We Want to Hear What You Think About the European Roma Institute
By Zeljko Jovanovic
This post was coauthored by Dr. Nicoleta Bitu, on behalf of the Alliance for the European Roma Institute*, Ulrich Bunjes, special representative of the secretary general for Roma issues at the Council of Europe; and Zeljko Jovanovic, director of the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office.
Over the last few months, we have been promoting the initiative to establish a European Roma Institute. Numerous discussions around this initiative have been taking place at public events in cities throughout Europe, including Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Berlin, Strasbourg, Sarajevo, and Krakow, as well as online.
During these events, representatives of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, experts, activists, academics, artists, curators, media experts, and governmental institutions have had the opportunity to express their support or criticism of the Institute. And now that we have come to a complete proposal, we would like to open this discussion up even wider and allow everyone the chance to participate.
The idea of the European Roma Institute is not new. In fact, it has been proposed by Romani intellectuals for decades. Agnes Daroczi, from Hungary, has been one of the most vocal proponents of the idea. “When in 1992, after the change of the political regime, I founded the Romedia Foundation, I knew that in order to be able to speak of ourselves, to express our interests, to develop a suitable image, we need our own narratives and our own institutions,” she says.
The Council of Europe and the Open Society Foundations want to provide institutional, material, and financial support to make the European Roma Institute a reality. As George Soros and Thorbjørn Jagland wrote recently in a joint statement: “It would act as an important symbol—and symbols are important, as is the ability to tell one’s story in one’s own voice.”
Today, the idea is more relevant and urgent than ever. The economic crisis and political extremism are scaling up historical anti-Gypsyism to the level that it can influence political and policy decisions that affect Roma. More than ever in the last 20 years, Roma culture and identity are used as scapegoats. If we want to achieve justice and equality for the Roma in this environment, we must create a long-lasting response at the European scale that can provide an alternative narrative about Roma and counter the negative prejudice that poisons people’s minds.
We propose that the European Roma Institute be an independent organization that aims—through arts, culture, history, and media—to battle prejudice and increase the self-esteem of Roma. We hope it will rigorously document Romani artistic and cultural heritage of all forms, not just the mainstream, and provide opportunities for creative exchange.
One of the founding principles of this initiative is that Roma themselves should present the image of who they are and who they are not. Roma intellectuals, artists, journalists, writers, linguists, historians, and others will lead the institute, with the support and cooperation of many other members and contributors, regardless of ethnic origin.
According to the rules and procedures of the Council of Europe, the proposal for the institute must first be reviewed by member states to gauge their interest. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe formally endorsed the next preparatory steps and is currently consulting the member states’ experts. We are opening the proposal for views and suggestions from nongovernmental stakeholders.
We would like to hear your views about this proposal as well. You can express them via email and Facebook. We also plan to organize telephone conference calls. All those interested in a teleconference can email us.
*The following are members of the Alliance for the European Roma Institute: European Roma Cultural Foundation, Romedia Foundation, Romano ButiQ, Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Katalin Barsony, Dr. Nicoleta Bitu, Dr. Ethel Brooks, Timea Junghaus, Sead Kazanxhiu, Saimir Mile, Andrzej Mirga, Anna Mirga, Dijana Pavlovic, Nadir Redzepi, Romani Rose, Dr. Iulius Rostas, and Mihaela Zatreanu.