It has been 46 years since the first World Romani Congress called for Roma self-determination and international unity. Despite significant progress, we live now in a time of unprecedented crises that hit our communities on all sides. Today, on International Roma Day, we Roma need to ask ourselves: in the ever-changing European context, how can we effectively continue our fight to better the lives of our communities?
Growing insecurity, violence, and uncertainty deepen the exclusion of Roma in Europe. The economic and migration crises, radicalized political landscape, spread of terrorist attacks, and rising xenophobic nationalism have fueled fear and the destabilization of democratic institutions. A significant part of the European electorate now supports parties that seek to limit democracy, and that reject equality and social cohesion.
In this climate, the anti-Roma politics of the last decade is now accompanied by declining support for Roma in the agendas of the EU and national governments. The success of recent policy gains, such as the EU Roma Framework and Roma Integration 2020, depends on the will of national governments and public servants to implement them effectively—a will that is often lacking. As a consequence, the impact on our communities remains limited in scope, scale, and sustainability.
Moreover, there are no effective mechanisms for the more than 12 million Roma voices to be heard. The EU and national public institutions do not represent our interests. Significant numbers of our people who do vote are influenced by fear, violence, and politically motivated evictions, or manipulated through widespread vote-buying practices or outright fraud.
Existing mechanisms, including the platform of Roma civil society representatives inside of the EU Roma Framework, have proven ineffective as the input of Roma civil society is not taken into account by policymakers. As a consequence, decisions that affect us are made illegitimately.
Some of the responsibility lies with us Roma. In our public and political engagement, we have yet to maximize collective sources of legitimacy and power. This limits our political and policy impact: researchers question whether we are evidence-based, policymakers question whether our aims are feasible, and politicians question whether we are politically legitimate.
What can we do to change this?
Connect to the wisdom and creative power of our ancestors and their self-determination.
We must remember how we became who we are today, how we learned and sustained our language and traditions. It is because Roma leaders sacrificed and shaped opportunities for us, making sure that we developed and matured. Now we must commit to supporting those who follow in our footsteps, to demonstrating loyalty, to working together more effectively, to preserving our uniqueness and aspiring for more.
Sustain the moral and political foundations of our leadership.
We should work towards inclusive and democratic institutions, policies, and practices. Although often left without many options, we cannot let ourselves become infected with hatred. This is not always easy due to the paradox of social cohesion in Europe, which is becoming increasingly multicultural while remaining monocultural in its concentrated wealth and power. However, no matter how difficult the situation has been, we have demonstrated that change is always possible. If we build on our long tradition of resistance, it can make a real difference.
Break the sense of fear and intimidation that has been imposed upon us.
Given current threats to the survival of institutions such as the European Union and Central European University, this can only be done if we resist the politics of fear and anger, and refuse to be intimidated by those who believe us to be less worthy or capable. We have to confront the lies. Some of us may be ostracized, marginalized, pushed back, and pushed down—but this has been our experience for centuries. If we exercise moral militancy, together with humility and wisdom, it can fuel the courage needed to expand the domain of freedom and justice for our people.
Strengthen our organizational resilience and effectiveness.
We have to model excellence in good governance, leadership, and management. At the same time, we must exercise more effective policy engagement strategies: raising politically organized voices in public campaigns, leveraging support for pro-Roma advocacy, building partnerships with decision makers, and becoming more rooted in the communities to which we are accountable. We should also take advantage of the emergence of a new generation of Roma advocates across Europe to build support for a shared set of goals and bridge misunderstandings between younger and older Roma activists.
Exercise collective self-governance for long-term impact in our communities.
The new context requires an adaptive response. This is only possible if we work across networks, coalitions, and strategic alliances in service of our higher aspirations. The only way to make substantial progress is to increase our collective ability to leverage differences and look for fundamentally different approaches to strategic collaboration.
We, Roma, have a double challenge: we must strengthen our resilience in the face of hostility and thrive in closing societies. Only by looking back at what we achieved and by connecting with others across countries will we find the inspiration to keep up the fight.