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November 15, 2019
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Iulius Rostas: Operationalizing the concept of anti-Gypsyism for policy design

4.11.2019 15:00
Professor Iulius Rostas at the European Conference at Harvard University on a panel about the “Rights of the Roma Child: The Struggle to Combat School Segregation in the E.U.” PHOTO: FACEBOOK- European Conference 2018 at Harvard
Professor Iulius Rostas at the European Conference at Harvard University on a panel about the “Rights of the Roma Child: The Struggle to Combat School Segregation in the E.U.” PHOTO: FACEBOOK- European Conference 2018 at Harvard

Establishing an accepted definition for the concept of anti-Gypsyism is a challenge facing those who would like to see European countries do more to combat and eliminate it. The European Commission has not yet solidified a definition to guide its own policy on this issue.

The working definition that has been put forward by civil society is still in the process of being operationalized. Together with the Center for European Policy Study, I have authored a report on antigypsyism both at the EU level and in five 5 EU Member States that does operationalize this concept and demonstrates how it can be used in designing public policy; it is available online here: https://www.ceps.eu/ceps-publications/combating-institutional-anti-gypsyism-responses-and-promising-practices-eu-and-selected/ 

A key proposal put forward by that report is that the scope of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies should be expanded to become the EU Framework for National Roma Inclusion and Combating Anti-Gypsyism, and to equip this framework with the necessary authority and means to tackle systematic and institutional manifestations of anti-Gypsyism. My most recent book, A Task for Sisyphus: Why Europe’s Roma Policies Fail (CEU Press, 2019), defines anti-Gypsyism as a special form of racism directed against Roma that has at its core the assumptions that Roma are an inferior and deviant group.

Other key assumptions of anti-Gypsyism involve orientalism and ascription to Roma of nomadism, rootlessness, and backwardness. The alleged inferiority of Roma originates in the widespread belief among non-Roma that Roma are less than human.

Even in the 21st century, references to alleged animality, supposedly animalistic habits and "wildness" are often made while describing Roma. The animalisation of Roma was present already in early scholarly writings about them in the 18th century.

Dehumanization and objectification of human groups has often been a technique for preparing extermination policies, and the Roma have been victimized by these in history as well. The allegations of inferiority is also connected to a perception of Roma as unable to respect the minimal rules and values of the society in which they live.

Criminality is often perceived by the majority society as a genetic characteristic of Roma, as part of their nature. An orientalist view of them emphasizes their non-European roots, which also paves the way for their exclusion.

Nomadism is also seen as part of the Roma "way of life" in spite of factual evidence to the contrary, and the expression of this perception depicts Roma as a rootless people, which is consistent with other anti-Gypsyist assumptions. Calling them rootless implies that Roma lack a sense of identity, are incapable of identifying with any land, and have no collective memory or sense of belonging.

Describing Romani people as "backward" presents them as uncivilized, uneducated, and having a very different way of life from the majority of society. Roma are therefore often seen as inflexible because they supposedly cannot integrate and follow the majority’s norms, attitudes and values - and the "modernization" of the Roma is thus assumed to consist of their assimilation.

Only by overcoming these habits of mind can policy designers around Europe begin to address the many issues facing Europe's largest minority. Combating anti-Gypsyism must become a European priority.

Iulius Rostas, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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antigypsyism, Civil society, EU, European Commission



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