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Commentary: Is Roma unemployment a cause or an effect?

Prague, 19.4.2014 0:24, (ROMEA)

I find myself in complete agreement with representatives of the Czech Labor Office when it comes to the dead-end position of the Romani community here. They have said they consider Romani integration into society insufficient, and also that they fear further deterioration of the situation and the growth of right-wing extremism.

Karel Holomek, chair of the Society of Roma in Moravia (Společenství Romů na Moravě), who is also a commentator, recently said he is now observing "the deep decline of a rather large part of the Romani community into passivity". In his judgment (and in mine), "the cause from the Romani perspective is the long-term, negative stance taken by this society toward Romani people, the effect of which is high unemployment among Roma, as well as other direct (and more often, indirect) inequalities."

This raises the most serious problem related to the observation of such causes and effects. As I have understood, not just our majority society but also the representatives of the Labor Office believe the "negative stance taken by this society toward Romani people" is an effect of Romani passivity and "high unemployment among Roma". 

This stereotype in the observations about the "problem of the Romani community" can be briefly expressed as follows:  "Roma, get to work, stop being parasites on us (the majority) and then we won't hold anything against you." Anyone living here has heard such sentiments a thousand times.  

This might only be considered valid on the assumption that Romani people have the same opportunities as we do. That means a similar backup behind us, a similar social position. 

Of course, Romani people do not have such opportunities for many reasons which our society (the majority) does reflect about at a certain level, recognizing the so-called Romani problem, and that is why we have created authorities that are supposed to design various "programs targeting the Romani community to establish equal opportunities and a dignified life." In addition to the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs, we also have the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. 

Anyone who has been following this issue in the slightest knows that to date, irrespective of the political stripe of the government in power, the performance of these institutions has been insufficient and has had only a negligible influence on the integration of Romani people into society. In a recent article by Mr Holomek I was surprised to read that, as far as the Agency is concerned, "not a single Romani person is to be found in its ranks, and if one was ever there, he or she left those ranks in protest, dissatisfied with its work methods and its insufficient promotion of the human rights agenda both in the Government and at municipal level." 

If that is the case, then it just confirms there are notions governing the very soul of these institutions (whose names directly reflect the weight of this problem) that are very similar to the received wisdom here, namely, that inclusion of the Romani community into society is primarily a Romani matter and so, to put it bluntly, "Roma, get to work, stop being parasites on us (the majority)...". Of course, we can grasp Romani people's disillusionment with such a situation because, as we say, "there is no God left to help them", and we can also understand that passivity would result from it. 

We are all aware of the insufficient integration of Romani people into society - Romani people are particularly aware of this as well (because in the best-case scenario we are all one, after all). If it were really within the power and resources of these authorities, there is no doubt that it would already have more or less come to pass that both the Roma and the rest of us would have been satisfied by them, since all of our wretched agencies would certainly like to have such a success attributed to them, the success of us "whites" in integrating Roma.   

However, during the past quarter of a century, "no movement in that direction" has occurred - in fact, the exact opposite has occurred. Representatives of the Labor Office have now noted that "Well, you know, if the Roma themselves were to try harder, their situation would essentially be better." 

How do we know that Romani people are not already doing their best within the realm of possibility, given the state of their community? What do we actually know about all of this?

Karel Holomek has doubts about the new Romani Integration Strategy taking us up to the year 2020, which is supposed to be submitted to the Government during the next few months, because "the position of the Agency for Social Inclusion as the main pillar of the fulfillment of the implementation of this program is considered a significant alteration." Mr Holomek says he would be willing to change his opinion under various conditions, and one would be if he were to "see a mechanism that would induce municipal administrations to behave liberally, in short, because that is where there are the greatest deficiencies, so many that it is not possible to list them all."  

Someone, please tell me how we can do this when it is the municipalities in particular that have cast themselves in the most exaggerated positions of "Roma, get to work, don't be parasites, pay your debts, stop stealing." I believe even the most liberal members of local governments remain silent about the problems of Romani people because in a public forum, which the public sessions of town councils always are, they don't want to unleash any anti-Romani sentiment.    

I would even bet that the more liberal one of those local politicians is, the worse it is. Nevertheless I am sincerely interested in what we all should do about this.

Personally, what I find effective is subtle work in the field, specific assistance that isn't so much aid as it is a sign of interest, an expression of belonging. On the other hand...

More and more often today, especially among some young Roma, one encounters an a priori, prejudicial hatred of us "whites", a hatred that does not draw distinctions (and does not want to) about how someone is coming to them, or why, or with whom. You really do fear harm in those circumstances.

It is precisely this authentic hatred of theirs that is the proof of our failure. On the other hand, whether one likes it or not, one must also consider these aggressive speakers as credible representatives of Romani people, if only because they have no one representing them in our public institutions, especially in local governments.  

I fear that in many cases their exclusion is such that they no longer know that our approach to them could be differentiated or that an "Agency for Social Inclusion" even exists (especially when they don't even have anyone Romani in it). It strikes me that our starting point must therefore essentially be the first and second sentences of this article (we won't agree on anything I've written after that), i.e., the fact of the dead-end position of the Romani community in our society, their insufficient integration, and the growth in right-wing extremism.

This is an enormous wrong in our society, to say nothing of a serious wound, so let's stop arguing over who is more to blame. Let's try, at all the levels mentioned by Karel Holomek, to deal with Romani people together on how to correct this wrong and heal this serious wound.   

I would like to make an effective contribution to this, because when all is said and done, who cares that I have been expressing my own opinion and position on this problem for 20 years or that I have written, how many - 30, 40 - articles about it? What's interesting is that during those 20 years I have received no less than 20 various threats from right-wing extremists, and they've got me as Enemy Number 1 on some of their lists, but that actually seems to be about the only thing I have achieved. 

I have never received a single challenge or invitation from the other side to assist someone in this matter, or to join some sort of "inclusion" team. Having said that, I know full well that the nature of all social programs is that they are rather easy to write, but much harder to implement.

Such "diploma theses" usually cannot be brought to life, not by administrative measures, court rulings, declarations, optimalizations or reorganizations. Only now has it occurred to me why I feel so alone:  In fact, the Roma interest us here much less than I had been led to believe.

First published in Czech on Dení

Ondřej Vaculík, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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integration, Menšiny, Práce, Romové, Stereotypy, Stipendia


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