As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Let me start by saying that it is really encouraging to see people from so many organisations and countries joining this online conference today.
And it is particularly important to have Roma youth so well-represented.
This conference is both a celebration of your identity and a forum for discussing ideas about how to ensure a better future for Europe’s young Roma and Travellers.
So, your presence, commitment and enthusiasm are no doubt vital for this conference’s success.
The Council of Europe has worked hard to help promote the voice and interests of young Roma. I hope you feel that and understand it to be true.
Back in 1995, our campaign, “All Different, All Equal”, marked the beginning of our joint work to help Roma youth networks emerge. The aim was to enable young people to take part, on an equal footing, in the quest to build a Europe based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
And we have made some progress, I believe - but not enough.
There is no doubt that a lot remains to be done.
To start with, I think it is important to acknowledge that our Roma Youth Action Plan has helped in two concrete ways:
First, by making sure that youth issues are addressed in our Roma and Traveller programmes. And second, by ensuring that Roma issues are addressed in our youth programmes as well.
This means that for over ten years now, young Roma have been represented in this Organisation’s Advisory Council on Youth: A body whose unique co-management system means that young people share control of policy-making when it comes to issues that affect them directly.
This is important. And I thank you for your active participation and many contributions.
Because Roma and Travellers are central to our continent’s diverse culture and history, and the mosaic that is today’s Europe.
At the same time, and yet too often, young Roma – and Roma of all ages - still live with major disadvantages, including exclusion and discrimination.
We know that the starting point for addressing this is for Roma and Travellers to have knowledge and confidence in their own history and culture.
But also for other people across Europe to learn about these things too:
To be fully aware of the terrible prejudice that has always existed and which resulted, ultimately, in the atrocities of the Roma holocaust.
But also to appreciate the many, many positives.
To learn about and enjoy beautiful Roma art and music, their story-telling and religious and cultural traditions, and so much more – and to celebrate their contribution to European life.
These objectives are at the heart of the Recommendation that our 47 member states adopted on 1 July last year.
A Recommendation to the governments of Europe to include the history of Roma and Travellers in school curricula and materials.
Because when knowledge is widened, prejudice is dispelled, and understanding is strengthened.
I hope that this will help open the door to a more inclusive society in which individuals see one another with respect as equals and support one another’s success, in every aspect of life.
However, we should not believe that our schools alone can solve all the problems. Make no mistake, schooling and education are the key – for all of us. I strongly believe that.
But at the same time, Roma of all ages in communities across our continent face real challenges every day, every week, every month of the year – and while many are familiar, some are also new.
These can be related to women’s rights, access to jobs, services, and of course outright discrimination and antigypsism – sometimes evolving into violence.
And we know from the recent experience of COVID-19, that in times of emergency, it can be harder than ever for
Roma people to access healthcare, online education and the fundamental rights to which every European is entitled.
In times of such deep crises as the pandemic, of course, things get even worse - and many people suffer.
But we must not give up. We must keep on fighting. Keep on arguing, explaining and making people aware. In this we need you! Roma youth, Roma students – but adults, as well.
I know you will discuss these issues and many more at this conference, and you can be sure that they are at the heart of the Council of Europe’s Strategic Action Plan for Roma and Traveller Inclusion.
To implement this Action Plan, we are working with Europe’s governments, with the European Union and, most importantly, with Roma organisations, communities and individuals to make sure we achieve something – something concrete and good.
The first World Romani Conference took place just
50 years ago, in 1971, outside London.
Since then, many have come to respect, understand and appreciate the contribution of Roma and Travellers to our societies.
The Action Plan I just mentioned, the CM recommendation, and many other initiatives, as well as the annual European Holocaust Memorial Day, World Day of Romani Language, and International Roma Day – which we will celebrate tomorrow – are all evidence of that.
So too is the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, opened just four years ago in Berlin and which does such good work ensuring understanding and respect for the extraordinary Roma art and music. Today, I take pride in the fact that I was able to contribute to the realisation of this magnificent institution. And I can tell you that the Council of Europe as a whole, is proud of the role that this organisation has played in bringing it about.
Today, I encourage all organisations represented here to join ERIAC as members and contribute with ideas and initiatives, and also ask their governments to help bring ERIAC to their countries, to their capitals as, for example, Serbia recently did.
Dear Friends, Dear Roma youth,
I do not doubt your determination.
And many of us look forward to hearing your ideas and working with you for a better future.
I wish you the best of luck with your exchanges and discussions today.
Thank you for your attention.