The July/August 2011 issue of Moment featured a story called “Invisible Roma” and two other pieces (“Roma in the Holcaust” and “Roma Life Today”) on the Roma people, better known as gypsies. We are proud of these stories, written by Ben Judah and Symi Rom-Rymer, that address the ongoing discrimination against the Roma. One reader, however, wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that Judah’s story disseminated old stereotypes of the Roma people and failed to tell the story of Roma activists who have transcended these stereotypes and are fighting to change the lives of their people. He was concerned that our story unnecessarily fed the negative perceptions that exist about the Roma. While we believe our coverage has helped raise awareness of the plight of the Roma, the reader had a good point. As a result, we have decided to portray several outstanding Roma activists who deserve notice.
The first leader we spotlight is Margareta Matache, executive director of the Roma Center for Social Interventions and Studies (Romani CRISS), an NGO based in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. Judah mentioned Matache in the story but didn’t highlight any of her important work. She has been working on Roma and minorities’ issues in local, national and international programs since 1999, and started working for CRISS in 2001.
Of Roma origin, Matache received a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Social Work at the University of Bucharest, as well as a Master’s degree in European Social Policies from the same university.
Romani CRISS works in various fields; the organization’s departments include human rights, health, education, social issues and international cooperation. The organization has achieved important results in cases of human rights violations since its foundation in 1993. A few years ago, a 14-year-old Romani boy was beatin by Romanian police officers in the heavily Roma populated village of Gulia; the beating was believed to be racially motivated. Romani CRISS helped bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Another focus of Romani CRISS’s work is educational projects. Twelve thousand Roma children benefited from education programs that sent them to schools and kindergartens; 2,000 of those young people are eligible to attend high schools, vocational schools and universities. Moreover, the segregation of Roma children in schools has been banned as a result of Romani CRISS’s efforts.
Matache was directly involved in the implementation of the Roma and Stability Pact in South-Eastern Europe and the 2003 voting drive called “Roma, Use Your Ballot Wisely,” both coordinated by OSCE/ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) and by the Council of Europe. The 2003 voting campaign aimed to educate Roma politically and integrate them in the electoral process.
Matache has also worked in youth programs developed by Council of Europe, and was a short-term observer for OSCE/ODIHR missions in Balkan countries.
More information can be found at http://www.romanicriss.org.