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Alexander Oláh: A brief report on the emancipation, integration, and participation of Roma

23.5.2015 8:02
Alexander Olah (PHOTO:  Romea.cz)
Alexander Olah (PHOTO: Romea.cz)

It is completely surprising, but the current Romani Integration Strategy is actually beginning to be implemented. This has never been the case before - the previous Romani Integration Concept was mostly about photographs of former Human Rights Minister Micahel Kocáb and was basically never implemented at all.

There were no consequences of this lack of implementation previously. The only outcome of the previously unimplemented concept has been a new, much more ambitious one.

Destruction of the Agency

The first step toward the implementation of the Strategy has been the completely successful destruction of the Agency for Social Inclusion. This ministerial "masterpiece" of Jiří Dienstbier and the brevity of this process is reminiscent of the song about the broken mill-wheel, in which the old baker (in this case, Agency director Martin Šimáček) is no longer home, so hope is invested into the young baker - even though he doesn't know how to fix the wheel.      

In this case, fixing the wheel basically doesn't even correspond to the intention of those who created this so-called Strategy. Here we must note that the creators of that document, which tasks itself, just like the previous never-implemented versions, with aiding Romani people's inclusion into society and providing room for ethnic emancipation even to the Romani "middle class", were primarily the "white" employees of the Office of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs.

These people know how to perfectly create the successful illusion of the participation of Romani people, not only in the design of the document itself, but in the addressing of the situation in which Romani people now find themselves in the Czech Republic. The Inter-ministerial Commission primarily serves this aim, a body that participatorily meets a maximum of four times a year, where some Roma manage to speak on behalf of some or most of the rest of the Roma.

These people are the so-called Romani elites whom the "whites" believe must be sought out and supported. They are supposed to be the ones who will be able to ensure this magical mantra about participation that the bureaucrats in Brussels like to hear.

A forum for professional Roma

A forum for like-minded, professional Roma has thus been created, people who, whether they realize it or not, are collaborating with the Office for the Inter-ministerial Commission. Their common, noble aim is to address the Romani people's situation and to build up more Romani elites.  

I am personally of the opinion that their main aim is to address this situation until the end of time - but never to resolve it. The resolution of the situation cannot be beneficial to either party in this "problem-solvers' pact", who can only profit from its continually incomplete resolution.  

This even goes so far as to mean that, instead of support for ordinary institutions that should be functional for all citizens irrespective of their ethnicity, other, duplicate organizations are to be created based precisely on ethnicity. As an example, we have the spectacular establishment of the Romani Council in Ostrava.  

This local council supposedly means we finally have other Romani representatives to negotiate not only with the Human Rights Ministry, but also with the local administration. The fact that these representatives are Romani loan sharks whose interests are something other than defending the justified interests of all Roma in Ostrava doesn't matter - what is important is the emancipation of a certain segment of the Roma and the creation of another partner for cooperation.  

The Agency for Social Inclusion was also supposed to attempt solutions that were originally supposed to be part of this ethno-emancipatory whole. It, however, began working with the ministries, designing strategies at local level, and providing funding for their implementation.  

A mirror for the "Romani" Commission

The success of the Agency has daringly, rudely held a mirror up to the Office of the Czech Government Inter-Ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs and its bureaucrats, whose main activity is to attend various conferences and present unrealized concepts including photographs of the Romani elites together with the Human Rights Ministers, as well as to look for the obstacles and reasons why their concepts are not being implemented. One of those obstacles, evidently, has been a lack of professional capacity, which their office was unable to provide for many years.

It is now much more comfortable, much easier, for them to take this capacity away from the Agency for Social Inclusion, which must now be broken up, destabilized, and primarily directed within the framework of the shared Romani aims that the bureaucrats so successfully wrote into their Strategy. By now a great deal has been written about the Agency, including many different opinions of it.

In most cases what has been written is criticism of its work, of its lack of results, and of the low representation of Romani people on its staff. I think it is possible to criticize the work to date of the Inter-ministerial Commission in the same vein.

The result of that body's work has been unimplemented strategies, ethno-emancipatory mantras about Romani participation, and negligible representation of Romani people on its staff. There is no reason to be surprised by this - human rights are a challenge, especially when most of the work effort is being expended on creating the impression of Romani participation and on a petty official human rights policy.

I am interested, for example, in what the Office of the Inter-ministerial Commission and its civil society members did during the design of the Schools Act, primarily with respect to its controversial aspects. I can only surmise that they did absolutely nothing, because it was much more important for them to focus on Romani college students and the nurturing of the next Romani elites than on the assignment of Romani children into the "practical schools".

After all, it's possible to take photographs of Romani college students receiving their ethnically-targeted scholarships. Those scholarships have probably not even been evaluated to date, and they therefore remain yet another dubious activity that is supposed to help the Roma.

The dangers of participation

I presume that the civil society members of the Inter-ministerial Commission enjoy, within the framework of the Office of the Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation, access to the drafting of the laws that might either negatively or positively influence the lives of Romani people in the Czech Republic, and that they can provide their expert commentary during the drafting of those laws. However, it is also quite possible that they are not very serious about this participation themselves.

Here it must be said that the most recent minutes available from a session of the Inter-ministerial Commission are from May 2014. I do not consider the separate meetings held by the civil society members of the Inter-ministerial Commission to be legitimate, as there are no publicly accessible minutes provided for them.

Those meetings are no guarantee of a consensus of opinion among the Roma and instead lead to the support of the particular interests of the various members of the Inter-ministerial Commission and of Government bureaucrats. I therefore perceive the Romani Integration Strategy to be a document that Romani people did not participate in designing - it is a document that was written by government bureaucrats and by some chosen Romani people whom it serves for it to be presented as a document produced by Roma.  

Integration is over, but the emancipation of these selected celebrities is continuing. Actual Romani participation might be dangerous, because it might reveal the lack of unity among Romani people in terms of opinion.

This piece was first published in Czech on 12 May 2015. Mr Olah, who was a methodologist with the Department of Local Concepts, has since given his notice at the Agency.

Alexander Oláh, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, Jiří Dienstbier, Martin Šimáček, Strategie romské integrace do roku 2020



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