My name is Marcela Adamova and I am Roma from Slovakia. I came to the UK to have a new experience, learn new things, and see more of the world – just like many other Europeans. For the last 6 years I have worked with Roma support and integration projects in Glasgow. I am now studying for a degree in Community Development.
I was brought up in a Roma family, in ‘the Roma Street’, never rich but never struggling. My parents were working and I had a happy childhood. I was probably luckier than many Roma in that I have had opportunities to educate myself but often I am seen as an exception within my community although I do not want to be seen this way, I have not done anything extraordinary and I have met a lot of Roma like me.
We, Roma generally came to the UK to search for a better life, without persecution and discrimination regardless of our race/ethnicity as it was for most of us in Europe.
In Europe and the UK, we Roma are perceived as a homogeneous group of poor people, even unreachable, marginalised, and isolated but these are the barriers that society creates, only reinforcing a negative picture of Roma. If you go to the internet you will hardly find a positive story about us, It is mostly stuff about Roma poverty, problem, beggars, thieves, people who do not want to adapt - those ‘strangers’ ‘others’. Yes, you can surely find something about us as excellent musicians but that’s it really.
Our life in the UK is often difficult as we settle, find work and try to integrate in often poor areas and conditions.
In Glasgow, and many cities in the UK, government and non-government organisations have put efforts into alleviating conditions that many Roma endure in the areas of housing, health, education, employment, and human rights but without many significant results. Most of the Roma orientated projects focusing on Roma inclusion are tackling poverty, which is of course crucial and must continue, but lasting change needs Roma to have a share in public decisions. No solutions will be lasting without the equal participation of Roma in public and political life.
European Roma are still a new community in many UK cities. We hope the mistakes made in Central and Eastern Europe, of creating projects without Roma input/inclusion, where Roma are usually only passive receivers, not with Roma and then we are criticised for things not changing - but we were never real partners. Hopefully from this week there will be changes at European level with new laws.
In Glasgow, two years ago, a group of Roma including myself established a formal group 'Romano Lav' (Roma Voice), because we felt isolated and not included in issues related to us. We wanted to have a ‘voice’ in what is occurring.
Service providers and projects are often asking Romano Lav, or myself, to bring Roma to various meetings. However our challenge is that we cannot communicate equally at these meetings - as individuals who did not all go through much education or the process of social and political awareness. There is still a need to build our capacity to communicate and engage at more official levels. We need more organisation, like Oxfam Scotland, to offer our group such support to work equally together.
Our situation is often made worse by terrible tabloids that scapegoat us and make us look like monsters and usually go unchallenged. The past months have been made more difficult for us as concerns about more Roma coming from Europe, Roma evictions across London and further ‘age-old’ lies of ‘Gypsy child kidnappers’ hit the headlines across Europe.
In the past month we were surprised as senior politicians in England and even Scotland further demonised us. Much has been said challenging these politicians and we welcome that. However, none of the politicians spoke to any Roma as far as we can tell.
This lack of discussion is not new, neither here nor in the rest of Europe, so we Roma are trying to address it ourselves. We wonder if those politicians are using Roma as ‘scapegoats’ for other problems in society? We want to say to them: 'we too are your constituents, shouldn’t you also speak to us?'Romano Lav is keen to be involved in progressive intercultural dialogue. We are not the only ones. Therefore we would like to invite politicians and media to speak with Roma in Glasgow, Sheffield or wherever. We hope, just as you, to make where we live a better place to live for everyone. We too have a voice.