Another new article on the Huffington Post website about the Roma – this time though, written by John Feffer, an Open Society Fellow and co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org) at the Institute for Policy Studies. Looking over his other articles, he appears to have a lot of knowledge about the Balkans and surrounding regions of Europe, particularly Bulgaria. In fact, this article, although another one written by a non-Roma, actually addresses some very important (and interesting) points regarding Europe and inclusion.
Firstly, although we all know it, research has indicated that the people with the most education also discriminate the most. People used to laugh at me and call me a charlatan when I’d complain about the xenophobic and racist attitudes of some of my university professors. However, this research proves that my problems with them were much more than me being “over-sensitive”.
It’s disheartening to witness the complete failure of the “Decade of Inclusion”. Sure, there have been talks and conferences and meetings and studies – but what have all of these things really done for the Roma? Have our lives changed for the better at all? Most results seem to indicate not – and this article from Feffer seems to solidify that unfortunate reality. Sure, inclusion is a nice idea, but who’s idea was it? Who are the people talking about it and studying it and formulating useless goals? They aren’t the Roma.
I think inclusion is impossible when you force Roma to live in unsanitary ghettos on the outskirts of towns and cities; when you deny us anything but “special” (read: inadequate and highly flawed) education; when you deny us jobs and adequate health care. Sure, integration within school is a wonderful goal – but I think other things need to be addressed first. Countless research has shown that education is ineffective if families live in abject poverty – as many Roma families do. When you need to gather scrap or beg for your only source of income, the more hands on the street, the better. When you have to scavenge and chop whatever you can for a source of heat in bitter winter temperatures, you need every hand you have. When you live in mold infested, unsanitary and unsafe housing, no school will accept your children anyway.
Yes, it was a nice idea Europe – but I think you really need to do far more than discuss and study and look for a simple bandaid to cover your embarrassment.
The Persistence of Discrimination Against Roma – John Feffer
Much has changed in Eastern Europe over 22 years. But one group that has seen relatively little improvement in its fortunes over this period has been the Roma. Unemployment levels among Roma remain high. Access to decent education, health care, and other social services is limited. Representation in politics and business is minimal. And discrimination remains pervasive.
In interviews and casual conversations in the four southeastern European countries I visited this fall, I heard the same stereotypes about Roma repeated over and over again. And many of the people who trafficked in these stereotypes were highly educated, the people who are expected “to know better.”
Maria Metodieva was, until recently, in charge of Roma issues at the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. She confirmed for me this most depressing fact. “We’ve done research on the type of people who are more likely to be discriminatory,” she said. “The most educated people, in terms of higher education, discriminate the most. This is ridiculous. Once you have a good education, it means that you’ve been studying in a mixed environment, and you know much more about diversity and cultural pluralism.”
But alas, there isn’t as much cultural pluralism in Bulgaria as one might hope. The effort to desegregate schools and ensure that Roma and non-Roma mix in the classrooms has encountered pushback. Economically, Roma continue to be marginalized, often living in crowded conditions in poor neighborhoods in cities like Plovdiv. Some successful Roma, borrowing a page from African-American history, “pass” as non-Roma if they can get away with it, which does little to upend common stereotypes. And even very successful Roma who openly proclaim their heritage, like TV anchorwoman Violeta Draganova, have experienced the same, maddening discrimination that their less famous brothers and sisters face.
Here’s another depressing fact. The OSI program has been quite successful in placing Roma interns in businesses in Bulgaria. But that success has been almost entirely in multinational businesses, Maria Metodieva reports, not with Bulgarian businesses. Roma don’t just face a glass ceiling – they face glass walls.
Europe is currently more than halfway through the Decade of Roma Inclusion. There have been conferences and studies and documentaries and political lobbying. And millions of Euros have been allocated to closing the gap between Roma and the rest of Europe. There have been some notable achievements, particularly in terms of the greater visibility of Roma issues. But it’s easy to get discouraged when you come face to face with persistent discrimination. On the other hand, the modern civil rights movement in the United States was at it for more than two decades before achieving the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and the election of an African-American president more than four decades later still doesn’t mean that racism has been flushed out of the American system.
But many Roma, as they struggle against injustice and attempt to build a truly multiethnic democracy, keep their eyes on the prize. Maria Metodieva talked with me about OSI’s programs on Roma and what has worked and hasn’t worked in terms of policy approaches. She now works at the Trust for Social Achievement, which focuses on education, jobs, and capacity-building for marginalized communities in Bulgaria: