EU-funded online Roma resources project draws criticism from academics and activists
Stefan Benedik of the History Department at the University of Graz in Austria has written a protest letter regarding the online promotional video for a project called "e-roma-resource" (e-RR) funded by the European Commission's Lifelong Learning Programme. The video has since been removed.
The lead partner in the e-RR platform is the Novo Mesto Development and Education Centre of Slovenia. Other partners include the Association for Initiative Development (France), which is responsible for "dissemination", the MULTIKULTURA Union of Associations (Poland) and Trvana University (Slovakia).
The platform says its intention is to assist the education of Roma in Europe. Benedik says the online promotional video, which has been disseminated through social media, was of concern to Romani activists and scholars because it also promoted racist and sexist stereotypes.
The images and message of concern were said to be of a female "Gypsy" fortune-teller exploiting people. Benedik said such images did not bode well for the project.
"As a scholar of Romani studies who has intensively studied this visual language, I’m deeply troubled to find such representations in the context of a project that is meant to explore options to fight discriminatory and exclusionary practices," Benedik wrote in his protest letter, which was posted to the Roma Virtual Network (RVN). "The prolongation and reiteration of racist, sexist imaginary sheds an incredibly problematic light on this whole endeavour and makes one question the validity of the approaches towards Romani communities: If such basic conditions are violated, how can the often complex standards of integration and participatory projects be met?"
Benedik went on to say that he had communicated his concerns to the project administrators directly and that while the exchange had been "very friendly", it had not yielded the desired results. The direct contact information for the funding office responsible for the project is EACEA-KA1-ROMA@ec.europa.eu.
Thomas Acton, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies at the University of Greenwich in the UK, posted to the RVN that in his view the promotional video for the project is just the tip of the iceberg: "I haven't laughed so much since the Irish Government in the 1970s set up a project to teach Traveller youth how to go camping." He noted that the ease with which any online material can be altered or erased makes the preservation of such material by the proposed Roma digital archive even more important.
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