We are all free and equal – Jim Goldston on child abduction cases

October 28, 2013

My friend Jim Goldston on the child abduction situation in Greece and Ireland. A masterpiece helping to better understand the absurdity of the last week events…

Like in many other cases when anti-Gypsyism was elevated to red-colour alarm level, Jim takes a stand and represents a voice of rationality. I am glad to say today that I have many friends like Jim who not only see the injustices but also take a stand. To all of you my friends: We are all free and equal!

Are Roma Black or White? Racial Profiling, Antigypsyism and Privacy

October 25, 2013

The two recent cases of allegations of Roma child abducting in Greece and Ireland are telling the public more than the usual media is saying. They are about antigypsyism and its influence in the European and Anglo-Saxon cultures. They are about racial profiling practices extended to social services, media and the public at large. They are about violations of privacy and family life based on racist believes about Roma and supported by a significant part of the public due to extensive media coverage.  But let’s start with the cases, get the lessons we might learn from these cases and also raise some questions.

In Greece a white-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed girl, Maria, is picked up by police, tested together with her dark-skinned parents, accusations launched that the ‘white angel’ was abducted by Gypsies and a quest to find the biological parents of the white girl. In Ireland, following the public hysteria following the case in Greece, another white-skinned girl is removed from her Roma family, under the same accusations that Roma have abducted the “white girl”, DNA tests conducted and media reports spreading all over the world with the potential news confirming widely-held prejudices that Gypsies are stealing children. In the city of Novi Sad in Serbia far right groups were also trying to identify abducted white-skinned children within the Roma neighbourhood. They did not find any… In the Irish case the DNA tests results showed that the girl was the biological daughter of the Roma parents. She was traumatized only because she was a light-skinned Roma. In the Greek drama, the DNA tests proved that in spite of the allegations, Maria was the biological daughter of a Roma couple from Bulgaria. She was placed in temporary custody care and her future is unclear at the moment as her adoption by her parents was not formalised/legalised. The trauma inflicted on her could be hardly described by anyone. Again, Maria’s light skin and other physical characteristic played a significant role in the case.

The first question that comes to my mind is why such facts become breaking news in Europe and North America? In fact child disappearance is, unfortunately, a frequent phenomenon. But here is not even about child disappearance… It is also not about child kidnapping as there were no formal complaints and none was reported missing. So, what is the news about? It is the embedded antigypsyism in the European and Anglo-Saxon culture that made the news. The public imaginary depicts Roma as dark-skinned or blacks capable of all crimes, including stealing white children from their parents. Folklore, as shown by Peter McGuire, presents one side of this image of Roma. In educating their children, many parents are using this ‘imagined” characteristic of Roma as child-stealer: “behave or I will give you to Gypsies” is a frequently used formula by such parents. The fact that some Roma are white-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed contradicts this public imaginary of black Roma. Consequently, they have done something bad and, without any evidences, law enforcement officials and social services feel obliged to investigate such “crimes”. Had they known little about Roma, they would have learned that Roma groups are quite diverse and, due to historical and complex relations with non-Roma ( jus primae noctis) that resulted in genetic mixture, some Roma have physical characteristics that do not distinguish them from the non-Roma.

The second thing these cases are telling us is that racial profiling is not only a practice among law enforcement officials. Social services employees, journalists and a significant part of the public were very suspicious as well and supported the violations of the privacy of these Roma families based on their racist believe that Roma cannot be white skinned, blonde and blue-eyed.  What was the justification for the authorities’ intervention in these cases others than arguments based on physical characteristics of children and parents? What evidences supported their intervention? Was the public reaction in these cases normal – normal in the sense that the public mobilizes against such intrusion into the privacy and family life of these families? Was media coverage sensitive to the issue? I let the reader answer these questions but we have to ask them and think of what happened out of our own mind sets  when it comes to Roma (out of the box?!)

What will be next? The simple answer is ‘I do not know’. Logically, although when it comes to Roma logic could be disregarded as proven by history, things should return to daily routine. In Ireland there is hope that an investigation would be launched on the case. In Greece, Maria should be immediately returned to her family (of course the parents in Greece as these are the parents she knows of) and her parents should be assisted to legalize the informal adoption that happened years ago. How will these families, especially the children involved, go over the trauma they suffered these days? Will someone pay for the violation of privacy and family life in these cases? The justice served in these cases will be a good indicator of the commitment to rights and fairness in these societies.

But let’s also get the positive side: now at least thanks to media, many non-Roma learned that (wondering if Nazis would have been proud of the way to uncover the non-Aryans) Roma are diverse not only in terms of languages spoken, religion denomination followers, degree of assimilation/integration, kinship and exposure to multiple cultures but also diverse as physical characteristics, i.e. Roma are not only “blacks” but also “whites” as well as “grey”. This might be a step in combating antigypsyism and the usual depiction of Roma. Or at least could be seen like that if there is some awareness that such practices are not ok and something has to be learned out of the cases. It  also depends on how Roma and human rights activist react to such cases. They should use the opportunity arisen by these cases to promote an open debate about Roma and non-Roma relations in society free of accusations and beyond political correctness.

Humour and irony have to be part of the lessons learned as well. Thus, I propose the use of a new instrument which might tell authorities who is Roma and who is not: the GYPSY-O-METER! Satisfaction 100% guaranteed and affordable prices for everyone! Any buyers?!

Populismul domnului Damian Draghici sau de ce cantatul e diferit de politica

April 23, 2013

 

Ieri, 22 aprilie 2013, domnul senator Damian Draghici, aflat la o conferinta pe tema incluziunii romilor a facut cateva afirmatii grave care nu pot ramane fara urmari. Prima, este ca “sunt multi tigani care ciordesc din fondurile europene”. Cea de-a doua este  ca strategia de incluziune a romilor a fost facuta “la misto”.

Tinand cont de faptul ca este consilier onorific al Primului Ministru pe problemele romilor, dar si un ales al poporului, domnul Draghici ar trebui sa ofere probe pentru afirmatia privind fondurile europene, sa sesizeze institutiile abilitate si sa propuna masuri pentru evitarea unor asemenea fapte in viitor.  Faptul ca denigreaza un document de politica publica a Guvernului Romaniei de a carui implementare este responsabil, biroul dansului fiind punctul de contact al Comisiei Europene pe problematica strategiilor de incluziune a romilor, face aceste afirmatii sa para si mai grave. De ce nu face domnul Draghici nimic pentru a repara aceste greseli? Are absolut toate parghiile: intiativa legislativa, sesizarea unor institutii, access la Primul Ministru si la alti inalti demnitari, etc. Raspunsul trebuie cautat in modul cum domnul Draghici intelege politica si rolul sau in cadrul sistemului politic.

Socializarea domului Draghici si experinta dansului provin din mediul artistic. Cantatul era activitatea de baza. Odata ce ti-ai facut numarul, iti incasezi remuneratia si ai plecat. Acesta tactica o aplica domnul Draghici si in politica: si-a facut numarul, presa a scris despre cuvantarea sa si pleaca. Aceasta este un exemplu de populism. Vine si face afirmatii generale, induce o angoasa publicului, vrand sa para dansul ca cel care stie, cunoaste, face treaba, si apoi pleaca… Vrea sa pozeze in salvatorul poporului. Aceasta este esenta populismului: fie-va frica de ei si eu va voi salva!

Domnul Draghici nu este primul si nici ultimul politician populist. El merge insa mai departe si isi arata nepriceperea, lipsa de calificare, ca sa nu spun prostia: “Avem conferinte, studii, atlase. Ne intalnim in conferinte care costa 20.000, 30.000, 50.000 de euro, iar rromii de la firul ierbii nu au ce manca, copiii nu merg la scoala”. Domnia sa nu vede nici o valoare in intalnirile cu societatea civila pentru ca “o să avem întâlniri cu societatea civilă. Dar asta e o minciună, pentru că o să ne vedem peste un an, doi ca să vedem că nu s-a făcut nimic“. Pesemne, domnia sa crede ca poti sa implementezi politici publice fara sa implici grupul tinta, sau fara sa te organizezi, sau fara sa aloci fonduri de la bugetul de stat, sau…

Domnul Draghici se pare ca nu face o diferenta intre cantatul pe scena si politica. Cantatul este zona dansului de expertiza si unde, spre meritul sau, a performat. Doar ca in politica situatia e diferita. Aici e un incepator si ar face bine sa invete. Prima lectie este aceea ca afirmatiile au consecinte, unele chiar grave.

In final o intrebare pentru Primul Ministru: de ce il tineti pe Damian Draghici pe pozitia de consilier pe problemele romilor cand dansul arata ca nu cunoaste tema de care ar trebui sa se ocupe si nu propune solutii la aspectele deficitare identificate?

Legalizing racial segregation – Hungary’s recent developments

April 19, 2013

I never believed that racial segregation could be legalized in the XXI century Europe. It seems that I was wrong as the Hungarian Government just moved in that direction. The Orban cabinet is not only undermining democracy and rule of law but remembers us of Jim Crow in early XX century Deep South US. His cabinet is about to make segregation of Roma children within the educational system lawful!

I spoke out against Roma school segregation in the last 13 years and I spent more than 3 years researching school desegregation policies. Hungary was leading the group of countries that joined the Decade of Roma Inclusion in regard to Roma school desegregation measures. Moreover, it was the only country that moved from pilot projects and isolated initiatives to adopting a comprehensive policy framework to combat school segregation. This was shown by the Decade Watch reports from 2007, 2008 and 2010.

In the book I edited, I argued that racial segregation should be defined as a special form of discrimination as it is the case with victimization or harassment. I used EU anti-discrimination law – Race Equality Directive (RED) – to show that Roma school segregation could be argued both as direct and indirect discrimination. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was inconsistent in the tests it used in the racial segregation cases, supporting the argument that ethnicity based school segregation is indirect discrimination. My point was that Roma children were separated from their peers in most of the cases due to some features of their ethnicity (direct discrimination) and not based on a neutral criterion that affects them disproportionately (indirect discrimination). Thus, Roma school segregation is rather a direct discrimination. By acknowledging that school segregation constitutes direct discrimination, the ECtHR would have set higher standards for protection against segregation for Roma children as it is under current jurisprudence. Under the RED, direct discrimination could be justified just in two cases: genuine professional qualifications or positive measures. Indirect discrimination could be justified under the proportionality test – if the aim is legitimate, necessary in a democratic society and if the means employed to achieve the aim are reasonable.

The recent legislative changes promoted by Hungarian Government proved me wrong. In my opinion, it was obvious that school segregation is in most of the cases direct discrimination, receiving a higher protection by the law, as segregation does not constitute genuine professional qualification nor it could be regarded as positive measures. That’s exactly what the Hungarian Government did: defining Roma school segregation as positive measure!

The Government used the concept of “closing the social gap” and transformed it into a legal concept. The Government used this concept first time in a policy document – its strategy for Roma inclusion – although translated into English as “social inclusion”. During the recent amendments of the new Constitution (in less than 2 year amended four times already!) the “closing the social gap” concept was introduced in the Constitution! This step was followed by an amendment to the law on equal opportunities amending the clause on positive measure with the concept of “closing the social gap”. Thus, the door was open for those schools that segregate Roma to justify separation as an attempt to close the social gap between Roma pupils and their peers. Some civil society organizations protested against the intentions to amend the equal opportunity law. Their criticism could be regarded as unsustainable. However, Hungarian officials made clear their intentions recently.

According to Hungarian Civil Liberty Union, the State Secretary for Education declared in a recent press release that “The Hungarian Government starts with the assumption that closing the achievement gap for the disadvantaged, including the Roma, requires assessing and addressing the problems facing an individual. We therefore support every institution which enables students with disadvantaged backgrounds to close the achievement gap, even if the institution only educates Roma children.” This statement leaves no doubts that the intention of the Hungarian Government was to make school segregation lawful!

I do recognize that in my analysis of segregation as a legal concept I failed to foresee such developments. I am wondering where are the limits of the Hungarian Government “creativity”. We shall  see it sooner or later.

The victims of school segregation must speak out!

March 19, 2013

Last evening at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Legal Studies Department organized a debate on Roma school segregation. The CEU Rector and President Professor John Shattuck, a former US diplomat and a civil rights lawyer, delivered the opening speech. The panel moderated by Professor Uitz included Orsi Szendrey, Lilla Farkas and myself.

Rector Shattuck offered a brief description of the tools used by the Civil Rights Movement to overcome racial segregation in US making remarks and comparisons with the current situation of Roma in Europe. Orsi presented the policy developments in Hungary and the efforts until 2011 in promoting school desegregation through policy underlining that no predictions could be done regarding the results due to the new reforms introduced by the current government. Lilla talked about the issue of data protection and the lack of official data in arguing segregation cases in courts, showed the difference between US and European anti-discrimination law and practice and emphasized that the most important aspect of litigation is to impose a positive duty on the state to desegregate the education system. Lilla did not see the lack of a definition of segregation as an important impediment in promoting desegregation as segregation is covered by the Race Equality Directive and the challenge remains to define properly the Roma.

As the first speaker, I had to say few words about Ten Years After and then I presented my view on the challenges in arguing segregation cases before courts. In my view, the most important challenge is the lack of an internationally agreed definition of racial segregation which impedes application of law to particular cases. Judges as well as activists work will be eased by such a definition. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in spite of the efforts to unify the European legal standards as regards discrimination (European Convention of Human Rights, Race Equality Directive and soft laws) does not bring clarity to the issue. Is segregation of direct or indirect form of discrimination? What is the most effective way to argue? In my opinion segregation is a special form of discrimination and should be specifically defined (like harassment, victimization or incitement to discriminate) as it could be both direct and indirect discrimination. What standards should be applied when deciding such cases? Again, ECtHR jurisprudence is ambiguous as the standards applied in different cases are inconsistent. The provisions of the international law as regards parental choice and best interest of the child is another source of ambiguity in understanding the litigation in segregation cases. The remedies provided to the victims of segregation are rather symbolic and thus, litigation failed to bring justice to the victims.

One question raised during the debate was if there is any chance that the ECtHR would regard segregation as an inhuman and degrading treatment. Lilla was more skeptical than Rector Shattuck and I was. I indicated that there is such a possibility but additional studies have to be conducted so cases could be argued also on the bases of sufferings of the victims. Rector Shattuck reminded us that in US, in the Brown case, the US Supreme Court took into consideration such studies when it ordered desegregation “with all deliberate speed” in Brown II. He supported the idea to conduct such research and to make the voice of the victims heard.

As a follow up to the debate, today I found out about the open letter of Roma children addressed to the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and to the Education Minister calling for equal access to education for all.  I believe their voice must be heard as they are the ones to talk about their feelings and sufferings in segregated education. By exposing their thoughts and experiences to the public, they will make others understand that segregation inflicts a trauma on the victims that dehumanizes people and that such practices are unacceptable in a democratic society.

Below is the open letter…

Open letter to the Prime Minister and Education Minister

STOP the indirect discrimination of Romani children in the Czech schools! Let’s make equal access to education real

Dear Mr Prime Minister, Dear Mr Minister,

As civically active young members of the Romani national minority living in the Czech Republic, we would like to express our support for inclusive education and the necessary measures which the Government of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport of the Czech Republic should adopt to ensure equal access to education for all citizens in this country. Here we are primarily referring to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Czech Republic, Article 22 (1), section IV, where it says everyone has the right to education, and the Education Code, Section 2, which sets forth the aims and principles of education, i.e., equal access to education and consideration for the educational needs of the individual.

The Anti-Discrimination Act of the Czech Republic, adopted in 2009, defines the right to equal treatment and the prohibition on discrimination in access to education and its provision in Section 1 (i), first part. Many international treaties also declare the right to equal access to education:  The Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 28), the Additional Protocol to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (Article 2), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 13). The Czech Republic is also a party to the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes the right to education and access to professional and other education in Article 14, section II.

The Czech Republic was condemned in 2007 by the European Court of Human Rights for its indirect discrimination of Romani children in education through their incorrect placement into what were once called “special schools”. Five years have passed since that judgment and the existing Czech legal order continues to involve the inappropriate distribution of pupils into several categories. Assigning a pupil with special educational needs into a particularly legislated category of disability is a significant determinant of his or her future educational career and restricts his or her equal opportunity.

Currently Romani children continue to be disproportionately enrolled into ‘practical primary schools’ educating pupils according to the primary education program’s appendix for pupils with light mental disability. One proof of this is the thematic report entitled “Process of transforming the former special schools in the 2011/2012 academic year – Czech School Inspectorate” (Postup transformace bývalých zvláštních škol České školní inspekce za rok 2011/2012), which found that 26.4 % of Romani pupils are educated according to such an educational program,  a disproportionate number considering that the Romani minority constitutes only 2 % of the entire population in the Czech Republic.

As young citizens of this country, we want the state to prosper. According to research by the World Bank, better-educated Romani people can expect to make 110 % more money than their less-educated counterparts and thereby contribute more to the state. Joost de Laat, a World Bank economist who studies human development in Europe and Central Asia, presented the study to the International Steering Committee of the Decade of Roma Inclusion in Prague and said the following: “If Romani people of productive age (16-64) enjoyed equal opportunity in access to work and to salaries equivalent to those of their non-Romani counterparts, the country would have billions of euros more annually in its budget. If this were to occur in all of the countries of Central Europe and the Balkans, equal opportunity on the labor market would general a total of EUR 10 billion annually.”

Let us therefore make it possible for the Romani people living in this country to become equal citizens on the labor market. The Government and the relevant bodies of the Czech Republic should ensure equal access to education in mainstream elementary schools for all.

With respect,

David Tišer, member of the Crisis Committee

Crisis Committee open letter translated by Gwendolyn Albert
Source:  romea.cz

Debate on Roma school segregation at CEU – March 18, 2013, 17:30-19:00

March 11, 2013

Dear friends,

The Legal Studies Department of the Central European University is organizing a debate on Roma school segregation on March 18, 2013 starting 17:30. The panel includes Lilla Farkas, Orsi Szendrey and myself.  Opening speech is given by the CEU Rector and President – Professor John Shattuck – and the panel is chaired by Professor Renata Uitz, the Head of the Legal Studies Department. The announcement with all details  is below. Hope to see some of you there. Please feel free to share the info.

Best,

Iulius

http://www.ceu.hu/node/34621

The Struggle for Equality in Education: Combating Roma School Segregation Through Litigation

HOME » EVENTS »
Date:

March 18, 2013 - 17:30 - 19:00

Building:

Nador u. 9, Monument Building

Room:

203

Event type:

Event audience:

CEU host unit(s):

 Department of Legal Studies

Racially-motivated segregation in education is one of the most serious human rights violations faced by the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. Since late 1990s, human rights activists have been challenging in courts the discriminatory practice of separating Roma from non-Roma pupils. From 2007 to date the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg issued 7 judgments in cases related to Roma school segregation in the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia and, most recently, Hungary. At the national level, courts and specialized national equality bodies have also reviewed a few dozen cases of Roma school segregation.

CEU Legal Studies Department convenes a panel discussion on this issue. The discussion is part of a series of debates organized worldwide focusing on Roma school segregation and launched after the publication of Ten Years After: A History of Roma school desegregation in Central and Eastern Europe, by CEU Press and Roma Education Fund, Budapest 2012. Similar debates organized in 2012 took place in Skopje, Bucharest, Prague, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., and Cadiz.

This panel strives to assess the progress, to date, in challenging school segregation through litigation and answer few challenging questions.

Such questions are:

  • What are the challenges in arguing segregation cases before courts?
  • Is there a common understanding of segregation as a legal concept?
  • Which aspect should prevail: parental choice or best interest of the child?
  • Is there a tension between minority rights and human rights approach to education?

The invited panelists will also present their views on the future of Roma school desegregation in Europe.

Opening remarks:

John Shattuck, President and Rector

Chair:                        

 Professor Renata Uitz, Head of the Legal Studies Department

Panelists:

Lilla Farkas is an attorney registered with the Budapest Bar Association. She works for the Chance for Children Foundation on public interest litigation aimed at desegregating Hungarian schools and for the Migration Policy Group as a senior legal policy analyst. She is the race (Roma) ground coordinator for the European Network of Independent Experts in the Non-discrimination Field. Between 2005 and 2011 she served as president of the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority’s Advisory Board.

Orsolya Szendrey is an advocacy consultant promoting Roma integration in EU structural funds programming in Hungary. She has supported the litigation of two education segregation cases of the Chance for the Children Foundation as an expert. Ms. Szendrey is a former policy consultant of the Roma Education Fund and former policy adviser of the Hungarian Ministry of Education. She was program manager of Hungary’s first public education development program promoting equal opportunities for Roma. She took part in the elaboration of the system of equal opportunity conditionality in public education development and worked as a supervisor of equal opportunity experts.

Iulius Rostas is the editor of the Ten Years After: A History of the Roma school desegregation in Central and Eastern Europe and serves as consultant for the Roma Education Fund.  He is a Roma researcher specialized in education, antidiscrimination, and social inclusion policies, who previously coordinated the international advocacy unit of the European Roma Rights Center and served as the Director of OSF Roma programs from 2005 to 2008.

We shall overcome! Hope for Roma school desegregation

March 1, 2013

In the last four days, I participated in a workshop on strategic litigation on Roma school segregation organized by the Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) in Budapest. CFCF is the organization that built strategic cases in Hungary to bring an end to different forms of Roma school segregation. Its most recent achievement is the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Horvath and Kiss vs. Hungary. Lilla Farkas, the lawyer that implements CFCF litigation strategy is to date – and I dare to say it – the most successful litigator on behalf of Roma!

The meeting was attended by other NGOs that litigated on behalf of Roma, especially in education: Equal Opportunities Association in Bulgaria (Daniela Mihailova), Poradna (Vanda Durbakova) Greek Helsinki Monitor (Theodoros Alexandridis), Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives (Iustina Ionescu) and other Roma and human rights activists from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. The Roma Education Fund, a constant supporter of school desegregation was represented by three country facilitators and other staff. The idea of the meeting was a result of a discussion Lilla and I had almost two years ago, during the interview for the book I edited. At that time, we thought that there is a need to bring together those that are doing Roma school segregation cases to share their experiences and learn from each other.

The meeting was not only an opportunity to exchange ideas and good practices in this field but also a source of inspiration and energy to carry on the fight against school segregation. Lilla and her team drafted a handbook for lawyers that includes country strategies on how to legally challenge segregation. In the upcoming days, the partners will fill in the handbook and in few weeks, it will come out as the first concrete result of this regional cooperation. The handbook will be translated in local languages in order to facilitate lawyers’ access to information. Another result of this meeting was the participants’ decision to cooperate closely on their cases and provide support and expertise to those challenging school segregation.

In the same time, another event organized by Romani Criss and the European Roma Rights Center in Bucharest lead to the establishment of a transnational network – the Desegregation and Action for Roma in Education-Network (DARE-Net) – aiming at analyzing practices and initiatives relating to Roma education and the desegregation of Roma children in schools with the support of academic institutions. This network covers Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Romania and is supported by the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.  Criss and ERRC were vocal in promoting Roma school desegregation in Romania and elsewhere in Europe and their initiative will add force to their voices.

With these two regional initiatives, the Roma school desegregation seems to move ahead faster than anticipated!  It is my belief that without removing the structural factors that reproduce the subordinate status of Roma in the society -segregation being the first such factor- it is impossible to achieve significant progress in improving the life of Roma across Europe. These two initiatives come at a moment when populism and anti-gypsyism is growing in Europe and when concerns with equal opportunities in education are ignored by significant segments of the society. They bring hope to those that fight for human rights and for the children attending segregated educational facilities.

I wish many successes to both initiatives and, personally, I celebrate the fact that Roma school desegregation movement is getting stronger! We shall overcome…

 

 

 

The future of Roma rights in Europe

January 29, 2013

Last week I was invited by the Netherlands Helsinki Committee to give a speech on this topic at its 25 year anniversary, held at the Hague University on Friday, January 26, 2013. The keynote speaker was the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks (everybody had problems pronouncing his name) and there were invited prominent human rights activists and representatives of other international organizations.

I underlined the historical moment nowadays when heads of state and governments are talking about Roma, the existence of EU Framework and national inclusion strategies targeting Roma. All these documents indirectly recognize that Roma is the most important human rights issue in Europe today, covering a wide spectrum from immigration to torture, from free speech to discrimination, from fair trial to economic social and cultural rights. But in spite of these positive aspects the future of Roma rights is difficult to predict. Below are some points that make the prediction difficult.

First, rights discourse is elitist. Only the elites are talking about Roma in terms of rights. This language does not make sense for ordinary Roma who talk about their problems in a simple language. The sophisticated language used by the elites is sees often as a way to elide their problems. There is a need for Roma activists to develop a language that will make their constituencies feel closer to their speech than they are now. The need for a new language has to take into account the needs, meanings and symbols of the ordinary Roma that could also appeal to the majority population. The human rights discourse does not make sense to ordinary Roma and one cannot built an ethnic identity based on such a discourse which underlines victimization without making the people proud of something they are.

Second, the rights discourse seems to be dominant when talking about Roma. However, looking at the policy documents, one could easily notice that problems faced by Roma are framed as socio-economic ones and not in terms of rights, as rights issue. Those interested could have a look at the EU framework strategy and the national integration strategies.

Third, the rights discourse, especially when used by politicians is hypocritical. No Roma as an ordinary citizen would believe such a discourse. This just adds to the historical mistrust between Roma and non-Roma and between Roma and the state.

Fourth, let’s be cynical and recognize that what really was behind the policies towards Roma was the fear of West European governments of Roma migration. This happened first in the very early 1990′ and most recently after the EU enlargement in 2007. Who were those that brought up the debate about Roma in the European Council? France and Italy, two countries that had problems dealing with Roma migration. Besides demonizing the Roma migration one has to look also at the positive aspects of it. From my experience, migration produced changes in Roma communities that no policies or projects implemented by authorities or NGOs did: housing renovation, children going to school with proper clothes and shoes, better living for those at home, etc. I visited Roma communities and I could see such changes. Thus, migration and not their commitment to human rights determined western government to put pressure on other governments to improve the situation of Roma.

The future of Roma rights depends on the successful implementation of the social inclusion policies towards Roma. However, the public debates on Roma touch usually on three major topics: how to integrate Roma since they are a social burden (how to make them more like us); migration control; and criminality. It seems that there is a significant difference between the elite discourse and the public discourse on Roma. A process to reconcile these two positions in society is very much needed.

There are few major challenges ahead: participation of Roma, the anti-gypsyism, the rising populism in Europe and the EU funding. The participation of Roma is a crucial ingredient if any progress on the implementation of policies towards Roma is to be made. Unfortunately, the adoption of the EU framework strategy missed the opportunity to ensure a meaningful participation of Roma at all levels: local, regional, national and European. Without the involvement of the Roma communities at local level politics no recipe would work having in mind the diversity among Roma and the different problems these communities are facing. How Roma participate nowadays? What institutions have they developed? What should change? Who invests into the issue? These are just some questions for reflection on the challenges ahead.

The second challenge is to accept Roma as equals. Anti-gypsyism is deeply rooted into the European cultures. Strong negative prejudices and stereotypes all over Europe puts this group at a specific disadvantage that no other group faces. From here comes the particular vulnerable position of Roma in Europe combined with past history of discrimination and exclusion that culminated with the final solution adopted by nazis and their allies. Are Europeans ready to accept Roma as equal members of the society?

The rising populism is another factor influencing Roma rights.  The essence of communism is, a a former professor of mine said, is the attempt to concentrate hate and frustration toward one group. The slogan seems to be “fear them and I will save you”! Roma seem to be in a perfect position to be blamed, hated and attacked due to their vulnerability. I am more concerned with the populism among mainstream parties and groups and less concerned with the extremist groups’ populism. The later form expands because of the populism in mainstream parties and groups.

The EU funding was identified also by the Commissioner Muiznieks as a danger for the human rights. I will underline its danger for Roma rights. There is lack of accountability on the side of the European Commission on the way EU money is spent. Often the EU funding is spent to discriminate Roma and against EU law. One documented example is the movie “Our School” directed by Mona Nicoara and Miruna Coca-Cozma which shows how EU funding were spent by the Romanian Government not to integrate Roma children but to segregate them.

Another point to be made about EU funding and Roma is that in spite of its aims, EU funding promotes rather exclusion of Roma than inclusion. The larger the target group the higher the points received by a project and also the probability to be funded. Applying this principle in education, working in segregated schools improves the chances of a project to be funded. Thus, instead of promoting inclusive education such a project will maintain segregation and isolation of Roma. Without changing this philosophy, the EC funding will fail to promote social inclusion of Roma and Roma rights.

I see three main scenarios for the future:

-         1 maintain status quo, implement strategies, nice reports very little change on the ground. Roma will be still discriminated against, no significant improvement as regards life conditions;

-         2 growing extremism on the current economic climate, Roma being blamed for consuming resources and not contributing to society, the solution is to get rid of them;

-        3 change the paradigm about Roma integration: accommodate Roma interests, invest into their participation and debate openly important issues as a way to combat anti-gypsyism.

In spite of these skeptical scenarios, I am optimist. I am optimist not because I trust the institutions or nor I believe in the capacity of the institutions to change the paradigm. I am optimist because of Roma and their capacity to adapt to different environments. Migration seem to work for many Roma and it will be a tool to improve their lives irrespective of the state institutions.

I received many questions and the time was not enough to provide comprehensive answers to the important questions raised by the audience. I had a good time talking to the people during the break on how best to involve Roma, on how to preserve ethnic identity in an assimilations environment and how to balance the rights discourse on Roma.

In the end, one note on the audience. Some 250 people register to participate in the conference. The significant difference to the Central Europe similar events was that the majority of those presents PAID for their participation.

Congratulations to the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and the whole team in Hague for the event and for their work in promoting human rights!

Thoughts for the New Year…

December 31, 2012

2012 was not a good year for achieving equality among Roma and non-Roma in education (nor in other fields of public life). Maybe an exception was the publication by the CEU Press of the book “Ten Years After: A History of Roma School Desegregation in Central and Eastern Europe”. I am proud that together with a team of dedicated human rights activists and policy experts, I managed to bring to an end such a difficult endeavour. I take this opportunity to thank them once again. Events on topics cover by the book took place in Bucharest, Skopje, Prague, Boston, New York, Washington DC and Budapest as well as in Cadiz at the annual conference of the European Educational Research Association.

I am optimist for 2013 and I have some good reasons. On December 11, the European Court of Human Rights decided against Greece once more in what cold be called Sampanis II. The press release in English from the Registrar could be read here and the full decision Of Sampanis I in French could be read here.  Failing to integrate Romani children into mainstream schools was considered a continuous violation of their right to education.

At national level, in Hungary, Chance for Children Foundation continued its legal battle against school segregation managing to secure the possibility to desegregate a school through a court order if the applicant proposes a desegregation plan. In Slovakia, Poradna won the first ever school segregation case – see my post from November 1.

In 2013, I will have the possibility to talk about Roma school segregation and Ten Years After at the American Educational Research Association meeting in San Francisco. Another event is the Accept Pluralism European  conference in Lyon on January 24-25 where members of a consortium that include European University Institute, University of Bristol, Central European University, University of Milan, University of Amsterdam, Bilgi University and other institutions will talk about Roma school desegregation.

But my main reasons resides in the people I had the opportunity to meet and talk about the topic. In my trips to promote the book I met people who are interested in the subject. At our last meeting of the Roma Research and Empowerment Network on December 5, there were more than 30 persons attending the discussion on school segregation. The growing number of people interested in the subject would continue in 2013 and thus the efforts to build a critical mass to fight for school desegregation.

One example of such people is Iveta Nemeckova, the coordinator of a coalition of NGOs in Czech Republic that aims to implement the ECtHR decision in DH to desegregate the schools in the Czech Republic. Iveta articulates very clear what needs to be done to desegregate the schools and to promote inclusive education:

“In conclusion, I would like to sum up this commentary by reflecting on the question of what the advantage is of educating children together in the same school and what the hidden risks of this approach are. The children now in the “practical primary schools” who will attend mainstream school along with the rest of the population in future will achieve better results, provided they have sufficient support, and will be more motivated to educate themselves. It will be far easier for them to assert themselves in their adult lives and to choose a profession from a broader range of options.

Another big bonus – and this argues against educating these children in “special schools” – is the option provided by the mainstream schools for natural contact with their peers, for the building of relationships, and for the acquisition of the corresponding social skills. It is precisely those skills that are very important for their adult lives and their ability to assert themselves in society – and not only for them. Many years ago, I noticed that children who collaborate with, communicate with, and encounter other children who need a greater degree of support in a natural setting become more mature as human beings. They look at the world with a greater degree of comprehension and understanding of their own needs and those of others. That is a very big bonus for all of us.”

The full article could be read here.

In the end, I want to wish you all a Happy New Year 2013 and all the best! Be optimistic life is beautiful!

Going back to the ground zero: notes on the Czech Government plans to implement DH decision

November 28, 2012

The Czech Government is really bizarre when it comes to Roma school desegregation. It did not prepare any announcement for the fifth anniversary of the DH judgement ( on November 13), when the human rights community did expect some government measures to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgement. For its policies of segregating Roma children by redirecting them towards special schools for mentally disabled, the Czech Government was widely criticised by the human rights community, most recently during the fifth anniversary of the DH judgement. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner was astonished by the inaction of the Czech Government to implement the DH decision and to desegregate the education system.

However, two weeks after the anniversary of DH that attracted the attention of the human rights community once again to the school segregation in the country, the Czech Government decided to announce its intentions to address the issue. According to the Prague Monitor, citing Czech News Agency CTK, on November 17 the Czech Ministry of Education announced its plans to tackle Roma school segregation. The intended measures will aim at preventing placement of children from socially-disadvantaged groups into practical schools by more frequent testing of pupils and data collection on ethnicity.

Through this statement, the Ministry of Education recognises that the amendment of the education law in 2005 lead only to a renaming of the “special schools” for mentally disabled into “practical schools”. It also proves that it never had the intention to desegregate the schools but rather to cover up for the shame of maintaining an ethnically segregated school system.

The announced measures seems to follow the same logic. Instead of closing down the whole practical school system and integrate all children into mainstream schools, the Government prefers to maintain a segregated system where those pupils attending practical schools will be disadvantaged only by the fact that separation means inequality. How will the Government ensure that the tests will be culturally sensitive towards minorities and, especially towards Roma? Let’s not forget that one of the findings of the European Court of Human Rights in DH was that the tests were culturally biased and disadvantaged Roma pupils.  What checks are against possible abuses from the side of those administering and interpreting the tests results? Why spend money on testing  pupils performances to separate them? Everybody knows that pupils will perform depending on  social, economic and cultural determinants. Wouldn’t be wiser to use the resources for identifying each child needs and address those needs? I think this is a much better option.

But most importantly is how will the Government ensure the realization of the best interest of that child?  By placing a child in a so-called practical school limits significantly his/her socialization with children from mainstream schools, an important component of the education process. Thus  assigning a child into a practical school limits his/her right to education. The 1994 Salamanca Statement (UNESCO) makes clear that the best way to ensure access to quality education to everyone is to integrate pupils with special needs into mainstream schools, only those with severe disabilities being offered separate educational opportunities.

It seems obvious that the Czech Government vision on school desegregation is worrying for those waiting for the implementation of the DH decision. There are pretty high chances that Roma children will be still overrepresented in the schools for mentally disabled as long as these will exist due to the procedures in assigning children to special schools and the strong anti-Roma attitudes among people in the Czech Republic.  The Government methods on data collection by ethnicity remains a mystery as it intends to do so by next academic year applying aggregate methods without  aiming at identifying the ethnic origin of individual pupils! Using such methods, one should not be surprised if by the end of the next academic year the Czech Government will be able to “prove” that its education system is ethnically neutral.

Testing pupils more frequently does not say much about integration. In fact, the Czech Government fails to address this specific issue: how to integrate pupils from practical schools into mainstream school. It prefers to keep a separate system of education for mentally disabled, expensive and inefficient, instead of transforming its education system into an inclusive one that delivers for the needs of each child.

 

UPDATE

According to Romea, the social democrat shadow minister of education is also supporting the existence of practical schools. It seems that there is a large consensus among politicians in the Czech Republic to avoid schools desegregation. When it comes to discrimination against Roma, there are no ideological differences among parties. Not a lot of hope for inclusive education in the near future in Czech Republic.


Iulius Rostas's Blog

Roma, Civil Society, Romani movement and politics

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