The Roma initiatives Office from Berlin in the last months have been working intensively with their networks in different fields, anti racism, transnational protests, donations, negotiations and others.
Today our guest is the Director of RIO Mr. Zeljko Jovanovic, who will answer our questions.
RN: The August 2, a black day for the history of the Roma, how do you feel being a Roma activist and are the non-Roma people informed enough about this day for our populations?
ZJ: August 2, as the day when we remember the genocide of our people, puts a historical question in front of us: what did we learn from it? I think there are at least two lessons. First, to protect ourselves, we have to be as politically strong in peaceful. When war starts, it is too late. Today, there is a very high tension between the United States, Europe, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and others. Another world war is not impossible. Second lesson is that the Nazis did not ask who are the Muslims or Christian Roma, who are Roma from Serbia or Romania or who are Dzambasi or Gurbeti. For them, we were all the same.
Have we learned these lessons? Not yet. We are losing too much time on fighting among ourselves. Demagogues and populists among us are obsessed with their own popularity. They neither have the capacity to organize our communities for politics. So when they are not able to do that, they blame other Roma. Our people deserve better and need better to survive then empty talk on social media. Religion is becoming more popular among our communities, but the religion is not an answer for our protection from another genocide. Most of Roma NGOs are still too small and too dependent on the external funding. The way most of them work today is not good enough for our protection.
If we find a way to organize our collective political force for our protection, that will mean that the remembrance on August 2 has taught us something for our present and the future.
RN: You wage a daily battle with various obstacles for the integration of the Roma in different countries, are the governments receptive to your requests?
ZJ: Those in power will never be receptive to our requests. There are some honest people with good intentions in the governments, but they are too few. The great majority of politicians do not care about us and some of them use the rhetoric against us to get the votes of the majority.
Politicians will respond positively only when we have enough organized, collective political power to make not requests, but demands to take responsibility for how political institutions work in our hands. Once we have an opportunity to have the power in public institutions, we have to use it with competence. We have seen too many times wrong people in the right place.
RN: We have the impression that the countries where you intervene are only cooperative when you have donations or financial participation to make things happen in the countries concerned?
ZJ: Let’s be realistic. we are a private foundation, the biggest supporter of the Roma in Europe and the world. Unfortunately, we still have much higher commitment then the EU and national governments and much less funds then them. So, we can do something short-term and something long-term. Short term, we want to create opportunities for more funds from the national governments. We try to do something useful that can address some of the challenges of our people, at least for some small number of people because we have very limited funds and the needs are so big that we can never satisfy them. For example what we recently started in Serbia and North Macedonia with the fund for entrepreunership so our people can keep or create more jobs and income for their families. In the long-term, we try to help our people organize collectively by investing in people who are honest, competent and able to control their egoism in order to work with each other in a collective movement.
RN: what points should we put in priority as a community in the countries where we live, knowing that we are very can represent in the administrations?
ZJ: When you talk to our people the first priority is a possibility to earn income for our families. So economic opportunities are the key. Our people know they face racism in our home countries and we face it in the western Europe. And we still go to the west because of economic opportunities.
The second is the protection of our people from violence by far-right and police brutality. These are the most dangerous forms of racism and that is the second most important priority.
RN: What strength should we bring together to be better organized and face different forms of discrimination against us?
ZJ: What strength we have? Military we don’t have. Economic power we don’t have. So the potential for power we have are our voters. If we are able to organize our voters collectively, that’s the power against discrimination. Of course, this can work in countries where we have relevant number of voters like North Macedonia.
RN: OSF has done a lot and we hope that in the future will do a lot more for our community, is it enough that just one foundation invests in different domains for us?
ZJ: It is not enough of course. But we cannot control what others do, but only what we do. So I do believe we are doing our best with the human and financial resources we have.
RN: Are the governments of the different countries afraid of the Roma populations, in the sense that we are the youngest populations in Europe, are we a danger for the future?
ZJ: I do not believe they are serious about it. Some use this to get the votes of the far right, nazis and fascists, but I do not believe this is real.
RN: Roma News
ZJ: Zeljko Jovanovic