Archive | July, 2013

The European Commission solution – “Roma communities must help themselves get out of this difficult situation”

29 Jul

A few days ago the Commissioner in charge of Roma spoke about her solution for Roma inclusion in Bulgaria.

What first got my attention was the number of I, me, my in her short response on Roma – almost incredible for somebody that represents a bureaucratic institutions and a strong sign of an inflated ego.

Here an analysis and response to her intervention. Her speech in italics.

I am the first Commissioner who took up the fate of the Roma during, you remember, when whole families, whole groups of ethnic minorities were deported from France.And at one point I said to President Sarkozy: “Enough!” He still has not forgiven me for that. Since then, we have a Roma Platform …“

Indeed mighty and blessed Commissioner you are our Savior. We can barely imagine how we could live without you taking up our fate. We will praise you forever.

Now, for the sake of accuracy let’s make a few things clear.

  1. Saying that you were the FIRST Commissioner taking up our fate in a circumstance when you were the only one that could have done so is yet another sign of a dangerously self-inflated ego. You were the Commissioner responsible for Roma and Justice in the EU therefore you were THE Commissioner that should have reacted – ( it is like I would say that I am  the FIRST Human to write on a computer and ignore that it is a specific computer that happens to have the unique serial number of my computer)
  1.  What you said to the French authorities was this:

“I will of course give the French authorities the right to submit comments on the new developments in the course of the next days. But I make it very clear my patience is wearing thin: enough is enough.”

This is once again a scary egotistical statement as you unfortunately represent the European Commission and nobody should care if you have a good hair day or if your patience is wearing thin or not. You managed in this statement to put a solid foot into your mouth and transformed what should have been a clear institutional EU procedure into a personal show of power against another egotistical but much more powerful politician. You undermined with your statement the position of your institution. The fact that you worry about him granting you forgiveness should be something that you keep for yourself if you do not want to be ridiculed.

  1. It is not since you appointed yourself as our Savior that we have a Roma Platform in Europe.  It was your predecessor –Commissioner Vladimir Spidla that launched the Platform during the Czech Presidency in early 2009. Regardless that you do not know or that you take credit for something others did it is still worrisome.

10 million people live below the poverty line, that is to say, it has to be changed the housing, health, employment and the most important thing for me is education, because if Roma children do not go to school, the next generation will be in the same difficult situation.

We should not hear what is the most important thing for YOU. Experts should tell you what that is.We need to hear what the European Commission and the DG you lead can do. Education has nothing to do with your portfolio Commissioner. Discrimination and justice does and it is according to the overwhelming majority of experts the anti-Gypsyism the main cause of social exclusion of Roma. Ways to deal with rampant anti-Gypsyism is what we need to hear from the Commissioner in charge. And yes, that is YOU.

Therefore I have been urging each Member – State and, believe me, it is not easy, not easy at all ! Nowhere it is easy! It takes my nerves and a lot of effort to insist and insist and insist, because … no one wants to lose the elections! And so we need to help these people to get out of poverty.

 This should not be about your nerves – should be about your enormously well paid and prestigious job. It is your job to find solutions and not complain about your nerves and how hard talking or reading speeches is. If being a Commissioner is a too much of a hard job please do quit and join us working at the grassroots in Roma communities.

For three years this has been in my portfolio and I will continue to do so, but also Roma must get out of this situation, not only waiting for the government, for the mayor or for the district administration. Roma communities must help themselves get out of this difficult situation!”

 For three years Commissioner you were an embarrassment for your institution when it comes to the Roma portfolio. The stupendous solution you found – “Roma must help themselves get out of this difficult situation” is the worst statement that came up to now from the commission and the greatest excuse you could give national politicians everywhere to do nothing about social inclusion of Roma.

Following your extraordinary logic we can solve all the problems of the EU without you or the Commission– the poor should help themselves out of poverty, the sick should heal themselves, the bankers should regulate themselves…

At the begining of your failed experiment on Roma you went against the majority of experts opinion (experts you couldn’t be bothered to listen in all these years) as you made crystal clear your view that there should not be any EU legal  instruments targeting Roma as you said :

I don’t believe we should waste energy in developing special laws or funds for Roma.

 Three years after; you boast as your main achievement this:

 Today we are moving up yet another gear: the Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation is the first EU legal instrument for Roma inclusion.

Amazing !

 

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Blacklisted – the new low of the European Commission

26 Jul

Last week a close friend told me that the European Commission blacklisted the NGO she works for. I used to work for the same NGO in the past. The members of the network are people I know for a long time- people I am proud to have worked with- committed and hardworking.

The idea that ERGO is blacklisted by the European Commission sounded foolish to me and I expressed my doubts that such a thing is possible and encourage her to continue.

A few days ago, accidentally, I found out that in fact she was right. ERGO is indeed blacklisted.

The idea that the European Commission can blacklist an NGO such as ERGO should sound preposterous for anybody that knows the Roma civil society. The fact that ERGO was blacklisted because dares to criticize the European Commission and tries hard to find and experiment alternative solutions that could work but are uncomfortable for bureaucrats in Brussels is plain scary.

This is the most dangerous approach the European Commission has taken up to this moment. It is much beyond acceptable arrogance of a far too confortable bureaucracy.

It leads to radicalism and polarisation as it will push some of the best, passionate and most motivated Roma activists towards Euro-skepticism and into becoming the enemies of the European Commission.  It will reward at the same time the large number of opportunists ready to pay lip-service towards the Commission and provide the needed fake reporting of positive practices for whatever the European Commission supports while criticizing those disliked by powerful bureaucrats in the EC. In medium to long term that will have catastrophic results for the credibility of the European Commission as well as for the development of a healthy Roma Civil Society.

The NGOs financed by the European Commission should be those capable to change things at the grassroots in the communities and not those that are producing hot air and are ready to do whatever needed to please the Commission. The NGOs paid by the EC should not be what most of them are at this moment- a tool the Commission uses for self-praise and to say critical things it can not say itself to the Member States.

In addressing issues as complex and sensitive as Roma issues are, the Commissions need to hear critical voices and adapt fast before it goes into a disastrous direction as it happened many times in the past.

In the last Commission there were high-level people within the EC that were patient, emphatic and smart that would gather the valuable and critical voices and discuss and work with them. They functioned as mediators between the passion and permanent sense of urgency of the activists and the constrains and slowness of a huge bureaucratic apparatus such as the European Commission. Spidla’s cabinet and the Deputy Director within DG Regio and people at DG Enlargement and DG Social Affairs are just some of these examples. Despite a horrible clash I had with the head of unit in charge of Roma at that moment- Belinda Pyke- she continued the dialogue and gained both my respect and support. Commissioner Andor himself and his cabinet are doing some of this mediation work still but his DG is much less politically relevant than it is the DG Justice that decided to blacklist ERGO.

There is no chance the Commission will acknowledge that indeed it blacklisted ERGO. This, again, is understandable. What would be impossible to understand is to carry on with this silly approach.

The EC needs people like those part of ERGO network as allies if to have a chance to convince the Member States to do what they need to do in order to stop the rampant exclusion Roma face and the terrible economical consequences that come with it.

I sincerely hope that the EC will decide to go back on appointing people with experience and capacity to negotiate conflict of ideas in charge of dealing with NGOs and give a strong signal to fast to blacklist egotistical bureaucrats that this is not the way the EC works.

Passionate Roma activists make mistakes and yes, we are not always fair with the bureaucracies. We can be stubborn, sometimes plain nasty and almost always impatient.

But some of us work in some of the worst ghettoes and communities and face working conditions and risks few of you at the EC can comprehend.  We do not have your comfort and rarely have the patience to understand your institutional constrains.

But you are obliged to try your best to work with us because you are not willing and most of you can not do the work we do. And while there are millions that wish to have your jobs there are almost none that want ours.

So do stop this idiocy of blacklisting uncomfortable people with spines that have a record of great results and show the sense, mediation skills and professionalism we need from the best paid bureaucracy in Europe.

On Romanian Prime-Minister, grass, roots and weed

12 Jul

A basic common fallacy when it comes to a good majority of those in charge of Roma issues in governmental and intergovernmental bureaucracies is that they misunderstand expertise with tourism and Roma voyeurism.

Visiting ghettoes where Roma live, Roma communities and taking part in conferences about Roma for photo opportunities and seeking to justify inept and often racist ideas about Roma is at maximum a perverted form of tourism.

Watching and identifying beggars, homeless or anybody that fits the negative stereotypes about Roma in your own country or abroad as THE ROMA has nothing to do with expertise but is related to an obsessive and sordid racism.

In a meeting with the French Prime-Minister the Romanian PM managed to put his entire foot in his mouth by saying that the Roma NGOs are in fact responsible for the abysmal results in the last 20 years when it comes to the Roma social inclusion while his government had just one year to deal with this issues.

There are many, many problems with this statement – most of them already addressed well by two blog postings in Romanian  ( http://blog.agentiaimpreuna.ro/?p=874 and http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/ferentariullui-ponta-1_51dfb8b9c7b855ff562e7199/index.html)

This statement has the same logical problem as one saying that the inventors of the Internet and the short-cut ctrl C+ ctrl V should be hold as the main responsible factors for the wide spread plagiarizing among Romanian students including the Romanian PM.

Some not so well known facts

  1. The Romanian PM expertise on Roma issues is extremely limited if not considering the two forms of expertise presented above.
  2. In private conversations he makes clear he thinks there are no solutions for Roma social inclusion and that Roma in general are sub-humans.
  3. He meets his own advisor on Roma issues as often and as substantially as he meets the French Premier.
  4. He made no efforts whatsoever to support or check the activities of Roma NGOs in Romania.

I base two of my statements here on the same reliable sources as the PM did – hearsay.

The PM said in the past in a meeting I accidentally attended, that we need to replace the money wasted on debates/conferences with hands-on work at the grassroots. He said almost the same thing during the meeting with the French PM. I happen to very much agree with this point.

But grassroots work doesn’t mean that you like grass or roots , neither working with either of them. It also doesn’t mean that you like the smell or taste of grass or roots. And definitely it has no link with smoking neither grass/roots, nor weed.

I do not think that the NGO sector is as efficient and honest as it should be. But if a guy (even if he is a PM ) proved to have been a plagiarizer, promoted in politics by a proven and condemned criminal and leading one of the most corrupted cliques of politicians in Europe talks about it, then, we need to rebuff it as hypocrisy or stupidity.  I think is both. Or it might be weed.

About abject poverty, abject racism and the risk of a tragedy

11 Jul

For the last years I saw many ghettoes all around Europe. I’ve seen too many children that will be part of lost generations, far too much abject poverty and drug abuse. Too many people living of garbage and on garbage, too many that went through a disastrous cycle that starts with begging goes through garbage recycling, prostitution, small criminality, garbage recycling again and ends-up as it started begging.

I am writing a report on ghettoes – a blunt one with no ambiguities. We need national and European policies dealing with ghettoes that are based on reality and not “positive practices” blabla.

I do believe ghettoes in Europe (including Eastern Europe and the Balkans) have an explosive potential of inter-ethnic conflict and that they are incubators of extreme poverty and criminality.

But I never thought I will see a ghetto that is literally explosive.

Kakanj is 45 minutes drive from Sarajevo. The landscape is spectacular – an amazingly beautiful country.

The entry in the ghetto is same like any of the many urban ghettoes I saw. The road linking the ghetto to the main street is full of holes and then becomes a dirt road.

The garbage piles are first thing to see as we enter the ghetto – most of the adults make a living selling recycled plastic, glass, paper or metal. Most of the houses are much better than houses I saw in other places – people invest most of what they make in their houses – the winters are tough in the mountains.

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Over 600 people live in the ghetto here – the majority of them are children.  The ground started sliding a few weeks ago. Mining was a main part of the industry in Kakanj and the ghetto is built on unsafe ground.  25 houses are too damaged to live in – big cracks are all over the walls.

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But the danger lies in the cracks in the ground more than those in the walls.

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The smell of methane gas is intoxicating.  My eyes hurt and I have a terrible taste in my mouth. This is clearly a very toxic environment where hundreds of children and adults have to live. Somebody shows me that the gas is flammable.

There is no reaction from the local administration. The mayor said he has no solution but did not come to see yet what was going on. No investigation team was sent to check the toxicity and health risks of the gas that leaks out of the ground despite repeated calls towards the local administration. There is a significant risk of a tragedy involving the death of many (mainly children) in this place and there is no reaction whatsoever of the local administration.

Why is this happening ? Because most of the people in the ghetto are Roma. Because abject racism and discrimination is the main response to abject poverty.

What happens in Kakanj is beyond shameful and incompetency. It borders murder due to incompetency and lack of reaction. And that is something Bosnia and Herzegovina should never have to deal with again.

I write this because I think there is a need of reaction at the international level to kick into action what I hope is just an inept public administration. And hopefully many of you will feel reading this revolted enough to send a letter asking the EU delegation in Bosnia Herzegovina to react at

delegation-bih@eeas.europa.eu with cc the director of cabinet of Commissioner Fule Simon.MORDUE@ec.europa.eu as well as to the UN urgent-action@ohchr.org

You can also send an email with the link of this article or your own letter to the Commissioner on Human Rights of the  Council of Europe at and ask him to react to the situation in Kakanj at commissioner@coe.int