Interview with Czech Vice-Mayor who believes the Govt method for identifying Romani people crosses the line
Ivan Langr, the Vice-Mayor of Liberec who is opposed to the "Romani census" that the Czech Government requires for its annual report on the state of the Romani minority, has taken a sharp stand recently. He has even compared the method of estimating who is Romani according to people's appearance to the approaches taken by members of the SS during the Second World War.
It is known that Langr supports inclusive education and that the schools are part of his agenda. His reservations, therefore, should be taken seriously by those who sometimes consider rejections of the "Romani children's census" to be a pretext for opposing inclusion.
The education news server Česká škola first published this interview with Langr, in which he explains his perspective on this matter in more detail. News server Romea.cz publishes it here in full translation:
Q: Do the reservations you expressed about the "Romani census" also apply to the "Romani pupil census"?
A: Yes, the principle is de facto the same and unaccepable to me, i.e., to compartmentalize pupils belonging to the majority - or rather, to the minority - according to their appearance, according to some allegedly characteristic external features. That is the problem that stands at the very basis of these records - as members of the majority society, we are arranging the rules according to which we plan who belongs where. We are not asking the Romani people themselves, at all, on what basis they identify themselves with their affiliation, if at all. I don't have anything against the qualified estimates [of Romani children in the schools], but they cannot be allowed to be generally based on how a person looks or on where we as the majority think we should assign that person. This option to one-sidedly determine, within a matter of seconds, that somebody is Romani because he or she "appears" Romani or "behaves like" a Romani person is unbelievably disturbing to me.
Q: Did the "Romani pupil census" take place in the schools in Liberec? Did you object to that?
A: It was a component of the reporting that the schools always fulfill by the end of September and it was about qualified estimates. The Czech Education Ministry, unlike the Office of the Government, did not instruct school principals as to how they were supposed to determine their pupils' affiliation with the Romani minority, but the requirement implicitly guides them to distinguish ethnicity according to external aspects. Some principals completed the task and others did not, which from my perspective was correct. The ministry itself, in my opinion, did not much like the taste of this either, because they added a sentence to their request noting that the findings would serve just for the needs of the schools and would not be a component of the country's statistical reporting. Schools, however, naturally have no need of such records. Our concept is different, it is based on an equal, fair approach to each individual, and on effective support for children from socially excluded localities (see our already-realized projects "Let's Educate Preschool-Aged Children Together in Liberec" and our newly-submitted project, "Fair Schools in Liberec".) The concept of social exclusion has many dimensions and is not based just on exclusively conceiving of children as Romani, just as it is not possible to only apply the aspect of poverty, because paradoxically, even a person with a guaranteed income can be socially excluded. This is about people's capability to participate in the life (or in the culture, as it were) of society, in all of its aspects, to have the opportunity to assert their rights, the trichotomous conception of civil rights, economic rights and social rights. That covers people irrespective of their ethnic or national status.
Q: The advocates of the "Romani pupil census" argue that, if we use the official statistics, we will then never ascertain even approximate data so we can know how Romani children are doing in school, which is necessary. The methodology is a borderline one, but we don't have anything better... Do you see this differently?
A: Yes, from the official statistics we will not ascertain precise data and we must ask why that is, not correct it in such an unacceptable way. To be brief, the methodology is, from my perspective, beyond the pale, because it works only with our perceptions, those of the majority, with the twisted insights and patterns we have engrained into us about Romani people and that we hand down from one generation to the next. We are generalizing when we should essentially be working with individuality. We are automatically assigning adults and children to the Romani minority because they seem like they are Romani to us, from our perspective, or according to some other indicators, but Number One, we are not asking whether these people want to be assigned to this category; and Number Two, we are not taking into consideration the error rate, i.e., that in actuality the individual does not necessarily have to belong to the Romani minority, he or she might belong to some other minority due to his or her origins, but we don't even verify our assumptions by cross-checking them. In short, we just assign people to the category and the actual reality is of no interest to us. I am not at all certain whether we necessarily need to know how many children in a primary school belong to the majority and how many to different minorities, from my perspective this is just about children, a set of original individuals who either need support or don't. In that case it is all the same to me what their origins are or are not, because for many reasons, they do not even want to publicly identify their origins.
Q: You've written that you don't have anything against following the quality of life for ethnic or national minorities and their coexistence with the majority... How, though, is that to be done if official statistics are more or less worthless? Do you have any idea for a different method?
A: As I said, for me it is enough to take into consideration the concept of social exclusion. That concept is, on the one hand, able to conceive of the different aspects of exclusion - disability, low-income families, non-standard housing conditions and the barriers to preparing for school that arise from them (in the residential hotels), parental risk factors, etc. - but naturally it also covers the overarching nationality aspect, because it is apparent that it is mostly precisely Romani people who live in social exclusion. In other words, we will be able to effectively implement this concept to work with those who need it because they do not know how to cope with their own situations. That applies to children in general.
Reprinted with the consent of the author from the website Česká škola.
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