About failures

One year ago, when I went to the doctor for my annual regular medical testing, I received a clear diagnostic: I have ulcerative colitis, a quite strange disease, with no clear causes and no form of treatment discovered yet. The possibility to win a cancer is quite big and at this point in life I need to acknowledge that this news was a shock for both me and my family.

Starting from this specific moment, is was only natural for me to start a small evaluation process concerning “what I do with my own life?”, in both professional and personal aspects. This is not the place or time to discuss my evaluation on my personal life, but I do need to share with you an evaluation of my professional life.

Looking back to my 13 years of working for Impreuna Agency I have the feeling that, until now, I have failed in so many issues. I think this is extremely important for our learning process; therefore I will share some of my failures with you:

As you all know, Impreuna Agency is promoting participatory community development as a tool of promoting welfare inside of the Roma communities. In the last 15 years, our projects and working methods have been highly appreciated by the European Commission, World Bank, United Nations, German Marshall Fund, Dutch Foundation etc., and we have received valuable support from these institutions. We were invited by some of these institutions to share our experiences in Eastern European countries (such as Albania, formal Yugoslavian countries, Hungary, Bulgaria, Republic of Moldavia), and, at times, we were handsomely paid too. We have received many awards, including the well-known Civil Society Development Award. We may have accomplished all this, but we have failed in convincing the Romanian Government to shift its approach towards the Roma Strategy from a “centralized level” to a more local/grassroots one.

In the past year we have invested a lot in developing Roma Human Resources from our community. Our formal community facilitators are now elected Roma councilors, mediators, NGO workers, county councilors and even mayors. They are all working towards the development of the Romanian society, meanwhile emphasizing the importance of promoting Roma issues on the local authorities agenda. Together with our partners, we have been trying for years to convince the Romanian political parties to include Roma issues and their representatives in political debates or even on their list of candidates, but we did not succeed. As some Romanian politicians have mentioned in our various discussions “when we’ll want to lose the election, that’s when we’ll promote pro-Roma messages”.

For years we have mentioned that the National Agency for Roma, by using their actual legal framework, cannot “implement, monitor and evaluate” the Roma Strategy. They are unfortunately a weak organization, and the feeling on our part of the fence is that they are the perfect scapegoat when it comes to blaming someone for the poor results of Roma development initiatives. Instead of empowering this institution, the Government created the “Ferentari Foundation”, an institution with an almost similar mandate as the NAR – as if that were not enough, we’re dealing with a similar situation now with the Cultural Center for Roma, a central institution for promoting the Roma cultural heritage. Ernest Gellner mentioned that the civil society’s role is to counterbalance the power of the state, without having the desire to take his place. We as a country appear to ignore that and, as a result, we experience failure.

Impreuna is considered to be a very balanced ONG: we are offering a critical-constructive perspective regarding the Governmental actions on Roma issues but we are also helping them to develop better policies and actions by offering models, arguments, feedback or even consultation environments. Even so, the Romanian Government seems to exhibit an exceptionally weak political will when it comes to committing itself to real actions aimed to develop the Roma minority. Even as we speak, they need for nothing in order to promote real actions: they have the antipoverty and development strategies that are supposed to target Roma, they have the European and national budgets to apply these strategies, they have the laws to promote a Roma cultural and ethnical heritage, etc. They have all these and yet it seems that this entire legal framework cannot be used when the Roma are the clients. We fail to include the Roma issue as a real issue on the policy Agenda, paradoxical considering that point is usually very high on most conferences’ Agendas.

 

Each year, we try to organize at least one high level meeting on the Roma topic, here in Bucharest. In these meetings we aim to debate both the challenges and the real opportunities we all consider when regarding Roma issues. One month ago, some of you have attended a meeting concerning “Roma and Structural Funds” that we organize in Bucharest and I am very glad that we managed to offer the space and context for the only consultation organized between the Romanian authorities and Roma NGO’s for discussing the development goals for Romania 2020. During our meetings, European commissioners, the Romanian President, high representatives of the European Council, Parliament or UN participate, as well as many important intergovernmental and national private institutions, embassies, but never the Romanian Prime-Minister. They have been    invited every single time (Boc or Ponta) and they have refused every single time. When we offer the possibility to organize a meeting, even without asking for money from their side, we receive no positive answer. This is another huge failure for me!

We invest a lot in what we call “invisible Roma”. Not all the Roma are illiterate, poor, migrants and dirty. Many Roma are tax payers, included and cherished by the society, educated – and they act as full citizens. We consider that these are the people who need to be encouraged to become the instruments of social change that this minority needs in order to continue the development process from the inside. In order to help this process, we are currently offering training programs, camps, scholarships, mentorship, etc., together with NGO’s such as REF, Fundatia Toflea, CRCR etc. Our approach has been  awarded with the Intercultural Achievement Award by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria and we have been invited by Germany, Hungary and Italy to disseminate our work in their countries. Even so, we almost never succeed to convince the Government to support and develop such endeavors. We’ve never succeed to convince the Government that we cannot sustain the development of a minority by means of working only with the poorest individuals. We’ve never succeeded to create policies for rightfully supporting the “invisible Roma”.

In the past years, we made the shift from “Roma as a problem” to “Roma as a resource”. Our change of discourse was highly appreciated by EC, WB, and some European Embassies but we did not succeed to “sell” this to our own politicians. We are still considered a “nomads” , not even full Romanian citizens (Roma are not Romanians). We are able to give clear and scientifically accurate arguments for why the Roma minority represents a very important resource for our countries future development, but even we fail to convince Romanian politicians to treat the Roma as such – and not as a scapegoat for the social problems ever-present in Romania.

I could continue presenting my failures, but if I do so I may start to feel quite depressed. Yes, we also succeed in many endeavors. But our success means nothing if I compare it with my failures.

Gelu Duminica

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