In European Voice ( the Council of Europe and Open Society Foundations reveal their plans to set up a Roma Institute about music, art and traditions. There is nothing of this kind for the Roma, they claim... Here, they seem to forget about "Khetanes", done for, with and by Roma since 2010.


Why setting up a Roma Institute that already exists? Isn't that re-inventing the wheel? 

Roma know all about wheels. Four will do. Once you have 4 wheels, you need a horse, food and energy to go ahead. Six, seven or even hundred wheels won't make a change...

There is no need for more international institutions. However, there is a need to start cooperation with local and national grassroots, in order to realize at last Romani participation! Bottom up and pan-European!

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Commentary: Why are they setting up a European Roma Institute?
5.4.2015 21:30
George Soros.
George Soros.

Under this heading - substitute with "we" - billionaire George Soros and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland published this comment week before last:

The opening sentence says it all:  “For more than four decades Europe’s Roma community have wanted to establish an institution that would give their music, art and unique traditions their own stage”. Nothing could be more symbolic. Efforts are currently underway at the Council of Europe to dismantle the current arrangement for Romani political representation and to discontinue the consultative status awarded to the European Roma an...

. Thus an era comes to end that began with Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1203 from 1993, which called for Romani representatives to be embedded into the political structures of the Council of Europe. Instead, Roma are now being placed on stage as performers and entertainers -- where European audiences have always appreciated their presence, and where they seem to the majority to be less of a menace.

So why are they setting up a European Roma Institute?

"They" are varied. The small circle of young activists who have been pushing forward this agenda (and who launched an aggressive campaign last year against the committee of the  European Academic Network on Romani Studies

 when it expressed concerns about plans for ERI) are hoping to fast-track their careers by getting influential jobs on the basis of their self-declared Romani ancestry, without having to produce a track record of many years of either leadership in human rights campaigns or contributions to scholarship. They wish to benefit from the stream of European funding for Roma-projects for years to come, and they want to be able to mimic the recognised scholarly authority of eminent researchers who, thanks to the EANRS, have in the past few years made a visible appearance on the landscape of European political institutions.

Those in the inner circle of the Open Society Foundations’ Roma programmes, who, backed by one of the most formidable financial powers in the world, have managed to get direct access to the top echelons of political power at European level, seek to cement the legacy of George Soros now that most of his Roma activities have been shut down and the Decade of Roma Inclusion

 has ended with very few structural results to show except for a sector of professional Roma activists, who now need employment.

For the European political organisations it is convenient to be able to showcase an initiative on Roma that is "Roma-led" without actually giving it direct access to policy making and without having to recognise it as a political representation of Roma. ERI will also serve as a quick fix for some governments’ desire to see the Council of Europe sever its links with ERTF and thereby do away with the vision of a formalised Romani consultative status at the Council of Europe.

Why should we be concerned about a European Roma Institute?

In the format in which it has been proposed, this will be a non-transparent body run through an amalgamation of financial and top-down political power connections with little or no accountability. It will be steered by an exclusive circle of self-appointed individuals, most of them with little experience in managing cultural enterprises and some with a proven record of disregard and disrespect for established processes of scholarly enquiry and administrative routines. It will take decisions in an inner circle based on favouritism and privileged access, and it will dismiss any calls for scrutiny or intervention as racism and utilise the claims of its members to Romani ancestry to legitimise whatever actions and ideas it chooses to pursue out of self-interest.

This circle will remain detached from the day-to-day concerns of Romani communities, and it will thereby provide European institutions with the alibi that they need to ignore those concerns. It will institutionalise the gap between Romani communities and the small circle of those whose careers revolve around their role as “professional Roma”- serving a tokenistic function in NGOs and international organisations without actually making a genuine contribution either to Romani communities or to the professions that they pretend to represent. It will try to keep a tight grip on the allocation of resources and the recognition afforded to Romani cultural initiatives at grassroots level, and it will endeavour to turn pluralistic cultural creativity into a centralised, top-down pyramid.

Structured in this manner, ERI will signal to the public and to political institutions that a Roma voice is welcome in the form of artistic performance, thus catering to the romantic stereotype of Roma as entertainers and offering the political establishment an excuse to downplay efforts to ensure Romani participation at the political level. It will provide them with the legitimacy that they need to take the issue of Romani human rights off the political agenda.

If it pursues its declared goal of “developing and disseminating knowledge”, then there is a real risk that ERI will try to impose a top-down ideology that will dictate ad hoc positions on Romani culture and history, which it will try to present as academic. It will promote ideas from people, who present themselves as Roma, as scholarly contributions regardless of their scholarly merit, while oppressing the views of those who contradict them. In this way it will lower the threshold for evidence-based enquiry in the study of Romani culture and threaten to separate it from mainstream standards of academic rigour. It will campaign to isolate views that are not in line with its own ideology and it will thus, within a short time, risk turning into a “thought police”, using its access to funds and the international political arena to censor ideas and to back propaganda. If it does go down that track, then it will risk alienating scholars and even discouraging them from engaging with Romani culture, and it will thereby isolate the study of Romani culture from mainstream academia and education.

Of course there is another possible scenario, and that is, that ERI will do nothing at all; that it will consist of a small number of individuals who will collect their paychecks from the donors without initiating any public discussion, and will thus provide the sponsors within the political sector with a convenient alibi for doing nothing to improve the situation of Roma in Europe.

However, if it does deliver on its promise to follow the stereotypical approach to Romani culture, then at least we might hope that ERI will offer a course to the public on fortune-telling; and if my predictions come true, then maybe I’ll be allowed to teach it. 

Yaron Matras is a linguist at the University of Manchester specializing in Romani and other languages.

Yaron Matras
Žitná 49
110 00 Praha 1
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tel./fax: +420 - 257 329 667, +420 - 257 322 987
News server:

Comment published on the website of Open Society Foundations, reacting on the article "WHY ARE WE SETTING UP A EUROPEAN ROMA INSTITUTE" (SEE:


“Excellent idea! But why setting up an Institute in cooperation with the Council of Europe (CoE) and simultaneously ending the cooperation between the CoE and the ERTF?

Why focusing on Romani art and simultaneously weakening a Forum that is focusing on Romani politics?

Why seeking the support of a Romani elder and simultaneously frustrating the functioning of another Romani elder?

Why dividing whereas uniting would be so much more profitable?

New article by Professor Yaron Matras

see full article

Commentary by Valeriu Nicolae on the article (The Conversation) by Yaron Matras

See commentary



Strasbourg, 21 May 2015




The views of the European Roma and Travellers Forum on the “revised concept paper on the creation of a European Roma Institute”



The ERTF has taken cognisance of the “revised concept paper on the creation of a European Roma Institute”. Since the ERTF has not been asked, officially or unofficially, to comment on this proposal - which we deeply regret – we have, nonetheless, taken the initiative to provide the CAHROM with our views on this proposal.


We would like to state from the outset that the ERTF is in favour of all initiatives which promote the arts, culture and history of the Roma populations. It is however essential that such initiatives have a clear mission and are based on sound policies. This unfortunately is not the case with ERI.


It is certainly true that anti-Gypsyism is the principal cause of exclusion. However history has shown that Roma cultural performances have been widely appreciated over the centuries, yet racism against Roma continued to prevail. Cultural production is neither a substitute to anti-discrimination, nor is it realistic to expect that cultural performance and the arts can fill a gap in the fight against prejudice and exclusion. The Jewish population has produced some of the world’s greatest composers, musicians, painters and scientists but this has not put a stop to anti-semitism nor to the extermination of 6 million Jews.


It is absurd to decry socio-economic efforts. Ignorance, hatred and mistrust are intimately linked to the living conditions of a majority of the Roma and the first step against anti-Gypsyism and eliminating stereotypes is to provide the Roma with decent housing, education and employment and helping them to enter into roles in which they have hitherto not been accepted. The responsibility of developing a positive self-image lies with grass-roots Roma organisations and the support that they are entitled to receive from government at local and national level.


Culture is intimately linked to the life and identity of the community. It can be promoted and assisted but it cannot and should not be directed from above by a political organization. A top – down imposition of a standard culture would deny the rich pluralism of genuine Roma traditions. It is unrealistic to assume that segregating Romani cultural productions in an international institute will have any long-term critical impact. There is, moreover, a risk that governments at local, regional and national level might disengage from supporting Roma culture in the assumption that such matters are best left to ERI and that Roma culture might come to be regarded as detached rather than integrated into the fabric of regional and national culture.


In its proposal ERI makes it clear that it will not limit its role to promoting and assisting but expects to “challenge the status quo through narratives coming from Romani history, culture and experience”. This could lead to an open ended and random attack against a range of ideas that are legitimate, even if they do not meet with the approval of the founders of ERI and their supporters.


It also claims that the Council of Europe “will benefit from policy advice provided by ERI on all relevant aspects of Roma inclusion policies.” This goes well beyond the promotion and support of culture and, unfortunately, gives the impression that ERI would be dealing with a wider range of matters than culture and the arts.


We are of the opinion that Roma communities are in need of having their own cultural institutions in order to empower the communities, promote and strengthen their culture, language and history. The Romani culture is and must remain the property of Roma communities, and that cultural activity should be led at a national level and not centralised under the auspices of an international political organisation.


Such National Roma Cultural Institutes will contribute to boosting the Roma sense of belonging and pride and raise awareness of the common history and future. In addition, they should have the full support of the Roma communities, NGOs and other structures representing Roma.


The National Roma Cultural Institutes should not replace the political representation of the Roma population; they should be rather seen as institutions with competence in culture, media and art issues. Otherwise we will run the risk of shifting the focus of the political discourse – the fight for emancipation - to cultural issues.

At the international level, we would greatly favour a Roma Foundation with the exclusive vocation of promoting Roma culture and the arts, mostly through financial and strategic assistance, and totally independent of national governments and international organisations and institutions.


12 June 2015


European Roma Institute proponents respond to analysis by the European Roma and Travellers Forum

12.6.2015 0:30




On 21 May, in advance of a Council of Europe meeting to discuss the possible founding of a European Roma Institute, the European Roma and Travellers Forum published its analysis of the “revised concept paper on the creation of a European Roma Institute”. The full document of the ERTF assessment can be found here.

The ERTF is an international non-governmental, non-profit organization that aims to promote Roma and Traveller rights and freedoms as protected by international law and has been in existence for more than a decade. Its critique questioned whether an emphasis on Romani culture can actually combat discrimination, drawing a parallel with previous circumstances of European history as follows:  "The Jewish population has produced some of the world’s greatest composers, musicians, painters and scientists but this has not put a stop to anti-semitism nor to the extermination of 6 million Jews."

The ERTF statement concluded by calling for an international "Roma Foundation with the exclusive vocation of promoting Roma culture and the arts, mostly through financial and strategic assistance, and totally independent of national governments and international organisations and institutions". News server then contacted several Romani figures with the "Alliance for the ERI" for their response to the ERTF analysis.

Zeljko Jovanovic, director of the Roma Initiatives Office at the Open Society Foundations, says the ERI is not intended to supplant existing anti-discrimination measures, but to augment them. "Precisely because we are all learning that nicely written laws and policies alone are not sufficient, we need a set of additional instruments to reach the level of social and political consensus needed for making change," he says.

"The Institute will not be able to deal with the extreme cases of violence, killings and other criminal acts against the Roma," Jovanovic says. "This is why we have laws and law enforcement agencies. History teaches us that laws are not enough. For example, the work Germany did to educate its own public about Germany’s role in WWII was necessary for remembrance and historical responsibility. Tony Judt, one of the brightest historians have we ever had, wrote about this. He recognizes that in Germany three principal elements were critical for 'remembrance':  Trials, formal education, and public education through the arts, in particular, documentary movies. The ERI will learn how to use the latter to educate the wider public about why the EU and governments need to respond to the legacy of discrimination by investing public resources into targeted socio-economic measures. The specific experience of Spain is also very telling as to how Roma self-esteem can support socio-economic efforts when Roma are proud of who they are and what their arts and culture mean in and for Spain."

Jovanovic also said critiques of the ERI idea as a "top-down" idea are misinformed: "This initiative is a result of organic, genuine development among Roma activists and intellectuals. The core ideas behind the ERI did not came from OSF and CoE, they came from Roma activists and intellectuals over a decade. The Alliance is made up of Roma organizations and public intellectuals and they are equal partners to the OSF and CoE. Plus, a membership mechanism is proposed so all local initiatives and organizations willing to join ERI’s work can engage with and shape the ERI and its work locally. The ERI will be a hub or network or tent under which all the local organizations and initiatives can find their place if they wish to do so, so there is no need to fear centralization."

Anna Mirga, a Romani activist from Poland who is studying anthropology in Barcelona, responded to the ERTF analysis by noting that the advocates of the ERI support the ERTF, calling it "an important institution which plays a unique role internationally and has great potential". She emphasized that despite rumors to the contrary, the ERI does not envision itself as somehow replacing the ERTF.  

"The objectives and roles of both institutions are completely different - ERTF is an organization of political representation while ERI is envisioned as an independent institution working in the fields of arts and culture," she says. "It is not a political body (although we may argue to what extent culture and identity is in fact political) or a representative institution. We want to collaborate with ERTF, find synergies and complementarities between both and work together."

Mirga also stresses that while the ERTF statement implies that the ERI will attempt to standardize Romani culture in some way, this is a misunderstanding. "The ERI is based on the principle of diversity and plurality of Romani cultures and identities. It is a space where these different Roma identities and cultures can interact, converge and exchange... On the other hand, however, we should acknowledge that Roma are not recognized as ethnic/ national minorities in many European countries, leaving them without a legal and institutional framework for cultural preservation and promotion. In such cases, ERI can effectively fill such a void by providing an international institutional framework for Romani arts and culture."

Iulius Rostas, a lecturer at Corvinus University in Budapest, says that following discussions with the ERTF leadership, the Alliance believes it has now clarified any previous misunderstandings. "We, the Alliance for ERI, are glad that by talking to ERTF, other Roma groups, governments and EU institutions, we have managed to clarify some aspects of the ERI. We were glad to see that ERTF leadership expressed openly their support for ERI during the CAHROM meeting. There is no overlap between ERI and ERTF. ERI is about promoting Roma arts and culture, about valuing our own contributions to European culture and identity. ERI, unlike ERTF, does not aim to represent Roma. The two initiatives have different aims and they will co-exist for the benefit of Roma."

Rostas says the Institute will provide visibility to Romani artists, value the Romani contribution to European culture, and will "communicate Roma identity in the public sphere... ERI is complementary to existing initiatives - EU Framework for Roma National Integration Strategies, Decade of Roma Inclusion, etc. - aiming to improve the situation of Roma... I believe that there cannot be Roma inclusion without the support of the majority population, support that cannot be mobilised in the current climate if we do not also present the way Roma have contributed to European culture and identity. At the same time, one cannot talk about Roma social, economic or political inclusion without cultural inclusion. That means Roma artists and Roma artistic productions should be part of mainstream cultural institutions. Unfortunately, this is not happening now. As our colleague Timea Junghaus from the the European Roma Cultural Foundation has revealed, out of 10 000 Romani artworks that are stored in the national archives and the basements of other cultural institutions, only two pieces have ever been exhibited in mainstream cultural institutions. ERI aims to promote the works of Roma artists and provide support to cultural productions to penetrate mainstream cultural spaces."



The European Roma Institute: Frequently Asked Questions

10.6.2015 18:33


The Roma Initiatives Office of the Open Society Foundations, which is one of the founding members of the nascent European Roma Institute (ERI), has released a set of answers to the "Frequently Asked Questions" now circulating about the ERI. The responses were drafted jointly by the Open Society Foundations, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma Issues of the Council of Europe, and the spokespersons for the Alliance for the European Roma Institute; an abridged version of the text is below and the full paper can be read here.


Frequently Asked Questions about the European Roma Institute

1. Is “European Roma Institute” really the most appropriate name for the project?

“European Roma Institute” (ERI) is a working title. Other names have been proposed, like “Roma Centre for Arts and Culture” or “Roma Network for Arts and Culture”, in order to avoid unwanted connotations and misunderstandings. The final name will be selected following further consultations.

2. What has been the discussion process so far?

After 20 years of mostly project-based support for Roma arts and culture from the Council of Europe and the Open Society Foundations, it has become clear that Roma need stable, large-scale organizations to preserve and further develop their culture as part of European cultures. Informal consultations with governments showed that it would be preferable to create an independent organization that can enter into a close partnership with the Council of Europe and its 47 member States. A formal procedure at the Council of Europe began at the Committee of Ministers in February/March 2015, and the Ministers’ Deputies decided to consult the member States’ experts assembled in the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on Roma Issues (CAHROM)


 about the idea. The ERI proposal has been presented and discussed in various meetings where the envisaged founders have been invited and have outlined the concept. Numerous public statements about the ERI by the proposed founders have also been made at events and online.

3. What will be the decision-making process from here on?

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will resume its debate on the ERI before or immediately after the summer of 2015 in order to prepare the final decisions on the ERI and the Program and Budget of the Council of Europe for the years 2016 and 2017 (which includes financial support for the ERI). This debate will draw on the comments expected from CAHROM in early July 2015 and will relate to the draft statutory documents elaborated by the Council of Europe Secretariat. These documents will include the ERI statutes (specifying membership criteria and governance principles), rules of procedure, a draft budget, and a memorandum of understanding for co-operation between the ERI and the Council of Europe. In parallel, various options for the final choice of the seat of ERI will be explored, together with the willingness of individual member States to host the Institute and contribute to its work. Once the necessary decisions are reached at the political level, open calls for membership and staff recruitment will be launched and the procedure for the selection of the members of the governance organs will commence.

4. Have Roma civil society organizations and institutions been consulted?

Numerous discussions have taken place at events, meetings and with individuals in cities throughout Europe, including Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Berlin, Strasbourg, Sarajevo and Krakow, as well as online. Representatives of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, experts, activists, academics, artists, curators, media experts and governmental institutions have had the opportunity to express their support or criticism of the Institute. The leadership of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF)


 has been consulted about the ERI on various occasions in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Recently, the “Alliance for the European Roma Institute” 


launched a public consultation to open this discussion up even wider and allow everyone the chance to participate.

5. What is the “Alliance for the European Roma Institute”?

Following discussions among Roma activists, scholars, artists and media professionals, a group of committed Roma individuals and organizations who recognized the value of the ERI proposal publicly supported the idea and expressed their readiness to contribute both materially and financially to the ERI. This group formed the “Alliance”, asking the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Council of Europe to enter into partnership with them on this initiative. All “Alliance” members work on a pro-bono basis as a way to show their determination and contribute to the establishment of the ERI. The “Alliance” has organized meetings and participated in activities at national and international level advocating the establishment of the ERI. It involves individuals as well as organizations. NGOs have often had to obtain the approval of their governance organs before publicly supporting the ERI.

6. Who are the members of the “Alliance” and what will be their role?

The “Alliance” is formed by recognized, experienced scholars, artists,intellectuals and curators (Katalin Barsony, Dr. Nicoleta Bitu, Dr. Ethel Brooks, Timea Junghaus, Sead Kazanxhiu, Saimir Mile, Andrzej Mirga, Anna Mirga, Dr. Ciprian Necula, Dijana Pavlovic, Nadir Redzepi, Romani Rose, Dr. Iulius Rostas and Mihaela Zatreanu), as well as four Roma organizations with extensive expertise in the field of arts and culture (the Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma,


 the European Roma Cultural Foundation


Romano ButiQ


, and theRomedia Foundation


). The “Alliance” is engaging in discussions with a variety of Roma stakeholders (national Roma councils, museums, NGOs, networks) and with the general public through an open consultation, with the aim of gathering concerns, questions and ideas, in order to reflect as much as possible the needs and ideas of grassroots militants and community representatives. Together with the other members of tje ERI, “Alliance” members will ensure that from the start ERI will be able to reach out to Roma communities across the continent, access and co-operate with existing cultural and artistic initiatives, and communicate successfully with the national and international media.

7. What is the starting budget of the European Roma Institute?

The initial budget during the five-year start-up phase is projected at around €600 000 per year. This amount will cover the minimum operational and staff costs, and will allow the running of a minimum level of activities. At the present moment the budget is planned to be covered by contributions from the Open Society Foundations (€ 200 000 per year), the Council of Europe (€ 200 000 per year) and a variety of other funding sources, including the “Alliance” and possibly the host country/city. The “Alliance” has made a pledge to contribute financially and in kind, in the order of € 1 million. The starting budget will allow ERI to make funding bids towards grant-giving institutions and private donors. It will cover salary costs for key staff, two annual meetings of the governance bodies for project planning and building membership, office supplies and technology, two initial projects/programs building upon existing organizational strengths of the partners, and two fellowships supporting young artists, activists and scholars in their work, to be selected through an open call. Facility costs (rent, electricity etc.) will ideally be borne by a sponsoring partner.

8. Will € 600 000 per year be sufficient to pay for all the relevant costs connected to the ERI activities foreseen in the concept?

No, the ERI budget will have to evolve significantly over time. As is the case with practically all comparable international institutes (particularly those operating in the cultural field!), annual budgets will be composed of funding for operational costs and project-based funding for activities. The annual budgets, and hence the choice of activities and projects, will be decided by the governance organs in accordance with the statutory rules. ERI members will be invited to contribute in kind through their expertise, time and, where possible, financial contributions.

9. Will the European Commission co-fund the ERI?

On various occasions in 2014 and 2015, high-level representatives of the European Commission expressed their political support for the ERI and stated that the Institute will be able to access funds from the European Commission through regular procedures. The European Commission cannot be a founder of ERI, since there is currently no institutional build-up for the Commission’s Roma policy foreseen.

10. How will the European Roma Institute reflect the multiplicity of Romani cultures?

The ERI is guided by the principle of the diversity and plurality of Roma cultures and identities. Roma diversity is a living reality and will be fully respected. The ERI will help diverse Romani cultures interact, exchange and co-produce. The ERI will create a space where these pluralities of Roma experiences and cultures will be projected and appreciated.

11. Who can become a member of the European Roma Institute?

ERI membership will be open to organizations and individuals who support the principles in the ERI statutes. Members will be invited to contribute to the work of the Institute and to strengthen its impact. Members will self-select their adherence to the Institute's thematic sections (arts, culture, media and knowledge). Members will have key roles in building the resources of ERI, engaging in creative exchange and co-production, and taking ownership of ERI’s initiatives. They will also be represented on the governance organs of the Institute.

12. What is meant by “Roma leadership” of the European Roma Institute?

Roma representing themselves, and being able to define who they are (and who they are not), is the best way to break down prejudice and stereotypes. It would therefore be inappropriate to establish an institute on Roma culture, history, language and art without Roma leadership. If Roma intellectuals and artists are not allowed to lead the Institute, the result would be that Roma would be denied ownership of the ERI — and would distance themselves from similar initiatives even further in the future. Within the ERI, Roma leadership will be translated into a governance structure that gives Roma a strong role in decision-making and management processes.

13. Will non-Roma be able to lead the European Roma Institute?

The project of the European Roma Institute is based on Roma leadership, but this does not mean Roma-only. ERI will be open for the participation of non-Roma; everyone supporting the basic principles will be able to join the European Roma Institute as staff, partner, member or contributor. Those principles are:

  • · Respect for the dignity of Romani people and Romani identity
  • · Diversity and plurality of Romani identities and cultures
  • · Romani leadership with the support and co-operation of non-Roma, which is key to breaking down stereotypes by representing Romani talent, capability, confidence in taking responsibility, cooperation and inclusiveness
  • · Engagement and contribution of Romani organizations and individuals in the establishment and on-going activities of the Institute
  • · Political autonomy and non-partisanship, openness for collaboration with public authorities and political institutions as partners
  • · Highest quality standards in the domains of arts and culture, as well as its own operational performance.

14. What is the added value of the European Roma Institute, when there are already so many other Roma organizations?

The ERI will have a substantively artistic and cultural vocation. It is not designed to be an instrument for the democratic representation of Roma communities in Europe and is, therefore, not comparable to the ERTF or other NGO networks claiming to represent a much broader range of interests of Roma organizations and communities vis-à-vis the public authorities. Nor is it designed as an academic institution to compete with universities or research institutes. Quite a few institutions at local and national level document Romani culture, and there are many local and short-term projects which tackle anti-Roma prejudice, but all of these are either limited in their geographical or cultural scope; or patronizing in their conceptual approach; or short-lived and unstable (or all of these). No stable institution exists yet in Europe which gives Romani culture a recognizable and recognized platform, which systematically promotes Romani arts, culture, history and talent, and which documents the cultural and intellectual contributions of Roma to society. The ERI is envisaged as a hub connecting initiatives and institutions working at local and national level, providing visibility to the cultural and artistic productions and to the work of Roma artists at European level.

15. How will the European Roma Institute work with other Roma initiatives?

The European Roma Institute will not be a competitor, but an additional opportunity and resource for existing initiatives. The plurality among the Roma will be expressed through the membership of national and local organizations and individuals. ERI will be open to all formal or informal groups, organizations and individuals who support ERI’s mission and founding principles, and are ready to contribute to change.

16. Is the European Roma Institute designed as a research institution?

The European Roma Institute will not be a research institution. However, it will provide an additional opportunity for network and exchange among academics, scientists, arts practitioners and other activists, Roma and non-Roma alike. It will serve as a hub for all those who are connected to, and working with, Roma in all aspects of life. Furthermore, it will be an institution that Roma and non-Roma could turn to for cultural production, knowledge and resource-sharing in the area of the ERI’s competence.

17. How will ERI work with Roma organizations at local level?

ERI is designed as a membership-based foundation. Informal and formal groups, organizations and individuals, Roma and non-Roma alike, will be able to join as members. The members of the ERI will guarantee its presence at local level. In terms of activities, ERI will act as a hub, enabling connections, exchange and co-production among its members in as many locations as possible. Members of ERI, including organizations and individuals of the Roma grassroots, will participate in the governance of the Institute.

18. Will the ERI isolate Romani culture and history from the culture and history of the majority population?

Romani culture, arts and history have always been part of European societies and will remain so. The project of the European Roma Institute is to make those influences more visible and accessible for a wide audience in Europe. Today it is estimated that cultural institutions house over 10 000 artworks created by Roma artists — but hardly anything is accessible to the general public. The ERI will have a role in providing access to this wonderful cultural heritage.

19. How will the European Roma Institute help to reduce Roma poverty?

ERI’s mission is not to lift Roma out of poverty. A number of other instruments exist with this purpose, including the financial instruments of the EU or the antipoverty strategies at national level. However, there is overwhelming evidence that these instruments and strategies are severely slowed down or stalled by the negative image of Roma in the general population. Anti-Gypsyism often makes it difficult to even consider public measures to address the marginalization and discrimination of Roma.

20. How will arts and culture help combat anti-Gypsyism?

The aim of the European Roma Institute is to counterbalance the negative image of Roma in mainstream society by demonstrating the strengths and talents of Roma. The Institute will also offer young Roma an opportunity to develop a positive self-image, offsetting the negative stereotypes they encounter in their environment and educating them to develop a sense of identity, pride and security.



joint statement of the Alliance for the ERI, the Council of Europe, and the Open Society Foundations



When I was a Member of European Parliament (MEP), from 2004 until 2009, I regularly invited artists to come over to Brussels. The concert by Vaya con Dios at the occasion of International Roma Day 2008, within the Parliament’s building, was attended by 500 MEPs and other officials. It was a great event, hosted by the president of the European Parliament! Also the coming over of the famous Flamenco dancer Joaquín Cortés deeply impressed the politicians in Brussels. Artists can very well act as human rights ambassadors and thus inspire politicians and urge them to do a better job.


But that politicial job, improving legislation, drafting resolutions, controlling funds and implementing fundamental rights, is basically different from singing a song or performing a dance. This year, the Council of Europe, a political institute, ends its contract with the European Roma and Travellers Forum, another political institute (and the only one Roma and Travellers have). Instead of renewing the contract, it seems that the CoE prefers a cooperation with Open Society Foundations in order to establish together the European Roma Institute, ERI.


As a result of this, the focus of a political body, CoE, will switch from political work regarding Roma to cultural achievements of Roma. Perhaps the involved artists will be paid just as well as politicians and diplomats usually are. The foreseen budget of ERI is 600.000 Euro per year, or 3.000.000 Euro in the 5 years starting phase.


But even the best song and the greatest ballet cannot replace the political work that urgently has to be done, since Europe is in the grip of far right and millions of Roma continue living in fear and deepest poverty. True, identities have to be strengthened, but first they have to be rescued!


Els de Groen, 65 years

an artist for 45 years

a politician for 5 years

an activist for ever

initiator of World Artists’ Initiative “Khetanes”






From: Gwendolyn Albert

Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 11:21 PM

To: Gwendolyn Albert

Subject: [Romano Liloro] Dragan Ristic: Anatomy of an Idea - The European Roma Institute


Dragan Ristic: Anatomy of an Idea - The European Roma Institute

23.6.2015 22:58

Dragan Ristić (far left) and the KAL band.

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Dragan Ristic is a guitarist, lyricist and vocalist with the music group KAL

. A citizen and resident of Serbia, he holds a Master's in Film Theory from the University of Belgrade.

Since 1998 Ristic has served as the Director of the Romani Cultural Center

in Belgrade and has led KAL since 2002. He has directed the Amala School for Romani Language and Culture

since 2011 as well; he submitted the following piece to news server on 11 June 2015.    

Dear Friends,

Let’s look truth in the eye and say what is rarely addressed. The Idea of creating the European Roma Institute has slept in the brightest of corridors of Roma movements for almost 40 years and is now experiencing its own evolution!

I am convinced that the European Roma Institute (hereinafter referred to as ERI) is deeply rooted in the need to create a coherent and stable racial culture as a means of establishing ethnic particularity. An Institute that will address and deal with the creation of the Roma Cultural Policy, whose integral part will be the production, diffusion and promotion of Roma culture, is of invaluable significance as to Roma, so to Europe.

If the fact that culture is the best product of this nation is taken into account, then this matter becomes that much more important and of utmost urgency.

I see that there is a debate present in academic, political and activist circles about the meaning of the whole idea, and at the risk of sounding esoteric, I will try to explain the reasons of the necessity of the existence of the ERI.

First, I must emphasize that preservation of national and cultural identity is of extreme importance to each nation, and is so to the Roma.  Even though they are the largest “Europeans” in Europe, this nation has the need to preserve and develop its diversity and sense of belonging to their nation as well as to preserve their own heritage. The largest European apartheids wish to preserve the forms of thoughts, actions and feelings which have made them so distinctive and special that they have left an indelible mark in the history of civilization.

I estimate that it is high time for Roma to create a stable and solid institution, or to move in a formalized and structured process of institutionalization. These institutions rarely exist in any European country yet Europe here gives us a hand because, in this way, they want to show their intentions and to be equal towards all.

The Roma don’t have any more time and must not miss the chance to finally form a strategy with which they will take care of themselves in a systematic way because, up until now, they haven’t had such a chance.

Europe is nowadays one market, a unique community, and the Roma must find their place here with a clear, specific and orderly vision in which culture has a special meaning. The rapid development and enormous influence of the media and the global public opinion has to be used in the context of forming a positive image of the Roma nation, and so ERI has to exist!

If Japan is known for technology, Switzerland for abundance and precision, Rio de Janeiro for Carnival and soccer, then the Roma should have an image of fantastic artists, an image of peace-loving people, a nation that has never started a single war, a nation which is loyal to family, a nation whose only flag is love and freedom! In the future, I see ERI as an institution that will lead Roma cultural diplomacy because I repeat, culture and respectively art are our best products, and why do we not use so in the promotion of our own best interests?

Hence, this institution needs to grapple with branding its own nation and that is a long process, but certainly attainable.

Imagine a feature film in which the director will not be Emir Kusturica and the music will not be written by Goran Bregovic and in which there won’t be “wide Roma smiles and gold teeth” yet the topic will be love between a Rom and Romani who are, at the same, intellectuals!

Imagine Roma musicians who represent their culture in mainstream context instead of bands like No Smoking Orchestra, Gogol Bordello (which incidentally have nothing to do with the Roma). From the above, it is evident that an abuse of Roma culture exists, especially in music. As there are skilled white musicians and bands who play the blues, so it is logical that there are also non-Roma musicians and bands that play Roma music; but it is completely illogical that practically no Roma musicians or bands exist as a representative of Roma music in today’s mainstream music scene.

Is the reason for this phenomenon maybe the fact that artists of Roma origin have a conception of their own position of understanding artistic practice as an autonomous domain which, with some resistance or quite willingly, is separated from the world of everyday life and they do not understand that this is a time of cultural industries and cultural products that have their own price in the market?

ERI must find a place for Roma cultural expression in the hierarchy of creativity that generates sinister metaphysical dualism which, it seems to me, identifies the Roma with the soul, the non-Roma with the mind. This institution must have a defined strategy for the production and consumption of cultural goods, which the Roma have in abundance, and which is the basic characteristic of 21st century culture.

Some academics have remarked that the ERI threatens to turn Roma into entertainers, minstrels, musicians and I say that Roma are sustained, healed and nurtured by the translation of their own experiences into art, especially music. I am sure that, for us, music, gesture and dancing are embodiments of communication, just as important as the gift of speech.

I will quote a famous African-American female writer, Nobel Prizewinner, who said the following about African-American music:  “My parallel is always the music, because all of the strategies of the art are there. All of the intricacy, all of the discipline. All the work that must go into improvisation so that it appears that you’ve never touched it. Music makes you hungry for more of it. It never really gives you the whole number. It slaps and embraces, it slaps and it embraces. The literature ought to do the same thing. I’ve been very deliberate about that. The power of the word is not music, but in terms of aesthetics, the music is the mirror that gives me the necessary clarity… The major thing black art has to have are these: it must have the ability to use found objects, the appearance of using found things, and it must look effortless. It must look cool and easy. If it makes you sweat, you haven’t done the work. You shouldn’t be able to see the seams and stitches. I have wanted always to develop a way of writing that was irrevocably black. I don’t have the resources of a musician but I thought that if it was truly black literature it would not be black because I was, it would not even be black because of its subject matter. It would be something intrinsic, indigenous, something in the way it was put together – the sentences, the structure, texture and tone – so that anyone who read it would realize. I use the analogy of the music because you can range all over the world and it’s still black… I don’t imitate it, but I am informed by it. Sometimes I hear blues, sometimes spirituals or jazz and I’ve appropriated it. I’ve tried to reconstruct the texture of it in my writing – certain kinds of repetition – its profound simplicity… What has already happened with the music in the States, the literature will do one day and when that happens it’s all over.”

In the end, I add:  When that all happens to the Roma everything will be over!


, Dragan Ristic


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