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Is the decade doomed?

IVAN Veselý wears many hats. He is the head of a Prague-based civic group called Dženo, the publisher of Amaro Gendalos magazine and founder of the first Roma Internet radio station in the Czech Republic, Rota.

IVAN Veselý wears many hats. He is the head of a Prague-based civic group called Dženo, the publisher of Amaro Gendalos magazine and founder of the first Roma Internet radio station in the Czech Republic, Rota.

He is also wary of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, asserting that everyone involved in the social initiative - from the international organizations that initiated it to the young Roma leaders enlisted to help shape it - misunderstand the project. The Slovak Spectator talked with Veselý about his perceptions.

(For a related article on the Decade of Roma Inclusion, please turn to page 2.)

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The Decade of Roma Inclusion has clout behind it. Because several national governments are joining the efforts of the World Bank and the Open Society Foundation, it seems that problems facing the Roma might start getting resolved...

Ivan Veselý (IV): I think the Decade of Roma Inclusion is a misunderstood project, both by the Roma communities (including the so-called young Roma leaders who were part of the planning) as well as by the international institutions and governments behind it.

TSS: Why misunderstood?

IV: Everyone says that this is a big chance for the Roma [to break the cycle of discrimination]. But the way [the Decade of Roma Inclusion] was presented, I fear it really represents only a slim chance. The misunderstanding comes from several factors. Primarily, the lack of preparedness among the Roma themselves to support the goals set forth in the Decade was not taken into consideration. I mean, the lack of technical and intellectual preparedness.

TSS: But according to the initiative's organizers, young Roma are receiving preparation to participate actively in the programme.

IV: Yes, they are the artificially conceived "Children of the Decade". They are a group of born-again Roma, unable to manage their own lives. They possess zero authority in their communities and did not even identify themselves as Roma until just recently. The Roma themselves have little information about the Decade of Roma Inclusion, and differing expectations as well.

TSS: Who selected these young leaders, and based on what criteria? Do you think that this selection undermines or compromises the whole Decade of Roma Inclusion project?

IV: Mostly the current and former OSF [Open Society Foundation] stipend drawers requested directly by the World Bank comprise the young Roma "leaders". There was no time for a better quality selection, apparently. But we have been working for years with what we have. I don't think that these leaders will be part of the initiative's decade. They fulfilled their task and will continue in their assimilation.

TSS: Is the Decade of Roma Inclusion a hastily organized project?

IV: The lack of preparation is a crucial factor in the initiative.

TSS: What results can we expect? Will this be another project in name only?

IV: It has to be said that George Soros and his foundation have started a big thing. It is an incredibly important project - not just for Roma but also for the whole of Europe. I am an optimist and believe that it is not too late to add some important issues to the agenda.

TSS: So what can we realistically expect in 2015, at the end of the Decade of Roma Inclusion?

IV: The preparation of individual national goals for Roma integration, the creation of intellectual capacities among the Roma, improved access to information regarding the real problems facing the Roma community...

TSS: Is that too little for such an ambitious project?

IV: No, considering that in the central European nations that joined in the Decade, infrastructure for the formation of civil society within Roma community barely exists; intellectual capacities are few and only a narrow group of people comment in the name of the whole community.

TSS: You mentioned that national governments' understanding of the Decade of Roma Inclusion is not the best...

IV: All governments of the world are unprepared to solve unpleasant and unwanted problems, and this is what the Roma problem is. The governments of those states [that joined the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative] perceive Roma as a mental and material burden. No political party will solve this in their party agenda because the majority of its supporters are not inclined to Roma issues. Also, [solving Roma problems] represents a great material burden. It requires big investments and all governments say they have no money for that.

TSS: But by joining in the Decade, they are required to come up with funds.

IV: They will look for the money in the EU.

TSS: Is the EU ready for the Decade?

IV: The European structures deal with Roma problems and ask national governments to change the situation. It was shown that during the accession talks, the EU and its institutions would be the motor driving the fulfilment of the Roma's' human rights. However, even this is revealing itself as an illusion served on a silver plate to certain Roma leaders. Even with the capacities that the EU has had available in the last five years, the process of minimizing the everyday problems of the Roma has not started.

TSS: What is the problem?

IV: European institutions have shown that Roma are a problem and that something has to be done. However, the EU is still looking for a system of how to solve the Roma situation. Unfortunately the EU is a very bureaucratic and inflexible apparatus, which in the end cannot be effective in solving such a complex problem.

Kristína Magdolenová is editor-in-chief at the Roma Press Agency in Slovakia

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