Commentary: Czech Roma Strategy should support the Romani intelligentsia more
Despite all of the concepts and efforts expended to date, the situation of Romani people in the Czech Republic is deteriorating. According to estimates, 80 000 - 100 000 Romani people (an estimated one-third of all Roma living in the Czech Republic) are grappling with burdensome problems of social exclusion.
During the past several years some negative phenomena have dramatically increased in the areas of housing, indebtedness and territorial segregation. In addition, social tensions and unrest are affecting Romani people as a whole and the tendency of the majority population to opt for extreme solutions is growing.
The aim of the Romani Integration Strategy to 2020 (or the 2020 Romani Strategy), which has been in the process of being drafted since February 2013 and should be approved by the Government this year, and for which the Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation is now responsible, is to reverse the negative trends in the development of the situation of Romani people in the Czech Republic, especially in education, employment, housing and the social arena. It further aims to launch and accelerate positive changes and to achieve progress in getting rid of unacceptable, unjustifable differences between a large part of Romani people and the majority population, ensuring effective protections for Romani people against discrimination, a safe and secure interethnic coexistence, and sparking the development of Romani culture and language.
Czech news server iDNES.cz has now published a report with the bombastic headline "Minister Roma, Deputy Minister Roma". The state has said it wants more representatives of this minority to be in positions of leadership in the administration.
According to iDNES.cz, it might seem that the 2020 Romani Strategy is concerned solely with affirmative action and eliminating discrimination. The news item lacks any analysis of the Strategy, with its authors selecting only some aspects which they have removed from context to make sure they can spin them as they see fit.
The 2020 Romani Strategy differs from its predecessors in several interesting aspects. In addition to working with new requirements that were formulated primarily at the EU platform and that enhance the principles of EU and international collaboration and effective monitoring, the authors have taken the existence of other Strategies into consideration and have done their best to harmonize the procedures of the various ministries so as to clarify various measures.
There are two other basic documents in addition to the 2020 Romani Strategy. The first is the Strategy for Social Inclusion 2014-2020 (for which the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry is responsible), which is not targeted only at Romani people, but at reducing poverty generally and reducing the degree of social exclusion experienced by all groups and individuals at risk of it.
In relation to the 2020 Romani Strategy, the Social Inclusion Strategy is an overarching document, as the risk of social exclusion also concerns the majority society as well as its minorities. The other document is the Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion 2011 - 2015, which takes particular aim at the specific problem of excluded localities -- which are not inhabited only by Romani people, even if they predominantly are - and therefore the 2020 Romani Strategy is the overarching document for that Strategy.
The 2020 Romani Strategy is based on both of those documents and responds to them. The aim of those who developed it is to prevent these various strategies from answering the same questions, and therefore the document refers in some places to tasks formulated and fulfilled as part of the other strategies.
The global aim of the 2020 Romani Strategy is presented by its authors on three levels. In the human rights area, it aims for Romani people, just like all other citizens, to be able to enjoy to the fullest extent, without any discrimination, their individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Czech Republic, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, EU law, including the EU Fundamental Rights Charter, and the international treaties on human rights by which the Czech Republic is bound. In the nationality area, the aim is to create conditions for the development of the Romani national minority and for members of national minorities to realize their rights as defined in Chapter III of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom, the Framework Agreement on the Protection of National Minorities, and Act No. 274/2001 Coll., on the rights of members of national minorities.
When fulfilling this aim, the authors believe it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that the Romani minority does not have its own "home state" and therefore Czech society should take the larger share of responsibility for preserving Romani memory and tradition and for developing Romani culture and language. That could be undertaken, for example, by financially supporting the Museum of Romani Culture. In the socioeconomic area, the aim of the 2020 Romani Strategy is to integrate Romani people such that they will be represented in all layers of Czech society and achieve approximately the same results, statistically, in socioeconomic parameters as the majority society.
However, how can a change in the negative view of Roman people taken by the majority be achieved? According to the 2020 Romani Strategy, there is a need to thoroughly take the situation of Romani people into account when implementing general measures and policies, both by introducing special measures that will affect Romani people predominantly (but not exclusively), and ultimately by introducing compensatory measures aiming to support members of the Romani minority.
These are the measures the Czech media discuss as "positive discrimination", a term that was originated by the critics of compensatory measures in Great Britain. Negative emotions frequently surface around the notion of "positive discrimination".
The term is quite unclear and anyone can use it to mean what they intend. What does it actually mean?
Does this term indicate every positive measure taken by the state with respect to a disadvantaged minority? Does it refer to the direct privileging of members of minority groups, such as through quotas?
Is it "positive discrimination" when children in a Romani ghetto have a drop-in club where volunteers tutor them (compared to children not in the ghetto). Mostly this concept is just used to refer to whatever its critics don't like - they do not consider measures they agree with to constitute "positive discrimination".
The more appropriate, precise term would be compensatory action, which includes the fact that such measures are mostly compensating for historically-created disadvantage. The priniciple of the temporary privileging of a group of people to make up for historically-determined disadvantage has its basis in the Czech legal order, because the Czech Republic has adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which allows for and offers it.
What is the target group of the measures proposed according to the 2020 Romani Strategy? It should concern Romani people living in the so-called socially excluded localities as well as Romani people who do not and who are integrated into society but need aid in overcome various barriers, and ultimately it should concern the Roma as a national minority.
The current 2020 Romani Strategy includes all three groups, but as far as the first target group is concerned, the primary document is the Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion. While the 2020 Romani Strategy reviews education, employment and housing in detail, it is, unlike the Strategy for the Fight Against Social Exclusion, more focused on support for the Romani national minority, taking into consideration the importance of strengthening the Romani middle class as a possible tool for smoothing over the rough edges of Czech-Romani tensions.
At the same time, the 2020 Romani Strategy focuses on support for the Romani language and preservation of Romani cultural heritage. That is evidently its biggest stumbling block given the degree of antigypsyism in Czech society.
Measures such as permanent financial support for the Museum of Romani Culture, increasing financial support for Romani high school students who are socially disadvantaged, introducing new support for gifted Romani college students, supporting the education of adult Romani people, supporting the study of the Romanes language, as well as the study of Romani culture and history, will spark passions. According to the authors of the 2020 Romani Strategy, it is the strengthening of the position of the Romani intelligentsia and middle class that can aid in equalizing the historically-created less positive situation of Romani people compared to the majority population.
In the material, the authors of the 2020 Romani Strategy do their best to explain why it is important to not hide all Romani people under the rubric of "social exclusion", as it exacerbates their stigmatization. The concept of a "Rom" would then become more and more frequently associated with the concept of "inadaptables".
The designers of the 2020 Romani Strategy want to reach out to that part of the Romani minority that does not fall into the category of the socially excluded. Despite this, the authors do not underestimate social problems, and the 2020 Romani Strategy includes affirmative action measures such as support for social and other services like field social work in Romani localities, community work, and drop-in clubs, as well as measures focused more on Roma as a national minority.
This is because concepts exclusively devoted to social exclusion already exist and the 2020 Romani Strategy is based on them, clearly refers to them in its own text, and puts them in context. That is the larger context in which the document must be read.
The authors of the 2020 Romani Strategy also refer to the Crime Prevention Strategy 2012-2015 and to the Strategy for the Work of the Police of the Czech Republic in relation to minorities. In this sense, the 2020 Romani Strategy is a sophisticated product - it is not a lone cry in the night, but a document carefully taking into consideration everything that has been proposed in this area within the framework of other strategies.
It is an enormous and open question whether Czech society is prepared to come to grips with the big problem that the coexistence between ethnic Czechs and Romani people doubtless represents by using compensatory measures. If this is to actually change anything in a qualitative sense, support for a Romani intelligentsia must evidently be much greater than the authors of the 2020 Romani Strategy currently propose.
The provocative headline drawing eyeballs with the idea of a Romani minister ("Consider what a scandal that would be!") has nothing to do with the 2020 Romani Strategy. However, if we lived in a society where no one felt the need to comment on a Romani person heading a ministry, that would be good, wouldn't it?
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