07 November 2002
Olga Demian, Moldova1
The 2001/2002 Roma Rights Summer University was a very good idea because it provided an opportunity for many Romani law students and professionals to come and participate. I appreciated very much the opportunity to be part of the Summer University because it was another step in developing my human rights knowledge.
During the Summer University, I learned more about the fact that Roma in Europe are disproportionately subjected to torture and ill-treatment by the police, as well as that Roma are often excluded from the societies in which they live.
People should be well-informed about rights and about current problems, but the most important thing, in my opinion, is how to find the solution to solve these problems. Students can be very good at theory, but it is often difficult to combine theory with practical work. This is why they need to gain knowledge and experience, and experienced people can help. I found the Summer University people very helpful, and I enjoyed listening to their contributions during the programme.
The Summer University programme covered various interesting themes such as the theoretical distinction between race/ identity and nationality; the drafting of projects; how to engage in advocacy; and general topics dealing with Roma rights and other related issues.
For me the most interesting part of the programme was that I was able to learn more about the procedure and preparation of cases before the European Court of Human Rights and how to solve discrimination cases and cases of abuse against Roma. The lectures on legal matters strengthened my motivation to become a human rights lawyer.
I met ambitious, intelligent Romani activists who, regardless of their young age, have undertaken a lot of very important worthwhile projects. They are members of non-governmental organisations or participate in various anti-violence projects.
Finally, I would like to thank the ERRC for organising this programme. I would like to add that many of the speakers, including many renowned personalities, gave very thought-provoking presentations. I would like to address special thanks to the Human Rights Education Department.
The Summer University was a great experience. I believe it should be held annually because human rights education is of fundamental importance for all of us.
Seven days, about 30 participants, 21 lecturers, good materials, good arrangements and hard work – these are some key words describing the ERRC Summer University 2001/2002. We could use these word to describe many other trainings as these things are important parts of each training. From this perspective, the ERRC Summer University was not different from other trainings. But, and here is a BUT with big letters, we who participated in this meeting got something more than a well-organised training which gives information and knowledge on human rights issues. And this something is equally important with the theoretical knowledge and the practical skills we acquired during the training.
This "something more" is the "common feeling" which helps us – young Romani activists – understand why we are so important not only for our own community but for the wider community, and creates an atmosphere in which we have clear identity and it is accepted and respected by others.
Such trainings, although not directly, stimulate thinking about our identity, and help us "representing" it in our work and/or in our daily life. That is why they play a very important role not only in making us more professional but also in strengthening our identity.
During the 2001/2002 Summer University, we had quite interesting conversations and discussions, but for me one of the most important questions was the definition of minorities. We understood who, how and by what criteria minorities have been defined throughout history, and we had to recognise that those who tried to find a box into which to put minorities were not minorities themselves.
I am not sure we can ever find a definition of minorities which would make everyone happy. I am not sure whether we should try to find a common definition or leave it for everyone to have his or her own self-definition. What I am sure is that no one can do it but individuals/minority groups themselves.
Fortunately or unfortunately, we did not have enough time to discuss the definition of minorities (fortunately because I do not think we could get anywhere and unfortunately because this topic is very interesting for me). However, the little seed has been planted in my mind and I have got one more issue, in addition to hundreds of others, to think about.
The second edition of the ERRC Human Rights Summer University can be considered a real success. Although there is still room for improvement, because nothing is perfect, a lot of positive aspects about it can be mentioned.
The participants were very good – motivated and knowledgeable, proving that the selection was a rigorous one. The fact that a lot of young Roma – students and/or activists – were interested to attend the Summer University, and were motivated to acquire skills and knowledge to assist them in promoting the rights of Roma, is an encouraging aspect about the development of the Romani movement in the years to come. It also means that the information has circulated well, so many people are now finding out about the ERRC's practical series of training, lectures, debates, and workshops.
As regards the programme of the Summer University, compared to the first edition of this initiative, there was a good balance between the sessions and the breaks resulting in an increased participation by the students in the sessions. The screening of the film of Gandhi touched everybody, proving that when it comes to discrimination, people get together against it with their minds and hearts, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender or other socially constructed categories.
The trainers and lecturers have been very good and the participants were able to learn a lot of interesting, new and useful things from them. Mr Martin Kovats presented a very interesting scholarly approach to Romani issues that provoked hot debates among the participants. Some of them left the room in protest against the use of the term "Gypsy" instead of "Roma". The whole incident, however, made obvious the fact that there is an urgent need for young Romani scholars, capable of conducting good research on Romani issues, and presenting the "internal vision" on sensitive matters.
We also need to mention the charismatic presentations of Mr Luke Clements, Mr Larry Olomoofe and Ms Mona Nicoara. Of course all the lecturers have been good and I think that the technical presentation on the project proposals and application for funds in youth projects was very helpful.
Ms Kocze's workshop was an interactive one, an aspect of the Summer University which I would like to emphasise. This aspect can be improved, in terms of allowing more feedback from the participants and stimulating initiatives on their part.
Another technical aspect is that, in my opinion, we should pay more attention to other human rights instruments in addition to the European Convention on Human Rights, like for example, the UN Treaties and also the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
Last but not least, I want to congratulate the ERRC's team, especially the Human Rights Education Department for organising everything.
- Olga Demian is a law school graduate. She was an intern at the ERRC in the period June-December, 2002. During this period she also participated in the ERRC Summer University.
- Monika Raffael is a project coordinator at the Minority Rights Group (Hungary).
- Cristi Mihalache participated in the Roma Rights Summer University 2001. He took part in the preparation of the 2002 Summer University and was a group leader in the course of the training. He is currently a student at the Legal Department of the Central European University where he is pursuing a Masters? Degree.