“Roma Reform?”

Nov 19, 2012 by

On the 23rd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution I found myself reading article after article on the Slovak Spectator website. The first was an article about the forced sterilizations of Roma women and the fact the the doctors involved have neither been prosecuted nor removed from their duties. I find it completely shocking that Slovakia only passed a law requiring informed consent for sterilization (and several other invasive procedures) as recently as 2004 and are relying on this to dismiss as many claims as they can. According to the article, “The ECHR has ruled that several hospitals around Slovakia violated Roma women’s right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and their right to a private and family life. Human rights organisations say the Slovak government should start dealing with these issues – firstly by taking responsibility for them.” The article outlines the treatment of Roma women in clinics and hospitals and sheds light on the way that they are often segregated and mistreated simply because of their ethnicity. Many Roma women have been forcibly sterilized in many European countries, not only Slovakia and it breaks my heart. Family is such a major part of Roma life… children are held beyond value and it seems most traditional Roma women would never say anything like “we can’t afford another child” or anything about “unwanted children”. When a Roma woman becomes pregnant, everything is done to make sure both mother and child remain healthy and that the child is born well. The mother is supposed to be kept in a good mood, have any food she longs for, and she is not allowed to see horrible or “unclean” objects like certain animals, puppets, or more these days to watch horror movies, some animated movies, or sometimes even news or other shows. Sterilization crushes women’s spirits and souls and…. destroys their family.

The second article I found is discussing “Roma reform” and the authors of the “Right Way” program, who argue that currently crimes go unpunished if the person does not have enough money to pay the fines and that, “Such a situation might be partly resolved by limiting the benefits received for ‘material needs'”. In short, they are indicating that the majority of such crime is committed by Roma people and that limiting their access to social welfare will resolve the issue, not only that but “the education, social and legal system does not protect teachers from aggressive behaviour of pupils or their parents. This, according to the reform, discourages teachers from teaching children from “problematic” environments. Therefore the reform proposes to modify the form and amount of social benefits received by families based on the behaviour of their children at school”. In other words, Roma are unruly and unable to be safely educated, as well as being thieves and criminals and further limiting the amount of money they receive will solve these problems…

Are these people serious?

Both of these articles hint at the levels of discrimination faced by Roma in Slovakia. Forced sterilizations, discriminatory (and bigoted) language in reform aimed purely at Roma…. and the third article, on the “official launch of Roma Reform” seems to further indicate that the problem with the educational system and the Roma is not the educational system itself, but rather how to deal with Roma children… At least this last article included a somewhat rational voice in that of Alexander Mušinka, of the Institute of Roma Studies at Prešov University.

These articles seem to highlight one of the major oversights of many of these programs aimed at “integration” of the Roma: lack of participation by Roma themselves. They continue to characterize us based on a set of social values that they deny to us. They force us to live in poverty – stigmatized and ostracized – and then blame our children for lack of participation in school. Trust me, when you’re starving and your house is riddled with mold and you have to collect wood for a fire and scrap to sell for the few pennies you can to buy food that won’t even feed your family, there isn’t much of a chance to focus on going to school. Yes, education is a right – but it is also a privilege. When will governments realize that in order to be educated, Roma children need better living circumstances. This will only happen when adequate attention is paid to the plight of Roma at all levels of society and when adequate solutions are formulated that do not blame the Roma for the conditions in which they are forced to survive.




  1. Vic

    Good article there, Qristina! I discovered the “Roma” just two days ago while researching on racism in Romania, and I was very much moved by the plight of these people. I’m still trying to learn more and more about them… how could the entire continent of Europe be so inhumane? Last night I stumbled upon a cctv footage that showed two Roma men stabbing a woman. Is that real? Have heard about it?

    This is a very — VERY — serious issue. I won’t call it just plain racism or discrimination, and it will take decades of time and great sacrifices from the present Roma generation to make sure the future generations don’t suffer. So, as an empowered Roma, what would you do for your community? Do you expect governments to take action? If they say that the Roma are unruly and difficult to educate, wouldn’t it be good to show that the Roma people CAN be educated?

    • Qristina

      The cctv footage is not real. There are many such tapes of “Roma” committing crimes – where the perpetrators are barely visible and certainly cannot be visibly identified as Roma. I don’t feel empowered. I acknowledge my privileges daily, even though I have fought hard for them, they are still mine to hold. I am trying to “do” for my community. If I were able to click my fingers and get what I want immediately, I would start literacy classes for ALL Roma in special drop-in centers in as many places as I could. These centers would provide food and maybe a doctor once a month. The children (and their parents) could learn both Romani and the language of the country in which they lived – all books and documents would be bilingual (dreaming here, I know). There would be practical classes on health and also on other things. It would be an integrated curriculum where Roma did not have to give up their culture or language in order to participate. Where they did not have to pay money to participate (even to see the Dr. once a month). Where they could begin to gain some basic and strong education without the prejudices they currently face…. and hopefully be able to ease them towards securing full-time and therefore better paid employment.

      Of course, I realize it’s not that simple and there are many, many problems interlaced here – from our largely oral culture, to our traditions, to perceptions of the majority population, to history, to … everything. It’s a difficult task. While many governments now “claim” they are taking action, they are not…. not really. They are simply talking out of one side of their mouth. Roma children are still segregated in schools; Roma men and women cannot find jobs; families are pushed into deplorable living situations and abject poverty where providing food and shelter occupy most of the time available and where education is a luxury.

      Yes, it would be good to show Roma can be educated – however, the majority of European Roma remain uneducated. There are some good examples – the Gandhi School in Pecs, Hungary for example, a school for Roma which has a great reputation. But, most Roma children aren’t so well provided for by their governments. Even if I show myself as being Roma and being educated, people would say I am “not a real Roma” (because I am educated), “not a real Roma” (because I have light skin), “not a real Roma” (because I no longer live in Europe). There are so many rules and judgements and things that it’s not so easy as just showing that Roma can be educated and WANT to be educated…

  2. For Vic. Not decades. My people in the US struggled for emancipation for 100 years after the Civil War. Why those of us concerned for the Rroma in Europe know that we place only a few bricks now in a wall we hope will become institution. Welcome alongside

    Chad Evans Wyatt

    • Vic

      Thanks, Chad!
      You’re absolutely right. Imagine your people choosing to start an NGO rather than jumping into the bloody struggle for their rights.

      • Qristina

        Why can there not be both? Which by the way, there already are – Roma NGOs and Roma activists on the front lines… it won’t make any difference though, because our voices are silenced and our activists threatened and imprisoned….

  3. H

    Found this blog doing research for a roleplay character. I really appreciate that someone is taking the time to put this kind of information out there. It is so difficult to find information on the Roma that isn’t extremely discriminatory. It makes me so upset that there is so much discrimination that whole culture seems to get completely overlooked and that people are treated this way.

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