-- Check against delivery --
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the midst of this year’s General Assembly, I would like to welcome you to our German House opposite the UN Headquarters.
Thank you for joining us today at this symposium, Re-Inventing Roma Inclusion, and at the opening of the exhibition SUKAR, which means “beautiful” in Romany.
I highly appreciate our excellent cooperation with ERIAC, the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, thanks to which it has proved possible to present this great exhibition here in New York.
I congratulate you, the ERIAC team, on your persistence, creativity and ambition. I know it was not easy at all to get to this point. Thank you for your great commitment!
In June 2017, Secretary General Jagland, Mr Soros and many others joined us in our Federal Foreign Office in Berlin to celebrate the foundation of ERIAC together.
Following an initiative by ERIAC’s institutional sponsors, the Council of Europe and the Open Society Foundations, we were happy to witness the opening of the ERIAC office in the centre of Berlin in late 2017.
The launch of ERIAC was long overdue. One of Europe’s greatest achievements is its cultural diversity, which is a fantastic enrichment. And for far too long the contribution of Roma arts and culture to our European heritage has been forgotten or even ignored. We still know far too little about the culture of the Roma. And I am convinced that ERIAC can make a valuable contribution in that regard.
Since last year, we have come a long way together. The Federal Foreign Office has supported one of ERIAC’s first projects, the ERIAC International Outreach Programme. This first cycle of events highlighted Roma arts and culture in various European countries. It also helped to strengthen existing networks and to build many new ones.
However, this was only a first step. Antiziganism remains deeply rooted in European societies. It is not only a demon of the past, but an urgent contemporary issue.
We must combat the hatred and stereotypes that remain a part of daily life for many Roma throughout Europe. Even in the year 2018, Roma still suffer from intolerance and bad living conditions in far too many places.
Between 70,000 and 100,000 Sinti and Roma live in Germany today. Eight to twelve million Roma live in Europe. Overall, they are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. ERIAC’s mission has therefore always been a pan-European one.
Prejudices and discrimination often force Roma and Sinti to neglect their identity and origins. This is why projects such as ERIAC are important as regards encouraging Roma and Sinti in Europe not to feel ashamed, but instead to be proud of their ethnicity.
I am confident that ERIAC will continue to foster excellent Roma artists and to spark a much-needed cultural and political discourse. I strongly believe that arts and culture are great vehicles for building bridges and overcoming stereotypes.
Against this background, my ministry has decided to support ERIAC’s next cycle of events: the Cultural Institutions Network Initiative, which will start soon. Other projects, such as the RomArchive, providing a digital forum for collecting Roma culture, will deserve close attention in the future.
It is my sincere wish that many other countries in Europe and beyond, be they Council of Europe members or not, will join us in supporting this unique Roma institution.
ERIAC will build a great platform for Roma art and culture that will resonate throughout Europe and beyond.
These days, we are witnessing populism and nationalism all over the world. We must never accept racism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and antiziganism. Hatred, stereotypes and fake news must never poison the political climate in our societies. A trend towards building new walls, fences and borders seems to be a new part of this ugly political trend. ERIAC’s mission thus provides a strong counterweight in terms of building new bridges, broadening our horizons, strengthening a culture of mutual respect and improving our understanding of others.