Is AEGEE really striving for an inclusive society?

Remember, remember the beginning of November? We were at the Agora in Budapest, discussing the CiA, participating in progress meetings about the work of the Policy Officers, motions of sadness, and AEGEE’s identity… Next to that, a lot of people and AEGEE-bodies had workshops about various interactive topics. Sometimes there were external specialists presenting a certain topic, or even preparing a whole workshop for us, the AEGEE-members.

The Human Rights Working Group(HRWG) had asked Jonathan Mack (member of TernYpe, an organisation which creates a space for young people to become active citizens, focusing on mutual respect between Roma and non-Roma youth) to have a workshop there. It was called Roma REACT, and was presented during the morning plenary on the second of November. I (Maria Arends, Speaker of the HRWG) was there, and I was looking forward to a fruitful workshop and a discussion with a group of enthusiastic members.

After ten minutes, when we were just about to wonder if we would have any participants at all (while I was explaining Jonathan that plenaries always run late, and it would probably be just fine), the first participant showed up. “Am I in the right room, is this the Roma REACT workshop?” he asked. Timidly we nodded our heads. We decided to introduce ourselves, and we started talking a bit. At some point our participant told us that he talked to some Italians, who initially thought that the workshop would be about their capital city. He explained them how it was not about the city of Rome, but about the ethnic group, so often stigmatised in a huge variety of European countries, and he added to this that he was planning on attending the workshop. The people around him asked him why he would do that, since it was about gypsies. Our participant suggested us not to use the word Roma when doing a workshop, because it scares people off.

Another five minutes later, a girl entered the room, asking if she could still join the workshop. The room was a little hard to find, that’s why she was late. We had to agree with her, since the room was quite hard to find for us as well. We continued with a nice discussion with the four of us, about how the stigmatisation actually leads to social exclusion and marginalisation, and how AEGEE could contribute to change this situation.

Now I don’t want to be negative, since I enjoyed the discussions we had, and I am very thankful to the two participants and Jonathan for being there and having this discussion, but it makes me wonder: what is going on? Why are we as AEGEEans always boasting about how inclusive we are, how we want a better Europe, and how we respect human rights, if we cannot even find it in our hearts to go to a workshop where we can learn something about a minority group that is, as stated before, stigmatised and discriminated, even by national governments in some countries? I can understand that a topic like this does not attract everyone,  so please don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to be interested. But how come, that out of 700 people, only two are interested? Is AEGEE not ready for this?

On my personal behalf, I would like to raise the discussion and ask you for your opinion.

Written by Maria Arends, AEGEE-Groningen