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Survey on Czech Romani Inclusion Strategy: Most Romani people know almost nothing about it

Prague, 24.2.2015 23:55, (ROMEA)
From left to right:  Karin Marques, Čeněk Růžička, Miroslav Brož (PHOTO: collage by
From left to right: Karin Marques, Čeněk Růžička, Miroslav Brož (PHOTO: collage by

On Monday, 23 February, the Czech Government approved two key documents, the Romani Integration Strategy to 2020 and a report on the fulfillment of the Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion. News server has contacted several figures with a survey of questions about these documents.

Čeněk Růžička, Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust: Most Roma know almost nothing about these strategies

Q:  In your experience, can big political strategies of this type work?

A:  Of course they can, but only if those who design and sign off on the Strategies conceived in this way also support them sufficiently financially, consistently enforce their introduction into practice, and regularly monitor them. A great deal will depend on the degree to which regional-level politicians accept the Strategy.

Q:  Do you believe such strategies should include "positive discrimination"?

A:  Definitely yes. Most people will naturally be against that, of course, and unfortunately even a small portion of Romani activists are against it too. They rave about providing equal opportunities, which naturally I am also in favor of - but how long have we been calling for those equal opportunities? We're still at the very beginning. I would advise those people to visit impoverished Romani families in the ghettos and try to explain this to them. Whenever someone uses the argument that public opinion against us Roma would get even worse if there were affirmative action, I answer that it is already so bad that "it can't be worse". We have already gotten used to quite a lot. We know that most of the nation is allergic to the phrase "positive discrimination", but what if the authorities were to talk about such aid publicly in the sense that it is basically compensation for a certain debt that has accumulated because generations of Romani children have been educated in the special school system? That is the root of our unequal position today. To correct it will cost both us and the state an enormous effort. I believe that those citizens who consider these matters judiciously are aware of this. There is no other way forward than that of adopting a meaningful kind of compensation, hand in hand with harshly prosecuting discriminatory practices and thoroughly enforcing acceptable models of conduct for everyone.  

Q:  Do you believe the Romani Integration Strategy sufficiently includes what Romani people themselves want? (Do those who wrote the Strategy know what that is?)

A:  What we Roma would like to have in the Strategy and what will make it through the Government are two different things. I had the opportunity, together with my colleagues, to comment on the Strategy, so those who wrote it know what our demands are. That makes their responsibility for the final version even greater. However, it is necessary to keep our feet on the ground. Those who developed it had to submit it to the Government in an acceptable form. Even so, the truth is that it is ambitious. What would it help us if passages remained there that we knew in advance would never be supported by the Government for political reasons, no matter how meaningful they might be?  

Q:  There are two Government Strategies, one on Romani integration and one on combating social exclusion - is that problematic, in your view?

A:  The Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion has a broader ambit for solving the problems of various socially vulnerable groups. We have striven to make sure the Romani issue has its own independent chapter. I presume that once the new Strategy is supported by the Government, it will happen. We will have an easier opportunity to follow the flows of financing and the success of the various measures of the Strategy in practice.

Q:  What, in your view, is missing the most from these integration strategies?

A:  From my perspective they unequivocally lack tools for systematically informing Romani people (the object of interest of this Strategy) about the strategies and winning them over to their aims. I am convinced this is possible. Most Romani people know almost nothing about these strategies. I hope we are not just repeating this error.

Karin Marques, Open Society Fund:  The Roma are not identical with the socially disadvantaged

Q:  In your experience, can big political strategies of this type work?

A:  Big political strategies in our conditions have tended not to work so far. However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to their not working. Rather, we must look for tools we can use to gradually work on seeing them implemented. Those responsible for these various measures now need to present their action plans, which should describe, in a comprehensible way, what must happen in the field to fulfill the aims of the Strategy. Those who are approving and publishing this Strategy must rigorously enforce its implementation. In summary, the problem is one of transferring responsibility, formulating specific steps to take, and our own inconsistency.      

Q:  Do you believe such strategies should include "positive discrimination"?

A:  "Positive discrimination" is definitely an effective tool that can achieve big changes even when it is only temporarily introduced. Many people are not aware that "positive discrimination" is already being applied here, e.g., through various private foundation mentoring programs and scholarships. I would not be afraid to introduce even more systemic positive measures at state level, especially in the area of education. Many Romani adults cannot access various scholarships because of their age, even though they have great potential for working in important positions if only they could augment their education. Positive measures would be appropriate in their case.  

Q:  Do you believe the Romani Integration Strategy sufficiently includes what Romani people themselves want? (Do those who wrote the Strategy know what that is?)

A:  The Strategy that has been submitted is already, in its way, a compromise from the standpoint of political viability. In reality, even more resolute measures would be needed to bring the situation of Romani people at least a little bit closer to the opportunities enjoyed by the majority population. Nevertheless, in the given situation this is the maximum available to us in this "art of the possible". If it succeeds in being implemented, or at least in being elaborated into more detailed steps, some of which are then implemented, that will be brilliant, in my opinion.

Q:  There are two strategies, one on Romani integration and one on combating social exclusion - is that problematic, in your view?

A:  In my opinion these strategies complement each other well. You must remember that it is not possible to say that the Romani population is exactly identical to the socio-economically disadvantaged population. Even with the best provisions, Romani people will always be, in our conditions, at somewhat of a disadvantage with respect to the majority, who are of a different ethno-cultural origin. Let's not forget about the socio-cultural disadvantage that reigns here due to their minority position in society. That should be addressed by the Romani Integration Strategy, which in my opinion is well-designed. I have tasked myself with following the implementation of the Strategy's point about the development of Romani culture and heritage in the school curriculum. It is embarrassing to me to explain to experts abroad that Czech children learn absolutely nothing about the Romani culture on our territory in the schools.

Miroslav Brož, Konexe association

A:  How can I comment on this most recent in a long line of Romani Integration Strategies? Essentially it's a waste of time to analyze and comment on it. The Strategy has its strengths and weaknesses, like all the ones before it. In several points it is reminiscent of a previous strategy approved around 2008, if I recall. However, I believe it is clear here, including to the authors of this report and to everyone who is talking about it now, that the Strategy will remain just marks on paper. Just as none of the previous Strategies was ever implemented, this one will not be either. Soon we will begin to invent a "new and better" Strategy, because the bureaucratic experts on Romani integration have to show they are hard at work.

bau, mik, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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