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February 28, 2021



Karel Holomek: Do Roma fall into poverty from the same causes and in the same way as everyone else?

2.12.2015 19:43
Karel Holomek  (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)
Karel Holomek (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)

In the Czech Government's regular annual report on the state of the Romani minority, the most essential message is that as many as 115 000 people today are living in impoverished ghettos and that this number, compared to 2006, has almost doubled from the 60 000 people so afflicted then, and that currently there are as many as 600 such ghettos (excluded localities) compared to an estimated 300 then. It is also casually mentioned, along with this number, that most of these people are Romani, because, after all, this is a report on the status of the Romani minority, not just a report on the state of poverty in general.

These figures are the result of a report by a team of researchers who visited the sites identified and examined the requested data, characterizing exclusion as a state involving poor housing, low social status, high indebtedness, high unemployment, high dependency on social benefits and housing allowances, and many other detailed pieces of information. The public, of course, knows nothing of those details.

Answer to a basic question lacking

We believe there is no doubt that the research team has done extensive work and dealt with its assignment using the given definition of excluded localities. The wording of this definition is not well-known to the public.

There is nothing left for us to do, therefore, but be satisfied with the map that indicates where these excluded localities are. In fact, however, there is nothing new under the sun, and this report just confirms what we all know generally, namely, that the situation of the Roma is bad and that over the last eight years it has almost doubled its deterioration.

Nobody much wants to get into precise numbers. Exact figures are to be given to us by the researchers' report, which has its limitations.

Are these numbers we should know, though, and do they correspond more precisely to what is now irritating us all? The report is quite alarming for everyone.

The report speaks of the extent and state of poverty and suggests that the Roma are playing the primary role in it. However, it is as if the report is afraid to answer the fundamental question at stake, namely:  Are Roma falling into poverty from the same causes and in the same way as everyone else, or are there yet other reasons for this in their case?

Years of statistical data on what percentage of the majority society holds a negative attitude towards Romani people do provide an answer to that question. This number has stabilized over the past year to 80 % of the society holding such an attitude.

Again, however, this information is usually accompanied by the derogatory addendum that it is Romani people who account for most of the "inadaptables" in this society. Once more we are being given just ballpark numbers, inaccurate rumors, and unacceptable generalizations.

The Government's report thus avoids answering that fundamental question. However, there is no reason for it to doubt that the Roma do find themselves trapped in poverty especially for reasons of their ethnicity, because allegedly it is their ethnic characteristics that do not facilitate their following the rules of the game.

The report says the Roma just have a different culture - they are said to have not yet completely integrated. So on and so forth, around and around - and it's all basically nonsense.

How many "inadaptable" Romani people are there?

I believe, therefore, that the Government's assignment for research into the status of the Roma minority was overly broad and has only given us information that, although it is good and useful in many ways, is not the information we need to finally give the public data about the actual number of Roma involved in poverty, and from that data, information about those whom it would be appropriate to categorize as "inadaptable", i.e., those who do not respect the rules of the game. This means we should identify that group of Roma who have ended up in a passive position, dependent on social benefits, and without any civic engagement.

Of the overall number of Roma in this country, do such people number only 30 000, or 50 000, or is this a figure approaching 115 000? We do not know.

We do not know who the people are to whom we should pay the most attention. In truth, we basically don't know how many Roma even live in this country and how we might categorize them according to these aspects of living in excluded localities and other aspects of their social status.

In other words, not every impoverished Romani person is necessarily one who fails to comply with the rules of the game, not everyone living in an excluded locality is necessarily Romani, and not every impoverished person is necessarily Romani. Those are the numbers that we badly need.

This report does not give us an answer for those numbers. The assignment it meets was a different one.

We rightly expect this Government report to gave us a clear answer to such questions. Producing it always costs a lot of money, so it should be employed in the right direction.

Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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