The Harry Potter funds

16 Oct

I believe a good part of the European Social Funds (ESF) is successfully used for creating and maintaining a thriving industry of magical and obviously fake solutions. This is catastrophic not only when it comes to the spending efficiency of European public money but also for the credibility of European institutions. It gives populists and sociopaths such as Farage an easy argument against what I believe is the best thing that happened to Europe – the EU project.

Unfortunately, not just the ESF but most of the funds available for NGOs are based on the wrong assumption that ‘experts’ are able to predict the future and ‘good practices’/success can be copied and replicated. These funds I call: the Harry Potter Funds.

In the case of Eastern Europe most of these ‘experts’ are people that more or less share the same qualities, education and ideas as the people within the intergovernmental organisations, foundations and governments. They are all fluent in euronarnian jargon and have significant experience in being part of the show/circus around the European Funds. Conferences, reports, seminars, consultation with stakeholders, evaluation, trainings, field trips are part of their professional DNA. They all benefit (sometimes greatly) being part of the blessed individuals that fill airplane seats, hotels and conference rooms. A significant percentage of these people move from one intergovernmental institution to the other or switch forth and back between NGOs and these institutions.

Most of those that hold decision powers for distributing the funds do not have any hands on experience at the grassroots and know, at best, superficially the issues. That doesn’t stop them from proposing ‘solutions’. Unfortunately a very strong lip-service culture meant to please the authority makes it almost impossible to dismiss their solutions. The result is many moronic ideas at the core of calls of tens of millions of Euros. Money that end up with negative or no effect at the grassroots but with some grandiose speeches and reports presented during mostly useless but pompous and expensive conferences.

Success in the case of ‘experts’ receiving these funds depends often on their existing networks or ability to lobby/please as many donors/people in power positions as possible. The skills that they develop are rarely skills that are useful in designing or implementing successful projects in the most difficult communities. Writing applications that will score the highest and having the right connections matter a lot more than real experience making a difference in their respective fields. Relationships with people in power, paper production, number of speeches, trainings, certificates and conferences weight a lot more than the years spent in changing lives and helping directly the most vulnerable or the results.

Not once European Commission gave money to a government, a UN agency, to OSCE or to Council of Europe, institutions that charged a hefty administration fee and contracted the World Bank or a big consultancy that did the same before employing a big NGO that also took a slice of the funds before employing another one that finally employed people that work at grassroots. This type of practices is a direct result of a deeply flawed institutional culture and the’ skills’ I wrote about above.

People that do not play the game and dare to question the efficiency of projects and the fairy-tales described in the reports are seen as unwelcomed disruptors. The Eurocrats have well paid jobs and most are keen on having a comfortable life and not keen on taking risks or trying to change the world. The national bureaucrats also hate when somebody rocks the boat as that leads to problems in absorption of EU funds or penalties – things that are ‘deadly’ for their careers. ‘Experts’ hate to be challenged considering that they are vulnerable and that their livelihood depends on availability of Harry Potter type projects.

Spending the money and being covered by very clear indicators and outputs is what matters the most and not real change at the grassroots. That is the reason why a 500.000 EUR conference is always preferred to a 500.000 EUR invested in innovative but complex and rarely predictable projects meant to change to the better the situation of vulnerable communities. Decades and hundreds of millions spent on consultations, interviews, action groups, trainings, seminars, research, conferences and reports with often insignificant change at the grassroots resulted in a highly productive but toxic expertise that allows ‘specialists’ to rationalize the waste of EU money.

As long as people that produce papers and hot air are paid many times more than people that make a difference at the grassroots it is unlikely things will improve.

There are solutions but all these solutions will have to address the core of the problem: corrupt, weak or inept leadership and strong incentives to oppose any significant reform.

Sure there are exceptions but those are nothing but that – exceptions. There is a need of reports, conferences, consultations, trainings and field visits but those should represent a small percent of the way public money is spent. The majority of funding should make a difference in the lives of the disadvantaged. And for now that is, again, just exceptional.

* I was part of these systems. I held senior management positions in the private sector, NGOs, government and intergovernmental organisations. All the organizational cultures are far from being the correct ones. The link between nepotism and corruption is highly disregarded in all of them. The high level of sociopathy among people in power and the absence or corruption of the mechanisms meant to ensure transparency and enforce the ethical and moral objectives of those organisations are among some of the worst problems. Lip-service disguised as diplomacy, fear of breaking the status quo, conformity and wrong incentives that encourage lying or long but ineffective work hours and not hard work and efficiency are all issues worth looking at.





The industry of fake solutions

3 Oct

I hate staying within rules. My mother thinks I was born a disruptor. She says it with pride like her stubbornness paid off and she lived her life as the Queen Elisabeth and not as an abused and poor Romani woman. Anyway being a disruptor, is clearly a brilliant (and arguably) genetic choice as being a Roma/Gypsy would not have sufficed.

For the last many years I was, paradoxically, employed or involved in the activities of some of the most elitist political bodies. Enjoyed greatly being a misfit. Not as much as I enjoy writing about the experiences I had to the dismay of the high level bureaucrats, politicians and diplomats I worked with. Some of the opportunities, I guess, came because I was a Gypsy and having a Gypsy on the payroll shows some kind of commitment to human rights.

During these years I had the “pleasure” to meet many morons, sociopaths, vulnerable or easy to blackmail, corrupt, mediocre or spineless leaders. I also met some very polite thugs in incredible power positions. Most of the times those were surrounded by rather decent people that decided to validate a catastrophic institutional culture based on lip-service, shameless praise towards the authority and vicious gossip to release accumulated frustrations.

People that are fully dependent on ridiculous salaries considering the efficiency of their actions. People that will not hesitate to make incredible compromises for the sake of keeping their own position and rationalise their choices in order to fit their positive bias.

I also did have the chance to meet some truly exceptional people, some, in positions of leadership. Those, unfortunately, are just the exception to the rule.

For most of these years I kept a diary. Recently I was invited to talk about trafficking. I talked about the industry of fake solutions. An industry built on talks and imagined solutions from very expensive offices, based on reports that have little to do with reality. About the hypocrisy around the refugee crisis, the stupidity in the way we tackle prostitution and begging.

And I remembered something.

In my last job I was told that what I write doesn’t fit with the institution I was supposed to represent. That I am “more like a foreign body “within the institution and that I need to adapt to the ‘organisation’. The guy telling me this was a retired ‘diplomat’ that worked all his life in the same institution. That used his privileged personal relationship with one of the leaders of the institution to obtain a position that he had no qualifications whatsoever for it. It was done in order for him to get a higher pension.

I realise that indeed compared with him and many others I am a foreigner and I kind of like being one.

I decided that I will write a monthly episode about the industry of fake solutions. Most probably I will start writing about a stupefying meeting with a Director General of the European Commission.

Too many ‘emperors’ are not just naked but toxic for our democracies. Most, I believe, even if they try could not get a grip on reality or change their ways. Lip-service is not going to save anything but a culture of hypocrisy. Corruption is not going to disappear if we continue to imagine there is a silver line in any disastrous project financed through public money. Yes there might be value even in a turd but not if it costs more than the horse it produced.

Well intended bureaucracies and NGOs that rationalise the corruption of politicians, that totally or partially close their eyes to nepotism and incompetence as well as blatant abuses against Human Rights in order to continue to have access to funding tend to end up being a reason for the problems and not the solutions of Europe.

These following articles contrary to most of what I write are not pamphlets. On 4th of November will publish the first one.

End of a path

14 Sep

I understood that there are standards that I am unable to fit. Expectations I was and still am unable to meet. That my percentage of failures and wins is slowly but surely becoming frustrating not only for me but also for those that want things to change to the better within the Roma communities. I also understand that my articles and political stands can hurt the interests of some or most Roma groups due to many reasons.

Therefore, I am giving up being a Roma rights activist. I feel that I tried as hard as I could while I was involved in it. Obviously, I was not as successful as I wanted to be. I will not be part of any Roma organization and I do not intend to take part in anything dealing specifically with Roma. I will have no professional contacts with the Roma political or civil society but I will stay in touch with a few friends. I will continue to volunteer in the ghetto in Bucharest and will remain very involved in the political issues that I am passionate about – those related to children rights, populism and corruption.

I am not planning to talk or write more about the reasons for my decision or about what I will do next. I think most of you reading this already know about the challenges ahead for the Roma movement, and I know there are enough strong, smart and courageous activists ready to tackle these. I very much enjoyed working with some of them.

I know this might risks to seem as a call for attention. Far from it, I feel I received far more attention than I deserved. At the same time I do not want to have to repeat the last two paragraphs that have been my standard reply to people that wanted to find out  what happened.

I apologize to all of you that I will not reply or be in touch in the future.


1 Aug

Ma intreb de cateva saptamani cum a ajuns USR-ul in situatia actuala. Cum s-a putut intampla ca singurul partid in care zdrobitoarea majoritate a senatorilor si deputatilor sunt onesti, super destepti pe nisa lor si o parte dintre ei profesionisti impecabili, in loc sa devina partidul magnet pentru  cei mai multi dintre noi, cei care am iesit in strada in iarna, a devenit o mai mica sau mai mare dezamagire si o justificare pentru dezgustul sau apatia politica a celor care ar trebui sa fie implicati in politica?

Si dincolo de asteptarile noastre, adesea exagerate care de multe ori se potrivesc mai bine partidului pestisorului de aur, dincolo de cosmarul managerial pe care il implica un grup de zeci de oameni foarte inteligenti, incapatanati si fara prea mare experienta in a accepta si a munci pentru un compromis agreat, dincolo de petardele  ‘formatorilor de opinie’ platiti de mafioti de tip Vantu si Ghita ma framanta ce s-ar putea face pentru ca USR-ul sa devina motorul pe care multi ni-l dorim pentru a reforma clasa politica.

E clar ca s-au facut multe greseli si ca USR-ul a avut o comunicare haotica si adesea contradictorie. Ca in loc sa isi impuna o agenda politica clara a permis ca agenda lor sa fie de multe ori impusa din exterior. De asemenea, e clar ca paranoia nationala de tipul „se fura partidul”, a dihotomiei tampite „ ori esti cu noi ori esti impotriva noastra”, complexul dreptatii absolute si inflexibilitatea opiniilor sunt toate motive serioase pentru care avem in acest moment un partid in criza si in mare pericol de a se faramita.

Nicusor Dan a creat USR-ul si merita mult mai mult respect decat primeste in acest moment. Din pacate nu cred ca are nici carisma, nici dorinta si nici calitatile manageriale de a conduce un partid in care marea majoritate a celor care sunt in fruntea lui au obsesia de a schimba lumea. Obsesii bune dar de multe ori contradictorii. Poate Nicusor ar putea  fi un primar exceptional pentru Bucuresti  si poate acesta ar trebui sa fie obiectivul principal al lui pentru perioada urmatoare .  Cred ca USR-ul are nevoie de o personalitate sau si mai bine de personalitati  capabile sa conduca si sa motiveze oameni super inteligenti si desigur dificili. Desi personal cred ca ar fi cel mai bine ma indoiesc ca Dacian ar vrea sa se implice in asta. In plus sunt sigur ca nu este  singurul capabil sa impuna indeajuns respect incat sa asigure disciplina si motivatia necesara pentru a face USR-ul un partid capabil sa bata PSD-ul in alegeri.

Din afara solutiile par, bineinteles, mult mai simple. Un mesaj foarte clar de unitate a partidului si un apel bine scris pentru a atrage in USR a pe cei care isi doresc reforma clasei politice, ar fi primii pasi. Folosirea unor principii relativ simple cum ar fi onestitate, succes profesional care sa preceada cariera politica si obiective clare pentru a schimba in bine Romania cred ca ar putea atrage oameni noi si ar schimba situatia actuala. O disciplina foarte clara de partid de opozitie ar fi urmatorul pas. Explicarea clara a unei colaborari cu Platforma 100 este, de asemenea, necesara.

Pentru mine logic ar fi ca Platforma 100 sa devina think-tank-ul reformei administratiei locale si al clasei politice, iar USR-ul partidul capabil sa forteze implementarea .

In mod paradoxal sper din toata inima sa nu am dreptate, iar USR-ul sa reuseasca sa isi rezolve problemele de leadership fara interventii din afara partidului. As fi vrut sa ii spun toate astea si chiar mai multe lui Nicusor Dan, dar, din pacate, desi am incercat in mod repetat sa ma intalnesc cu el, nu am reusit. Eu cred ca USR-ul este singurul partid frecventabil pe care il avem si o sa fac tot posibilul sa ajut de fiecare data cand voi putea sau cand va fi nevoie.


Within and outside

6 Jul

Anti-Gypsyism remains a very serious problem all over Europe. There is enough out there and in all kind of shapes and forms to satisfy even the most eclectic tastes and justify ‘opinions’ starting from those who think we, Roma, deserve to be killed or permanently sterilized to those that reject us just because we are ‘different’.

I witnessed every type of anti-Roma rejection from institutional ones(the only meeting within an intergovernmental institution where I saw guards in front of the doors was in the case of a rather small Roma meeting) to biological one(segregation in hospitals in order to protect the majority population from the ‘gypsy diseases’). I heard people saying some of the most awful possible things about us, the Roma, but I also heard well intended people making racist jokes that were considered funny by those around them.

The worst type of anti-Gypsyism I faced came not from the majority but paradoxically enough from Roma. The most absurd accusations, the most vicious attacks, the most disgusting theories of racial, sexual and religious superiority and also the anti-Gypsyism that affected me the most came from us, Roma, and not from the majority. Unfortunately I am not at all an exceptional case.

I do understand the triggers and the reasons and I am smart enough to find numerous ways to justify it. The lack of resources, the marginality, survival techniques, power struggles, self-contradictions and ambiguities of Roma identity are just some of these.

A good majority of those of Roma facing the worst of racism on behalf of the majorities are not speakers of Romani and come from a mixed ethnic background. I, myself, grew up in a mix family and with rare opportunities to speak Romani. The overwhelming majority of leading Roma activists are in the same situation.

Somewhat expected, nowadays, some of them push a rather radical agenda that has very little to do with Human Rights but most to do with access to resources and political power based on ethnicity and not much else. Such a movement is in my opinion dangerous as it risks alienating the majorities of both non-Roma and Roma. It is also dangerous because involves a necessary radicalization of the race discourse that we should abhor.

Fighting against anti-Gypsyism should be a part of fighting against Human Rights abuses, against extremism and populism and not a justification to endorse abuses. It is not rare that anti-Gypsyism is used, unfortunately, as an excuse to justify corruption, violation of rights (especially of children) and maintaining power by toxic leadership. Sometimes is used to justify blatant racism that targets the non-Roma.

Solutions to address the existing situation of Roma in Europe should have indeed fighting anti-Gypsyism at the very core. But those solutions should not ignore neither the risks of racism within the many and very heterogeneous Roma groups nor the reverse racism that seems to become more and more acceptable among some of the Roma political elites.

About football and stopping violence against women

14 Jun

My childhood

Violence was a huge part of my childhood and teenage years. If there was a day without yelling and screaming, or a week without what my grandfather used to call a “healthy beating”, it meant that I was either in my grandmother’s village doing what a true Roma intellectual such as myself was supposed to do – in other words, guarding the cows – in a coma, or in a communist camp. There was not much difference between the three.

When I first heard of Tourette’s syndrome, I thought “damn, we should have been called Tourette”. Valeriu Nicolae Tourette sounds just about right. At least we should have received an Oscar or something for Tourette’s. Swearing and verbal abuse were part of our most valued linguistic dictionary, and we exercised this skill in at least three languages (the advantage of some of my relatives being married to Hungarian- and German-speaking Romanians).

If Gogu wasn’t beating Ana or Lica, Ghica wasn’t beating aunt Silica, Karol wasn’t abusing Geta, or my mother wasn’t threatening to beat my father with an iron rod after he tried to beat her, then that was a very weird week. Chances were that a week without beatings was during the month when the entire male part of the family was working hard to make plum brandy and, accordingly, all of them were lost to humanity for that time. The only other beating-free week was the week of the great migration, when flocks of pigs were in flight. All of my family members being passionate about the esthetics of flying pigs, they would forget their traditional duty to beat their wives or children.

That was my childhood. As a young man, I had to stop a number of times my father trying to kill my mother considered to be nothing but “a filthy gypsy” by him and most of his family.

Ghettos today

The situation in the ghettos today is a lot worse. During the last decade, I have visited ghettos all around the world. I found out that many people with decision-making powers do not really understand either the extent, or the dangers, of domestic violence.

Over the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time working with children in one of the worst ghettos in Bucharest, Romania. I still spend most of my weekends working with these children. They see violence as a prerequisite for success and respect in the ghetto.

Reporting violence in the ghetto is complicated by the fact that women expect to be beaten; in some cases, the victim even considers it to be a “sign of love”. The drug dealers hate any police intervention and their persuasion methods are quite effective. In the rare case when somebody reports a violent incident, police intervention is quite unlikely. Firstly, the police officer probably does not consider that beating a wife or partner to be extraordinary as some do it themselves. Secondly, it is also likely that the police officer thinks that people that live in the ghettos are scum and don’t deserve the protection of the state.

Even in the unlikely case of police intervention, the situation of the abused woman is not likely to improve, quite the contrary in fact. The police officer will likely discover that the man of the house beats family members, including children, regularly and sometimes savagely. A high rate of alcoholism and drug addiction, combined with abject poverty and dismal living conditions for the children, would in most cases result in the police officer calling child protection services. The children may be taken from the family and put into state care. This may have disastrous results. On the one hand, many families depend on child welfare payments for survival; on the other hand, in the ghetto most people are aware of the very high incidence of sexual abuse within the state institutions for children. The police will probably give a fine, but in practical terms they can’t do anything for 72 hours in most European countries.

In the end, the woman will be left at home with a very angry husband, often surrounded by drug dealers whose business took a hit, at risk of losing her children, and having to find ways to pay the fine given to the abuser.

I have seen this happen more than once. I saw a woman beaten senseless by a drug dealer, because her daughter dared to call the police to stop a beating. I know of four other women who had to run away from home in order to escape being killed by their angry husbands after the police came by.

The children I work with expect to be beaten if they make a mistake. Their mothers expect me to beat them if they misbehave. Once, after being sent by their families to return the football shoes they had stolen from me, several kids thought that I wasn’t going to forgive them because I did not hit them. They were very puzzled when I told them that I would never hit them.

I was beaten as a child. I do not know even one woman or girl from my childhood that was not beaten. It is not only about ghettos and poor communities. Thousands of women, some of them famous, rich and powerful are killed every day in Europe. Tens of millions of women and girls are victims of domestic violence.

Football can make a difference

Football can be an unexpected but very powerful tool to make a difference.

The children in the ghettos know much more about football than anything else. Football players are their heroes. Men continue to be overwhelmingly the audience of the beautiful game. They also, unfortunately, continue to be by far the main perpetrators of domestic violence.

A call for action was initiated by a group of dedicated Members of European Parliament in order to support this initiative. 57 female members from all European Parties are at the core of it.

Three times fifteen seconds. That is all we need from UEFA. Fifteen seconds is also what we need from you. Please sign this petition – we might change the world a bit to the better.


8 Apr

Am inteles ce inseamna sa fiu tigan atunci cand Auras, frumoasa blocului de varsta mea, mi-a spus ca nu are voie sa se joace cu mine pentru ca tiganii sunt plini de paduchi si o bate maica-sa. Sa fiu rom era binisor, caci eram rom in sat la bunica. „ Tigan” insa era o nenoricire care mi se intampla in orasul asta mare si plin de straini.

Am plans rau, cel mai rau, din cate imi amintesc. Stiu ca tot atunci mi-am dat seama ca emotiile le simt in inima mult mai tare decat in cap.

Mama a incercat sa ma impace si mi-a cantat povestea cu ursul brun care in cele din urma, dupa ce se chinuie indeajuns, e acceptat de ursii albi. Mama a fost destul de dura pe partea asta si nu a vrut nicicand sa imi auda scuzele pentru esec. Mi-a repetat in nestire ca, daca esti chiar bun, nimeni nu poate sa ignore asta. Doar ca trebuie sa fii mult mai bun decat bun pentru ca romanii sa ne accepte ca fiind buni. Ca trebuie sa muncesc mai mult si mai ales, constant. Ea a muncit infernal toata viata.

Asta cu munca multa si constanta mi-a ramas bine infipta in cap.

Efectul negativ a fost nesiguranta. Nu am stiu nicicand daca sunt indeajuns de bun. Nu am fost nicicand sigur daca voi fi sau nu acceptat ca fiind indeajuns de destept, de profesionist sau de roman. Nu mi-am dat seama daca trebuie sa mai incerc sau sa ma opresc din a incerca. Nu am stiut de multe ori daca evaluarea mea a fost una bazata pe culoarea pielii sau pe ceea ce stiam sau ceea ce am facut.

A fost cam chinuitor, mai ales ca tata ura tiganii rau.

In liceu am avut colegi tare faini. Oameni care s-au purtat super bine cu mine si carora nu am stiut sa le multumesc cum trebuie. Am prins un pic de incredere. Si in facultate a fost bine, in ciuda faptului ca dupa 1990 rasismul in Romania a cam explodat. Colegii mei nu ma vedeau tigan si multi nici macar nu isi doreau sa ma vada altceva decat roman.

Am trecut prin indeajuns de multe incidente oribile datorate culorii pielii mele.

Am devenit unul dintre cei mai tineri manageri din oras si m-am bucurat de increderea si respectul celor cu care am lucrat.

Mi-a fost tare frica sa nu fiu perceput ca hot. Am facut tot ce am putut, tot timpul, ca sa evit sa am contact cu bani in mod direct si sa fac totul cat se poate de transparent.  La un moment dat patronul firmei mi-a spus ca sunt un idiot, ca singurul din intreaga firma care se indoieste de cinstea mea sunt eu.

Un an mai tarziu, la o intalnire cu furnizorii pe care o conduceam impreuna cu patronul, dupa o mica pauza, unul dintre ei a anuntat ca si-a pierdut telefonul. Era o caramida Nokia care costa cat jumatate de apartament. Zvonul ca eram tigan era déjà bine raspandit, indeajuns de raspandit incat pana si patronul firmei era vazut ca fiind tigan si el. Toata lumea s-a uitat spre mine.  Omul a plecat furios, convins fiind ca tiganii i-au furat telefonul.  Era in masina. Nu si-a cerut niciodata scuze, dar nici nu am mai lucrat cu el.

Acum sunt intr-o situatie cel putin ironica. Cand fac lucruri bune lumea crede ca sunt exceptionale, iar cand fac ceva prost, mi se trece cu vederea. Sau din nou e o sechela din copilarie. Imi este tare drag de Romania. Mi se pare ca sunt rasfatat de o multime de oameni incredibili de buni si de destepti.

Acum cateva saptamani am fost la o cina cu domnul Plesu. L-am ascultat povestind despre Nichita Stanescu si sper ca nu mi-au curs balele vizibil pentru ca mai vreau sa il ascult de cateva sute de ori, ca e plin de povesti. Ma intreb, inca, daca faptul ca sunt bagat in seama(din punctul meu de vedere nemeritat) de oameni ca domnul Plesu vine ca o urmare a asteptarilor mult mai mici de la romi decat de la romani.

Imediat dupa ce imi pun insa intrebarea, ma gandesc ca e jignitoare pentru oamenii astia senzationali si ca denota o problema structurala a mea.

Mama nu se vaita. Pentru ea intodeauna a parut ca nimic nu e imposibil. Un ghemotoc de om care lua hotarata farasul de fier sa ii sparga capul lui taica-miu cand asta, beat, depasea limitele( foarte relaxate dealtfel) dejectiilor verbale rasiste. O singura data i-am impartasit gandurile mele despre cum este sa fii ‘tigan’ de succes. Mi-a spus dur sa las tampeniile si sa imi vad de treaba.

Mama si-a omorat emotiile. A fost solutia ei pentru a supravietui abuzului continuu. S-a refugiat in munca si in cresterea noastra si a trait complet anesteziata toata viata. Supapa ei este in religie.

Acum o saptamana am fost pentru o ora in mijlocul unei familii. Toate femeile din familie, mama, matusa si fiica au super succes din punct de vedere profesional . Cele doua surori seamana mult cu mama. Fiica are tenul mai deschis. Numele de familie e cam de romi.Emotional toate sunt praf.

Probabil si ele stiu povestea cu ursul brun care trebuie sa se chinuie pentru a fi acceptat de ursii albi. Tatal lui Auras era si el cam brun si cel mai probabil maica-sa compensa. Auras a ramas o frumusete. Nimeni in Craiova nu cred ca ar putea sa isi dea seama daca e romnie sau nu.

8 Aprilei e Ziua Internationala a Romilor. Ar fi fain sa ne uram La Multi Ani oricat de ne-romi ne-am crede. Bahtalo ohto Avrilo savorenge!