Blog by Ionela Cioran, volunteer coordinator for Amnesty Interantional Romania
Between 12-19 July 2015, I took part, together with other 300 Roma and non-Roma activists from across Europe, including six other Amnesty International activists from Slovakia, Czech Republic, France, and Italy, in the biggest annual event on Roma rights in Europe. The “So Keres, Europa?” event was organized by Phiren Amenca, a network of Roma and non-Roma volunteers, and several other organizations and took place in the second most populous city in Romania, Cluj-Napoca.
Cluj-Napoca has been selected as the 2015 European Youth Capital. Since then it aims to mobilize youngsters to actively participate in society and create partnerships between youth, NGOs and authorities at local and European level, so what more convenient time to raise the voice of young Roma and non-Roma on a European level?
Cluj-Napoca was also very well known to me and internationally for its local reality of forced evictions of Romani communities, most recently for the one carried out on 17 December 2010 when 76 families were forcibly evicted by local authorities from the city centre and relocated to the margins of the city, next to a garbage dump and a former chemical waste dump. You can read the story of the community and their fight for justice in our latest Pushed to the margins: Stories of Roma forced evictions report.
The So Keres Europa? event strengthened by belief in the power of youth activism, as only activism and the engagement of young people can trigger the change I, as well as many others, want! As a human rights activist and educator myself who has been volunteering with Amnesty International for the past 4 years, this event proved a great opportunity for me to interact with other Amnesty activists and staff but also with other activists, like me, who believe in promoting and fighting for Roma rights and equal chances for everyone.
There have been many reasons that sparkled my interest for this event, but the two most important ones proved to be the biggest ever march organized in solidarity with victims of forced evictions in Europe, and the numerous workshops running throughout the week.
I attended the one organized by Amnesty International – “Create their lesson! Will they learn it?” on the ongoing international campaign against discrimination and segregation of Romani children in education in the Czech Republic, Learn the lesson.
But there were many more workshops during that week facilitated by young people and/or organisations on themes such as Roma Holocaust, civic journalism, invisible theatre, Roma Superheroes and Romani resistance, Romani traditions and handicraft, Stories of Rights and Dignity, and many more.
One of the workshops was particularly powerful, as it was organized by the Romani community of Former Coastei Street forcibly evicted on 17 December 2010. The stories of injustice and segregation, but also the stories of the continuous fight of the community, resonated with over 300 Roma and non-Roma activists that came to Cluj to network, to meet others but also to show solidarity with this exact community. And they did. They did it on 17 July in the biggest ever march against forced evictions in Romania and most probably in Europe.
Members of the Roma community, together with local, national and international activists and organizations, all marched together with the 300 young people, from the remote location where the families were moved in the cold day of 17 December to the plot of land where they houses used to be before being demolished almost five years ago. We marched and we demanded justice and an end to human rights abuses against Roma in Romania and worldwide.
The one week event managed to bring the intended attention on the situation of Romani communities subject to forced evictions, more generally to the plight of Roma human rights violations across Europe but it alos provided a strong alternative voice against such injustice. The event was done by youth, for youth and with youth and I was delighted to be able to bring Amnesty’s name among over 300 Roma and non-Roma voice all gathered to ask the questions “What is that you are doing, Europe?” (translation of So Keres, Europe?).
Read more about our latest campaign, Learn the lesson, and sign the action urging the Czech Prime Minister to end the discrimination and segregation of Romani children in education in the Czech Republic.