Roma MEP: We need trust before we can truly belong

Soraya Post [Feministiskt Initiativ]

This article is part of our special report Roma Inclusion.

SPECIAL REPORT: Soraya Post says she wants to create an intergroup on Roma in the European Parliament, and that Member States which do not respect the anti-discrimination directive should be sanctioned.

Post, an MEP from Sweden, sits on the Human Rights, and Civil Rights, Justice and Home Affairs committees. She is also the Social Democrats’ spokesperson on the Roma. 

EURACTIV spoke with the lawmaker on 7 October. 

You are one of two Roma MEPs in the European Parliament. What is your political strategy regarding Roma? Do you intend to propose new initiatives on Roma issues? And what would those be?

Firstly, I already put forward a proposal to create an intergroup on Roma in the European Parliament that will aim to acknowledge the discrimination against Romani people. This intergroup will serve as a good basis for all interested MEPs and civil society representatives to regularly exchange views and establish contacts.

Needless to say that as a Roma MEP, I will work on having strong language on Roma issues in every piece of legislation the Parliament will be adopting.

Secondly, I will make a suggestion to include Roma history and culture in the EU countries’ national curriculum. Apart from that, it is important to ensure that every event about Roma in Europe should offer interpretation into Romani. It often happens at conferences and meetings that Roma people cannot contribute to discussions because of a lack of translation services.  

Lastly, my two main goals during this parliamentary term are to work towards appointing an EU Special Representative for Roma, and creating a Roma Platform.

The EU Special Representative for Roma should coordinate the work that is done in the EU institutions on this issue. The person in charge should serve as a bridge between the Romani, civil society and politicians.

A lot has been said about Roma integration, and the need to do more at all levels. But what could be done in cases where Roma are reluctant to receive help that is offered?

Building trust is the starting point for a successful integration strategy. The Roma community has been discriminated for decades, and it takes time to believe that whatever is done in their name is for their own benefit.  

I haven’t encountered a Romani who doesn’t want a better life in my 30 years work experience with Roma. But a country has to acknowledge the past first to be able to improve the future.

For instance, in Sweden the government and the Roma went through a reconciliation process. Both sides went through long discussions and negotiations for months before publishing a white paper on Roma. This paper describes the Roma history and culture during 1900-2000. It also acknowledged the discriminatory laws and events the Romani had to go through.   

It was very important for the Roma to speak about it. We are also using this material to inform children in schools, and people on the streets, of what happened. It is a way to break stereotypes as well.

How do you build trust?

Involve the Roma right from the start in the local activities and projects. A lot of organisations come with ready-tailored projects to improve the Romani community’s life. But no one knows better than a Roma what is needed to narrow this gap. Consult, inform, share, listen, is the right path towards building this trust.

It is a long process, but you need to start somewhere.

Do you think Parliament has a role in shaping the Roma policy at the EU level? And what the MEPs should do?

The Parliament should make Roma integration one of its priorities. It should also put pressure on the Commission and the Council to give Roma a monitoring status in those initiatives related to them.

We are often blamed for costing money, but there are too many projects out there that ask for money in the name of Roma, without actually spending a cent on them.

From your experience, what is the best way to involve the local authorities to help integrate the Roma?

Local authorities that are not respecting anti-discrimination laws and are acting against Roma integration should be sanctioned. We need to strengthen the anti-discrimination law and make the governments apply it strictly.  

Did you feel discriminated as a Roma?

All my life, but I am very lucky. I am blond and blue-eyed. I don’t fit the stereotype, but my daughters do, and so do my mother and my husband.

I grew up in fear, mercy and huge mistrust towards the society. This made me become a human rights activist and a politician, because I did not agree with the picture they had of me.

I always put pressure on myself to show that I am as smart as the rest, and I can succeed. Fifteen years ago, I decided that I will never again feel like a second class citizen. It is important to know your rights, but also to practice them. 

In the Swedish national elections last month, the anti-immigrant, anti-Roma Sweden Democrats became the third largest party in the country. Populist parties were also elected in a few other EU countries. How will this influence the Roma integration policies at the EU and national levels?

It all depends how the other political parties will deal with such a situation.

People voted for them because Sweden is not used to seeing beggars on the streets. We had homeless and addicts, but never before the poverty has been so visible in Sweden. There were discussions about prohibiting begging, but we didn’t want to have a situation like in Denmark.  

When Denmark prohibited begging by law, the Roma bought a trumpet instead and started blowing it on the streets. It turned into a double humiliation, because none of them knew how to play. It didn’t do anybody (any) good.

 

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