Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Roma Voice Missing From Dosta! Campaign
Roma voice missing from Dosta! campaign
The Council of Europe's method of tackling racism towards Roma with fetishisation misses the point.
Wednesday 23 June 2010
Whenever the arrival of an African football team is prefaced by the words 'colourful', I cringe. Sport seems one of the last remaining places where racial and cultural stereotyping of 'exotic Africans' is still acceptable.
Similarly, I wonder how people of Roma origin feel every time they are described as 'mysterious' or 'non-conformist'. Even at the Council of Europe – Europe's oldest and most powerful human rights organisation – this romantic ideal of Roma escapism is alive and well.
As part of its campaign against Roma discrimination, named 'Dosta!' (which means 'enough' in the Romany language) the Council has just launched a film featuring French screen siren Fanny Ardant. Ardant plays a frustrated teacher at a repressed Italian school, who runs away in protest at its treatment of a Roma child and is seduced by Roma culture (and quite possibly her particular seduction by a man not unreminiscent of Johnny Depp's character in the film 'Chocolat'.) He imparts such pearls of wisdom as "Beware of people who shout", "don't let fear steal your dreams", and "become a bird again." Useful.
If this raises suspicions of the romanticisation of Roma culture, Ardant is quite happy to confirm them. "Roma are one of the last islands of freedom in our standardised world," she says. "Their desire and their efforts to integrate do not mean giving up their own identity." Ardant, who is acting as an ambassador on Roma rights for the Council, seems to feel that the Roma are a community with tradition and defiance of almost magical proportions.
I'm not sure how this would go down with Roma people in Macedonia, for example, who live in council housing and have been trying in vain to get identity papers and jobs. But I had a lot more sympathy for Ardant's film after the floor was opened for questions. A journalist from the Ukraine suggested that Roma children perform poorly in school, and wasn't it therefore reasonable for other parents to want to educate their children in segregated facilities. A journalist from Romania said "Roma culture is very charming... but in my country we pay taxes. Many of the Roma do not."
If you take out the word 'Roma' and replace it with 'black', this is easily recognisable as the UK forty years ago. People thought that black boys underperformed in school because they were 'not academic' rather than because they were living in deprived communities, being provided with substandard education and experiencing discrimination on a regular basis. And how many black people would be paying tax if they had, as the Roma do in some countries, 90% rates of unemployment?
If the Council of Europe is portraying the Roma more as superhuman, it's partly because many of its member states still treat them as subhuman. There is a logic to this, but it creates its own problems. Tackling racism with fetishisation misses the point; both are forms of prejudice, and neither are rooted in fact.
What's missing in all this, is the voice of the Roma themselves. Ardant said that one of her greatest regrets was not having a Roma person beside her at the Council of Europe, adding their own voice to the campaign. The Council of Europe says it is partly seeking to remedy this by partnering with the European Roma and Traveller's Forum, but both organisations acknowledge the challenge in mobilising members of Europe's biggest minority community and its disparate ethno-linguistic forms.
Just how the Council of Europe's drive in this area will fare under the UK's leadership is not entirely clear. Next year William Hague takes up Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, and he will have to reconcile the organisation's demand that European countries tackle discrimination against the Roma, with his own party's stated intention to make life harder for the UK's estimated 300,000 travellers, raising the bar for challenging planning disputes, and reviving criminal sanctions for trespass on privately owned land.
Ardant has stated her intention to persist on this campaign, so maybe all those sceptical of the whole celebrity-meets-human-rights concept will be mollified by the prospect of an Ardant-Hague confrontation, à la Joanna Lumley. But Strasbourg is not the kind of place one encounters heated confrontations. And despite the best efforts of Ardant's film, if she were to accost William Hague with an impassioned 'Dosta!', it's unlikely he'd know what it meant.
Thank you Afua Hirsch for this insightful article.
Posted by Morgan at 11:21 AM