Activism

Roma Civil Society and Its Role in Today’s Ukraine

The five-day Forum of Roma civil society began on the 4-th of December in the building of the Documentary and Cultural Center of the German Sinti and Roma in Berlin. Representatives of the Roma community, journalists, activists and those interested in the involvement of Roma in the Ukrainian and international contexts gathered here for several days. Most of the participants spent the last days in trains and buses on the way from Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Italy, Great Britain, Romania, Moldova, Lithuania, Poland and Austria. They all came to discuss what challenges the Roma community of Ukraine is facing today, to share their experience, to promote the integration and participation of Roma in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.

Event facilitators Mariia Yasenovska and Kateryna Daienko opened the seminar, starting with the acquaintance. The participants talked about themselves and gradually moved on to exchanging opinions about events in Ukraine, experiences and hopes for the future. The attendees spent the second part of the day breaking into small groups. The participants began to discuss the general problems faced by the Ukrainian Roma in the conditions of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, which factors affect the situation inside the country and outside its borders.

The next day began with the discussion of the state of human rights compliance and the role of youth in the social movement.Volodymyr Yakovenko, Elzhbeta Mirha-Voitovych and Julian Kondur presented the results of monitoring studies on the observance of Roma rights to the audience. Together with the participants of the seminar, they worked on defining existing problems in ensuring equal access of Roma to rights, which require the attention of human rights defenders and international institutions.

The issues of fight against Antigypsyism in Ukraine and Europe were focused on during the meeting with Mehmet Daimagüler, who holds the position of Federal Government Commissioner for the Fight against Antigypsyism and for Sinti and Roma Life in Germany. They talked about his impressions of the visit to Ukraine (link to the post of the visit of the German delegation) and the prospects of cooperation for the integration in the new realities of the Roma who were forced to leave the country, as well as advocacy for the consideration of the needs and interests of the Roma communities by the Ukrainian government.

Together with representatives of Ukrainian and foreign youth associations, talked about the level of development of the Roma youth sector in Ukraine at the time of the beginning of the war and various aspects of youth participation in social processes – relocation, evacuation of population, humanitarian aid, human rights protection and advocacy.

The media session was brilliantly moderated by Hilda Horvat, Roma journalist and author of the Austrian “RomBlog”. The discussion was joined by Gwendolyn Albert, representative of the Roma edition “Romea” in the Czech Republic, representatives of the German media: Robert Schwartz from “Deutsche Welle” and Klaus Heinrich from “Südwestfunk”. The Ukrainian context was represented by Tetiana Storozhko from “Information Platform “Djanes”, as well as independent human rights defender and journalist Olha Vesnianka. The discussion allowed the attendees to delve deeper into the specifics of Roma cooperation with the media and the important role of the mass media in the processes of building narratives about the Roma communities, their inclusion in important social and political processes at the national and international levels.

The next day began with a meeting of the delegation of participants with members of the German parliament and continued with rich discussions within the framework of the conference dedicated to the situation of Roma in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Discussants from Ukraine shared their own experience of resettlement from front-line territories, migration and life during the occupation of Ukrainian cities by Russian troops. Foreign guests talked about their own activities in their countries aimed at helping Roma immigrants from Ukraine beginning in February 2022. Distinguished guests were also present, namely Olena Bohdan, Head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience, and Dotschy Reinhardt, Head of the Berlin-Brandenburg Regional Council of German Sinti and Roma, who joined with their interventions.

The logical conclusion of the five-day communication was the planning of practical steps and opportunities for future cooperation. Communication with representatives of the EVZ Foundation, who shared the available opportunities, as well as the institution’s plans for further support of the Roma communities of Ukraine, was extremely important. The final reflection turned out to be the most emotional, because not everyone managed to restrain their emotions during communication.

Important cultural components that were woven into the Forum’s programme should not be overlooked. Thus, on the 7-th of December, the official opening of the art exhibition “Catharsis” was held, which was intended to visually demonstrate the emotions of women’s experience in this war. The exhibition showcased the graphic works of (pro )Roma activists who in July 2022 took part in a five-day retreat seminar in Heidelberg (link to the summer seminar). On the 8-th of December, the participants of the Forum and invited guests watched the theatrical performance “From House to House”. This acute socio-political performance was intended to demonstrate the traumatic experience experienced by different communities of Ukraine during the war.

Author: Ruslana Polianska

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