On recent elections for National Council of Roma in Serbia all candidates, among other things, tried to address Roma youth and Roma women issues. They wanted to mobilize them for political participation and make them vote. Number of Roma who voted was very low. I would argue that it is because the way they did it was recognized as immensely rude and embarrassing, and that this fact of low participation shows urgent need for different politics toward Roma youth and Roma women from positions of power and that further their courage to demand space for their voice in political arena is needed.
First, candidates for these elections are well known, the same older Roma, who are already on positions of power for last ten years. While they claimed they really care about Roma youth and Roma women, there are no younger or female candidates to be the first on their lists. These candidates formed many politics and policies by now. Young Roma and Roma women had many chances to get to know how candidates, some representatives of Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and state institutions, showed care for their interest by now. Result of these politics and policies are that today almost no young Roma or Roma women participate in organizations or institutional bodies that are led by them, or at least not on some relevant places, and in general, number of apolitical Roma youth and Roma women rises. Today, even after many years after the start of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, there are just few organizations lead by Roma youth, and I do not know for existence of organization lead by young Roma women in Serbia.
Second, current politics regarding pressing issues for Roma youth and Roma women were addressed with enormous superficiality and lack of care for the common sense of potential voters. For example, even though the most declarative care is put on affirmative measures in education for Roma students, until this day we do not have transparent and clear rules under which these measures are applied. Roma students are by this held in the position of dependence on personal social networking and they are kept vulnerable to all kinds of blackmails and manipulations from RNGOs and representatives in the state institutions. Nevertheless, candidates talked about this, and other problems, like they never participated in creating those policies and that nobody knows they contributed to this state of affairs, presenting themselves like people who will make things better, and still, without mentioning how exactly they would do that!
Also, Roma women issues are far at the bottom of the priority lists of the most RNGOs and state institutions. When they are there, usually, they are mostly dealing with early education, early marriages and health issues, especially with reproductive health. Very few resources are given for the political participation of Roma women, especially young ones. But, in this campaign even this, gender colored care, is not shown. Except tokenistic presence of some younger Roma and Roma women on their lists and declarative care for their rights, nothing more is offered to even try to convince Roma youth and Roma women they should participate in politics by voting and trust that they will, as their official representatives, have their interest on their mind. No real knowledge of these groups or their problems and no real deliberated solutions are presented, but more godlike message to obey blindly and give power to these people once again.
I would argue that this clearly showed that young Roma and Roma women are seriously disrespected, underestimated and instrumentalised. If they are educated despite all obstacles with which they face, their education is at the end not valued and seems that, despite big words and some work in this field, they have never been seriously considered as a resource and as the agents of social change. Further, if they are educated and show some critical thinking they are even seen as threat and potential “stealer of resources”. If they are in any way different than expected and call for analysis of existing politics of differences inside Roma communities, they are told they are braking Roma unity and betraying Roma community. If they call for solidarity with marginalized and exploited non Roma and notion of citizenship outside of nationalism they are seldom heard or understood, but are immediately labeled as “having issues with their Roma identity”.
In many cases, as many other non Roma representatives, current Roma leaders show blatant lack of autonomy of political parties, integrity, lack of concern for public interest, political education, critical thinking and class awareness. Additionally, patriarchal notion of age differences and gender roles usually does not allow them any auto-reflection and recognition of the most urgent need for inclusion of Roma women, Roma youth and any other Roma that is not by their standards of true Roma.
These elections showed that, if there was any, credibility of Roma representatives, it is lost now. This is serious political problem. And of course it is not Roma voters to be blamed for not wanting to vote, that is perverse interpretation offered by some representatives. Even though I have difficulty believing in representative democratic models, without political participation in Serbia with current political situation and all rising nationalism, it can be expected that the position of minorities can be seriously threatened and their rights can be in jeopardy.
On the other hand it is clear that Roma youth and Roma women and other Roma “who do not fit”, are not going to get their space without some fight in society in general and in their communities also. I think these elections showed one good thing, and that is that people stopped believing in this top down politics, that their trust cannot be even bought anymore, no matter how poor they are, that they cannot be forced to vote also. Some power related issues must be open and seriously discussed if their attention and votes are asked. If nothing at least their votes become more expensive.
This is of course not enough. For some change to be made Roma youth and Roma women need to confront these politics at the same way as they would do to any other politics that excludes them. There are some mechanisms of cooptation that need to be addressed also. Except obvious exclusion by current politics, Roma youth are also bought by them, there are promises of scholarships, employment, good salary and status. Roma women are bought also with this and with money for their NGOs. Younger Roma and Roma women on their lists would never speak against Roma leaders. They are on these lists because Roma men think they can control them. Everybody knows this, even though there is almost “the code of silence” in Roma community. These women cannot represent interests of Roma women. Roma women are not fooled this time and they did not vote.
What was usually demanded from Roma youth and Roma women was to be activists, resist to politics of oppression outside Roma community, be obedient and docile and follow rules and politics of “big Roma man”. Now, people understand this and do not want to participate anymore, especially if they are educated. But, seems to me it is much easier to get out. If you do not like these politics, then change it. What i think Roma youth and Roma women and all others who are excluded from the canon of “Romanipen” today, need to do is to get courage and get out of their comfort zones in Roma communities also, start doing what they can, start criticizing current politics and demand their space from Roma representatives and leaders also. This is going to have consequences. Yes.
At least this is an idea. I am not really sure if in consumerist, capitalistic, clerofascist, patriarchal partocratic parliamentary democracy, in which so often relatively poor young Roma man, students, as many other non Roma, try to look and behave more like very rich mafia members, beat their Roma student girlfriends,again as any other non Roma, and plan to get low paid job in Germany with the help of their uncle, and Roma women, students, as any other non Roma students with low self-esteem and self-respect, share their sexy selfies in their underwear, write silly gender embedded statuses about love and finish faculties, with the help of foundations who want to make “Roma academic elite”, by reading 20 pages per exam, of course, as many of other non Roma student, and plan to get out of the country to work as nurses, is just a dream. Might be. I am not sure.
Of course, this political position is not leftist enough for leftists, I should be asking for deconstruction of the whole fckin system more radically and ask for selforganization and self management of all people , no matter which ethnicity they are. I should be focusing more on class issues and economic benefits of the people on the positions of power and their connections with non Roma political parties and their connections with people who have money, and ask for employment and public services for all people… thats true. But, I do not know much about leftist politics. I wish I knew more. All the time I feel my NGO education in my texts. So, I do not know much about these left alternatives I admit. And I do not know many left oriented ROma. And then, it is funny to see how very poor and marginalized here are not very present in education related to leftist orientation. Mostly students. Not that they are not poor, but they are not very poor. Its good that they exist I think, this is where Roma can learn about alternatives I guess, and also I reckon we can all benefit from naval-gazing. Leftist do have their politics of power about which they do not like to talk. Would be nice to read some critics of these politics also.