Kimberly Birdsall

Kimberly Birdsall (The Dzeno Association): At the time of her fellowship, Kimberly was pursuing her Master’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, with a concentration in U.S. Foreign Policy.

Historic Opportunities

27 Jun

A commonly quoted phrase about Roma and the EU goes something like this:
“The expansion of the EU is presenting a historic opportunity for the Roma to influence national and international policies that may help to improve their historically neglected living conditions and lack of access to employment, education, and healthcare.”

What is a historic opportunity?

“Merely a moment when people believe they can manage to disrupt the flow of history and thus open up room for manoeuvre. Whether they actually do so, or whether they actually close something off is a judgement that can only be passed by history itself.”

This definition by the famous Czech writer Ivan Klima refers to the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Czech Communism in 1989. I have been reading books by as many Czech authors as possible while I am here, such as Klima, Hrabel, and Kundera. As it is impossible to separate the artist from her/his experience, the works are not only novels, but history lessons.

The Velvet Revolution provides a good comparison for the current political situation of the Roma. The fall of communism and the political changes in Eastern Europe in 1989 brought opportunities to the Romany leaders, who were accepted as equal participants in the revolutionary chances. A Romany Party (the ROI) was created, and Roma representatives were elected to Parliament, to the National Council, and to legislative committees. However, years of being deprived of proper education and employment left the Roma leaders inexperienced and unable to present a strong, united front. The party dissolved.

Today, it is unclear what kind of impact Roma organizations, groups, and individuals will be able to have on international policy. Many Roma feel as if the promises made by governments such as the Czech Republic are all talk and no action – lip service paid to ensure it looks like the human rights requirements of the EU are being met.

I am beginning to see their point. At Dzeno, a common complaint is that Roma policy is made by non-Roma individuals and organizations without any consultation with Roma. I see instances of this constantly, but I am worried that many Roma are not educated or equipped to grab the attention of those in power. As a result, there are no signs that the situation will change…

This weekend and early next week I will attend a World Bank conference in Budapest entitled “Roma in an Expanding Europe.” It is intended to be a dialog between government ministers, EU and World Bank representatives, and Roma leaders and youth. I am curious how many Roma voices will actually be heard, as it seems EU policy may already be set in stone.

And now home to pack. What is a home?

“A home is something we carry inside. Those who do not have a home cannot build one, either from defiance or from stone.”

Thank you Mr. Klima.

Posted By Kimberly Birdsall

Posted Jun 27th, 2003

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