Check against delivery
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour to be here in the Lichthof for the launch of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture –
An Institute that the Council of Europe is proud to support.
On becoming Secretary General, I quickly understood the need for greater understanding and support for Europe’s Roma communities –
Europe’s largest minority.
I learned this from my experience in Norway.
Only after we supported the Sami minority to rebuild, maintain and develop their distinct culture and identity, could we have better dialogue about how to tackle together the issues we face in common.
Had we simply continued to insist that they should assimilate, the tension between our communities would persist.
Similarly, too often, people across our continent make assumptions about Roma people and demand a change in attitude on their part.
We are quick to adopt stereotypes.
But we are slow to engage with Roma issues and Roma citizens themselves.
Over these past eight years, I have had the privilege of meeting with many Roma individuals and organisations.
Only after I have learned about their culture, their history, their struggle, have I come to appreciate their unique contribution to European life –
Our moral and political obligation to support their struggle.
And of course to be reminded of the qualities and values that we share in common, as Europeans, and by virtue simply of being human.
I know from those interactions that while we often hear calls for Roma to change – to become more like other Europeans – it is vital that others in turn respect Roma for their own European identity.
It is critical that we break down the stereotypes about who Roma are and see them as partners with whom we can work together for the benefit of all.
At the Council of Europe, we have done this in a number of ways.
Our 2010 Strasbourg Declaration on Roma recognised the marginalisation – social and economic – experienced by many European Roma.
We were clear about the way in which this undermines respect for human rights, prevents full participation in society and propagates prejudice.
And we called for co-operation across all levels of Europe – local, national and international – to fight discrimination, promote citizenship and support social inclusion.
Since that Declaration, we have agreed a thematic Action Plan on the Inclusion of Roma and Travellers that we are taking forward together with the EU.
And we have worked with our member states on a range of further actions with a focus on education, local good governance, access to justice, and participation in decision making and political life.
Our recent 10 for 10 or 10 Goals for the Next 10 Years campaign which helps member states to address pragmatically some of the major obstacles facing Roma such as: access to education, persistent unemployment, and high poverty rates.
We have also worked with the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe to review the European Charter of Political Parties for a non-Racist Society to include anti-Gypsyism.
There is of course more to do.
And as long as there is discrimination, we must be ready to counter with new ideas, new initiatives.
We have to acknowledge that anti-poverty programmes on Roma, even if needed, cannot bring change alone.
All these programmes under the social inclusion banner focus on vulnerability of the Roma.
However, the potential and richness of Roma remains forgotten or ignored.
Romani culture, art, music and literature are rich and distinct.
Currently, the programs capitalising on those strengths are scarce.
To date, Europe has lacked a space in which to bring together, record and celebrate the wealth of cultural experience that has made the Roma culture survive centuries of discrimination and exclusion, oppression and genocide.
Today, that changes.
The European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture will serve as an anchor for Romani creativity, resilience and richness.
Somewhere for the artistic community to meet, collaborate and experience cultural pride and self-esteem.
Young Roma will be educated about their own history, so that they are inspired to write its next pages.
This is the essence of empowerment.
But more than that, it will educate others.
Through events, exhibitions and performances citizens from across Europe and beyond will develop a deeper appreciation of the Romani experience.
And ERIAC will act as a policy advisor to the Council of Europe, our member states, and others who can do more to break down barriers between Roma and their broader European family.
It is important to highlight that the Council of Europe considers ERIAC as an independent organization.
The leadership of Roma in this project is a fundamental, empowering principle.
Our role, together with our partners, has been to support its creation.
Whatever we can do in the domain of our competences, the Council of Europe will do – supporting the ideas, the work and the leadership of ERIAC.
So on a personal note, I want to say that I am very happy that the Council of Europe, the Open Society Foundation and the Alliance for the European Roma Institute are working together to make this happen.
To provide a unique institution in which Romani can project their cultural achievements.
As German Foreign Minister, President Steinmeier was clear in his support for this project.
So too has been Europe Minister Roth.
And we were delighted when Germany’s Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe announced last year that Berlin would like to host it.
Today, in 2017, Berlin is dynamic, open and free-spirited.
People across Europe are flocking here – especially the young.
So let this be the place where minds are opened to what Roma culture has achieved and to what it will go on to contribute.