Zeljko Jovanovic: Roma, make our voices heard in the European Parliament elections!
In two weeks, we Roma will be facing a choice in the European Parliament elections. We can either choose to remain indifferent, entrenched in partly understandable cynicism and skepticism toward the European Union, or we can do our best to mobilize our families, friends and communities ahead of the vote.
Like many others, I have been utterly disappointed about the limits of EU resolutions, laws and policies. Over the past 15 years, those have failed to hold national governments accountable to their promises to improve the lives of Roma, despite the tireless activism of Roma and pro-Roma advocates in Brussels and in national capitals. For us Roma, it is not quite clear what we will gain from these European elections. What we could lose, on the other hand, is very obvious.
Only a few politicians, officials and bureaucrats in European institutions are supportive of Roma. Nevertheless, they are more open to supporting our cause than most of our national politicians. If we lose even the little support we have from the EU, we will unavoidably feel the negative consequences on our lives. Similarly, we will have nothing to gain in having a new European Parliament under greater influence of those who not only ignore our problems, but who have also pledged to systematically persecute us.
We know that EU funds have not drastically improved the lives of Roma. But they are still more than what governments have been willing to provide from national budgets. The European elections could bring to power more of those politicians who would simply cut off EU funds for Roma, which means we would have no public support at all for our communities – in other words, we would be back to the hardships of the 1990s.
Finally, the current European Parliament and the European Commission have failed to raise the recognition of anti-Gypsyism to the same level as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But they still have done more in this regard than most national governments, with the notable exception of Germany. A surge in far-right parties in the European Parliament would erase these gains altogether and take us back to dangerous times.
The European project was built on the promise that the horrors of fascism would never happen again. Today, we see that the far right is gaining support, undermining the EU values of pluralism, the rule of law and the protection of minorities.
On the eve of the European Parliament elections, we can choose cynicism and continue our business as usual. That is the wrong choice. Our silence and passivity will open space for right-wing populists who will use their position of power to humiliate, harass and persecute us.
On the contrary, if we go out and show the strength of our vote, we can have the hope of not only maintaining the small gains we have made at the EU level, but also of capitalizing on them and continuing to advocate for tangible change for Roma.
Roma sisters, Roma brothers, examine the options you have for the upcoming European Parliament elections, make the right choice, and help increase the turnout in your communities! For ourselves and for Europe, the Roma vote can make a difference.
Zeljko Jovanovic is Director of the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office
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