Summit of Mayors on Roma : “Building mutual trust at the grassroots” – 22 September 2011, France

    Panel discussion: Roma inclusion: what obstacles?

    Address by Els de Groen, Former Member of the European Parliament,President of the Global Network of Artists “Khetanes”

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

    We, artists and scholars from World Artists Initiative "Khetanes", are very concerned about the paramilitary marches, mobs yelling "Gypsies to gass," and further escalations in nowadays Europe. As responsible citizens we offer our creativity and scholarly skills to help remedy the situation.

    "We" are hundreds of artists and scholars from the entire globe. Eighty percent of our Members are Roma, Sinti, Kale, Manush or Yenish. They are supported by artists and scholars of non-Roma descent. A strict definition of Roma is that persons with two Romani Parents are 100 % Roma, with one parent 50 %. This approach comes close to Hitler's racial doctrine, where a single granny - or 12.5 % - was sufficient to be sent to Auschwitz. We believe that human beings have the right to determine their own identity, apart from the exact number of Roma family members.

    Harder to define than Romani ethnicity, is Romani culture, as there is no other nation whose culture has been so mystified and stereotyped as theirs. In popular misrepresentations, they are thieves, beggars, lazybones, slobs and fortune tellers, but… also gifted musicians and dancers, and happy wanderers. These assumptions tempt film makers to produce movies filled with golden teeth, crystal balls and kidnapped children, beating clichés into our heads.

    When I finished a book on Roma, 15 years ago, my publisher reacted with disappointment. "But," he complained, "they are so normal!"

    Though Roma do love music, they also love jobs, good food, a nice house and a future for their children that does not include being forced from place to place. The pain of Roma elites is that they are not perceived as Roma anymore and often bluntly sidelined, their accomplishments ignored. Outsiders' perceptions are based on stereotypes and on a minority of Roma who misbehave.

    Misbehaviour, however, cannot be linked to nations. There are places in Europe where a majority is far right or Mafia infiltrated, but no one dares extrapolating these profiles to a complete nation. Generalizations are the beginning of discrimination. They divide mankind into accusers and scapegoats, into victimizers and victims.

    For contrary to what populists claim, scapegoating is no remedy to the multiple crises we face. Populist politicians pave the way for social disruption. In the race for voters they don't offer solutions but causes. And in that same race for voters, traditional politicians start to behave like populists, so that populists feel they should move to the right and the right moves to the far right. Most European countries have been taken hostage by this fight for voters. Available funds are blocked or abused, poverty remains and extremism is fuelled. Europe runs back to a past that it believed to have conquered. That is why we started our Initiative.

    How can we help, what can we offer? Within our Initiative are hundreds of Roma writers, actors, musicians, film makers, architects, painters, scholars, and poets, who can visit your municipality, theatres and schools, offering interesting programmes in direct interaction with the local community. You, mayors and regional representatives, can bridge the gap between national authorities and the man in the street. You know daily life better than faraway politicians, whom I used to work with as a Member of European Parliament.

    Our Initiative not only offers programmes that will be an eye opener and break the vicious circle of fear and violence. We also forward ideas and develop plans on food, housing, education and jobs, in close cooperation with our scholars and universities. Millions in money are wasted in building fences and walls, deporting Roma, demolishing properties and mobilising police forces. In managing current riots, Czech Republic invests 1.6 million Euros in police intervention. How much did France invest in repatriation bonuses, that made people leave, only to come back? Instead of complying with EU legislation, Europe is playing ping-pong with its Roma citizens.

    Whereas it is much more profitable NOT to reject the cultural and economical contributions that Roma as a young energetic nation can pay. Europe cannot afford an illiterate and poor people; apartheid is perverted, but it is also expensive!

    The money is there, legislation is there. What we artists and scholars will add are a basis for mutual trust, and workable, fresh ideas for sustainable policies! In our Initiative's name is a Romani word from India: "Khetanes": all together. Meant is togetherness of the Roma people in language and cultural freedoms, as well as togetherness with non-Roma peoples. It is the only way out.

    Thank you!



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