Who is afraid of identity politics? Lessons from Romani activism

January 28, 2020

On 23rd January the third roundtable discussion of Romani Studies Program (RSP) was held, this time the event was jointly organized by the Department of Political Science at CEU. The invited scholars critically reflected on identity politics and the potentials and dilemmas of identity-based activism in the Romani movement.

Anna Mirga-Kruszelnicka, who is an anthropologist, Romani activist and deputy director of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC), talked about the importance of narratives and stories in identity formation. She critiqued the way Roma identity has been framed by those who are not part of this community and highlighted the importance of first-person narratives which can foster a positive culture, ethnic pride, and affirmation. She also addressed the importance of using identities in plural which can open up the concept and draw attention to its fluid, intersectional and inclusive nature. Dr Mirga Kruszelnicka argued that ERIAC provides a space to negotiate identities and therefore, it a resource for mobilization.

Ciprian Cătălin Necula, who is part of the Aresel Movement, talked about the role and responsibility of states and scholars in (mis-) recognizing Romani identity. Several nation-states, including Romania, developed historically by creating an inferior Other, a role which Roma had to play. Contemporary states treat Roma as a vulnerable social group and do not recognize it as a nation. In a similar manner, several scholars deny the existence of Romani nation and Romani identity.

Ismael Cortés, member of the Spanish Parliament, recalled that identity politics was originally emancipatory and post-colonial. Those having a hegemonic identity are threatened by identity politics. However, today identity politics is more and more about exclusion and fragmentation. He highlighted the importance of strategic alliances beyond ethnic identities.

 Professor Zsolt Enyedi, who was invited as the discussant from the Political Science department, talked about the implications of focusing solely on identity politics and the way values and interests were overshadowed in recent elections. The 19th century template of nation building do not fit the 21st century. The Romani nation may provide an alternative. However, the success of the Romani movement must be measured by traditional economic and political standards, i.e. economic development and access to politics.

We hope that you enjoyed this event whether you came in person or joined through our live stream. You can find the unedited recording of the entire discussion here.

Please stay tuned for our forthcoming events:

• Resistance and resilience: Romani women and LGBTQ persons (6 February 16.30- 18.00)

• Alienation through representation (27 February 16.30-18.00)

Please find here a related call for papers and the call of a summer school.

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