De-ethnicizing the issue not a solution for EU Roma strategy: some comments on Livia Jaroka’s ideas

I just read on some news bulletin a quote from Livia Jaroka on the lessons learned from the policy implementation targeting Roma and the new approach of the EU Roma strategies. Her statement was: “We’ve been trying to set up a framework that draws from the lessons of the past 10 years’ mistakes in Roma strategy, de-ethnicizes the issue and considers it as a micro-regional poverty problem instead, while chasing politics out of it”. It could be found an an article wrote by Veronika Gulyas for the Wall Street Journal on May 4, 2011 available at http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2011/05/04/incidents-drive-hungary-to-finally-address-pressing-roma-issue/#

It is clear that Jaroka and her team got the wrong lessons from the previous attempts to improve the situation of Roma: national strategies/programs for Roma and the Decade of Roma Inclusion. While de-ethnicizing the problems might have some benefits, ignoring the ethnicity and its role in the current situation of Roma is not the solution. Ethnicity in the case of Roma is an important social determinant of the current under achievements in education with direct influence on employment opportunity and poverty. Roma children are segregated in schools because of their ethnic background and not because of poverty, their living areas or other causes. Even if social stratification of pupils is done also along poverty lines, it is striking the under achievement of Roma in percentages as regards national average or even children belonging to other vulnerable groups. Segregation in education represents a structural factor that reproduces the inequalities among Roma and non-Roma in society. Thus, ignoring ethnicity in education might lead to maintaining the status quo, a recipe for failing other generations of Roma and keep them in a lower strata of society.

Roma should be proud of their ethnic background and should communicate their ethnicity in the public space. An educational system that ignores this aspect by de-ethnicizing Roam or assimilating them is not a performing educational system as the quality of education should include ethnic relevance to the targeted group. If after passing through an educational system a pupil denies his/her ethnic identity as a Roma, something is not right with that specific educational system. An inclusive educational system should make pupils proud of their ethnic background and also confident that they could succeed in life. The recipe in this case seems to be to include in the curricula a strong Roma ethnic related subjects that will strengthen the social identity of the Roma children. De-ethnicizing the issue of education might rather lead to assimilationist policies.

Moreover, while in Hungary Roma are concentrated geographically, making thus possible an approach based on micro-region, this is not valid in other countries where Roma live throughout the country and such an approach will not lead to targeted approach to the problems faced by Roma. What should these countries do? What approach should they have to issues faced by Roma? Jaroka’s solution seems rather foolish. One might even accuse her of playing the right wing card of her party. Whatever etiquette one might put to Jaroka, it is very probable that her suggestions do not represent feasible solutions to issues faced by Roma.

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