On March 27 and 28, 2017, thirty-five Romani elected officials and civil society representatives participated in a two-day event held by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in cooperation with the U.S. Helsinki Commission, as part of the European Union’s “Roma Week.”
The event focused on opportunities to enhance Romani political participation as a means of strengthening the long-term strength and stability of the OSCE region. As citizens of many OSCE participating States, Roma have long contributed to the prosperity of their countries in numerous ways, ranging from serving in the military to educating the next generation. However, Roma are often described and perceived in negative terms, leading political leaders and others, to consider Roma a problem rather than a solution.
Referring to the political rhetoric that instigated the tragic murders of Roma in 2008 and 2009, Romani-Hungarian researcher and Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network alumni Roland Ferkovics stressed, “Political narratives should not only motivate and influence people but should also unite…Political leaders must take Roma as equal partner(s) using narratives [that] focus on similarities instead of differences.”
Diverse speakers from across the OSCE region also shared experiences and practices that have been successful in inspiring democratic change.
“Standing for elected office and using one’s right to vote is a powerful tool for Roma communities in Europe to counter anti-Roma rhetoric, hate crimes and racism,” said Mee Moua, former President of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), who also served as a Minnesota State Senator in the United States.
Noting the importance of united communities, Killion Munyama, a member of the Polish Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, noted the importance of Roma having a seat at the decision-making table: “Societies benefit from broad and diverse participation representing the voices of all communities in the public and political spheres.”
Participants also stressed the urgency in ensuring the success of current Romani legislative initiatives and the importance of ensuring that legislative initiatives aimed at Roma, such as the EU Framework Strategy for Integration, are designed and implemented with the participation of Roma at all levels of government.
Other speakers at the event included MEP Terry Reintke, former MEP Livia Jaroka, and Jamen Gabriela Hrabanova of the European Roma Grassroots Organizations Network. Dr. Mischa Thompson of the Helsinki Commission participated as a facilitator.