Roundtable in the European Parliament on Transparency Criteria

Transparency and Accountability Criteria for Roma Grassroots NGOs

Brussels, 28 June 2018

At a round table discussion in the European Parliament ERGO Network and its members from the Western Balkans, Turkey and the ‘Visegrad countries’ Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic presented a new project that will strengthen Roma civil society as independent and transparent watchdog organizations.
The event was kindly hosted by Soraya Post (Greens/EFA), Peter Niedermuller (S&D), Tomas Zdechovsky (EPP) and Javor Benedek (Greens/EFA).

Being transparent and accountable are important prerequisites for the effectiveness of civil society that is taken seriously by its institutional counterparts and other partners, and at the same time gives the right to demand transparency and accountability from other stakeholders.
–Therefore ERGO Network developed a set of ‘transparency and accountability criteria’ and a corresponding capacity-building tool to improve the quality in governance, financial management and performance of grassroots organisations.

The discussion was opened by ERGO Network Director Jamen Gabriela Hrabanova who stressed the importance of promoting transparency and accountability within NGOs and among institutions.

Benedek Javor MEP welcomed the transparency criteria through a video message. “In particular I found especially meaningful the goal for equal partnership with the institutions for the better connection with the grassroots level and greater sustainability of NGOs” Benedek Javor said. He also stressed the importance of funding for NGOs in order to be able to fulfill the duties as watchdogs organisations. Tomas Zdechovsky MEP added that the spotlight on Roma participation in the European Parliament needs to happen all year long and not only during the Roma Week.

Jelena Jovanovic, Policy and Research Coordinator of ERGO Network presented the transparency criteria and explained the cooperative development process between all partners, followed by Andras Nun, director of the one of Hungarian ERGO member organisations Autonomia Foundation who introduced the participants to a board game ‘to help you fall in love with the dreadful issues of accountability and transparency’.

In the second panel of the day participants heard from Vitor Teixeira, Transparency International Europe, about the importance of not just being transparent as civil society, but more so holding institutions to account. Gabriella Civico from Civil Society Europe discussed the shrinking space for civil society in Europe and repeated the call for better funding for civil society’s watchdog role.

The debate was closed by Bodil Valero MEP and Natacha Katatchkine, Head of the EU internal policy team for the Open Society European Policy Institute. Bodil Valero and Natacha Katatchkine added that the lack of transparency has been used by those who want to silence things. She closed by pointing out that NGOs are ready to take the lead and are able to bring tools like those of ERGO Network.

The project was implemented with financial support from the European Commission and the International Visegrad Fund.

Download the Transparency and Accountability Criteria

Evictions of Roma Travelers in Brussels

Evictions of Roma Travelers in Brussels: Is Antigypsyism the last accepted form of racism?

On 28 June 2018, evictions of Roma Travelers are to take place in Anderlecht, Brussels. The group of Roma who are going to be evicted are Belgian Roma for centuries. They were born here, as well as their parents and their grandparents. Roma Travelers have always been living on the territory of the Municipality of Anderlecht – part of the European capital Brussels.

Nevertheless, Belgian Roma Travelers remain one of the most neglected communities in Europe. During the Second World War, a big part of the Belgian Roma Community who is traditionally travelling and living in caravans were deported to the Nazi concentration camps. Today, a generation later, Belgian Roma Travelers are being constantly evicted from site to site, unwanted and unwelcomed by the local authorities.

Only two weeks ago, the Anderlecht Municipality announced to the Belgian Roma living on Dante Street that they needed to leave the site. The motive: the land where the camp is located is polluted.

Apparently, this is not the first attempt of the Mayor of Anderlecht Eric Tomas from the Socialist Party to get rid of the Belgian Roma Travelers site. Many times the police have come to the site and ordered them to move without any official order or notice.  In April 2018, the local police went to the Belgian Roma Travelers site on Dante Street and ordered them to move, again without any document. However, this time the Roma refused to follow orders without the needed legal attributes.

The owner of the land where the Roma camp is located is not the municipality of Anderlecht.  The land of the camp is the private property of the Boghossian Foundation – an Armenian philanthropist family. So far, the Boghossian Foundation refused to cooperate with local authorities and police and to support the eviction of the Roma from their private land. Despite this, the municipality have found an excuse to still conduct the evictions – the pretext is that the land is polluted. This is happening in the context of the coming local elections that will take place in October.

The questions are many. Is Antigypsyism acceptable in the very heart of the European Union and its values? Is the Socialist Party ready to take responsibility for such an act and do they propose any alternative for the Belgian Roma who actually are Belgian citizens? What is the moral right of an Armenian foundation to evict another minority that went through the very same persecution and genocide? Is Antigypsyism the last acceptable form of racism?

There has been the possibility for several years now to create a Travelers site with allocated land and facilities. There is even a special fund from the Brussels Region that can be used for this. However, no municipality so far showed an interest and took advantage of this funding (except Haren).

Three days before the evictions part of the camp was set on fire. Тhe perpetrators remain unknown. The evictions will still take place as planned on 28 June 2018. Where will the Belgian Roma go? Will their children attend school? Will they be provided an alternative? The answer is No. Until the next evictions.

Written by Atanas Stoyanov

Roma Cafe

Roma Café discussion kicks off on Romani Resistance Day

May 16 is a symbolic date for now in the contemporary Roma movement throughout Europe – a day that intends to shift into a positive narrative by highlighting Roma heroes during the holocaust. ERGO Network together with the Diverse Youth Network organized a renewed concept of Roma Café on May 17 to engage in discussions with Roma and non-Roma on what it means to us to have a Roma Resistance Day.

During the Roma Café guests came together from all over Brussels and Europe. Ms Evelin Verhas joined us from the Budapest based Tom Lantos Institute to present the approach of a human rights organization as well as to provide insights into the Roma Resistance research that has been conducted in 5 European countries. It was important to set the scene with a video interview, where a French Roma World War II survivor, Raymond Gureme explains his every days during the 40s in a very informative testimony. Mr. Atanas Stoyanov kicked off the discussion sharing his own motivation and experience being part of the Dik I Na Bistar movement as a young Roma who has been involved since the very beginning as a participant, later as a trainer and group leader. The DIK I NA BISTAR movement is organized by the Ternype Roma International Youth Network bringing together young people from all over Europe to Krakow and Auschwitz to commemorate the Roma genocide on August 2. Besides the remembrance initiative, a training component is also empowering young Roma and non-Roma.

The research – Joanna Talewicz-Kwiatkowska: `Resistance and Survival of the Roma and Sinti in Auschwitz-Birkenau` – presented by Evelin Verhas pointed out a number of focal points to consider in the current discourse. The minority rights perspective requires the equal recognition of the genocides that have been committed against minorities, and inter and multicultural education must serve as a basis for that. May 16 is researched using the resources that are at disposal such as Roma and Sinti survivor testimonies, memoirs, official records etc., most of them found in the archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. It should be noted that Joachimowski submitted his testimony three times, each time giving a different date for the events at the Zigeunerlager. Whilst recalling a date from the past may be a challenge for a person submitting a testimony, one needs to be cautious assuming that testimonies necessarily describe historical facts. It should be noted that, until now, no existing research could verify or or disprove Joachimowski’s story. Therefore, this research was meant as a first step towards reconstructing events connected to Roma and Sinti resistance in the Zigeunerlager.

The intention was to stimulate new thoughts and to engage in discussions. The meaning of resistance and how it is present in our everyday lives was very important, but the questions of identity also raised a number of valid points.

 

EU Roma Week: an opportunity to focus on tackling antigypsyism in Europe

EU Roma Week took place last week for the third time in the European Parliament, to mark International Roma Day on 8 April. It was an important opportunity to put the fight against antigypsyism – the specific form of racism faced by Roma, Sinti and Travellers – at the forefront of the European Union agenda, and to highlight the need to uphold the fundamental rights of Roma in Europe.

Roma are part of European societies and have been for centuries. But many barriers prevent them from being equal citizens. Tens of thousands of Roma are qualified professionals, but they remain invisible because of the “Gypsy” stigma. An overwhelming proportion of Roma – 80 % on average in the nine EU Member States – still live at risk of poverty, according to a recent report by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. One in three Roma are victims of harassment. Roma also regularly experience discriminatory stop and search by police, police raids on Roma settlements and other forms of harassment by police forces.

Antigypsyism is often used in a narrow sense to indicate anti-Roma attitudes or the expression of negative stereotypes in the public sphere or hate speech. However, antigypsyism gives rise to a much wider spectrum of discriminatory expressions and practices, including many implicit or hidden manifestations. Antigypsyism is not only about what is being said about Roma and to Roma, it is also about what is or is not being done to combat structural discrimination and dehumanisation. As such, it is also a root cause of Roma exclusion in Europe.

Eight years ago, the EU adopted measures for Roma inclusion, but European Roma continue to live in a deplorable situation. Discrimination, hate crime and speech, police brutality and segregation persist across EU countries and fuel exclusion of Roma from society. This highlights the urgency of stepping up efforts to tackle structural and institutional racism so that Roma can finally become equal citizens in their societies.

This will require that structures that monitor racism, discrimination, hate crime, hate speech, policy implementation are revised and strengthened to effectively document and combat antigypsyism in all its complexity. Civil servants, educators, care workers, police, judiciary and other relevant official bodies need to receive training in how to recognise and combat antigypsyism. The EU and national governments must allocate specific and adequate funding to programmes aiming to fighting antigypsyism. Roma civil society must also be empowered to advocate for better policies and make their concerns heard at the local, national and EU level. They have a crucial watchdog role to make public institutions accountable.

EU decision makers must realise that social inclusion programmes will have no impact if racist narratives and discriminatory practices are left unaddressed. A growing sense of impunity for toxic discourses and violent acts will undermine implementation of these programmes on the ground. By fighting antigypsyism, including within institutions, we can secure a better place for Roma in Europe.

Workshop on trafficking in Roma children

ERGO Network’s research and advocacy coordinator Jelena Jovanovic held a workshop addressing the trafficking in Roma children in the framework of the seminar ‘Combatting the exploitation of children’ organised by the Benelux working group on human trafficking on 17th November 2017. The workshop was organised and co-facilitated by Maaike van Groenestyn, senior advisor of the municipality of Amsterdam.

In two consecutive workshop sessions, the participants could share their experiences in dealing with trafficking as well as learn about new approaches from ERGO’s expertise and from each other.

After hearing case studies brought by Christiane Roelants from the Brussels Police, the participants discussed all the possible factors they believe put Roma children in a vulnerable position, as well as specific forms of trafficking where Roma child victims are (over)represented. They also reflected on challenges in identifying and dealing with cases of Roma children victims of trafficking and offered solutions to overcome the challenges. It was highlighted that antigypsyism plays an important role as a risk factor for Roma children victims of trafficking. A particular focus was given to the role of institutions and organizations in the anti-trafficking policy mechanisms.