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The Roma Are Their Own Best Advocates

Boy singing at microphone
Two musicians perform at the launch of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture. © Gordon Welters/Laif for the Open Society Foundations

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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