This evening the Committee hosted a magnificent photo exhibition about Europe’s Rroma people by Yves Leresche by organising a fascinating debate about the Rroma and the challenges they, and Europe, face. A first extraordinary fact. The debate began after the plenary session had ended for the day, at seven, and continued until well after nine; that is, during the two hours when most people usually eat their evening meal. And yet, the meeting room was choc-a-bloc full. Among our spontaneous guests was Dani Klein, lead singer with Vaya con Dios and a strong supporter of the Rroma cause. The speakers on the podium, in addition to our President, Mario Sepi, included two of our members who have been most active in this field, Anne-Marie Sigmund and Madi Sharma, Jan Jarab from Vladimir Spidla’s Private Office and Alekos Tsolakis (a Commission official who has done a huge amount of good work on this cause), but also Santino Spinelli, a Rroma musician and artist and Nicolae Gheorghe, also a Rroma and a very learned one at that. Among our guests also was ‘Payou’, President of the Gitane and Tzigane Association in Languedoc Roussilon. I cannot summarise the debate easily, so what I’ll do is just jot down some of the views and observations I noted. (Click on ‘read the rest of this entry’)
‘Cultures are not innocent.’ Jan Jarab
‘Integration doesn’t mean homogenisation.’ Mario Sepi
‘Intercultural dialogue is an integral part of civil dialogue.’ Anne-Marie Sigmund
‘We asked for a Roma policy and we got a Roma platform.’ Martin ???
‘Being a victim means you divest yourself of responsibility for yourself.’ Nicolae Gheorghe
‘They project what we expect them to project because it’s the only way for them to be recognised. If we change our view about Rroma they will change their view about themselves.’ Alekos Tsolakis
‘We are never near them, but when they are in need the money lenders, pimps and traffickers are never far away.’ Nicolae Gheorghe
‘I know the price of going to school.’ Gheorghe again, arguing that notwithstanding the prejudice Rroma children experience at school, education is the only way out.
‘The Rroma were slaves for 200 years in Romania but I only learnt this when I came to Belgium.’ A Romanian Rroma who had been offered an education by a benefactor and who was describing how the cultural memories of the Rroma peoples are so difficult to pass on in the absence of a written tradition.
There was a wonderful anecdote from one of the EESC’s Scottish members, the kilt-wearing Brendan Burns, who related how he had been invited to a Sikh wedding in Glasgow. All the Scottish Sikhs were wearing turbans and kilts. But the other half of the family, from Birmingham, were just wearing suits and turbans. His point was that it is easier to integrate into strong cultural identities than weak ones.
The undeniable conclusion, though, was that there is much work to be done, and at the moment ‘Europe’ has no legal basis for doing it. All the Commission can do is encourage the member states to cooperate more closely. In the meantime, economic developments mean that the Rroma, who so often subsist at the margins of economies anyway, are becoming increasingly marginalised, increasingly impoverished and, alas, increasingly the target of racial prejudice and xenophobia.