The European Roma Institute: Frequently Asked Questions
The Roma Initiatives Office of the Open Society Foundations, which is one of the founding members of the nascent European Roma Institute (ERI), has released a set of answers to the "Frequently Asked Questions" now circulating about the ERI. The responses were drafted jointly by the Open Society Foundations, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma Issues of the Council of Europe, and the spokespersons for the Alliance for the European Roma Institute; an abridged version of the text is below and the full paper can be read here.
Frequently Asked Questions about the European Roma Institute
1. Is “European Roma Institute” really the most appropriate name for the project?
“European Roma Institute” (ERI) is a working title. Other names have been proposed, like “Roma Centre for Arts and Culture” or “Roma Network for Arts and Culture”, in order to avoid unwanted connotations and misunderstandings. The final name will be selected following further consultations.
2. What has been the discussion process so far?
After 20 years of mostly project-based support for Roma arts and culture from the Council of Europe and the Open Society Foundations, it has become clear that Roma need stable, large-scale organizations to preserve and further develop their culture as part of European cultures. Informal consultations with governments showed that it would be preferable to create an independent organization that can enter into a close partnership with the Council of Europe and its 47 member States. A formal procedure at the Council of Europe began at the Committee of Ministers in February/March 2015, and the Ministers’ Deputies decided to consult the member States’ experts assembled in the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on Roma Issues (CAHROM) about the idea. The ERI proposal has been presented and discussed in various meetings where the envisaged founders have been invited and have outlined the concept. Numerous public statements about the ERI by the proposed founders have also been made at events and online.
3. What will be the decision-making process from here on?
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will resume its debate on the ERI before or immediately after the summer of 2015 in order to prepare the final decisions on the ERI and the Program and Budget of the Council of Europe for the years 2016 and 2017 (which includes financial support for the ERI). This debate will draw on the comments expected from CAHROM in early July 2015 and will relate to the draft statutory documents elaborated by the Council of Europe Secretariat. These documents will include the ERI statutes (specifying membership criteria and governance principles), rules of procedure, a draft budget, and a memorandum of understanding for co-operation between the ERI and the Council of Europe. In parallel, various options for the final choice of the seat of ERI will be explored, together with the willingness of individual member States to host the Institute and contribute to its work. Once the necessary decisions are reached at the political level, open calls for membership and staff recruitment will be launched and the procedure for the selection of the members of the governance organs will commence.
4. Have Roma civil society organizations and institutions been consulted?
Numerous discussions have taken place at events, meetings and with individuals in cities throughout Europe, including Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Berlin, Strasbourg, Sarajevo and Krakow, as well as online. Representatives of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, experts, activists, academics, artists, curators, media experts and governmental institutions have had the opportunity to express their support or criticism of the Institute. The leadership of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) has been consulted about the ERI on various occasions in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Recently, the “Alliance for the European Roma Institute” launched a public consultation to open this discussion up even wider and allow everyone the chance to participate.
5. What is the “Alliance for the European Roma Institute”?
Following discussions among Roma activists, scholars, artists and media professionals, a group of committed Roma individuals and organizations who recognized the value of the ERI proposal publicly supported the idea and expressed their readiness to contribute both materially and financially to the ERI. This group formed the “Alliance”, asking the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Council of Europe to enter into partnership with them on this initiative. All “Alliance” members work on a pro-bono basis as a way to show their determination and contribute to the establishment of the ERI. The “Alliance” has organized meetings and participated in activities at national and international level advocating the establishment of the ERI. It involves individuals as well as organizations. NGOs have often had to obtain the approval of their governance organs before publicly supporting the ERI.
6. Who are the members of the “Alliance” and what will be their role?
The “Alliance” is formed by recognized, experienced scholars, artists,intellectuals and curators (Katalin Barsony, Dr. Nicoleta Bitu, Dr. Ethel Brooks, Timea Junghaus, Sead Kazanxhiu, Saimir Mile, Andrzej Mirga, Anna Mirga, Dr. Ciprian Necula, Dijana Pavlovic, Nadir Redzepi, Romani Rose, Dr. Iulius Rostas and Mihaela Zatreanu), as well as four Roma organizations with extensive expertise in the field of arts and culture (the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, the European Roma Cultural Foundation, Romano ButiQ, and the Romedia Foundation). The “Alliance” is engaging in discussions with a variety of Roma stakeholders (national Roma councils, museums, NGOs, networks) and with the general public through an open consultation, with the aim of gathering concerns, questions and ideas, in order to reflect as much as possible the needs and ideas of grassroots militants and community representatives. Together with the other members of tje ERI, “Alliance” members will ensure that from the start ERI will be able to reach out to Roma communities across the continent, access and co-operate with existing cultural and artistic initiatives, and communicate successfully with the national and international media.
7. What is the starting budget of the European Roma Institute?
The initial budget during the five-year start-up phase is projected at around €600 000 per year. This amount will cover the minimum operational and staff costs, and will allow the running of a minimum level of activities. At the present moment the budget is planned to be covered by contributions from the Open Society Foundations (€ 200 000 per year), the Council of Europe (€ 200 000 per year) and a variety of other funding sources, including the “Alliance” and possibly the host country/city. The “Alliance” has made a pledge to contribute financially and in kind, in the order of € 1 million. The starting budget will allow ERI to make funding bids towards grant-giving institutions and private donors. It will cover salary costs for key staff, two annual meetings of the governance bodies for project planning and building membership, office supplies and technology, two initial projects/programs building upon existing organizational strengths of the partners, and two fellowships supporting young artists, activists and scholars in their work, to be selected through an open call. Facility costs (rent, electricity etc.) will ideally be borne by a sponsoring partner.
8. Will € 600 000 per year be sufficient to pay for all the relevant costs connected to the ERI activities foreseen in the concept?
No, the ERI budget will have to evolve significantly over time. As is the case with practically all comparable international institutes (particularly those operating in the cultural field!), annual budgets will be composed of funding for operational costs and project-based funding for activities. The annual budgets, and hence the choice of activities and projects, will be decided by the governance organs in accordance with the statutory rules. ERI members will be invited to contribute in kind through their expertise, time and, where possible, financial contributions.
9. Will the European Commission co-fund the ERI?
On various occasions in 2014 and 2015, high-level representatives of the European Commission expressed their political support for the ERI and stated that the Institute will be able to access funds from the European Commission through regular procedures. The European Commission cannot be a founder of ERI, since there is currently no institutional build-up for the Commission’s Roma policy foreseen.
10. How will the European Roma Institute reflect the multiplicity of Romani cultures?
The ERI is guided by the principle of the diversity and plurality of Roma cultures and identities. Roma diversity is a living reality and will be fully respected. The ERI will help diverse Romani cultures interact, exchange and co-produce. The ERI will create a space where these pluralities of Roma experiences and cultures will be projected and appreciated.
11. Who can become a member of the European Roma Institute?
ERI membership will be open to organizations and individuals who support the principles in the ERI statutes. Members will be invited to contribute to the work of the Institute and to strengthen its impact. Members will self-select their adherence to the Institute's thematic sections (arts, culture, media and knowledge). Members will have key roles in building the resources of ERI, engaging in creative exchange and co-production, and taking ownership of ERI’s initiatives. They will also be represented on the governance organs of the Institute.
12. What is meant by “Roma leadership” of the European Roma Institute?
Roma representing themselves, and being able to define who they are (and who they are not), is the best way to break down prejudice and stereotypes. It would therefore be inappropriate to establish an institute on Roma culture, history, language and art without Roma leadership. If Roma intellectuals and artists are not allowed to lead the Institute, the result would be that Roma would be denied ownership of the ERI — and would distance themselves from similar initiatives even further in the future. Within the ERI, Roma leadership will be translated into a governance structure that gives Roma a strong role in decision-making and management processes.
13. Will non-Roma be able to lead the European Roma Institute?
The project of the European Roma Institute is based on Roma leadership, but this does not mean Roma-only. ERI will be open for the participation of non-Roma; everyone supporting the basic principles will be able to join the European Roma Institute as staff, partner, member or contributor. Those principles are:
Respect for the dignity of Romani people and Romani identity
Diversity and plurality of Romani identities and cultures
Romani leadership with the support and co-operation of non-Roma, which is key to breaking down stereotypes by representing Romani talent, capability, confidence in taking responsibility, cooperation and inclusiveness
Engagement and contribution of Romani organizations and individuals in the establishment and on-going activities of the Institute
Political autonomy and non-partisanship, openness for collaboration with public authorities and political institutions as partners
Highest quality standards in the domains of arts and culture, as well as its own operational performance.
14. What is the added value of the European Roma Institute, when there are already so many other Roma organizations?
The ERI will have a substantively artistic and cultural vocation. It is not designed to be an instrument for the democratic representation of Roma communities in Europe and is, therefore, not comparable to the ERTF or other NGO networks claiming to represent a much broader range of interests of Roma organizations and communities vis-à-vis the public authorities. Nor is it designed as an academic institution to compete with universities or research institutes. Quite a few institutions at local and national level document Romani culture, and there are many local and short-term projects which tackle anti-Roma prejudice, but all of these are either limited in their geographical or cultural scope; or patronizing in their conceptual approach; or short-lived and unstable (or all of these). No stable institution exists yet in Europe which gives Romani culture a recognizable and recognized platform, which systematically promotes Romani arts, culture, history and talent, and which documents the cultural and intellectual contributions of Roma to society. The ERI is envisaged as a hub connecting initiatives and institutions working at local and national level, providing visibility to the cultural and artistic productions and to the work of Roma artists at European level.
15. How will the European Roma Institute work with other Roma initiatives?
The European Roma Institute will not be a competitor, but an additional opportunity and resource for existing initiatives. The plurality among the Roma will be expressed through the membership of national and local organizations and individuals. ERI will be open to all formal or informal groups, organizations and individuals who support ERI’s mission and founding principles, and are ready to contribute to change.
16. Is the European Roma Institute designed as a research institution?
The European Roma Institute will not be a research institution. However, it will provide an additional opportunity for network and exchange among academics, scientists, arts practitioners and other activists, Roma and non-Roma alike. It will serve as a hub for all those who are connected to, and working with, Roma in all aspects of life. Furthermore, it will be an institution that Roma and non-Roma could turn to for cultural production, knowledge and resource-sharing in the area of the ERI’s competence.
17. How will ERI work with Roma organizations at local level?
ERI is designed as a membership-based foundation. Informal and formal groups, organizations and individuals, Roma and non-Roma alike, will be able to join as members. The members of the ERI will guarantee its presence at local level. In terms of activities, ERI will act as a hub, enabling connections, exchange and co-production among its members in as many locations as possible. Members of ERI, including organizations and individuals of the Roma grassroots, will participate in the governance of the Institute.
18. Will the ERI isolate Romani culture and history from the culture and history of the majority population?
Romani culture, arts and history have always been part of European societies and will remain so. The project of the European Roma Institute is to make those influences more visible and accessible for a wide audience in Europe. Today it is estimated that cultural institutions house over 10 000 artworks created by Roma artists — but hardly anything is accessible to the general public. The ERI will have a role in providing access to this wonderful cultural heritage.
19. How will the European Roma Institute help to reduce Roma poverty?
ERI’s mission is not to lift Roma out of poverty. A number of other instruments exist with this purpose, including the financial instruments of the EU or the antipoverty strategies at national level. However, there is overwhelming evidence that these instruments and strategies are severely slowed down or stalled by the negative image of Roma in the general population. Anti-Gypsyism often makes it difficult to even consider public measures to address the marginalization and discrimination of Roma.
20. How will arts and culture help combat anti-Gypsyism?
The aim of the European Roma Institute is to counterbalance the negative image of Roma in mainstream society by demonstrating the strengths and talents of Roma. The Institute will also offer young Roma an opportunity to develop a positive self-image, offsetting the negative stereotypes they encounter in their environment and educating them to develop a sense of identity, pride and security.
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