29 June 2015 Published in Romalitico Written by  Romalitico

Why should we support the European Roma Institute

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Throughout the centuries, different types of institutional policies towards Roma impede their development and emancipation. Variety of policies were ranged from forbidding the Roma language to persecutions as well as mass evictions and revival of anti-Roma racism in the latest of our time. All these practices and policies primarily had an ultimate aim to extinguish the Roma cultures or fix them in accordance to the needs of the majoritarian societies. In the last three decades, the existing mainstream institutions endorsed a model of assimilation for integrating the minorities through the system of education and promotion of the state culture as a convergence between minorities and the majority.

However, Roma survived and during the years developed a “strategy of survival” often through hiding or denial of their identity. Up until a recent period, Roma have been defined by non-Roma from different perspectives. As the Romani scholar Ian Hancock (2002) once said that when a community loses a sense of its own history, when you cannot tell people where you came from, it's open season for outsiders to construct and define your identity. Or in the case of Roma as Mihai Surdu claims “Roma have been subjected to a variety of scientific practices such as counting, classifying, demographic predictions, mapping, photographing, and DNA profiling”[1] he also adds that “all these practices are part and parcel of a trained vision that itself needs to be observed.”[2] In this regard, we are witnessing a undignified representation of Roma cultural values in academic research which in the last decade managed to (re)construct from a distorted interpretations, being far from the Roma reality, yet, strong enough to “define” who Roma are, what Romani identity is.

As Herbert J. Gans (1995) explains, such judgments are created by not knowing the people directly, but rather knowing them often indirectly including the representatives from institutions, media, and majority that are an important factor in creating judgment toward groups. Also, he notes that judgments are grounded on imagined knowledge that might come from stories and ideas generated from the values and prejudices of the judges, as well as the position in the society of the judge. In the case of Roma, we are witnesses that very often, the representatives of institutions, media, and the mainstream officials are those who judge the Roma based on the prejudices and imagined misperceptions.  For example Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister of France and Minister of the Internal Affairs said “The majority [of Roma] should be delivered back to the border. We are not here to welcome these people. I'd remind you of [former Socialist Premier] Michel Rocard's statement: ‘It's not France's job to deal with the misery of the whole world’”[3]. Still, there are many examples from representatives of institutions, scholars, and journalist that demonize and undervalue the Roma identity.

However, Roma cultural capital endured throughout the years, transferring values from one to another generation. Although the Roma culture should be part of the European family of cultures and niche to build upon it for successful integration, frequently it is wrongly considered by the mainstream as an obstacle. When nation states built institutions for preserving their own culture, Roma “had to live torn between the pariah status and the embrace of the dominant culture” (Hancock 1988). In addition, nation-states often neglect the contribution of Roma for establishment of their states, culture, and values.

Therefore, Roma are in a desperate need to establish an institution that will promote and preserve the language, history, arts, and culture. This would be a crucial tool to cope with the anti-Roma discourse, and nurture positive self-esteem to the future generations of Roma. This is why institutions matter, not only because they shape the behavior, beliefs and opportunities of individuals and groups, but also affect the policies and challenge the power in the society.  As such, establishing the European Roma Institute is more than necessary in a period when right wing parties gain more power and discrimination towards Roma seems ‘normal’ for the ordinary citizens. Therefore, it is important to establish an institution that would bring closer the Roma cultural values to the European system of values and cultures.

Up until today, many Roma and pro-Roma allies fought against injustice, discrimination, social exclusion, and poverty. We know that there are different types of organizations dealing with all these issues, but yet there is a need to advance the standards and effects of Roma self-organization.  The insufficient involvement in policy making processes legitimately draws the path for setting Roma focused institution such as ERI. Having a Roma institution as ERI not only gets us closer to decision-making processes, but also makes us responsible and accountable social actors. 

Having ERI as an institution lead by Roma leadership will promote the “Romani arts, culture, history, talent and their cultural and intellectual contributions to society” (Concept paper, European Roma Institute 2015) and contribute to overcome Romanophobia and familiarize Europeans with the Roma identity. We see ERI as an initiative driven from previous initiatives and aspirations for inclusion of Roma into mainstream societies.  The new value is that the idea of establishing the institute strives to earn a consensual supports by Roma themselves and the state institutions across Europe. In addition, the novelty of this idea is the emphasis of the leadership and responsibility of current, and next Roma generations vis-à-vis the longstanding inclusion process of Roma in Europe.  ERI would be a new structure from Roma scholars, activists, artists, professors and others, that contribute to set shared vision and professional articulation in promoting and advancing the uniqueness and diversity of Roma cultural, social and political identity. This makes ERI a long-term sustainable initiative.

Furthermore, the conclusion of the panel discussion Romani Voice in Academia: The representation and contribution of Roma in Budapest boldly demonstrated that there is an urgent need for Roma scholars to advance their visibility and their voice in the academic circles. It was noted that the current representation of Roma scholars should cooperate with universities to facilitate the access and contribution of Roma to academic research and knowledge making. In addition, as Rostas, one of the panelist noted that it is not simply a matter of having more Roma in academia that will improve the discourse but an acceptance and recognition of Roma as true academicians. It is time, Roma to take a critical “look at the lookers”[4] and time to challenge incorrect claims that define Roma as fundamentally different to everyone else.

Team Romalitico fully supports and stands for the ERI initiative, committed to contribute to its mission with our capacities and vision for prosperity and inclusion of Roma in all societal spheres. We invite CoE member states, universities, cultural and research institutions to join us in support of ERI for the sake of making our societies more aware for the rich Roma heritage.


 

Hancock, Ian. 2002. We are the Romani people. University Of Hertfordshire Press

Gans, Herbert J. 1995. The war against the poor: The underclass and antipoverty policy. Basic Books

Hancock, Ian. 1988. The Pariah Syndrome: An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution. Karoma Pub

Concept paper, European Roma Institute 2015

 

[1] Surdu, Mihai – Who defines Roma?, last access 25.06.2015, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/who-defines-roma

[2] Ibid

[3] BBC - French minister Valls defends call for Roma expulsions, last access 25.06.2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24273380

[4] Surdu, Mihai – Who defines Roma?, last access 25.06.2015, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/who-defines-roma

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Last modified on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 19:43

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