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Romani Studies scholars don't like what they've learned so far from cooperation with Council of Europe and EC

20.4.2015 22:24
Yaron Matras, linguist at the University of Manchester specializing in Romani and other languages (PHOTO: YouTube.com)
Yaron Matras, linguist at the University of Manchester specializing in Romani and other languages (PHOTO: YouTube.com)

Professor Yaron Matras of the University of Manchester has released a paper summarizing the achievements to date of the European Academic Network on Romani Studies (EANRS), a Joint Programme of the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Commission (EC) that is ending on 31 May. In his assessment, Matras says the "unprecedented opportunity" that the network represents has encountered two main obstacles since its establishment five years ago, namely, what he calls the failure of the CoE and EC to incorporate the EANRS into their Romani agendas, and what he calls efforts by other actors to use the EANRS as an instrument for "identity politics".

Despite these obstacles, Matras insists the EANRS has created an "unprecedented" system for helping Romani studies scholars engage with each other, especially through its sponsorship of research into policy through a Summer University on Romani Studies at Central European University that brought many early-career Romani Studies researchers together. He also says the EANRS has facilitated "core debates" about conceptualizing Romani identity and identifying Roma as a target group for policy, about quantitative data collection on Roma, and about the role of academics in providing "quality assurance" to policy interventions.  

Matras does not, however, believe the EANRS has yet made any direct contributions to European policy design because the CoE and the EC have been reluctant, if not resistant, to taking its input on board. However, Kathrin Merkle, the EANRS project coordinator at the CoE, says the network has made it possible for academics to provide their expertise to groups such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, UNESCO, the UN-OHCHR, and the World Bank, also pointing out that its experts contributed to the DG Justice Progress Report on the implementation by EU Member States of their National Roma Integration Strategies, where she cites their input as reflected on pages 4 and 9 (notes 11 and 20) of the 2012 report.

Matras's paper describes the EANRS's efforts to contribute to the discussion on the establishment of a European Roma Institute (ERI), claiming that academic calls for adherence to the principles of pluralism, scientific rigor and  transparency in research were treated as an "unwelcome political intervention", not as expertise. When asked to comment on the allegations that this input not welcome, project coordinator Merkle wrote to Romea.cz:  "There were some misunderstandings in communication, and comments made by the EANRS at one point on an unauthorised preliminary draft paper on [the] ERI. This did not necessarily help. I would not say that the EANRS has been an 'unwelcome guest', but... there are certain rules to be respected by both sides... Understanding these, addressing any differences in interpretation and contributing after all to bridge-building in a positive and constructive spirit is what we should strive for, and this is what our EANRS project team tried to do. But... [t]here seem to be strong tensions and currents in the Roma research community of which the Secretariat is not always fully aware and which at times seem to impact on the Networks’ and its members’ communications."

The current chair of the Scientific Committee (SC) of the EANRS, Elisabeth Tauber, PhD, a researcher at the Free University of Bolzano, told Romea.cz that she shares Matras's experience of doors being closed to the academic expertise that has been offered both formally and informally to the CoE and EC. "One could say that four to five years are a rather short period to implement a functioning communication between policy and academia, but one could also say that everything [needed] was there (budget as well as engaged academics). In concrete institutional practice, EANRS was never embedded into the CoE Romani agenda," she told Romea.cz.

As for the EANRS's expertise regarding the ERI, Tauber confirms the account presented by Matras. She says the academics were told to not "intervene politically" and to stick to the "diplomatic ethos of the CoE".

"The SC... had to face these strong contradictions between institutional and political rhetoric and concrete institutional and political practice," Tauber told Romea.cz. "I agree with Yaron Matras's conclusion that the EANRS, 'to the EC (...) was yet another 'project', a budget item that was signed off and sub-contracted to the Council of Europe for delivery without any earnest attempt to formulate objectives or performance indicators'."

Matras says the EANRS's input regarding the ERI was that research should never be led or licensed by political organizations, that "academic or cultural management" should not be carried out by "self-appointed bodies", and that qualification and expertise thresholds should never be "lowered on the basis of self-proclaimed ancestry". He claims it is still unclear whether the CoE is committed to supporting a concept of the ERI that will be guided by this advice.

The legacy of the EANRS will apparently be its Europe-wide network, which reportedly involves a diverse range of members of different academic disciplines working with Romani people. "This is an intellectual legacy," Matras's paper concludes, "one that the discontinuation of funding and the suspension of privileged access to policy bodies, such as it was, are unable to erase."

Tauber told Romea.cz that thanks to the experience of interacting with European policy developers, members of the network now have an "intellectual awareness of the political dynamics and agendas underlying the representation of 'inclusion policies'." She also said there is now an even more profound political awareness among Romani Studies scholars of the importance of independent research.  

Merkle told news server Romea.cz that contributions from the EANRS had been regularly invited by various CoE bodies, such as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the CoE Youth Department, and the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), as well as from bodies outside the CoE, such as the Assembly of European Regions and DG Justice, which regularly invited the EANRS to consultations with civil society, to the Roma Platform and to the Roma Summit. The EANRS database of 405 experts remains available to all CoE initiatives overseen by the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma Issues and his team.

When asked what the plans are for the continuation of the EANRS, Merkle said that while it will formally conclude as a Joint Programme between the CoE and EU on 31 May, the hope is that it will "consolidate its tools and possible involvement in policy processes" even after that. "The exact format and shape of the next phase still needs to be defined, and the final showcase on the EANRS on 22 April at the European Youth Centre in Strasbourg offers one opportunity for this," Merkle wrote to Romea.cz.

Outcomes of the EANRS 2011-2015

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Osobnosti, Výzkum, doporučení, Evropská platforma pro romskou inkluzi , Evropská unie, poradenství, program, Romani people, Romistika, The European Roma and Travellers Forum , Věda, Council of Europe, EU, European Academic Network on Romani Studies, European Commission, opinions, Roma Summit, UN



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