsky May 25, 2013 at 10:30 am #

        The situation with elites was and is never ideal in any country, in any society. And to challenge them with healthy and constructive criticism for the sake of public good is OK. Does not matter if we talk about Roma or USA or else.

        But for true civil dialogue one thing is necessary: ability of BOTH sides to be self-critical. The elites and their critics should be both engaged in productive transparent dialogue which your articles inspire!

  5. Jelena Savic May 25, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Hahahh,made me laugh Valery…
    Seams situation is the same in many countries… sad but try…and sadly funny and ironic…
    Intresting part with scholarschips and academic elit…and also expectations from this academic elit also i would add…

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