When I was invited to speak at MEP Damian Drăghici's event, From Beggar to MEP - a Roma Integration Story, I reflected on the long journey he made from a kid fighting prejudice to becoming a prominent politician. And then I played a few of his songs, of which I grew fonder and fonder over the years. I love them because I find in them more than just melody. I find in them hope.
You see, Damian's songs embody values that go beyond the borders of Roma culture, because Roma culture is already an integral part of the European identity.
What would the Spanish poetry be without Federico Garcia Lorca, without his references to the Roma vision of life and death? What about the Spanish "flamenco"? What about Emir Kusturica's movies? Or the "lăutari" songs of Romica Puceanu?
In fact, to ignore the contribution of the Roma culture to the European identity, would be akin to deleting one star from the European flag.
Because Roma people have been European for ages. Roma people were already here with the Enlightenment. With Napoleon. They witnessed the rise of nationalism. They suffered the injustice of slavery and the horrors of the Holocaust. And they shared, with all of us, the hopes of the European integration.
Against this background, the story of Damian is the story of millions of Roma people, who once tried to overcome an unfriendly environment, to give their children a better future and the right to a happy life.
His story is a success story, and it brings with it a great gift - the gift of hope.
Hope for a better future for millions of Roma boys and girls.
Hope for a more inclusive European Union.
Hope for more compassionate and more brotherly Europeans.
Damian's story confirms that the hope of social mobility, on which our society is founded, is real. It is more than just a dream.
He might have been one of those children, who start begging in the street, and finish living their lives in jail. Those who, before they are actually born, are already sentenced by life and for life.
But his is a story with a happy-ending. Him and thousands of Roma children who grew up to become great artists, politicians, professors, writers, journalists, are living proof that we all are "the masters of our souls and the captains of our faith".
His story reminds me also of the old African saying - "it takes a village to raise a child". Damian would have not made it alone, without the help of many a good Samaritan, with whom he was lucky or blessed to have crossed paths.
I went to his event to express my hope that his story will inspire many Roma children to follow their greatest dreams and to become one day like him.
Likewise, I hope it will inspire many of us to behave more brotherly and more compassionately towards all human beings and to give everyone a chance to a happy and fulfilled life.
Ashen Devlesa, Romale!