My Message to Europe: The Plight of the Roma Can No Longer Be Ignored

The controversy over France's deportations of Roma men, women, and children has drawn public attention to the plight of Europe’s largest ethnic minority. Roma  regularly are denied equal access to housing, shunted into segregated schools, and face barriers to health care. In every country where the Roma live, the general population is hostile toward them. These conditions make a mockery of European values and stain Europe’s conscience.

The greatest divide between the Roma and majority populations is not one of culture or lifestyle but of poverty and inequality. Roma want to—and can—integrate if they are given the opportunity, as shown by the work of my Open Society Foundations. Roma share the same aspirations of the majority populations: a home with adequate services, a decent education for their children, and jobs that enable them to provide for their families. It is because they face appalling discrimination and deprivation at home that they continue to migrate across Europe.

Over the last 20 years, my Foundations have given nearly $150 million to improve the lives of Roma, but we cannot solve this problem alone.

Policymakers must recognize that the pan-European nature of this problem demands a comprehensive and effective strategy for Roma inclusion. And there are funds available to help address these inequities. Right now there are €20 billion of structural funds which are available to foster social inclusion, yet only a tiny proportion of these funds actually reach the Roma.

I urge the European Union to redirect a larger portion of structural funds to Roma, by cutting out administrative obstacles and asking countries for integrated plans for Roma. New EU member states need to show political will and improve their capacity to implement programs, especially for Roma education. It will take time but this terrible situation can improve if we seize the moment. I only hope with public attention to this problem will help bring about real change.

15 Comments

Thank you, Mr. Soros.

I would add that only by including Roma in the analysis of the problem, the discussion about solutions before planning the implementation of any plan is a necessary step. Would that the press were to remember that when reporting the news about us. Without including the most important stakeholder in the future of the Roma, the Roma people themselves, you cannot build a lasting solution.

I agree the greatest divide is poverty and inequality. The divide is so great that those Roma who have overcome poverty and completed higher education in many cases have come to the conclusion it is better to hide who they are and where they come from. Without creating an environment where it is first of all safe to be Roma, this will not change.

Without creating an environment where the majority populations of any European country can say, "we are proud of the contributions the Roma have made," to whichever given European culture, this trend will not reverse. The Roma need to take part in that change. It cannot happen without them but it requires educational reform at the elementary levels of national curricula where people are taught to respect differences, and also learn about who the Roma are and where they come from. In which nation in Europe is it taught that the Roma have been citizens of our country for the past 600 or 800 years? That they make up part of the diverse culture which is France, Spain, Hungary, and/or Russia? Who invented the guitar? who influenced Franz Liszt? who upset the balance of power among waring feudal lords with metal smithing services and technology and changed the course of history? which people have never reverted to any form of terrorism to solve their continuous and collective oppression over the last thousand years? This is not taught in schools here.

Instead everyone says the Roma come from somewhere else. They are not our people. And when you ask someone of the majority population how do they know that? Well, it is common knowledge, they say. It is common misinformation which no national educational system has taken on to correct. Where are the voters who will reward the politicians for making such policy choices? Leadership is lacking as much in the majority population on this issue as in the Roma community.

I challenge each and every nation state in Europe to take on this educational barrier and turn it into something we can benefit from for future generations.

Sincerely,

Bill Bila
Vice-President Board of Directors
Toronto Roma Community Centre
(currently in Paris)

Dear Bill Bila,
I was under the impression, based on some information collected from the mass media, that the Roma people traveled to Europe from North India. Is it not true? The first sentence of your last but one para may give an impression that any reference to the origins of the ROMA people is uncalled for.
Further, should we not stress in all early school education and beyond, that human beings are roaming all over the earth in search of food, shelter, wealth and various other opportunities since the days of yore. Hence it is not only the ROMA who roam around, every people did and do the same.
More: almost every member of the global policy elite supports the free movement of CAPITAL all over the globe. Capital is dead labor. So why not support free movement of living labor = living people all over the globe? The right to free movement of the ROMA people is and, can be defended as a part of that global human right.
Regards.
Pradip.

Dear Mr Soros,

Since 15 years I do my utmost, first as a writer and journalist, then as a member of European Parliament, and now again as a writer, to contribute to equal rights for Roma. If we do not share justice, we will share injustice, Benjamin Barber once said. I admire your efforts, analyses and philosophy. You deserve and need disciples. We all need them, for a world full of injustice is a commun threat.
Thank you for your commitment!
Els de Groen

I am somtimes perturbed by the nature of man! Why should someone be hated just because he belongs to a social group?? No one chooses to be born a Roma, France, Chinese, Arab, African, Latino etc. Its unfair for man to judge and treat another man based on his roots. The bible says, "All men equal in the eyes of God (the creator).

Lucky Dube, the reknown South Africa artist once said in a song, "... if the CATS and the DOGS can forgive each other .... why men!!!.....

Thank you Gorge Soros for the philanthropic gestures to the Roma. In the Finace world we know you as a threat to currencies. However, today I have leaned that you take from the careless traders or policymakers and channel it to improve the lives of the needy and abandoned people of God.

May the good God bless the hands of the like of Gorge Soros.

Dear Mr. Soros,

I would like to thank you sincerely for understanding and help Roma NGO's, Roma young intellectuels; generation after generation after 1989 had benefit of education and promotion of their capacity in order to afirm their identity with pride and rise self estime in the progams and scolarship offered by OSI.
In present, OSI is only one oraganisation which offers financial support to implement the ESF projects in order to find solution in this very complex situation, when Roma minority is again a victim of rejection.
I thank you in name of Roma children who are beneficiary of your progams from 1997 when we created a Roma Educational - Cultural Centre in Timisoara with your support.
Grateful, Letitia Mark

Who are the Roma? I'm from America, and I'm thinking maybe they sound like who we call Gypsies, but it sounds like the way Mexicans get treated here. Why do we all have to pick some culture to look down upon? Why can't we all just get along?

Hello Cara,

Roma people are indeed called Gypsies.

Bill Bila is right. Voice of simple Roma people needed, it's not there in most NGOs. Letitia in Romania knows that, though 'her association FOR OUR CHILDREN may be a great exception.

Nor are average Roma active inside ISO. Much of ISO's funding (and EU 'Inclusion Decade' schemes and scams) not reaching the grassroots neighborhoods. Ask any Rom in Bulgaria not part of the new 'educated elite' for example. Empirical social research can show this. Where does the dough go?

We'd argue: what is really needed is a powerful movement to get beyond capitalism. Organize to transform the whole SYSTEM. It breeds huge inequality, boom and bust economics. Discrimination, xenophobia. Look around you.

From that socialist people's upsurge perspective, 'inclusion' into the kind of economies and societies ordinary Roma and most Europeans find themselves is no answer. Neither is 'education' alone in societies rigidly structured by class and privilege, as Bill Bila stresses.

Social and political transformation through building egalitarian movements like the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste in France or Synaspismos (ΣΥΝ) in Greece is one vision Roma can and should join. The OSI would not need to exist in the kind of world they struggle for. Nor would capitalist philanthropy a la Gates and Soros. Eyes wide shut have to be opened.

I am aware of the funding and efforts the Soros organisation has put into the Roma issue over the past two decades and more; I have worked with the Budapest Roma group when editing Index on Censorship, another project Soros supported when needed. But little has changed -- nothing has changed. So I have to rather banal but to me critical comments/questions,the answers to which shame us all.

1. If we inserted the word "Jew" every time we see "Roma" or "Gypsy" we would be subject to prosecution. In proportion to their population, the Roma suffered as badly as the Jews in the Holocaust; why has this made no difference to our attitudes to abusing them and why has Europe/the world failed so signally to protect them as it has done the Jews?

2. There are laws in Europe against incitement to racial hatred and abuse/discrimination on racial lines. Why do we not implement them? This would be a more effective way of beginning to change attitudes than pushing in more money to ill thought out and inappropriate policies. JVH

Dear Judith Vidal-Hall,
You have posed the question: Why has Europe/the World failed so signally to protect the Roma as it has done the Jews.
A part of the answer to this question has been provided by Bill Bila, who had indicated that the Roma people have never reverted to any form of terrorism to solve their continuous and collective oppression over the last thousand years.
I am attempting to supplement this answer, hoping to encourage you to reformulate your question.

The European and global elite have not protected the suffering Jews of Europe; they have merely used the terroristic tendencies of a part of the Jewish political elite to create the state of Israel as a citadel of western interests and influences amidst the Arab people, increasing the sufferings not only of the ordinary Jews of Israel, but also that of the Arab people in and around Israel. The Jews are continuing to suffer, additionally with the stigma of terrorism and oppression over the Palestinian and other neighboring Arabs.
I sincerely hope that the tragedy of the Jews may not fall upon the Roma.
Regards.
Pradip.

Sorry, forgot to say on my last comment that I have commissioned a book in the "Manifestos for the twenty-first century" series on the Roma, by a Roma. "We are the Roma" will tackle the issues in a brief, sharp, opinionated style by a series of Q&As. I'd welcome views on this and suggestions of questions to be asked. JVH

Dear Sirs,

This is just as a normal citizen who has been exposed to diversity.

As a matter of fact social group with strong cultural have its own social dynamic. Depending on how different these groups are, generates a certain current of opinion that end ups stigmatizing by the generality (rest) or even worse, sometimes simply by the ones in power. Depending on how mature the society is this may end up having very devastating consequences.

Inequality roots in such cultural and social differences, there has to be a commitment from both parts: local / this case French Government with ROMA leaders to find a solution with sponsorship of either Europe Commission or other influential NGO such as yours.

A unilateral solution from a Government or pressure from outsiders, may soften the problem but I do not think that will solve it.

So Bila Bila is very right

Sincerely

Fernando Sáez

As a visitor to Italy this summer, I was shocked by what I saw in the papers regarding the French government's behavior toward the Roma. In addtion, many Italian government officials seemed to be heading down the same path. My question in all of this is: Where are the Roma leaders themselves? Is there no one amongst them who can come forward and help steer the Roma people forward? I agree, without input from the Roma people, policies don't stand a chance.

Dear Mr. Soros:

I recently presented a photo essay entitled: "Little Franek - a Roma Boy in SLovakia. Removing walls". My photo exhibition was part of a photography festival in Ottawa, Canada and the theme was "Contemporary photography in a politics of difference". It is a heartwarming story about social inclusion, it is a story how photography and soccer made it happen..... The story demonstrates that integration is possible, but what is needed is a good will and an open mind.

Myself as an artist photographer I feel I needed to get engaged in the discussion. And here was my voice, I have been heard. The audience in Ottawa has been very appreciative and receptive.

I captured this story 7 years ago in SLovakia, Little Franek must be a young man now, and I sometimes wonder where he is, may be I should go and find him..maybe he is in France...maybe the story to be continued?

If you have a moment please read the story, it is on my website at www.elaphoto.com uder "current show".

With best regards.

Ela Kinowska
Photographer
Ottawa, Ontario
elaphoto.com

Our Aureo Anello Associazione has formed a sister Asociatia Agrustic Somnacuni in Romania. We in the historic 'English' Cemetery in Florence where so many opponents of slavery are buried have found many Romanian Roma families in dire poverty, the Roma also having been slaves, who beg in the streets of Florence. We give them work restoring the Cemetery's garden and iron work, the women, excellent carpenters, build our library's shelves, and we help them with an alphabetization school for each other, where they teach in the Romanes language using Romanian letters, while creating booklets with drawings in four languages which we publish on the www.ringofgold.eu website. Together we make wooden rocking cradles for the babies, the project being called 'From Graves to Cradles'. We now seek funding for the families to repair each others' roofs, in Romania, with gutters for water collection and solar panels for a light, as well as continuing the literacy project started here, in a project called 'Home Building, Home Schooling'.

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