Romani "Obama" fights for rights at the European Parliament
The Czech Republic is being shaken by anti-Romani unrest, France is deporting Romani people from eastern Europe and Britain and Germany are reporting similar problems. More and more politicians are playing the anti-Romani card and voters are rewarding them.
There is hope, however, and it lies in the example of a Romani "Obama" in the Netherlands. Czech Television has now broadcast a report about him (for the video in Czech only, please see here).
Roman Krok was born in the Czech town of Náchod but has been living for 20 years in northern Holland. He is a graduate in social work and has made it to the European Parliament as an intern, where he recently gave a speech.
Mr Krok writes a blog about his life and has called his story "From the ghetto to the Parliament". News of the current anti-Romani unrest in the Czech Republic recently reached his home province in northern Holland.
The 27-year-old has taken the news personally. "When I watch those demonstrations on television, I sometimes feel like I'm watching footage from Iraq. The worst thing is that Romani children see it. What must they be wondering? We are not welcome here, they don't like us," says Mr Krok, who moved from the Czech Republic to the Netherlands at the age of eight.
There are 12 million Roma living in a European Union of half a billion people, but they have yet to develop their own political elite. There is only one Romani representative at the European Parliament, Lívia Jároka of Hungary.
"We need a cultural change among Romani people. From a closed community desperately defending themselves, the Roma need to become an integrated, open, self-confident European minority," MEP Jároka recently declared in a speech at the EP.
Roman Krok shares the MEP's dream. In his blog he describes what he has had to overcome in life in order to be able to shake hands with the chair of the European Parliament.
Mr Krok writes in English and had no problem delivering a speech recently to a session of the EP. "My main language is Dutch, but I still try to speak Czech and we do speak Czech at home. Otherwise I know English and a bit of Romanes," he says.
The young blogger takes as his role model none other than the first black president of the United States of America, Barack Obama. He has Obama's "Yes, we can" campaign slogan posted above his desk at the EP.
"As Romani people we can take Obama as an example, he showed us that it's possible. What was unimaginable just a few years ago is now reality, he achieved that," the intern says.
Roman Krok was born on Šafránice Street, an impoverished Romani neighborhood in the eastern Bohemian town of Náchod. In 1994 his parents decided to leave the Czech Republic and seek a better life abroad.
They spent three years living in various shelters for asylum-seekers in the Netherlands. In the end they convinced the authorities there that Romani people cannot live safely in the Czech Republic.
Mr Krok's father took tests to become a truck driver and a welder and his mother took a course on providing social care to senior citizens in the Netherlands. Mr Krok graduated with a degree in social work from the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht.
For the time being, the reality for Romani people in Europe is very far removed from Mr Krok's dream. The recent explosion of racially motivated unrest targeting them is not confined to the Czech Republic.
While the French government is deporting Romani EU citizens back to Bulgaria and Romania, in Sweden the police have been maintaining Romani genealogies, including information about minors. Even the European Union's much-mocked political correctness is disappearing.
Anyone believing they might only hear words of praise about Romani people on the floor of the EP will be surprised by these quotes:
- "Unfortunately, there are gangsters in the Romani community who turn their children into pickpockets and prostitutes." - Paul Nutall, British MEP, UK Independence Party
- "Is this the kind of integration you want? To aid criminals who don't send their children to school while Italian couples can't even afford their own homes?" - Claudio Morganti, Italian MEP, Northern League (Lega Nord)
- "The Roma cause many of their own problems themselves, through their traditions." - Philip Claeys, Belgian MEP, The Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang)
Mr Krok does not pretend there are no problems. His main aim is change.
He intends to demonstrate that not all Romani people are the same. Now that Mr Krok has his degree and has completed his internship at the EP, he is looking for his next opportunity. The 12 % youth unemployment rate in the Netherlands doesn't work in his favor.
He believes he will find work with his university diploma. He might even return to his native country for a few years to help.
"I'd like to work with Romani youth. I'd like to be a good role model, mainly to stimulate them to go to school," he says.
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