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January 28, 2020
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Karel Holomek: The Roma are a nation! That is the key to their integration.

28.2.2015 1:50, (ROMEA)
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--ilustrační foto--

I have several basic comments to make about the opinions recently expressed about Romani people by Roman Krištof in his interview with Romea.cz. Coincidentally, this has become a big issue now, not because of the polemics around Krištof's opinions, but because the Government has just adopted, as a binding document, its Romani Integration Strategy to 2020 and, shortly before that, the lower house adopted an amendment to the Schools Act concerning the education of Romani children in the Czech schools (which has not been very successful to date).  

All these matters are interconnected. First and foremost, however, we cannot actually believe that any plan or program is a guarantee of change in and of itself.

This should not be believed in the slightest. The proof of this is the fact that we have had similar Government programs and strategies here since the year 2000 - ones that were not too bad.

Nevertheless, we have had such a program here for 15 years with nothing to show for it - or rather, with only deterioration to show for it. Why?

This is decided by relationships within our society, by the spirit of our society, whether there is the presence of at least a baseline tolerance of minorities in general and of Romani people in particular. Given the ruling hatred of Romani people that is felt by as much as 80 % of the Czech population, it is difficult to expect that people will support such a Government program.

There is simply no chance of such public support. This state of affairs must be changed somehow, transformed - at the very least we need to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement on the basis of rational considerations:  We are going to live together here, so let's agree what the rules of the game are so we can spare both our nerves and our wallets.

What are the consequences of the current state of affairs? By which I mean:  The total isolation of the majority society from the Romani minority.

1. As has already been stated, the Romani integration program is not succeeding in being effectively implemented.

2. The consequences of this isolation explain why even an expert like Roman Krištof is unsure about so many things:  Are the Roma a nation, or are we just a group riddled with the culture of poverty being led by a couple of "nationalists" who are bursting with pride at being the only real Roma around? Krištof doesn't know! He is also unfamiliar with the innovations that would lead to improvement, such as the Romani Integration Strategy, which clarifies many things - but he hasn't caught on to that yet, he's out of it.  

3. Romani people themselves have gone completely astray - about one-third of them live in total isolation and passivity, and this group may never break out of that isolation. Nevertheless, people in that group must not give up their Romani identity and indeed are not giving up their Romani identity - often it is the only thing they haven't given up. This is a positive point - here I am speaking of the generation from age 30 on up.

4. The majority society perceives only this smaller, troubled group as Romani, as representing all Roma, and the majority society also makes unacceptable generalizations about them, which means it is well on the way to being open to advice that conforms to the demands of hatred and negative judgments. The majority society has no idea about any educated Roma, any Romani intelligentsia, or any Romani nation. All of this is wrong.

Reality is different and can become even more so!

Let's first reflect on the program for Romani integration to 2020 that the Government has just adopted. I have been following the development of this document from the beginning, and the work on it lasted about a year.

This is the first time that a method was used here on this issue that I would call "participatory design". It cannot be said that the discussion of this document was very broad, nor did it take place in public, but it did have the character of a material discussion to which Romani people contributed to a fundamental extent.

Here Krištof would say:  Which Roma? Who nominated them?

Those who participated were the civil society members of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs which, with a few exceptions, is comprised of younger Romani people from the regions, who by a lucky accident chose David Beňák to lead them (who is, by the way, the head of the Social Division of one of the municipal departments of Prague, a college-educated Romani man). He has managed to direct and moderate the discussion of this concept so that a rather rational product was the result even though it was unfortunately several hundred pages long.  

From the beginning, the concept as developed by the bureaucrats at the Office of the Government's Human Rights Section sparked significant protests. Even the Government's Agency for Social Inclusion was being considered by them as a sort of pilot project for integration as a whole - as if social matters were the sole determining factor in the process of integration.

This prompted resistance, not so much in the circles of the Government members of the Inter-ministerial Commission, but among the informal discussions held by the Romani civil society members, some of which which took place on the pages of the Romani periodical Romano hangos. The perspective on integration in those discussions was much broader, a perspective based on Romani identity and the concept of Roma as a nation.  

The final version of this concept has now been adopted. The fight against exclusion, social work, etc. have their own distinct, separate aspects - of course, the fact that the social exclusion of Romani people is affecting a rather massive segment of the Romani population must not be forgotten as a phenomenon worthy of attention.  

The Romani Integration Strategy, therefore, defines the Romani people as a nation in every possible way:  Their culture, their history, their Holocaust, their language, and their support (most of which is just verbal). The Romani language aspect in particular has not been shaped into a more realistic form.

On the other hand, significant financing has been allocated by the Strategy to remembering the Romani victims of the Holocaust. It is still, however, necessary to ask ourselves the question:  Do Romani people feel that they are a nation, even with the social burdens they now bear?

Are the Roma a nation?

The Roma have always been a nation. They have been one even during times that were far worse than ours are today.

Even during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, when the Roma were moving around a territory that was not delineated by a single language, the Roma used their own language. They remained members of the Romani nation even as they died in the gas chambers, where they perished not because they were "asocials", but because they were Romani, just as the Jews died for being Jews.  

After the Velvet Revolution, the Roma were supported in this position all over Europe. Roma from all over Europe have now met each other.

While elsewhere n Europe Romani people have lived their whole lives in relative freedom, developing their personalities and differing from the Roma here in terms of their pride and self-esteem, in our country the Roma had enough to do during totalitarianism to maintain continuity in their own perception of their identity, because they were being prevented from maintaining it by the regime. The only exception was a brief period during the time of the Prague Spring and the existence of the Union of Gypsies-Roma (Svaz Cikánů–Romů) at the start of the 1970s.  

Even the administration of the European Union has recognized this fact. Here at home, however, we have had to contend with researchers and theoreticians from the university in Plzeň like Tomáš Hirt and Marek Jakoubek.

What kinds of errors have those two committed? Unforgiveable ones from the perspective of the rules of scientific research.

From their limited research in Romani settlements, these academics have drawn an unequivocal conclusion and claimed it applies to the entire population, namely, that Romani people here are just producing and reproducing the culture of poverty. They have applied these conclusions to the entire Romani community (and not just in this country) even though the Roma have been presenting themselves in a completely different way over time, through their actual displays of Romani cultural development.

It has been of no concern to Hirt and Jakoubek that the people they have been studying speak only Romani among themselves, a language neither scholar speaks a single word of. The well-known fact that the spirit of a nation is captured in its language has completely escaped them.

Why has such a large percentage of Romani people ended up at the bottom of society?

There is no doubt that Romani people are at the bottom of the barrel because of their educational handicap, which makes it harder for them to find any job at all, to say nothing of a qualified one. However, it is hard to explain why Romani people are 90 % unemployed in some areas, compared to the 10 % unemployment rate for society as a whole, without acknowledging the hidden inequality here.  

The question, therefore, is as follows:  Is this rather massive segment of the Romani population at the bottom of society only because they suffer from a lack of education, or are there other reasons - for example, are they there because of their ethnicity? How one answers that question is the essence of the dispute ongoing between the approach taken by the social programs run by the People in Need organization and several Romani NGOs, and the approach taken by the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno.

Is it necessarily the case that these different answers to this question pose a certain danger and risk to the advancement of the program to integrate Roma into society? After all, social work among the Roma will certainly benefit them, right?

There are several dangers

The restriction of a group's focus only to social work among Romani people, or even a definition stating that this work will be performed on the basis of a civic principle and not "just" for Romani people, automatically reaffirms the notion that Romani people are "asocials", with all of the problems that flow from that. Advocates of this approach ignore the fact that today at least two-thirds of the Romani population in this country are not "asocial".

How else should Romani people be perceived in this society if not as a sovereign national group, one which has made its own contribution to the liberation struggle against Nazism, one with its own culture, history, language, etc.? There is no other way we should be perceived!

Even the EU, while it officially acknowledges Romani people's national status, does not take it into consideration when providing financial support in reality. I have met with several EU Commissioners who do not perceive these distinctions at all.

The Czech schools, with their strong special educators' lobby, are proof of the danger of this approach in a way that is more than creepy. The unbalanced minds of the Hirts, Jakoubeks and Krištofs, as well as a significant segment of others in this society, sadly confirm this - and the height of this entire horror is that even some Romani graduates of that university in Plzeň have been convinced to see things their way. 

Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Romistika, Romové, Strategie romské integrace do roku 2020, Unemployment



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