International Dissatisfaction with European Roma and Travellers Forum

25. 11. 2005

We have noticed some e-mails circulating within the Roma network recently that express serious reservations and criticisms of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF).

One writer is Carlos Santiago. He sees ERTF as a very authoritatian organisation dominated by its leaders. "We can already see how the Forum is completely ruled by ERTF Roma leaders who handpick different Roma people as they like from all over Europe." He carries on with his criticism: "They all share the common interest which is money. This is their driving force. We also know that financial support from different governments is sent there." Carlos Santiago strongly appeals to all leaders of Roma organisations to unite. "We must not let ERTF violate our rights; we have been united for centuries and we must again become one. Please, send your protests to us and we will collect them and send all to the right authorities."

A similarly critical email came from Kjell Lundberg in Sweden, who views the ERTF as "a big brother from above" that "with ruthless and disrespectable ways does try to rule the European Roma and Traveller people with an iron hand." He calls for his fellow Roma and Travellers to openly speak out about the unfair treatment that the Roma people, the people the ERTF are supposed to support, are receving from the ERTF. "If we don't dare to protest against the open insult and disrespectable treatment which has been showed in an obvious way from the responsible (Roma employed) at ERTF, it can soon be too late."

"We hope that thoughts and knowledge have been raised among our sisters and brothers around Europe," he said. "We can't accept any disrespectable behaviour from ERTF." Lundberg believes that basic Roma values are being overshadowed by the desire for power and money. "It's our duty to lead this knowledge to our children that Roma respect and loyalty not can be bought by money or status."

"It has never been like that among us Roma and Travellers and it can't be let to get that way, either," Lundberg stated.

Dzeno Association shares Santiago's and Lundberg's dissappointment with ERTF. When we tried to apply for membership in ERTF we ran into obstacles which ruled out our chances for participation. First of all, ERTF's Statute requires that an applicant represent 75% of the existing organisations in their country. In the Czech Republic it is not possible to determine the exact number of existing officially registered organisations that represent Roma, Sinti, Kale, Travellers and related groups. Secondly, ERTF's Statute prohibits applicants from accepting any government funds at any time during that organization's existence. Under these circumstances, it is virtually impossible for any currently existing organisations to meet the conditions, which makes it impossible to contribute to ERTF's activities.

Additionally, in a reaction to the announcement celebrating the commendation of ERTF's registration in the Tribunal of Justice in Strasbourg in 2004, Ivan Vesely, chairman of Dzeno Association, points out that the original concept of ERTF as a democratic assembly has disappointingly turned into a NGO like so many other international Roma NGOs already in existence. Like Carlos Santiago, Vesely strongly believes that Roma people should be represented by the body that will have its legitimate representatives elected. "The Roma have the right to nothing short of full, legal participation, and free and fair democratic representation in the political affairs of Europe," he said.

It appears that ERTF has not yet managed to break the distrust it has aroused among Roma by its establishment. On the contrary, crictical voices are becoming stronger.

(Dzeno Association)

It is amazing how long it took for some people to discover that there was something not right with the ERTF. Anyone should have been able to deduce that from the records of it "interim" president and others involved in it. They are not in it, and never have been in it, with any of the organizations they have fronted, for the People but only as regards to how much political mileage they could make on the backs of their poor Gypsy brethren, and the current "interim" president in particular. With the cronies and gullible that have been allowed to join he will change from interim president to president and that will be it. Nice one. And the audacity to call upon all those applying to join the ERTF to have an independent financial status and not receiving government funds while the ERTF itself is a part, basically, of the Council of Europe and please no one tell me that it is not funded by it, if only in part. That is the kettle calling the pot.