The European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), a Europe-wide organisation representing the Roma population which has a Partnership Agreement with the Council of Europe is in favour of all initiatives which aim at presenting a positive image of Roma and which puts their culture in a favourable light.
We would like to express our bewilderment at the fact that consultations of an informal nature on the Creation of a European Roma Institute (ERI) have apparently been underway for quite some time without involvement of the ERTF. Therefore in this particular case the ERTF is unfortunately unable to give a valuable assessment of the initiative to create a European Institute.
However we are of the opinion that Roma communities are in need of having their own cultural institutions in order to empower the communities, promote and strength their culture, language and history. The Romani culture is and must remain the property of Roma communities, and that cultural activity should be led at national level and not centralised under the auspices of an international political organisation.
Such National Roma Cultural Institutes will contribute to the creation of a Roma image in public education, eradicate the deeply rooted negative stereotypes and could boost the Roma sense of belonging and pride and raise awareness of the common history and future. In addition, they should have the fully support of the Roma communities, NGOs and other structures representing Roma.
The National Roma Cultural Institutes should not replace the political representation of the Roma population; they should be rather seen as institutions with competence in culture, media and art issues. Otherwise we will run the risk of shifting the focus of the political discourse – the fight for emancipation - to cultural issues.
As for the remit of ERI itself the ERTF believes that:
- activities in the arts and culture should be kept strictly separate from policy advice;
- any activities that further the dissemination of knowledge should draw on the input and validation of bona fide expert academics, and that such experts should be invited to participate on the basis of their qualifications and irrespective of their self-declared ancestry;
- an open call should be issued to existing Roma culture associations to join the initiative and constituting members, and an open and transparent procedure be introduced to vet participating organisations rather than hand over the control to just one or two groups;
- any management or leadership positions within the initiative should be advertised and that recruitment should be carried out in an open and transparent way and on the basis of clearly formulated criteria for qualifications;
- the initiative should be placed under the quality assurance scrutiny of a qualified bodies of experts that will be independent of the initiative itself or its founding partners.
The Council of Europe and other bodies can provide valuable support and inspiration to such activities. But we must avoid any top-down imposition of a standard culture which would risk denying the rich pluralism of genuine Roma traditions.
The ERTF will continue to be an enthusiastic and reliable partner for any initiative that promises to promote Roma culture and the respect and tolerance that it deserves. But at this point we are unable to express our support for this initiative. We look forward to being involved in further consultations.