Archive | September, 2014

About a major European Commission success, why winning sucks and how that might be changed

29 Sep

I am one of the producers of Toto and his Sisters. It was launched on September 24 at San Sebastian. The reviews are great. Trailer at the end of this posting.

Back in 2007 at the request of the European Commission (EC) a consultation between a number of Roma experts and senior EC management took place. That meeting made possible the production of this movie. I argued hard during and after the meeting that such a documentary will work. Some of the bureaucrats there forced me to improve my arguments by opposing the idea. At the end of the day the movie is a result of an idea proposed by a Roma implemented by Roma and non-Roma together. With Strada Film, one of the most accomplished production houses in Eastern Europe we decided to employ the Emmy winner director Alex Nanau to direct the movie. The Roma Initiative Office of the Open Society Institute helped when most needed as did European Roma Grassroots Organisation.

“Awareness raising” was the term used by the EC in the call for proposals for the grant.

Tens (might be hundreds) of millions of people will end up seeing or reading about the movie – “a harrowing but necessary glimpse into existences eked out among the grimy bottom rungs of the European Union’s social ladder” (The Hollywood Reporter).

Euronews ran a story about it a day after its official release. Six major film festivals in Europe will present the movie in the next 2 months. HBO bought it and will distribute the movie; the network has more than 114 million subscribers worldwide.

The movie attracted well over 10 times more private money than the seed money provided by the EU. The EC paid less for it than most of its 30 second to 1 min advertisements.

The practice we developed in the ghetto of Ferentari due to the same consultation ended up winning major international and national prizes. Recognition of our work lead me to be one of those that received the European Citizenship Award of the European Parliament in 2013. The organization I created -Policy Center for Roma and Minorities changed many lives of people in the ghetto. It is respected in the community and gained the trust of many people.

Toto and His Sisters is an endearing story about unprivileged kids who end up living the wrong life because they don’t find themselves in the right context. It also underlines an important issue – for Romania in particular, but also for other countries – that the education we get as children shapes who we become as adults.( official review- San Sebastian)

The local administration and the national government became very aware of our work and the issues in Ferentari. Hundreds of high- level officials all around Europe came to the ghetto and praised our work.

What emerges is a briskly informative portrait of Bucharest’s notorious Ferentari neighborhood, a zone which has evidently been overlooked by the relevant authorities for years, perhaps decades.(TV Muse)

The movie will force many to react.

We won, you, my reader might say.

Not really. This win sucks. It sucks because it is in fact an aberration. The overwhelming majority of the EU funds targeting Roma were/are wasted. Not on innovation and learning important lessons – we waste money in an awfully predictable way. Badly thought and designed trainings are repeated every year; same with conferences, reports, cultural events, fliers… To many political inept appointments in decision-making positions, conformism, lip-service and lack of spine among bureaucrats in governments, intergovernmental organisations as well as within civil society transformed a great cause into a mockery. Empty bombastic speeches replaced in a large percentage the much needed actions.

I quitted tired of begging[1] and adversities. Left the organization and found a job outside Roma field that makes me happy. I can afford doing more for the children in Ferentari now than before.

The way the European Union deals with Roma and social inclusion in general is a mess.

Change is not hard to come about[2].

The movie might inspire some. The EC and all the other bureaucracies (Council of Europe, European Parliament, OSCE, FRA, UN etc) could use it to raise awareness, pressure governments and justify changes in policies and approaches.

Millions of children live in similar ghettoes all around Europe.

The main character of the movie ,Totonel, has incredible courage and will to succeed against all odds. His drive is inspiring and could change minds and attitudes. Seeing some of those that matter copying Totonel might be the big win. Would feel anyway a lot better than this win feels now.

[1] https://valeriucnicolae.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/why-i-quit/

[2] http://wp.me/p2HVQZ-7Z

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Between a rock and a hard place – the new Commission and the social inclusion of Roma

24 Sep

Social inclusion of Roma is a long term, complex, expensive and very difficult process. The new Commission cannot continue making the same mistakes as the previous one.

Useless and very expensive conferences, bombastic empty speeches, “copy-paste” “newspeak” type reports, trainings for the sake of spending available money and poorly thought projects focused on absorption of money rather than addressing the problems did nothing but delegitimized the European Commission and Member States efforts and weakened even further the already weak Roma civil society.

The new Commission has a good chance to do much better than the previous one. President Juncker is probably the most experienced politician when it comes to long-term plans (almost two decades as Prime Minister) and there are a number of pragmatic Commissioners with strong portfolios that might bring about the much waited for positive change.

What needs to happen:

a. Take some strong institutional measures capable of both increasing the pressure on the “Roma reluctant” bureaucrats within the Commission and National Governments. Here some suggestions

  1. Appoint within Juncker’s cabinet a strong Roma expert focused not on building a long-term career in the Commission but one capable for at least the next 5 years to push reform within the European Commission and Member States. A Roma Focal Point with a number of national Roma experts lead by a public well respected personality ( ex- president of Finland, ex- Human Rights Commissioner) under the direct supervision of President Juncker would be even better.

Such a measure needs to address the existing high incentives for self-congratulation, embellished reporting, avoidance of sensitive issues ( such as rampant anti-Gypsyism, corruption, abuses of children rights, trafficking, limited civic responsibility both within the majority population and Roma population when it comes to social inclusion) within the EC and Member States. Window dressing measures, institutional racism, abysmal results at the level of grassroots, poorly designed funding policies are all issues that need to be tackled if we want to rebuild legitimacy of the EC and Member States to address Roma issues.

  1. Reform the Roma Unit -its activity under the previous Commission has been an embarrassment.

There are some good and some exceptional experts within the European Commission and Roma Unit but their expertise has been rendered useless by the previous senior and middle management. The consultations with the Roma civil society were at best poorly thought and the transfer of expertise from the few Roma NGOs with strong activities at the grassroots to the Commission failed. Some very good steps taken during the mandate of Vladimir Spidla were ignored and need urgently to be revisited and build upon. Moving the Roma Unit under DG Regio ( the best initiatives up to this moment came from DG Regio) or the supervision of a strong and interested in Roma issues Director General might also be a solution. Bringing back in the European Commission dedicated, pragmatic and expert people such as ex-Deputy Director General Katarina Mathernova and ex–cabinet member of Spidla, Jan Jarab might also help.

The Roma Unit should be concerned about what the Commission can/should do and not as it was often the case in the past on passing the blame of failures on Member States, Roma civil society, local administrations or whoever else. The anti-discrimination Unit needs to get a grip and start acting seriously against anti-Gypsyism. Putting the same effort that it was wasted into justifying inaction and incompetence when it comes to racism against Roma will do.

  1. Appoint EC national Roma experts tasked to act as an interface between the governments and the European Commission. They should be working closely with the EC Representations in the countries and facilitate the dialogue between government, local administrations and those that have expertise working in Roma communities. The purpose of such appointments would be to put more pressure on the Member States to adopt policies, prepare and implement plans that will address the core of the problems and not the surface of Roma inclusion process.

There are a good number of people in the European Commission that have the needed expertise and might like to go back to their countries and do their best to steer and motivate the national governments and Roma civil society to work better and more efficiently together. There are also a good number of Roma experts at the national level that would very much welcome such a challenge.

b. Member States need to assume their responsibilities towards Roma social inclusion. Make them pay for secondments of the much-needed experts and ensure that these experts are empowered to come up with solutions and implement them.

The EC needs urgently people with hands-on expertise inside. The existing network of Contact Points is a joke and therefore the results are laughable. This can be changed by making Member States that complain about Roma issues and those that have a significant Roma population assume responsibilities and help finding the best solutions. Attracting people with best possible expertise is the first step forward. Creating an innovative fund administered by a council of experts and the EC focused on supporting long term pilot interventions at the grassroots is another thing that should be done.

c. Focus on grassroots. The nexus of all the problems is that the overwhelming part of the EU money ends up being spent on things that make no impact whatsoever in the most vulnerable and visible Roma communities.

We need to acknowledge that most of the money spent by the previous Commission and EU funds spent by Member States were wasted. Developing ways to stimulate efficient and sustainable grassroots interventions is where the focus needs to be.

None of this is revolutionary. Similar things have been done to address important issues such as gender and disability based discrimination. There was strong will to tackle seriously  gender and disability issues. That or a series of disastrous crisis will force change in the case of Roma too. A good deal of this choice stays with the new Commission and Member States.

About a great day, Silvia’s cakes and the sadness of a good man

15 Sep

* I was accused often that I am not Romanian enough. That I do more for the “others” than I do for my own country. That somehow I betray Romania. It is not true. I am a good Romanian. I decided to live here together with my “foreign” family and worked hard to do what I thought it is best for the majority of Romanians.

It is sad to see good people, people that I respect, thinking I try hard to please the “others”. It is frustrating. It is frustrating to explain it repeatedly in public on TV and nobody to seem to pay attention to it.

I was among those ones that accused Dacian Ciolos being more of a French Commissioner than a Romanian one. Shocked to hear some of my own thoughts said by him to me, yesterday. Made me feel stupid once again.

I brought him Silvia’s cakes. Those are the best cakes I know. Silivia loves her cakes, talks about them and she is hundred of times worst at selling them than baking and talking about them despite being a decent seller. She has a story that is worth hearing and is great to know her.

Sivia’s cakes were in my head the best apology I could come up with. I hope he liked them.

I gave Silvia’s cakes to friends that came or were there. Some are trying to do amazing things for children with cancer (their website is going to be here http://magicamp.ro/ ). Some others try to help serving a hot meal for those that cannot afford it. Some that help others do good or try to find a way to do good for others. I do not always know how to say to people that I like them a lot and I wish I could make them know that. Silvia’s cakes are my hope for now.

Silvia sold out the cakes today. Some of you wrote to thank me for advertising the cakes and are responsible as I am for making Silvia tired and happy. It is great to see people like her happy. Wish to play a part in something one day that would make some if not all the other people I like including Dacian Ciolos look tired and happy. Ideas I have lots and as he might be free for a while (his mandates as Commissioner ends soon) who knows, I might manage. I would even help him with his ideas if needed J.

Toto and Alex were also very happy yesterday at the Rural Fest on Kiseleff. Mitica is grumpy as I did not take him. The other Alex has a new backpack and school supplies. Denisa a new case for glasses and Alex new clothes.

The event on Kiseleff was organized among others by the European Commission. Good to see that.

* this is a summary ( as I remember it) of a discussion I had yesterday with Dacian Ciolos. Instead of “others” you should read French

** I write this in English as many that helped during the years with the children are English and not Romanian speakers.

*** Silvia’s cakes – check Silvia Nanu on facebook

Back – happy and busy

2 Sep

Back to Romania.

The good news is that Alex mother, Monica is back home from the hospital. She is slowly getting back to health after the scare we had in June. The fact that racism is serious – almost deadly serious is what I experienced trying to make some doctors treat her as a human being despite the fact that she is incredibly poor and Roma. That she is an amazing mother and she has a big but seriously  damaged heart did not matter as she struggled for a few days just to get people to investigate her seriously. After a good two weeks in the emergency room and help from some fantastic friends and doctors she was able to breath by herself. A few days before being put in the emergency reanimation room something that took the form of a doctor said that she “as all the gypsies is just faking being sick to get free drugs and then sell them”. It refused to investigate her condition.

Solved the most urgent problems mostly food related. Too many young girls visible pregnant. Vitamins and folic acid pills done. A number of drug addicts are back from prison and back to dealing drugs. The prison system is simply  idiotic helps nobody besides sociopaths such as our ex-prime minister Nastase, the corrupt owner of Antena 3 and Senator Voiculescu and our MEP and owner of Steaua Bucharest Gigi Becali. They play the role of martyrs well enough for a good number of cretins, the leadership of the party in power (PSD) and other creeps to believe it or use these “martyrdoms” to their benefits.

Lots of children in the ghetto all very happy that we are starting again the training. This Saturday at 10 for those of you that want to join. Distributed home made cakes and tomorrow have plans for dinner with some of the children. Silvia Nanu and mom are the heroes as they were the cooks.Silvia’s amazing cakes you can buy on September 14 will post more details 3-4 days before. In the 45 min in the ghetto there were two fights. One involved Alex and a drug addict. Vlad Mixich piece about violence stridently relevant see http://bit.ly/1sU89Ta

The trip in the US and Canada great but feels even better to be back home. Lots of things to do.