The Roma Are Their Own Best Advocates

When my Foundations and I first took up the cause of the Roma people in the early 1980s, most Roma lived in Eastern Europe, which was still under Communist rule, and conditions were not good.

Unfortunately, in the time since the Berlin Wall fell, the Roma’s position in European society has declined much further. The stigma and negative stereotyping faced by Roma today is so unchanged, in fact, that many successful individual Roma today feel pressure to hide their ethnic identity and “pass” as non-Roma.

Based on 30 years of experience, we came to the conclusion that the situation—one of the worst cases of exclusion and discrimination based on ethnic grounds that we’d seen—would not change for the better until the Roma were able to become their own chief advocates.

That is why I believe that the establishment of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, or ERIAC, is so important. And that is why a broad range of Roma intellectuals—some supported by my foundations, others which are entirely independent—have united around the Alliance for ERIAC.

What these people all know is that the development of a proud sense of Roma identity and self-esteem is of paramount importance, and that official policies, while necessary, will not be sufficient to subdue the deep-seated hostility and racism directed against Roma communities. They are determined to establish within ERIAC an academy where Roma artists can come together to rebuild and further develop Roma identity and self-estem.

Thirty years ago, my Foundations embarked on a mission to help the Roma overcome stigma and negative stereotypes, and to change their position in European society. We did this in part because we know that such negative stereotypes endanger not only the Roma but all of us. The right-wing political parties that stand against the Roma are the very same ones that stand against open society. I remain committed to that mission.

I wish ERIAC the best, and I hope other private philanthropies will join us in this cause soon.

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Growing up,I remember listening to the classical music of Liznt , Brahms etc. and hearing the haunting beautiful influence of what was called gypsy or (roma) music. .....the museum is an acknowledgement of the Romani culture ensuring the perpetuity this people , their beliefs, their expression, their culture and the recognition of their important contribution to civilization Also,..I was particularly moved emotionally when reading that educated Romani may seek to hide or deny their heritage in order to "fit in " to society is human nature to wish to be accepted by wish to belong ..and to be not judged by cruel stereotypes that diminish ones self worth ...With the establishment of the Roma museum, there is no longer a need to "hide " ,but rather to feel proud . finding always ..the encouragement to achieve , to accomplish , to contribute to a society in which one place is assured recognized, appreciated and above all loved ...

but rather to be proud of ones

Historically, music has been about the only way that Roma could get any respect from non-Roma, and the expansion of respect beyond music has been fatally slow. I would never suggest that Roma put away their music, and non-Roma will continue to be attracted to that music, hopefully to good effect -- but I'm struck by how often NGOs begin their support of Roma by focusing on music. I'd like to suggest that other avenues -- political training, pre-elementary/elementary/secondary education, micro finance, small business support, sanitation, livestock where appropriate, a push to hire Roma -- would be more fruitful direct investments. How about a program for 80% of European Roma completing high school within the next 20 years? That is long overdue, and it would be transformational. I know Open Society has some interest in these areas, and I encourage that work. Romany music is not in danger, but Romany minds and bodies are.

Suzanne. What you say makes so much sense and is so thoughtful and so kind ... it is important to address the fundamental needs of a people ...the need for education and opportunity and assure their place in an open and. Democratic society. .... Charlotte

Here in the UK, we have many strands of travelling communities. My own town in NE England has long been a centre for them. However, there are aspects of the lifestyle which can cause misunderstanding or even anger amongst the settled population. These need to be openly addressed by the travellers themselves and, if there is any truth in them, worked on.

For example: do travellers pay income and council taxes? They are users of taxpayer-funded services, yet there is a widespread perception that travellers fail to pay their fair share. What is the truth of this matter?

Another aspect is education. The article mentions "Roma intellectuals". In the UK, intellectualism or any kind of education higher than primary level seems to be scorned and spurned in the traveller community. A TV documentary filmed in one such community showed girls being removed from school after the ages of around nine or ten, with the highest aspiration of children to be a car mechanic or a fashion model. There are no traveller politicians, academics or professionals that I know of here. Why is this the case? Why do local authorities allow children to be denied education?

Honesty and open debate are crucial if we are to move beyond stereotypes. Pretending that there are no serious problems with the travelling model in today's society is to do serious harm to the prospects of the children in those communities.

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