28 May 2015

YES WE CAN!


Another day in the European Parliament was almost over. It was a busy day, with a lot of meetings. After two hours writing minutes about medical devices I was happy to go home. I had logged off my computer, heading to Marietta's office which was on the same floor as mine. We lived close to each other in Etterbeek, so we would often walk back home together.

 Just before I wanted to leave, the phone on my desk started to ring. The other trainees in the office all looked surprised: who could be calling this late? but I knew it was Marietta. I picked up the phone and introduced myself. “Hello, Obama Roman Krok speaking". A voice answered; ''Hello this is Jan, could you come to my office please?" Jan was my tutor and a political adviser in the Committee of Employment and Social affairs; a very intelligent man from Germany who had many years of experience working in the European Parliament. I felt my face was turn red with embarrassment. What would he think of me now, I have only been a trainee for one month and have already introduced myself as the President of the United States. I almost couldn't respond to him but with a stuttering voice I answered "Yes I am on my way". I hung up the phone and everybody in the office burst out laughing. On my way to Jan's office I was thinking that this was not a good start to make a good impression. I entered Jan's office and saw a little smile on his face. He gave me a small assignment for the next day but he didn't mention anything about my spectacular introduction. I went back to my office and Sandra my fellow trainee greeted me;    “Oh hello, Mr Obama!”. We started laughing and every time my phone rang we remembered that day with a smile. One day I printed out a piece of paper with “YES WE CAN!” written on it, a slogan best known because President Obama used it during his campaign for the Presidency in 2008. I asked my fellow trainees to translate this sentence in their own language and write it on the paper. I put the paper on my desk and funnily enough it was inspiring to me, so I left it there throughout my whole traineeship.

Even though the comparison between U.S President Barack Hussein Obama and myself was way too big to be drawn, I felt connected with him. As a child he also lived in different countries and he too experienced the struggle of living between two cultures. I still remember the day Obama became the first African American president, on November 4th 2008. I was proud and I shared the happiness of many people, especially of the Afro-Americans. Because this election was more than just a victory for President Obama, it was a victory of all the people in the past that made his presidency possible. People like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Height and Martin Luther King, who fought for an equal position in their society. But also people like Sonny Rollins and Oprah Winfrey who contributed in their own way so people could say: we had a black president. A president that was good enough to be re-elected in 2012.


I stared at the paper on my desk thinking that the Roma and Afro Americans have a lot in common. We too are originally not from Europe. We too have experienced discrimination and racism. We too have been called by a name that doesn't belong to us and which is still so hard to get rid of. And we too share the scars of the long history of persecution and slavery. Even today we cannot say that discrimination and racism have disappeared; as well as the many segregated ghettos. Still.., having a black president is a big step.
So could it be that a Roma man or a Romani woman will someday become the president of a European institution, like Barroso, Schulz or van Rompuy? A day where Roma children will become lawyers, architects, doctors or even ministers? Is this the change we can believe in?  ''YES WE CAN''- Is an answer still too far away. We need to start dreaming about this, but even that is not enough. Because if we look back to the time of dreamers that changed the history, we can see that they didn't do it on their own. They always had people that believed in their dream and helped them to realize it.  I wanted to ask my fellow trainees if they would vote for a Roma president. Instead I asked them if they could join me for a drink. And to my joy they answered in harmony: 'Yes we can!'

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