We shall overcome! Hope for Roma school desegregation

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…





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