Young commitment against racism

Carla and Nicolas got to know each other during their voluntary service. They wanted to give new food for thought and create different perspectives. That's why they organised a discussion group together on the topic: "Roma* and queer activism during and after the pandemic" and have been continuously advocating for the Sinti:zze and Romn:ja community since September 2020. They believe that young people's engagement is underestimated and that it is important to help shape political exchange and democracy.

© Katie Rainbow
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Who are you and what are you committed to?

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My name is Carla, I was a volunteer at RomaTrial e.V.  last year, where I worked against racism against Sinti:zze and Rom:nja, and to create more social spaces for the voices of Sinti:zze and Romn:ja. 

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I am Nicolas and I did my voluntary service in the field of political education for young people at the Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe. The focus was on organising discussion events on the topics of criticism of racism and anti-Semitism, European politics and youth participation. In our volunteer project, Carla and I organised a discussion event with Gianni Jovanovic, which was about queer and Roma* activism.

What does your commitment mean to you?  

Carla: For me, commitment means using one's own strength and possibilities, standing up for other people, possibly people who don't have this strength (anymore), and standing up for one's own convictions. A society based on solidarity needs commitment, but it is also a valuable experience for those who are committed.  

Nicolas: For me, my engagement is very important because we created spaces in the team through the online events, even during the lockdown, where progressive debates could take place. I think it's totally important for young people to help shape political exchange and democracy and I'm glad to have been given this opportunity. 

How did you get involved in this volunteer project? Why did you decide to do it? 

Carla: Nicolas and I got to know each other through our organisation Freiwilliges Jahr Beteiligung. There, by chance, we got to talking about the topic "Racism against Sinti:zze and Rom:nja" and he told me that he had already been very interested in the topic before he started the Federal Volunteer Service (BFD). That's why I asked him some time later if he would like to work with me on a joint volunteer project. 

Nicolas: We noticed that although structural racism has certainly been discussed more in recent years, both myself and our circle of friends had little knowledge about the perspectives of Roma*. It was important to us to use the space we had gained through the volunteer project in a meaningful way and to make it useful. We invited Gianni because he is so good at talking about beautiful and serious topics in an accessible way.

In your words: What is antiziganism?

Antiziganism is the racism against Sinti:zze and Rom:nja or persons read as such. It is a deeply rooted and widespread resentment based on the construction of racist images. The term is not used everywhere because the racist foreign designation is part of the term. Others use it precisely because of this. "Gadje(non-Roma) racism" or "anti-Romaism" are terms that are used alternatively.

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How has the time influenced you? What did you learn? 

Carla: The project certainly took more time than planned. We had planned to have the whole thing up and running within three to four months, but we quickly realised that it wasn't going to work. So we decided to rethink our concept several times and kept thinking about what our goals were and which plans were feasible. In the end, it took us a whole eight months, but it was definitely worth it! 

Nicolas: I also think that it was exactly right that we took this time to deviate from one path again and again. Sometimes we dropped out of Zoom Calls in despair, but it was really important to learn to endure that and just stick with it. And we certainly took away some self-confidence when everything worked out quite well. 

How does your commitment reduce prejudice and discrimination and how does your commitment contribute to social cohesion? 

Carla: Our goal was to create a space for exchange and togetherness and to invite people to our event who look at and discuss issues like cultural work and the Corona pandemic from a multidimensional perspective. In doing so, respectful interaction was particularly important to us. This space has provided the opportunities for issues to be discussed openly and for people to come into exchange with each other. 

Nicolas: I think that the conversation between the moderator of the event, Monty Ott, who researches anti-Semitism, queerness and remembrance culture, and Gianni Jovanovic was already totally important, because many of their opinions on various topics are simply far too rare in the German media landscape. Every event of this kind, where someone hears a point of view that he or she didn't know before, can also be an impulse to look into the issues further. 

How can other young people be encouraged to get involved as well? 

Carla: I think a large part of young people actually want to get involved or already do. We all have our values and beliefs that are worth standing up for and being loud about. But I also believe that one problem is that engagement is often only attributed to "activists" and it is forgotten that small things like tutoring siblings or neighbourhood children, becoming a class representative, etc. are also very important. In order to get more young people to get involved as well, we should value such involvement much more. I also think that many young people, once they get involved, quickly realise how good it feels and continue for that reason alone. 

Nicolas: I think that the value of volunteering is totally underestimated in Germany. Both the value for the person who gets involved and the value for society. From my point of view, school teaches a rather toxic image of performance, according to which one should not "waste" any time and rather go straight to studying. On the other hand, an FSJ is simply not affordable for most young people unless they live at home or receive other support from their parents.  Translated with (free version)

Freiwilliges Jahr Beteiligung - The Voluntary Service for Youth Participation in and around Berlin 

The organisation was founded by former volunteers. Since 2014, FJ Beteiligung has offered the opportunity to do a Federal Volunteer Service (BFD) or a Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) in and around Berlin. Themes are education, democracy and participation in places such as schools, non-profit organisations and political institutions. The voluntary service is a year of learning and orientation. Volunteers are given space to try things out for themselves, gain experience and make mistakes.

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