Soraya Post will represent the Swedish feminist party in the EU parliament.

From activist to politician – Soraya Post creates history

2014-05-26 | Isabelle Nilsson padlock


Soraya Post is the first name on Feministiskt initiativ's list for the EU parliament. In this interview, presenting her when she was nominated and elected as party representative, she speaks about her life, involvement in politics and being at the top of the party list: ”This really means a lot to all the 15 million Roma living across Europe."


Soraya Post is spokesperson for the Roma people in Sweden and at the European level. She is the human rights advisor (only such role at the regional level) in Västra Götaland, board member of the Swedish public radio since four years and participated in two government inquiries regarding human rights and Roma issues.

In 2003, Soraya Post was one of the originators of the International Roma Women's Network, a network of Roma women's organisations in 18 European countries working to promote human rights for the Roma women in relation to European governments and giving visibility to the Roma culture.

Soraya Post is also vice president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum whose secretariat is based at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

Political platform in English for the EU parliament of Feministiskt initiativ

The workers' educational association building in Stockholm, February 8th.

– Dear friends, please take your places for a great performance and candidate presentation. This is the future of Europe you see before you.

Enthusiastic applause and happy cheers fill the auditorium. A motley crowd of people of different ages, most of them women, many young people are standing on stage. The atmosphere is energetic and high-spirited, faces anticipant. The grey slush on Sveavägen outside feels far away.

Feministiskt initiativ (Fi) has gathered the members from different parts of the country for an election conference. This spring there are elections for the EU parliament and in the autumn it is time for general elections. Fi is going for both elections, and the optimism is great. When right-wing, fascist forces tread in, Europe needs feminism more than ever as their absolute antithesis, says spokesperson Gudrun Schyman, who will speak a little later. But first in line are candidates for the European Parliament elections, and meeting chairperson Sofia Karlsson once more approaches the microphone on the table set up on the stage.

– Let us start with number one: Soraya Post, welcome!

It will prove difficult to stick to the strict time limit. But Soraya Post, who is first to go, does not know that yet. Undoubtedly she is more aware of that the nominating committee has put her on top of the party's candidate list to the European Parliament. Now she needs to make a strong impression at the speaker's podium in order to retain her first place in the party.

She looks concentrated as she puts her reading glasses on, and kicks off with the script in front of her and the fuchsia-colored shawl wrapped on her sturdy shoulders. When she gets the signal to round off, she lets slip a "shit", and compassionate laughs are heard. But then she takes off her reading glasses, drops the script and with the gaze fixed toward the audience her voice comes clear and certain: "who am I, what do I stand for?" Her hands start moving and the voice becomes clearer. She gives way to the next candidate, accompanied by cheers and applause. But the results will not arrive until Sunday.

”I feel wow!"

– It is terribly exciting with the nomination and I feel very honoured. Firstly I am Roma, there has never been any Roma in politics at this level in Sweden. At the European level two Roma women have been in the parliament, and one of them is still there. So I feel wow!

It is the day before the election conference, and Soraya Post has just arrived from Gothenburg to the Alexandra hotel, near Medborgarplatsen (square of the citizen) in Stockholm. With an intense while searching gaze her presence is immediate in the small hotel lobby, but the recently initiated meeting is interrupted by a telephone conversation with the hotel booking company. Soraya wants to change hotels. Medborgarplatsen is not at all close to the place of the event, as she thought. "Do you see the connection? The labor movement", she says.

It is not the first time a political party tries to recruit the Roma activist.

− During my whole active life I have consciously not been active in a party. As an activist I needed to be able to move in all the camps in order to achieve greater impact for proposals.

Recognizes herself

Therefore it was not obvious to become a candidate for Fi when the question was put by the nominating committee shortly before christmas.

– I said let me think, and then I thought: If I would ever join a party it would probably be Fi. I see a need for a party that takes equality issues and human rights seriously. Also, Fi has no historical tradition on how to conduct politics or any haunting luggage, instead it is new, from this time. It is a more innovative party, with more young people. The historical perspective is looked at, of course, but we are not stuck in it.

– I believe in the ideology. When I started to read some more I recognized so much of myself in Fi. Now I am 57, I think I should take a step back in my activism and enter a decision-making position, not only make impact, she says with a smile.

The goal is for human rights to permeate all politics. It is radical thought in a time when right-wing forces take ever greater place and enter tactical alliances across the national borders for EU parliament elections. Soraya Post is ready to meet them.

– You can not rescind racism and right-wing extremism rampage with silent diplomacy. You have to take the debate with them. You have to increase people's insight into the consequences, we have historical proof of it. If people have forgotten, someone needs to remind them, and I think I can be good at that.

Less worth

When asked about where her political involvement stems from Soraya Post sighs heavily.

– I am born damned. From the day I was born I have been a second class person seen as less worth. I felt that very early growing up in an environment where my mother was sterilized by force on account of her ethnicity, and forced by the authorities to have an abortion when she was seven months pregnant with her third child.

The voice becomes thinner and the gaze shifts to the side.

– It has influenced me while growing up, and the self image of my mother and my entire family: the fear of authorities, the not belonging, not being of worth, to always be reminded you are a second class person. That you are a criminal. That you are dirty. That you are stupid. That you have no visions. All this prejudice.

When Soraya Post at the age of seven was to start school in Gothenburg, the school management decided, without further justification, that she would undergo a major mental examination by a psychologist. That Soraya unlike many other children of the same age already could read, write and count was not taken into account.

– During many years I repressed that incident, but now when I as an adult think back on it, I remember the room and some of the tests I had to do. And the psychologist who performed the test, a man. I remember being so happy doing everything so right! For my parents it was very offensive, perhaps I did not understand as much then and there.

The psychologist established that the girl was completely ready to start school. This was in 1963.

Always prepared

The parents consistently sought to prepare their children to meet a society that had already condemned them. So no one would have anything to complain about. So that Soraya and her little brother would not be taken out of their custody, which was not a rare form of abuse of Roma families at the time.

– The childcare committee came here each and every week and knocked on the door, and looked at how everything was. So there was always a fear.

The forced mental examination left traces in the form of nagging demands to perform well.

– When I received study material I always read it through to prove that "I can do it, the image you have of me is wrong". And it was very important for me to be allowed to be Swedish, so I made sure to become Lucia (Swedish christmas tradition) every year, even if I had to be wheeling and dealing to achieve it.

Soraya Post laughs and the gaze smiles mischievously under the bleached bangs.

The little advocate

– When I was little I often sat under the kitchen table when we had visitors – which happened often with such a large family – and I joined the discussions around the table. If they talked about someone who had behaved badly I could raise objections and explain a behavior that the others had not thought of.

With a satisfied expression she says that the father would call her "the advocate". Later on, when he was dying, he handed over responsibility for the family to Soraya Post. Today she is the only one in the family who is left alive.

You have to take your place

It was not until she was around 40 that Soraya Post could let go of her negative self image as a second class citizen.

– The more comfortable I became in my rights, the easier it became to throw off my victim's attire. My strength was only roles I had played until then. If I talk from below, then I get treated like that. But if I talk to you equally, I get treated in another way. No one gives way. You must take your place in a humble, equal way. This has been very important to me.

After giving birth to four children she also started to feel an obligation in the society. With tears in her eyes Soraya Post speaks of when she initiated the International Roma Women’s Network. She adds that they were several who started the project together, but the others wanted her to become president.

– Now there are organized Roma women in every European country. That is what I'm most proud to have achieved. I have brought Roma women to the political agenda at the European level and made them visible.

Not giving up

”I am also proud for not giving up, that I continued speaking despite a lot of resistance”, she says with a horizontal hand movement back and forth. She speaks of when she first was to give a speach before the ambassadors of all states in the European Council. As the only Roma woman she was also anxious to put herself in respect of the other five Roma representatives, all of whom were men.

– Here I will show that I do not kneel for anyone. I am who I am, I stand for what I am and have to convey, take it or leave it. It was not negotiable. I also showed it with my body language. You learn that from early on: reading environments, reading people. If you have lived as I have done, then you become a little strategic.

After the speach the male Roma leaders came forward and took her hand. Today Soraya Post is well rooted in the male dominated Roma world.

The future of Europe

It has become Sunday evening, February 9th. The election conference of Fi has presented the voting results during the day. Soraya Post remains the number one candidate on the list for the EU parliament elections in May.

She is returning to Gothenburg, sitting on the bus home. Her voice is cheerful on the phone:

– We are making history now. This really means a lot to all the 15 million Roma living across Europe.

The future of Europe is here.


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