Iulius Rostas: Social change for Roma is not about money, but political will
Iulius Rostas is a Visiting Lecturer at Corvinus University of Budapest currently teaching a course on "Roma - State and European Policies". News server Romea.cz interviewed him about the course and his work.
Q: Why does your course choose to focus on the examples of the National Roma Integration Strategies from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania in particular?
A: The EU Framework is the most complex policy arrangement targeting Roma that presumes a high level of coordination among EU institutions, national governments and local authorities. The focus of the course will be on the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania – although presentations and references to the situation in other countries will be made as well – partly because I compared policies towards Roma in these countries in my PhD thesis and now I am working to turn it into a book as part of my fellowship with OSF and CEU. But the fundamental factor has to do in fact with the situation of Roma in these countries, the experiences of these countries in elaborating policies towards Roma, and the particular position of the Roma minority in each of these countries. The Czech Republic has a better economic situation, but that is not reflected in the policies towards Roma. On the contrary, segregation of Roma within education persists in spite of the claims made by Roma and a decision of the European Court of Human Rights to put an end to such practices. Hungary has a minority protection system that has been seen by many experts as a model, but when it comes to Roma, that model seems to be an obstacle. Moreover, in recent years, one might notice a policy shift there in regard to Roma and a rise in anti-Roma demonstrations with the tacit acceptance of the authorities. Romania has a large Roma minority, but the policy processes are so bizarre that one might wonder if there are in fact any policies towards Roma. While some measures are thought to have a positive impact, like affirmative action in higher education, there is no evidence to support such a statement. The big question the course explores is why policies towards Roma have such a limited impact. The three countries are, from this perspective, relevant case studies.
Q: Do the students find it easy to identify anti-Gypsyism? Are some examples of it clearer than others?
A: Anti-Gypsyism, as a special form of racism against Roma, has a variety of manifestations ranging from racial slurs directed towards Roma to more sophisticated manifestations such as denial of racism, presenting Roma as a people without a culture or a sense of identity, and the lack of any Roma in various institutions, including academia. Students in general have an acute sense of justice and they get the sense that something is wrong in different situations.
Q: Which of the critical theories that you present to your students (Critical Race Theory, feminist theories, and the theory of democracy as power-sharing) do you believe there is a broad understanding of in European society? Any of them? Which do you believe is least understood in Europe?
A: There is a long tradition of Romani Studies conducted by non-Roma academics, which continues to be popular in certain circles nowadays. In our course we have a more critical approach to this trend and we use these critical approaches to reflect on the situation of Roma. Feminist theories and Critical Race Theory (CRT) are inspiring for these types of reflections. In Europe, students and activists are more familiar with different feminist theories and authors. Critical Race Theory is taught only in a very limited way or not at all, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. We believe that the main claims of the CRT and the movement it has inspired are very useful to understand the situation of Roma in Europe nowadays.
Q: What has the Decade of Roma Inclusion reported about trends in Roma employment in the Decade countries? Is there any good news? Are the civil society reports produced for the Decade comparable to one another in terms of methodology?
A: The Decade of Roma Inclusion started with a lot of enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm evaporated relatively quickly. Over time, as reported by civil society organizations in these countries using the same methodology, there has been very limited progress. Countries that joined the EU lost interest in Roma, although those countries then had access to financial resources like never before. Countries that are not yet EU members are poor and lack the capacity to address the Roma situation systemically. The good news is that there is space for reflecting on this and other initiatives and for learning from such a process. One lesson learnt is that Roma participation should take place at all levels of public administration. The Decade taught us that producing significant social changes for Roma, and especially in isolated Roma communities, is not a matter of money, but rather of ideas and political will.
Q: What is ethnogenesis and why does it matter?
A: In the beginning of the 1990’s the late Nicolae Gheorghe used the concept of ethnogenesis to describe the new historical phase Roma were entering following the collapse of communism, the new opportunities for participation, and the increased affirmation of their ethnic identity in the public sphere. We use the concept in connection with several other concepts that we consider fundamental to critical approaches to the Roma situation: Participation, empowerment and social justice. Without participation, a group cannot articulate its general interest, define the issues, and negotiate priorities. Empowerment is about group participation and assuming responsibility for group actions. Without giving a voice and a space to people so they can participate and assume their responsibilities, including the right to define themselves, there is no social justice. For us, these concepts are related to Roma ethnogenesis.
Q: Where do you see the biggest gap between EU policies on Roma integration and those developed by various states?
A: As someone teaching this course for the fourth year who studies policy-making towards Roma over the last 25 years, I see the most problematic aspect as being the different understandings of the social inclusion concept held by the EU and the Member States. Even different EU structures have limited and often different understandings of social inclusion. For example, the social exclusion of different groups works differently, and if someone wants to combat it, she should analyse the mechanisms of how exclusion takes place and propose remedies. The European Commission does not differentiate between the exclusion of different groups and therefore does not differentiate their inclusion. When translated to the Member States, the situation becomes difficult to comprehend. For example, the strategy submitted by the Czech Government for complying with the European Commission's Communication on adopting the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies had as an objective “the peaceful co-existence between Roma communities and the rest of the society”, which implies a serious conflict between Roma and non-Roma in the Czech Republic. Not surprisingly, of the 73 pages of the document, four were dedicated to the title page, table of contents and bibliography, and 10 pages, meaning 14 % of the document, were dedicated to the section on protecting Roma communities, citing heavily from the national strategy on combating criminality! The Hungarian strategy is in fact a poverty alleviation strategy, with Roma being seen as a group that does not respect minimal moral standards and having a “culture of poverty”. The Romanian strategy does not point out the conflict between Roma and non-Roma, but it affirms without any doubt the cultural superiority of the majority over Roma by stating that "Roma culture remained underdeveloped” and underlining the need to "reconstruct the values" to “combat the socio-cultural gap between the Roma and Romanian cultures”! It will be a miracle if the EU Framework will have positive, similar results in these countries, bearing in mind the differences in defining their policy objectives and tools.
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