There is one strange quality of the Roma elite. It disappears very easily. It is unstable element, ephemeral and almost untouchable phenomenon. It is hard to understand what it is, and how does it exist and also, if you decide it does exist, it so easily dissipates that you are back at the beginning, questioning did it ever exist. I quit my administrative job for REF (Roma Education Fund) and OSF (Open Society Foundation) without real perspective, where I helped other Roma gain their degrees to get a degree. And I did this again by the help of REF and OSF on CEU (Central European University). And when I had some health issue it turned out that this nice, freshly renewed university with fancy touch screen boards and smart buildings, in favor of multiculturalism does not have health emergency fund and also that they will not cover previous health conditions. When, I as a Roma of “academic elite” stopped having support from donors I could not help but get back to the context where I really belong. Being poor, living with my mother who is selling cheep things on the street, in one room, in a suburb sharing her 150 eur hardly earned street money.
Partly this was my decision not to reach for more support from donors since I somehow start feeling fatigued from being in the position of lets say fake identity, to sustain my “elite” status by reaching to the donors. It does not do you good to always feel in a crisis and think about the possibility that everything you base your future, dignity, self perception and your life stile also can disappear so easily and you know that there is no safety net for you. I got tired from heights so to say. Also for being in a situation to be seen as somebody who “owes” to Roma community for getting this support. That I “owe” anything to anybody. Like social responsibility and principles can be comodified and traded. But they apparently can, people made a business out of it.
Also I got tired of my gratitude and my “thank you for thinking about my situation” to other Roma and non Roma people worried about the plight of Roma. I got tired of being their charity case and one beneficiary number, especially since I did not understand who made them decision makers in my life and how much better people they are, how much more educated they are, how much more “experts” they are. Like its all merit based. Like it really matters. Like its really the case that they are there and I am here because I am just a student which does not have much knowledge or experience, which I humbly stated many times.
It is true I do not know many things. I came to the state when I started to question is this really the truth and why I keep repeating this mantra in my head, like it is the truth. Do they really know so much more so that they are there and I am here and that they have this power to keep me in a status of “elite” or “academic elite”. Do they really? What is their expertise about? Policies for my life and how to help me? How to make it more like their life? Well, they do not seem to be very successful in their business I was thinking, resentful and tired.
I considered also that it can be I do not know many things which people who work with and in institutions with power, where some decisions are made do know. They spent some time learning how decision lines are structured, which documents are binding, which are not obligatory, which one work on the national which on international levels, what are these key words and passwords in this elite world saturated with a lot of superficiality, stupidity, ignorance, careerism, expertise bureaucracy, domestication, PC bulshiting and embarrassing compromises with a hope of successful advocacy only in the election times, ‘business casual & expensive perfumes’ code, comfort, good food, hotel rooms, and connecting flights.
The window of opportunity for Roma to enter this elitist world was open potentially for me also, its really closing now, and it even might be totally closed with my 35 now. But I did not use it. I never believed these people in suits and with “expertise” can really have much to do with real people like my mother, and I am a daughter of my mother. I honestly never believed that people on the other side of such a huge class divide can really represent the interests of my very poor Roma single mother without education, coming from a very poor family herself. And also, they never seem to be saying things which would make me think otherwise. Really, even when they tried. It was unconvincing. They looked like people in a game and me and my mom as their toys. So maybe naively for a poor person I did not use this window of opportunity using “youth programs” as a jumping board to “professional, expert, bureaucratic” true class elite.
For my background determined me to think how better use of my time is to keep my administrative non-decision making job at REF and OSF which makes me good enough so I can rent my own place and run away from my mother’s condition of living and keep my dignity and self image higher. Also to spend it going to feminist and activist events, learning about leftist approaches to our reality, participate on the events of Serbian left, trying to educate students, non Roma also, on gender issues and violence against women, going to Pride events etc. I basically lived my life of a better off leftist here in Serbia, this is what my precarious administrative job for Roma allowed me to do.
I did not find many other Roma living it. Not just that they did not have means, but they were busy learning how to use offered “windows of opportunity” in that Decade. They were not bothered much with seminars without per diems. I went now and then on some of these, I meet them also on countless of Roma rights related seminars without per diems, but still in nice hotels also. They had as it appears some better strategy how to cash in their Roma and youth identity.
So I chose the life of the better off academic elite. I even thought at one point it is even affordable to spend 2 years on MA in Philosophy living on a scholarship. What I could have learned for that time and what working experiences which would bring me closer to real elites I could have done I wonder sometimes. No, I have chosen that life of better off academic leftist elite. So, the difference is, as I said, “academic elite” of Roma disappears very easy, not like non Roma academic elite off course, simply because this “better off” part is kind of a trickster, ephemeral and easily changing thing you see.
Its 3 am. Today I am sitting troubled by my dreams related to my life in a nice hotel on anti-Semitism seminar organized by OSCE. I have traveled from Belgrade to Rome and to Budapest and I am about to go back tomorrow by the same route. I got my per diem. It will be useful to survive this month while I search for some god knows what job. I asked on this seminar on making coalitions what do you think about power relations in coalitions and how we should deal with this huge differences between you educated, middle class Jews , some on real positions of power, and some poor and often highly uneducated Roma. And in general I asked how coalitions can be made without addressing these issues of intersectional privileges in these structures in which we find ourselves roaming.
And also, being in my position I could not help but ask myself how many Roma, especially poor Roma women decided to come on numerous OSCE events just for per diems. Maybe, you know, they were never real potential for using this “window of opportunity”, to launch themselves into “experts”, god knows even this was much more difficult then for non Roma to use it and profile themselves as ones, still, I imagine ordinary Roma student, I meet many of them who study and sell fruits on the piaca , or go and spend their time band over berries collecting them as seasonal workers, coming from some poor neighborhoods and suburbs, wearing old clothing, and I imagine them checking in on the airports with privileged people of Europe, being put in rooms maybe bigger than their living spaces, like in my case now, eating rich meals, which they cannot really afford, like in my case now, and getting more then 100 euros for 2, 3 days of being there, like me know.
I imagine all this vividly as I live my life today. How real conversations on these events could have been actually for them. How important for their lives and how they could have make sense out of it and be able to actually come up with a ‘suggestion’ to OSCE to implement in their advocacy for their rights, no matter what would be the topic. And how many I wonder, how many would then be troubled by going back home, to their real lives, these travelers across (among other) class realms.
And in all clarity at night in this room I understand why a person like Valery Novoselsky who was not without capacities but never really I guess used this “window of opportunity” to stick there, to “make it real” back home as right there, on these seminars, who ended up without this password for keeping the doors of the world of agents in their lives, these self governing better off individuals, knowing how things are done in the world open. I realize how it is simple and possible that he would decide to reject this world where he ended up living his real life so much differently to kill himself, exactly in the hotel room. It makes sense now. He did not have where to come back with dignity and meaning and he was so close to people who could.
I actually don’t know what was his situation really, even if it was not, I imagine this could be the situation of him or any hypothetical Roma activist, and I do not know if this is true that he hang himself in the hotel room, but it came to my mind today when I need to get back to my home, my real life, where I am struggling to be any kind of agent in my life, where I struggle to make my own decisions, where I am nobody really, and I might end up selling cheep things on the street with my mother, while at the same time I am seen and called “elite” and “educated Roma”, actually being put into this category by non Roma but also Roma who just invested their time differently in the Decade of “window opportunities” to cross to the land of white, educated, middle class, bureaucrats, human right advocates I guess, and who like to operate with these currencies of “elite” and “educated Roma” in their business of making themselves agents in their own lives. And I am “elite and educated” and I am also neither. As it turns out after so many shameless promises of education & academia, and also human and Roma rights advocates and organizations, I am just a daughter of a poor uneducated Roma women. That’s who I am. Feeling anxious of being who I am, getting back where I was at the time of my birth when I get back from this seminar where at the end the question of power relations in coalitions is “in process” for the best, and far off topic, even offensive for “dedicated” better off white people with salaries, my wild guess no less then lets say 5000eur per month at worse. Clearly, that’s who I am.
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