For the first time I think we have some organized protests all over Europe. Many people showed up and walked behind the Roma flag and protested against racism, killings in Ukraine, against right wing politicians in Italy and their crazy ideas, and other racist things happening these days. It was necessary. Many people stood behind the demands to EU to stand behind its laws, behind itself basically. The message was that Roma are united, organized, ready to pretest, to make some problems actually, to make some real pressure.
I am not sure how it was in other countries, but in Serbia it was very unified, we saw the same printed banners, the same printed t-shirts, the same format, and it seems there was the idea to have at least 1000 people in every city in which there was a protest, I am not sure how many were there in Belgrade. Similar text read all over Europe as it seems, that Roma remember, that Roma will react. The main target how I could conclude were EU representatives.
If you had some contact with the Roma movement in your country you would see some familiar faces, even though many were missing. There was not a big announcement of the event. There are usually some groups within the movement, so this appeared to be in a way an initiative of one of the groups. Some were on the streets, with the direction to the embassies; some groups went to the traditional visits to Auschwitz.
Not very well organized and monitored production followed, so you could see unedited videos on FB of the preparations of the protest. You could hear how the walk is organized on the spot. How there are few people who try to keep the protest in order, to direct its movement. Gathered people repeating sentences somebody from those people yells in megaphone. “Opre Roma”. “Resignation”-directed to the xenophobic Italian politician, minister of internal affairs who wanted to put up a census just for Roma and expel all non-Italians. You could also hear Roma anthem, some people, leaders, speaking, telling written texts on how Roma remember, how they will not be silent, how Roma are united, how they will react. There seemed to be some issue with the demands they wanted to give to the Italian embassy, it was commented briefly in front of the group, it seems they were not prepared for this, and the group just turned around and left.
The head of the house and “sandwich” principles
And in a way it’s something different to see Roma in such a number on the street, in a protest, and in a moment you feel like this is important, historical, and again, there is this familiar feeling of leaders trying to make something out of nothing, to maneuver the gathered people on a tight leash, to discipline.
Someone says “Let’s see who is leading this protest, who is the head of this house”. Leaders. You cringe. Further, on the verge of discomforting anxiety you could also see how the celebratory announcements of the speakers turn dangerously the ship and almost reveal that too well know authoritarian character of the events lead by Roma leaders. You cringe, again.
While having the image of public disobedience and revolutions in my head when I think about public protests, the event made me think mostly how all movements are unrepresentative. It is so often spoken within movements in the name of the others, with entitlement and self-rightness. It’s a common fallacy we do.
The self-proclaimed managerial leadership is not the specificity of the Roma movement. Actually, there is nothing especially different with Roma movement from other movements. Women marches consist of 20 women, and in the whole Serbia maybe 100-300 people would appear on some more important event. Left marches do not exist practically. Workers protests are negligible and too local. They never raise any public interest. Even when Vucic was elected, the protests did not hold.
While Serbia has some history in persistent protesting during the 90s, today this legacy completely died off. We have no tradition of generational learning within movements, mostly due to authoritarian leadership and “one men show” organizations. We have no culture of remembrance also. History books are so numerous, so mixed up, it’s hard to say what actually happened in Balkan now. The books are so heavily drenched and bleached in imaginary clean, celebratory Serbian mythology. No minorities. No Roma. I can imagine that someone from other place and time would be startled, asking how could someone do this to their own kids, bathe them in toxins which make them slow, frightened, ignorant and aggressive.
Everybody, even the most educated, are today uneducated, poor and consequently heavily and easily manipulated and politicized, not in a good way. Our political culture today is based on authoritarian, “head of the house” leadership, “sandwich” principles, and mostly violence. Sociology says we never had it much different in this area, but still, we had the 90s. Not to look naïve, there were also organizers. People say it was again the money “Otpor” got from abroad, from USA, from Soros. Well, if nothing, at least it was more creative. I remember, for example, we had the book of brilliant messages from the protests, some random people came up with them, it came from their own heads at least. Its nor clear how many and in which way Roma participated in these events. Nobody bothered to investigate that, as in general, the whole thing is forgotten. The opportunity to learn from successful civic strategies is lost in general in Serbia how it seems.
Just give me 5minutes with that MP
Looking at the protest of Roma made me also think how it is strange to see it, since in general today there seems to be disenchantment with civic activism. Especially in the Roma movement. It might be that they are not outdated and ineffective by themselves, but protests do not happen and when they do, they do not succeed more often than they succeed in Serbia. Discourse is changed, political game is changed. It is not the power of the people, if it ever was, but the power of money and crime pulling the strings.
But, Roma leadership already knew this, or contributed to this, or both. Advocacy and lobbing. That was what we, the youth of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s were thought, on the waves of the ideals of white social-democracy. “If you had 5 minutes with some MP, what would you say? Think now. You have 3 minutes”. How to write a public statement. How to perform in front of camera. How to work in teams.Do the test to see what kind of leader are you….
We did not learn how to organize a protest though. Did not have from whom to learn that in the movement how it seems. I reckon young Roma today are not thought how to do that either. They learn about leadership skills and good knows what that means today. Big number of them only go to the trainings if it’s a nice hotel, or if they get per diems, if it pays off in some financial way. They don’t see anything wrong there. You cannot blame them really. I mean, the organizers of these schools, roll-models, criticize them for that, and again, they pick the expensive hotels, since they enjoy free sauna and all. Comfort. We learned it comes with activism. God knows on how many of these seminars I went. So, it makes it weird to see them all gathered there and not ask yourself indecent questions I guess.
The devil, the money
So, the devil took it too far, as we say, and there it is fascism again, and what you have? The skill of making a nice moving text to deliver in 5min if you get into the elevator with MPs. So when you have mostly politically illiterate youth for this or that reason, and comfort addicted leadership, then money comes at handy. It’s always somehow about the money.
But to be clear, there is no Roma movement as there is no feminist, or leftists movement in Serbia, not really. Everybody knows that. There are NGOs depending on donors and their agendas. Everybody complains about it, but everybody depends on it. Nobody wants to take the risk. Poverty. Comfort. So nothing changes.
Also, if there is a Roma settlement torn down, almost no Roma activists would appear. They all have connections on projects with the government, so they are not free to do what activists should do. They will maybe try to do it their way, to speak with some representatives, give them 5 minutes with them representatives….
In the last decade I do not remember there was some open protest against any act of racism and any Serbian government. And there were racist acts and policies. So it makes you somehow wonder, how it is that yesterday people just gathered around, so uniformly, loudly protesting against the governments of other countries. Exactly on that day one settlement was torn down nearby Belgrade in Resnik.
Roma movement is maybe different from other movements in a sense that it’s the most dependent on donors, since the people making it are themselves worse off in relative terms, exposed to racism, and they depend more from that money.
Educated Roma, especially Roma women are tricked into dependency of that money for many reasons. So, you get the non Roma narrative, which Roma are paid to sell also, its like:
“ If you Roma would not marry your daughters so early, they would have a chance”.
Ok, so your parents don’t get you married early. Check.
“If you were only educated, you would have all the chances”.
Ok, so your parents somehow get you educated. Check.
And of course, when you get educated, you realize there is no real job for you like magic, and that the best option for you to make that education pay off is, funny enough – to work in the Roma NGO sector. No shitting over it than, right. And of course, in addition, as a women, you realize that anyway you have to do what your parents did not do – sell yourself, since its anyway the men’s world. It does not matter if you are in NGO sector, academia, politics, wherever. You feel the pressure to cash in your sexuality, sell it to non Roma and Roma men, cheaper than non Roma women, of course, even with your education. Or in most cases you can always go and sell things on the street with your uneducated mother anyhow.
So, white liberal journalists would write some wonderful narratives now about Roma protests all over Europe. Some message will get to the representatives of EU surely. Job done. Some well-paid bureaucrats, Roma advocates can actually use this postproduction and stand now more convincingly for something and someone, no matter how imaginary this group is, and how far any of their bureaucratic influences are from the real lives of Roma.
Indeed, the biggest problem of Roma leadership was always that it was unrepresentative, self-elected. They never had any real power behind them. Its more clear to me now that this is why we were thought how to use our 5 minutes in elevators with MPs. Roma leadership knew there will be nobody in front of the Parliament. Now, surely with money you can change the agenda of the NGOs now, so people learn to organize a protest for the first time. Never too late to do that.
Game of Thrones
I mean, OK, it’s all staged, OK, but then you ask yourself maybe its how it must be, and would MPs now listen? It must be that some people think this will happen since they did invest so much in this, you realize.
And I sit and think in resignation, the media image, the Roma flag, the staging cannot make you feel better, no matter how much you crave for it, for the real sense of belonging, justice, resistance. It cannot hide the screaming of the devastation and misery of the civilian existence, civic life, the bare silenced existence from which millions of eyes just watch from below, in terror, drowning in shit. Its just to real, this misery. Well if you are closer to the ground. If you still go and sell things on the street with your mother and you still use public transportation.
All that effort to send massage to EU, to MPs…. Game of Thrones makes more sense to me honestly, even though we are all aware of the biopower, of the real life consequences of the EU policies. I was siting there wondering if this is like threatening with some imaginary toy, actually appealing to the fascist political establishments who still hold pretense of democracy before the WWII, but now with much more economic interest, engulfed in crime and corruption.
Cause you know its not real.
It came to my mind that day, to make any kind of change, any real change, any real pressure, it seems like we need different kind of people. Sitting and watching media images you just look at it and think – we need different kind of people, not us, it is not us, it will never be us, accustomed to comfort, desiring middle class desires and lives.
I think there is always this question – for what are you willing to sacrifice yourself, but really sacrifice, to go to prison, to lose a limb, to take a beating, to suffer, to die for. Is anybody prepared to any of that, to die for anything today?
Extremism in Roma is frightening people today. So funny. I think white better off people should not be worried; we are so far from it. They fixed Roma good. The poorest cannot even rise their heads up from the hard labor killing them, and we in the Roma movement, we are so stunned by the ideals and desires of the middle and higher white classes, trying to run for their money, play their game, our heads in their politics and sauna haze, that I am not sure we are able to come up with anything really…real.
I sit there wondering is there such a thing at all when we speak about the Roma movement/s?
Are we at all real?
Are we just this, figurines in the game, holograms?
Is that all we can be?
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