Jelena Savic

I am a fuckn artist!

All my conferences on Roma women, or how to get a free lunch November 3, 2018

this Thursday and Friday I attended the event called “Regional conference: Economic (in)dependence of Romani women: Challenges and early causes” organized by CARE international and Regional Cooperation Council 2020 in cooperation with the Government of Serbia.

Regional Conference “Economic (In)Dependence of Romani Women: Challenges and Early Causes”

The Regional Conference “Economic (In)Dependence of Romani Women: Challenges and Early Causes” is organized jointly by the Regional Cooperation Council Roma Integration 2020 Action Team and Care International Balkans, hosted by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure of the Republic of Serbia Zorana Mihajlovic.

Its main objective is to explore the causes and consequences of the economic (in)dependence of Romani women in early childhood and youth and propose ways forward for effective employment policies of Romani women in the private and public sector.



As usual, representatives of the State come to recite their numbers and then they leave. I think the only thing these people do is go from event to event and recite some numbers, and get paid, or at least most of their time they do this. For the last 18 years I think this image appears as in Groundhog day.

The State actually did not do much for Roma women. They have an issue even with Roma mediators who even after doing the massive job for the State from which most of their numbers they brag about comes, are not in the system. If they did not resolve employment for these women who did so much for them, you can imagine how much they are able and willing to do for the other Roma women.

As usual, the issue of Roma mediators is left for the last session, when everybody leaves, and Roma women stay to talk to themselves. This time there was a person, Vesna Kneginjic who is an assistant of the Minister though. I was thinking how it looks like you have a dog and it works for you and you barely feed this dog, and even after 18 years its just about enough to offer this dog a biscuit, and it will stay calm. I did not want to listen to that, I did not come to this session.

I was also thinking how it is possible that after so much time there is nobody standing with some banner or something on the first session and makes an issue regarding the status of these women so that State representatives can see them, and stop bragging with the results these women achieved and did not manage to make them part of the system for 18 or more years. I mean I was thinking about it.  Its possible. Obviously they need to invent another word for need how much there is a need to change the way things are done, but its not happening. I did not make any scene. I did not come.


Other presenters talked about some small projects they do, very silly in a way. You listen to it like you look at the star dust. Not to mention that Dimov was the best presenter with the most realistic entrepreneurial approach. I guess that’s why he is called, since otherwise he is the person not really welcomed by Roma women since he tends to commodify women themselves.

We did not hear anything new from the National Employment Service. I feel bad for Darko Marjanovic since he has to appear and pretend this institution has some role in  Serbian society. The only thing this service can provide is a paper to get discounts on privatized public transportation, and eventually some small amount of money if you are very poor. That’s what it its primary role. Other than that, they offer some courses “how to write a CV” and when you are signed in until eternity you have the right to choose 1, in letters one, course for professional development, like to learn to work in some program or whatever. I took 1 course to learn how to use Office in the 90s.

Also, last time I went there they made me declare my nationality in front of every user there in the hall, they shared my personal data like my ID card with everyone in the room when I went on this course to learn how to write my CV, the person who  is my advisor there did not know anything about racism against Roma, actually they tried to convince me that employers are not discriminating Roma, and that my and experiences of other Roma are delusional!?



As usual, what ever the topic is, people mostly talk about education when it comes to Roma, since obviously this is the easiest thing to talk about. You could not hear nothing really about economy and real problems there for Roma, let alone solutions, but the premise is that once Roma educate themselves, the employment problem will be solved. Makes you lough really. But its convenient to speak about the problem this way regarding Roma since they are largely indeed uneducated.

Very often its “their culture” which keeps them uneducated. Parents keeping their children out of school, who do not value education, who make their children work, the State usually brags about doing very much in this filed of education, so I tend to skip these parts. Having MA and having to go to sell socks on the streets with my uneducated mother who sacrificed her life buying this story about education as a magic bullet makes me cringe and too upset.

Also, seeing how Roma Education Fund now serves interests of German donors who give money for employment in industries demanding cheap labor also makes you think. They were not on the panel. Recently I saw they want Roma age 20 to 30 with high school to work in MCDonalds and to transfer bags at the airport. I guess its important to be educated for that also.

And of course, Roma exposed to unemployment as any other citizens on semiperifery turning into colonial sweat shop, and with additional burden of racism without employment opportunities do embrace these jobs.

Roma are lucky if they are educated enough to know English and can work in NCR, exploitative call center, since the salary if I recall was 400 eur for the work which means you do not see the light of the day and have no time to go to the toilet.But hay, 400eur!

The best option still for the educated Roma is to be an activist and earn your bread in some NGOs, meaning also most of the time going to these conferences, playing a role of an audience for the representatives reading numbers until the world ends. Or, better yet, speaking about your equally star dust efforts to improve the situation of Roma. While the situation of those poor Roma did not improve much, at least you end up spending your life in nice conference spaces eating proper meals. For 18 years you do not have to lift a single banner on these conferences. I would know. Still, its important to be polite, so you stay in these waters so that you prosper properly. I am still learning that. Well, for now, the best you can get is the occasional sarcasm of white men, moderators regarding presentations containing endless recitals of numbers.



Now to speak about child labor, there is absolutely no connection with poverty here strangely enough. As it seems no real cooperation with social services. Policies are based on informing children about their rights in schools. Surely, the Roma children affected are not in schools, but its good to improve already better off non Roma children, I guess. Also, urging Roma children to report their parents. How funny is that. Like women suffering domestic violence reporting partners without any other systemic support, and we talk about even more vulnerable Roma children! How funny funny stupid, not to say anything else is that. Also, informing people working in the State offices about this issue, which is probably important, but surely far from enough. There are no programs of prevention, not really. The only thing the State can do, if it ever does anything, is to take the child and put it in a foster home, and , of course, give money to the people who take care of a child. I guess its the same money for which parents probably sent their children to work, but poverty is another issue here.



And of course, early marriages are always the problem of the community. Its still not connected with anything this society does to Roma women. No budget for any programs of prevention, offering real alternatives to these families and girls. “It is the problem of social services”, again. The problem is not related with poverty, no intersectionality in the work of these agents. In general it is seen as a culture and retrograde patriarchal community, exclusive issue of that community, and this can be solved accordingly with more information as it seems. Funny thing is that they actually say it is NOT the culture, but all policies ARE as if they do think it is. Funny.

How it seems to me Roma parents marry their daughters to protect them from non Roma and other Roma who might use them in different ways since they know they can, since they know there is no State protection of Roma girls. And to me it seems they are right, poor Roma women are one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe. The parents do what they can also to provide the best solution for the bare existential needs of girls by marring them to wealthier older men. Is this unfamiliar to you? You never considered class status of your partner? The truth is, this society and the State do not do much to provide Roma women with real alternatives but to marry to have a roof over their head and what to eat. God know I was forced to think about it with my MA, and I know good number of women who did it. And how many women did it you can tell by the number of women staying in violence cause they have no resources to leave.


But paradoxically immediately after you see this lack of intersectionalty, there are the people to tell you how it is important? o.O. You are like…ah, its so funny and annoying. Is this your first meeting? You people from this session and the session before?

And then you also hear from representaives of ERGO  how in Serbia nobody really uses Antigypsism in their work,  with a kind advice to start using it, since it’s a big thing in EU now. I mean, not just that its not true, since there are different very well-known authors like Pisari and Ackovic who worked on this and speak about it, but its also present in the work of Praxis and Civil Right Defenders which you find out on the first google search. Just recently they published some report on this. Its uninformed statement, disrespectful in way, especially coming from an organization presenting itself as close to grassroots, but its more problematic how we are so used to getting dictates from the State, from Brussels and donors. I mean, I realize how we need to be aware “in which direction the wind blows” so to say, but really… It became so irritating as much as the training by OSCE on which you have Valeriu Nicolae doing a workshop on “what would you say to an MP if you get stuck with him/her in an elevator” . Even when you realize that it is important to speak about systemic discrimination in this case as racism.


At the end, as always, I find white older women to be the most abnoxious in their whiteness and demonstration of power. Since we were late with timing the moderator of the last session, Orhan Usein asked if we all agree to prolong the session for 15minutes more since there were some questions in the previous session undiscussed. The white women suddenly rises her hand and demonstratively DEMANDS the event to be over since it says so in the agenda????!!! Everybody looks a bit surprised by this, some smirk, even though people were tired, it seems like demanding this in such a way was awkward.

I mean, you are free to leave, white women, when Roma men and women gather to talk about the issues, you know?

But she just could not help herself, this white women. She demanded that we all shut our mouth already and respect her authority as a white woman. I guess she got tired of everybody speaking about Roma women all the time on the event deducted to the issues of Roma women. And of course, she used for that the formal rules. So you know, she was absolutely formally not rude. As usual, white women know how to use formal rules to shut Roma women’s mouth nicely and formally and in a “civilized” manner.

And there was no question about it! Orhan Usein was not hesitating one moment to obey. Never did he ask if everybody agrees with what the women said, as she was talking he nodded, he just go along to shut the Roma women’s mouth, as the white women demanded. He just closed the event.

I guess being a man and a bureaucrat does things to you. I asked him why he did it. He said “why didn’t you raise your hand?”. Well, did you give an opportunity to do that as a moderator I wanted to ask, but well, yes, I did not make a fuss, I tried not to be a black sheep over and over again on these events, for a change.

But, in a way he is right.  I am silly also, being in a formal context does things to you as an activist. You start thinking formal rules are the only way. That you can speak only when you are allowed to. When you are asked to speak. You feel uncomfortable braking the rules and the transfer of shame, you feel also uncomfortable making people ashamed for their own stupidity! And I spent in that context only 2 days! Imagine what it can do to Roma advocates working in big intuitions and organizations in Europe, and how they must feel awkward to break the rules set to shut the Roma women’s mouth. And anyway, we all knew we will not hear in another 15 minutes something more meaningful than for the whole event, its anyway not important, its anyway a stage, and also, its more comfy, there is a lunch waiting for you in the hall. And people do love nonexistent free lunches.

Agenda_Regional Conference Economic (In)Dependence of Romani Women – Challenges and Early Causess