EU is calling me poor!

Posted: март 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

Atanas Stoyanov

Have you ever beepoorn called poor? And how did you feel about that? Whatever happened to you I bet it cannot be worse than my case because I am being called poor every day. Seriously! And not anymore by people only, but also by institutions and their documents such as the European Union and its Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies 2012-2020 (NRIS). It states that Roma are marginalized, poor and socially excluded.

You would say “What a pity!” right?

As a Roma, when I first read the Framework I wanted to roar with anger, so loud that you could hear me in space. I am not saying I am rich, but I am not poor either. My Roma community and I live a decent life. We are happy with our housing, with our work and with our education. Nobody is a victim of marginalization, stigmatization or any other negative word ending in ‘-tion’.  Some Roma are richer than some non-Roma and some non-Roma are less educated than some Roma.

One cannot simply generalize the state of an ethnic minority as poor and marginalized. Once anyone reads this Strategy they will naturally exclaim how ‘bad’ the situation of the ‘poor’ Roma is, and will unwittingly believe this is true for all the Roma. Folks, I don’t really want to be pitied for being born Roma! Even if one assumes this is the objective truth, do you really think the Roma need to hear this again and again?

I have worked for five years in some of the biggest non-governmental organizations in Bulgaria dealing with many issues related to the Roma such as community development, intercultural education and political empowerment. I have even run for, and won, local elections. My personal experiences helped me overcome the constant noise of the media and the opinions of the majority of people around me. Of those who, without ever asking my point of view, are always eager to integrate, include or educate me presupposing that I am something less or not enough. But this time it is not the old woman next-door or the local policeman, but the European Commission!

I realize the NRIS was created as a sign of the good will and intensions of the European Commission to integrate Roma and try to improve their livelihood. But I don’t really feel the need to be integrated or socially included – not that I am an antisocial creature – by anyone. I simply feel the need for my language, culture and history to be recognized and accepted as equal.

If the European Commission were a real person, let us call them Juncker for example, and if I was asked about what I think should be changed, (not that I am being asked) I would suggest the following:

“Juncker, the four main pillars of the NRIS: access to education, employment, healthcare, housing and social services should be changed. As we often say that there is no such thing as Roma criminality, there should not be such things as Roma housing, healthcare and employment as well. These are universal categories that have nothing to do with any ethnicity in the world. If you are really willing to help, you should work more on the recognition of the Roma culture, history and language. You should ensure that Roma children from different EU countries have the opportunity to study Romanes at school in parallel to the national language.

It is also not OK when a MEP or the president of any member state speaks in a discriminative way about the Roma and no consequences follow.I just want to tell you that currently the EU community is not respecting its own antidiscrimination legislation.

I may be asking you to change your whole attitude and approach. But we need to remember “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. I hope you understand this Juncker, and I hope you will stop calling me marginal in your efforts to help me!


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