- Romani Politics in Contemporary Europe: Poverty, Ethnic Mobilization and the Neoliberal Order
This timely and comprehensive edited volume by Sigona and Trehan attempts to provide a critical overview of the development of a pan-European space for Romani mobilization and political participation. The volume is located in the context of contemporary Europe and examines the rise of neoliberalism, ethnopolitics and anti-Gypsyism, which have impacted significantly on the lives of Romani communities. Research has drawn attention to the socio-economic marginalization of Romani communities in Europe (Ringold et al. 2005) and has shown how the socio-economic and political situation has actually deteriorated since 1989 (Kovats 2003). Sigona and Trehan take this as their cue as they assess prospects and obstacles to Romani integration in the transnational and domestic political contexts. Whilst the volume is theoretically engaging and empirically robust, it sometimes lacks a red thread running through the book, which would have provided the reader with a clear focus. However this is not necessarily a criticism, as edited volumes by their very nature tend to cover much analytical and empirical ground and are valuable for this reason (Guy 2001). The volume's themes of political participation, ethnic mobilization, and representation have been analysed more recently by Vermeersch (2006) and McGarry (2010), but Sigona and Trehan situate their critique within the parameters of neoliberalism, which is an original contribution to Romani studies. Given the diversity of the contributions, I will provide a brief overview of each chapter.
Part One examines the political space of Roma in Europe. Guy examines how the European Union (EU) has addressed Romani communities in the context of Eastern enlargement and the Lisbon Strategy, which focuses on employment initiatives. The chapter acknowledges the important role which the EU plays in improving the socio-economic marginalization of Romani communities, but highlights its limitations: the EU facilitates but does not implement social inclusion policies as the latter remain in the hands of member state governments. Trehan examines the nexus between neoliberalism and an increasing 'NGO-ization' of the Romani movement in post-socialist [End Page 203] European civil society, and emphasizes the need to locate 'social-economic justice as a central pillar within the contemporary human rights framework' (p. 65). Simhandl explores the construction of Roma as an essential category in EU discourse from the 1970s and argues that since enlargement Roma increasingly enter the discourse as subjects rather than objects, meaning that the development of Roma policy has begun to involve Roma themselves. Nirenberg describes the development of transnational Romani political mobilization including the International Romani Union and the European Roma and Traveller Forum (ERTF). A representation structure in the transnational political context is important for collective advocacy and for ensuring that the Roma voice is heard by international organizations. But Nirenberg is cautious about the ERTF's capacity to fulfill such an important role. The volume presents two 'in conversation' chapters. The first features MEP Viktória Mohácsi, who reflects on her experience working in the Hungarian NGO sector as well as her work in the European Parliament lobbying for the elaboration of a EU Roma Strategy, which to date remains unrealised. The role of the transformative activist is often missing from academic research, and the editors should be commended for ensuring that this voice is heard. Both 'in conversation' chapters with activists in Hungary and Kosovo are illuminating and stimulating reads. Kóczé sheds light on a much under-researched area of Romani studies: gender and the exclusion of Romani women. Specifically, this chapter explores how a deeper engagement with gender can help to understand key concepts such as power, resistance and identity.
Part Two is the empirical spine of the volume and brings together contributions from eastern and western Europe. Rostas analyses the degree of institutionalization of Romani civil society organizations and the causes for the relatively weak levels of mobilization. Murušák and Singer focus on the mobilization and social unrest amongst Romani communities...