“What Happens to Us Now?”1

Tara Bedard and Larry Olomoofe 

During 2004 and 2005, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) conducted a host of training workshops for Romani, Sinti and Traveller activists, lawyers and other parties involved in, or seeking to become involved in, activism to combat discrimination against Roma, Sinti and Travellers in Europe. The European Commission financed many of these initiatives under the auspices of the Community Action Programme to Combat Discrimination 2001-2006. It is intended that this article provide an assessment of the results of these initiatives and comment more generally on the results of the Community Action Programme and its follow-up.

Through these projects, the ERRC and its partners were able to undertake capacity building initiatives in many European countries, including Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Sweden, etc. The aim of the training workshops was to build the capacity of Romani, Sinti and Traveller and other activists and lawyers to fight against discrimination through:

  • Using strategic litigation as a tool to combat discrimination;
  • Conducting human rights monitoring and documentation; 
  • Engaging in effective advocacy campaigns (from the grassroots to national and international levels); and
  • Building successful media strategies and campaigns.

The training courses offered by the ERRC and its partners ranged from one to several days, and often brought the same participants together multiple times in order to develop capacities in a number of areas.

With the hindsight of several months since the close of these projects, and the close of the Community Action Programme itself, the initial results of these great efforts are becoming apparent and (at least, initial) lessons can be drawn.

Results in the short-term

The Spring 2007 issue of the European Commission newsletter Equal Rights in Practice outlines the Commission's take on the outcomes of the Community Action Programme. The Commission notes, at page 3 of the newsletter, that "the Community Action Programme can be considered a success." It is stated that the training initiatives financed within the Community Action Programme "played a vial role in developing the understanding and capacity of individuals and organisations" and were important from the perspective of sharing experiences and raising awareness.

Bearing this in mind, results that can be seen to date from the ERRC experience show a more ambivalent picture. To provide a truthful account, there were a number of issues that arose during the implementation of the training programmes that detracted from the overall success of the programmes.

There were amongst the participants some individuals who were apparently present only for the vacation. The transnational focus of the Community Action Programme and the projects funded therein brought participants to interesting destinations that, for some, seemed to be far more attractive than the training opportunities on offer. The capacity building component was, for the most part, lost on such individuals, though financial and human resources had already been spent.

Also, many of the training workshops implemented were conducted in English. Translation into other languages was provided at some events, but English was the working language and translation was not always available. Using English as the working language at events bringing together people from several countries inevitably means that a great deal of the individuals who would have been interested in such training were not able to participate.

Language differences amongst participants also slowed down the speed of advancement through topics within the trainings, and group work was very difficult. In order to avoid country- based segregation and provide integration and networking within the transnational events, working groups with representatives of various countries were assigned. However, it was noted by several participants that this decision was detrimental to their learning opportunity with regard to skills and information.

On the other hand, of the training programmes in which the ERRC participated as the lead or co-organiser, the feedback received from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Many of the Roma, Sinti and Travellers that participated in the various training workshops were very enthusiastic about the antidiscrimination law framework of which they learned, the issues they tackled and the skills they developed. For some, the training events organised by the ERRC and its partners offered the first opportunity for many individuals to consider the issues and skills addressed in a structured and rigorous environment.

The participants of the training programmes organised also benefited from the opportunity to share their experiences with others from their own country and from across Europe. Irish Traveller participants in one project, for instance, were unaware of the similarities of their own human rights situation compared to Roma and Sinti across Europe. People who participated in the events were also able to learn from each other and from the work being done in other countries, and were able to consider ways in which that work could be adapted to their own situation.

Anti-discrimination advocacy actions undertaken by certain participants in their own right during the course of these projects became increasingly creative and effective. For example, David Tiser from Czech Republic in particular was engaged in creative direct action advocacy efforts which attracted significant media attention to Roma rights issues in Czech Republic. Especially for those participants who came together a number of times over the course of two years, ideas for actions and organisations were hatched, nurtured and planned. This includes plans, for instance by Stanislav Daniel, a participant from Slovakia, to replicate the training undertaken in Romani communities at the grassroots level and in local languages, to further increase awareness about rights and the number of people fighting against discrimination.

The training and capacitation projects run by the ERRC and its partners during the past several years introduced individuals from socially disadvantaged backgrounds to new people, ideas, countries and experiences. Relationships were developed and joint actions planned. The workshops organised by the ERRC and its partners and funded by the European Commission created a desire to do more to combat discrimination against Roma, Sinti and Travellers, and also created expectations amongst the participants of trainings that they would be supported in such.

Sustainability

Already in the short run, it can be seen that the training programmes implemented, despite some shortcomings, have created momentum in terms of anti-discrimination advocacy by members of the Romani, Sinti and Traveller communities and their representatives. The big question we now face is this: Will this momentum be sustained?

Now that the participants of the many training programmes conducted by organisations like the ERRC have been "capacitated" to engage in actions to effectively combat discrimination, who will support them? Are the same institutions that provided support to the many capacitation projects ready to take the next step and begin supporting the project beneficiaries? It is the opinion of the authors that the follow-up to the big capacitation push in 2001-2006 will fall far short of the expectations raised amongst Roma and other persons coming from the grassroots or local level.

From the very shortest of perspectives, we provide here a brief synopsis of the closing conference for one of the capacitation projects in which the ERRC was involved as an illustration of supporting institutions' interest in the results of this effort.

This conference was co-hosted by the ERRC and its partners in Dublin in November 2006. During brainstorming and planning sessions between the project partners and the training participants, it was decided that the closing conference would, rather than merely present project outcomes, be a platform for the participants to utilise their new advocacy skills and lobby for (financial and other forms of) support for their future work. Along this line, representatives of the European Commission, national funding schemes and government bodies working on discrimination issues were invited to attend. The participants set out, with guidance and feedback from the project partners to devise plans of action for the next year, with goals and activities, and realistic assessments of what support they would need. On the day of the closing conference, none of the invited European Commission representatives were present, and government and funding representatives from only one of 5 representative countries came.

With such displays of disinterest in the results of the capacitation programmes promoted and supported over the past several years, what is to be expected by way of supporting the future actions of the programmes' beneficiaries? The question posed by Rose Marie Maughan, a training participant in Dublin, seems very urgent: "What happens to us now?"

Many of the individuals that participated in the trainings organised by the ERRC and its partners are involved in work at the grassroots or local levels. They work within small organisations which generally aim to improve the situation of Roma locally. These organisations do not have the institutional framework to qualify for, or the capacity to administer, European Commission funded work in its present form. The funding available from many other funding institutions is also out of the reach of such small organisations. And there do not seem to be any moves by the European Commission or other big funding institutions to make their support more accessible to people working at this level, though they have promoted the capactitation of these actors.

It is the fear of the ERRC that, as a result of this lack of accessibility, in the medium to long term the apparent successes of the past years' efforts will be lost. The connections made will be dropped because there are no resources to sustain them and the individuals capacitated will lose interest in struggling without resources and turn to other activities.

Endnotes:

 

  1. Quote from a presentation by training participant Rose Marie Maughan at the closing conference of a training project by the ERRC, the Irish Traveller Movement and the Milan Simecka Foundation.

 

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