Thursday, 06 November 2014 00:00

The Romani Movement

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According to the definition every attempt to organize people themselves through same ideology and to achieve certain goals should be considered as a social movement. This means that any attempt on formal or informal group of Roma through particular idea and achieving certain interests is considered as a movement. It is important to note that every social movement has its own life cycle: it is created, achieve success or failure and eventually turns into something else, or cease to exist[1].

It is assumed that more serious attempts of creating Roma movement started in the early 90's with the self-organizing of Romani activists by the formation of NGOs. The attempts of creating the Roma Union and initial ideas of self-definition are still present and as such they are taken into consideration this analysis. The beginnings of the Roma movement viewed through a historical perspective can be considered from 1971 by keeping the first Roma Congress and the creation of the Roma Union. Beginnings of the so called "Roma movement" cause a significant change in the behavior towards Roma in the society. It can be freely say that before coping with the political and social reality of the Roma was defined "outside" by various systems of power and the majority population.

Motivation for equality and recognition in largely was the result of changes in a way how Roma dealt with its identity. Assimilation of Roma from the majority population and denying mainly just because of the fear publicly to declared as Roma was replaced with explicit support and acceptance of Roma culture and identity. Already emancipation was not needed to depend on loss of cultural identity. Roma wanted to be recognized and respected by society as Roma. Together with the political demands there were attempts to describe the history and culture of the Roma from inside and make available for non-Roma. The London Congress cause to enhance the organization of Roma around the world resulting with founding of more active civil Roma organizations in Europe and beyond. An important step for the future was the establishment of the International Romani Union whose members are delegates from various countries.

This process had a positive effect on building the confidence of the whole movement. In addition, the period between the third and fourth congress has been improved the protection of national and minority rights in several countries. International Romani Union (IRU) in several meetings with representatives of various institutions of the UN, UNESCO, Council of Europe and the European Commission were discussed Roma issues that, unfortunately, not yielded any serious success. Meanwhile, the International Roma Union became a member of several organizations of UN and Council of Europe.

This analysis is based on the concept and perspectives of ethnic mobilization for better understanding of the specifics of Roma movement. Indeed Roma movement can be analyzed with other theories depending on the aim and purpose of the study, but my observation of dominance of the national self-definition on characteristics of the Roma identity can make the application one of the possible approaches to analyze the past of Roma movement.


Theory of ethnic mobilization

Ethnic mobilization is a process in which groups are organized around a feature of ethnic identity (e.g., skin color, language, customs...) who are looking for collective purposes. Cultural aspect of ethnic mobilization theory emphasizes the role of culture in the process of ethnic mobilization. With other words, this theory says that members of an ethnic group share common values ​​and moral norms, and with this determines the pattern of ethnic group mobilization. According Schöpflin (2005) ethnic groups use the instruments of cultural reproduction such as clothing, language, symbols, and rituals and so on to confirm their community. It is assumed that members of the same ethnic group will have some natural connection because of their shared culture. In this context it is clear that Roma have the same culture, language, history suggests the idea that they have a common bond and interest to mobilize. In the classic sense, this may be true in other communities, but not with Roma mobilization. The reasons for this are several factors: first, the identity and the definition of minority. Although the term Roma was officially adopted at the First Romani Congress in London, many Roma subgroups refuse to declare themselves as Roma because of repression, discrimination, or simply want to be assimilated. Variation of Roma groups is also making difficulties in identification as a "one group" and variation of the language and the adoption of the different culture of the countries in which they are living.

Another aspect speaks of "reactive ethnicity" that argues that the rise of ethnic mobilization is requested by the unequal division of resources along ethnic lines. But this is applied more for territorially based ethnic identities, and as it states from the Balkan examples when minorities has desire for territory they most likely will achieve their goals, no matter if they don’t win the land. For a better understanding the desire for land in this respect means just ideology, does not necessary mean conflict for gaining territory[2]. Romani movement’s ideology was never for gaining territory, in the most of cases started with defining the basic symbols and addressing the problems in national governments or international organization.

One other approach in ethnic mobilization theory is a political process perspective. This view regards as important the activities of those who represent themselves as leaders of ethnic minorities, their resources, their ability to make public claims in the name of the minority, and their attempts to garner mass support. Leaders are an important factor in the mobilization of people. The identification with the leader is a necessary condition in trust building. Among Roma, there were a couple of effort of creating leaders, but very often because of disperse of the Roma around the world this effort were unsuccessful. Usually, well-known Roma (artist, actors, activist) were declared like leaders, but they did not have any leadership skills. However, the political process perspective directs attention on two additional elements: political opportunity structure and “framing”[3]. Political opportunity structure means the institutional structure of the state in determining patterns of mobilization. It refers to the political conditions into which the movement must enter when it becomes active. In this term Roma minority was not recognized by the state until 90s, so often in some countries national minorities even don’t exist. Another fact is that in the communist regime Romani movement was forbidden. Yugoslavia was participating in the first congress, but after Romani leaders tried to organize that movement was strictly forbidden by Tito.


However, framing process starts first with the problem definition.

”We might say that opportunities, do not exist until perceived, interests do not exist until defined and constituencies do not exist until named. When activist want, to form a movement they have to deal with matters connected to interpretation and signification. Before a movement can be a successful activist must point to opportunities, define interests, and name constituencies in order to shape public’s understanding and to persuade people to join or support their movement.”

(Jane Jenson, 1998:5)


In order to mobilize a group, activists need to draw the attention of potential group members to a particular problem, and explain that problem in a way that it permits collective action. The ability of activist to attract people among Roma is very small. Firstly, although they faced with similar problems activist’s capacity is limited because there are not incentives that would make people participate in such a movement. Moreover, secondly, Roma, who are better suited in the society often forget about these problems and do not identify themselves in that basket.

Ethnic mobilization theory has considered Roma to be a group on the margins of society that is characterized by a strong feeling of ethnic identity. Although there is a certain amount of disagreement among academics about how exactly to understand the nature of Romani identity, almost all scholars agree that this identity is a potentially powerful tool for mobilization[4]. Romani identity is necessary mainly because has contributed to general understanding of the Roma as one single group and thereby have provided activists with framework for political action.


My stance:

Roma identity is increasingly being accepted as a political reality while simultaneously ethnic mobilization continues to be an important channel for political expression. Therefore, strengthening the identity between different groups of Roma in the future will help to identify and mobilize more people. A new generation of educated Roma, who has positions in governments, NGOs and students who succeed to acquire organizational and leadership skills play a crucial role for the future of the Roma movement. The need for unity and defining strategic objectives and tactics will determine the future success. Roma diaspora among the countries grows, as well the number of Roma, who migrated to Europe, it is a phenomenon that can change the course of financing of Roma moving into a new dimension and quality.

Seeing and showing the problems faced by Roma exclusively through the prism of ethnicity is not without dangers. It can draw attention on these problems, and it might encourage Roma to begin more and more to join to political and civic actions and to ensure tools through which can help to change the exclusion from social and political life.

Media and technology, especially the Internet are part of a new trend in mobilization. We are witnesses of few lows of regimes in several African countries generally they have started to organize through new mass media which shows as an efficient tool for organizing a group of people who share a common goal which they want to realize through mobilization. I think this trend can use in the mobilizing of the Roma community especially among the younger generation of Roma who are very active on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but also and non-Roma who want to join Roma movement for this is necessary to have clear goal in which direction we would like Roma movement to ranges. With this component of mobilizing, the Roma movement will be visible in each state. If we had the aim to make massive protest in which we will express a dissatisfaction how we are treat might cause severe reactions in Europe. So I think that this component could be of immense help to the Roma movement.

Is expected to continue building the Roma movement with the new generation of educated young Roma. In young educated Roma is invested effort, time, finances and previous experience which need to make them ready to cope with current problems and needs of the Roma community. Older generation expects this potential to be used appropriately and ensure continuity in the extension of collective goals and interests of the Roma movement. So far, there are different views on the Roma movement whether really exists and which are his goals. In my opinion, our Roma movement has its characteristics and values ​​and as such has a legitimate right to self-defined i.e. to not borrow concepts from other civic movements. It is certainly movement that is still being built and upgraded across multiple generations of activists and course it has its continuity and collective memory. Matter of time and quality of the generations that will come to demonstrate adequate political and collective maturity for taking responsibility in their hands.

[1] Sidney Tarrow, Power in Movement: Collective Action, Social Movements and Politics, Cambridge University Press, 1994

[2] The Romani movements, Minority Politics and Ethnic Mobilization in Contemporary Central Europe, Peter Vermeersch, page 34-35

[3] Ibid p. 39

[4] Ibid p. 40

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