My foundations and I took up the cause of the Roma people in the early 1980s. When we started this work, most Roma lived in Eastern Europe, which was still under Communist rule. Conditions were not good. Unfortunately, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Roma’s position in society and the attitude of the majority population have declined much further. Many successful Roma face pressure to hide their ethnic identity. Some individual may pass as non-Roma to escape the stigma, but the negative stereotype prevailing in society at large remains unchanged. Negative stereotypes about the Roma are dangerous not only for the Roma, but for all of us. The right wing political parties that stand against the Roma are the same ones that stand against Open Society.
Thirty years ago when we took up the cause of the Roma people it was the worst case of exclusion and discrimination based on ethnic grounds. Based on 30 years of experience, we came to the conclusion that the situation will not change for the better until the Roma are able to become the main advocates of their own cause.
So, we now concentrate our efforts on enabling them to do so. As part of that effort, my foundations have provided university scholarships to thousands of young Roma. The result is a small but well-educated Roma elite who embrace their Roma identity and have become the most effective advocates for their cause. With their help, we managed to convince the European Union to adopt a Roma policy and fund it with a substantial budget.
Unfortunately, the policy hasn’t had enough time yet to bring much of an improvement either in the conditions of the Roma or in the attitude of the majority populations. The refugee crisis has also aggravated the situation of the Roma because it deflected attention and support for their plight.
That is why I believe that the establishment of ERIAC– the European Roma Institute of Arts and Culture is so important. ERIAC has the active support of a broad range of Roma intellectuals who have united around the Alliance for ERIAC. Some are supported by my foundations, others are entirely independent.
They all realize that the development of a proud Roma identity and a strong sense of self-esteem are of paramount importance—official integration programs and policies are not sufficient to overcome the deep-rooted hostility and racism directed against Roma communities. They are determined to establish within ERIAC an academy where Roma visual artists, performers, writers, linguists, historians, media producers and others contribute to preserve, rebuild and further develop Roma culture, identity and self-esteem.
I believe that the existence and successful development of ERIAC will help to change the attitude to the Roma of those who become aware of it. I have created many organizations and supported many more. I know from experience that setting up an organization poses many challenges. Setting up this organization has been a particularly complex task.
So, I want to thank those who brought us here: Secretary General Jagland and the Council of Europe All the members of the Alliance for ERIAC; And all the Roma and pro-Roma advocates and artists who made this day possible. Also, I would like to thank State Minister Roth and the German government and for their leadership in offering ERIAC a home here in Berlin. I hope other governments will follow suit. The European Commission has not been directly involved yet, but it has been open to finding ways to support ERIAC and I am grateful for that as well. My foundations remain committed and I hope other private philanthropies will join this cause.
I wish ERIAC great success.