Too Little, Too Cheap

Education has often been cited by the EU as the path towards Roma integration. But the problems run deeper than a lack of training. And unless the EU abandons its shortsighted and misguided policies, change will remain a lofty ideal.

It doesn’t matter if we, the Roma, are educated. The German Jews were highly educated and that did not prevent the Holocaust. The Roma on the other hand weren’t and the result was the same: extermination. As long as anti-Gypsyism is strong, education will result in assimilation, that is, blending into the majority population. Roma professionals who are building their careers have every reason to hide their ethnic background, as ‘Roma’ is synonymous with ‘genetically determined criminal’ for most people.

It might be that education is the solution for the majority populations. Aggressive education against the myths of nationalisms, about the many racist-based genocides, about colonialism, slavery and looting on which most of the European and North-American wealth is built on…This would most certainly have a much stronger impact than any Roma-focused programs on education.

There is no single magic solution for Roma inclusion. Roma continue to be the most hated ethnic group in Europe despite the fact that over the past two decades, everyone has acknowledged their need for inclusion. Approaches up until now have been rushed, cheap and mainly for show, as they were based on electoral logic designed to please the majority populations. I am not aware of any significant national or European policy response to the social exclusion of Roma that was based on serious research lead by professionals with relevant background experience, and that put the interest of Roma at the core of it. Inclusion of Roma requires long-term, expensive interventions and the involvement of many people with significant hands-on expertise on the subject. The results we see are the logical consequences of inept policies designed by occasionally well-intentioned people with zero or laughable experience in the matter.

The European Commission, the most important institution dealing with the 10 to 12 million Roma, has no experience on Roma issues. The Commissioner responsible for Roma inclusion, Viviane Reding, comes from the only country in the EU that claims it has no Roma: Luxembourg. She is entirely inexperienced on this issue. So is her cabinet. This is the rule rather than the exception for any intergovernmental, international or national organisation dealing with Roma issues. There was never any Roma or Roma expert appointed in a superior management position with decision-making power on Roma issues.

The way the European Commission functions in the case of Roma is idiotic: people are appointed to be responsible on Roma issues without any consideration for their expertise or background. By the time they begin to understand the problems after 3 to 5 years, they are moved into other positions that for the most part have nothing to do with Roma inclusion.

The excuse that experts on Roma issues could not be found for leading positions within the cabinet does not hold up. There are thousands of people with PHDs on Roma issues in Europe and tens of thousands of people with significant experience on Roma issues with university degrees. Many of these also happen to be Roma themselves.

Another problem is the fact that society looks at Roma in a dichotomized way. Though the Roma are seen as either abused saints or genetically determined criminals, they are neither. As long as we as Roma do not manage to assume our responsibilities and invest massively in the inclusion process, there is no chance of sustainable progress.

Roma activists have a responsibility to talk about trafficked children who are forced into begging, or prostitution, domestic violence and usury within the Roma communities. Roma leaders need to be very clear about the fact that criminality is not acceptable and has nothing to do with the Romani life-style. The existing anti-Gypsyism should not be an excuse: either for tolerating any abuse of human rights or for avoiding paying the dues required for inclusion. Education, improved social participation and active citizenship are all are costly in terms of money as well as time. But they are the basic requirements for both Roma and non-Roma to ensure progress.

Read more in this debate: Daniel Baker, Morten Kjaerum.

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