Tomáš Ščuka: The strengths and weaknesses of the Brussels demonstration by Romani Europeans
On 8 July a demonstration by Romani people living in various European countries happened in Brussels as planned by organizer, Štefan Pongo, a Czech Roma living in Great Britain. Pongo had previously organized an online campaign by Romani people through social media responding to the stereotyping remarks made by Czech President Zeman who, in the autumn of 2018, declared publicly on more than one occasion that the vast majority of Romani people do not work and are on welfare.
The campaign involved Romani people sharing photos of themselves from their workplaces through social media, a very tasteful defense against this public antigypsyism coming from the highest ranks of Czech politics. The only pity about that effort was that there was no deeper concept behind the idea, something that would have helped it reach as many people as possible to participate in order to more publicly question Zeman's fabricated statistics about Romani unemployment.
As for the Brussels demonstration, in recent months information about the planning of it frequently appeared on social media as well. The main organizers regularly broadcast live through Facebook and informed the broader Romani public of their intentions.
The aim was to hold a protest by Roma living in Europe to draw the attention of European institutions and politicians to the ineffective use of the EU financing drawn by the Member States exactly for the integration of Romani people. Personally I must admit that given the social situations in which Romani people are still living in Europe, this idea is appropriate and encourages deep reflection about these issues.
Over time, however, when I had an opportunity to follow some of the posts on social media, certain concerns arose for me - in hindsight, justifiably so. First, I kept wondering whether the reasons for demonstrating in front of the European Parliament had been clearly demarcated.
We needed to send a very clear, concrete message to the EU institutions and politicians about why we would be there, what it is that we dislike, and what we propose, adapted to all the local contexts in which Romani people are living. I also reflected on who would actually be attending.
Would the 8 July demonstration in Brussels just be by Czech Roma living in the Czech Republic and England, or would it actually be a demonstration representing all the Roma living in Europe? According to qualified estimates, there are approximately 12 million Roma in the EU.
A protest in Brussels, the capital of the EU, deserves to be undertaken, in my opinion, at a certain level if it is to represent Romani people as one of the biggest national minorities in the EU. In my opinion, the organizers underestimated this international dimension and held a protest that was instead at the level of similar Roma-organized events in Bratislava, Bucharest or Prague.
I absolutely comprehend that some readers may now perceive me as a critic incapable of appreciating the steps taken by this group of people, or by this individual, to achieve a better future for our community. My experience to date, however, has taught me to understand how important the capacity for self-criticism is.
I have the feeling that characteristic is greatly lacking among our ranks! I appreciate and welcome any such activities that come from us Roma ourselves.
It's just a pity that we keep pigeonholing ourselves and creating a certain limited circle of persons around us to collaborate with on our ideas, our projects and our thought processes. It is exactly and only because of this non-collective approach that we Roma are unable to realize the necessary social changes to such an extent as to actually move forward!
Written for Romano Hangos.
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