© 2013 Cristian Chirita
Memorialul Holocaustului (Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Bucharest )
On Roma Integration in Europe
In keeping with our interests at Ragazine to offer readings from as many points and parts of the world as possible, here’s a piece sent to us by Ana Prundaru. As you will no doubt note, discrimination in its various forms continues to plague our world – and to what extent we can deal with it remains an issue of primary importance. As always feel free to comment accordingly.
— Jim Palombo, Politics Editor
By Ana Prundaru
On August 2nd, the European Roma Rights Centre commemorated Roma Holocaust Day and raised attention to the roughly 220,000 Roma who perished along with other individuals at the hands of the German Nazis and their allies. At the same time, the event gave opportunity to remind us of the on-going discrimination against Roma in Europe.
Indeed, it seems Europe’s nations are struggling to address immigration, perhaps the biggest socio-political challenge of the day. While France reacted with mass deportations, the UK – in the face of mass Roma immigration and the current North African and Middle Eastern refugee immigration crisis in Calais – has threatened to leave the EU altogether. Meanwhile, a few countries, Spain in particular (not in the least due to a strong focus on education), has become a model of success in the drive to integrate Gypsies, as Roma often are known, into society. (http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2019316,00.html)
Although EU clearly has an overwhelming amount of work ahead – especially when it comes to helping the most vulnerable Roma, such as the disabled, children, women and elderly – the question remains: Why does it appear that certain ethnic groups are more difficult to assimilate than others?
Articles like these (http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20057156/ec-criticises-school-segregation-in-slovakia.html), while vital in addressing remaining stigma, often refrain from presenting both sides of the situation. As a Romanian, I’m stunned by reporters who drop nuggets of misinformed claims, blaming governments for disrespecting minority rights, but omitting to address complex, often cultural reasons behind the Roma resistance to integrate. The elementary school I visited in Bucharest had a relatively high proportion of Roma children and I assure you none were segregated. In fact, my teacher went to great lengths to help Roman students improve their skills, and persistently fought against parents to keep these children in school. Several displayed anti-social behavior, bullying, stealing, assaulting classmates and teachers.
I’ve met bright, dedicated Roma, working alongside other Romanians. Of course, I’ve also come across Roma who groped, stalked and threatened me, and some who committed unimaginable animal and human rights violations, including maiming children so they could fetch more money on streets, torturing strays and whipping black bears into ‘dancing’ for their entertainment. In a city with a large Roma population like Bucharest, these experiences are common, but everyone knows no two people are alike.
Being an immigrant myself, I know the problem with migration is that it can’t work unless both sides make an effort. Though this isn’t true for all Romani, a devastatingly high number have been living the best of both worlds: Quoting cultural freedom, they resist citizen duties, like education and paying taxes, and engage in inhumane acts like child marriages and maiming. On the other hand, they demand State support based on the right to be treated equally as other citizens. All of this is further enabled by their nomadic lifestyle.
It’s not realistic to blame an ethnic minority alone on poor integration results. Lacking Member State coordination, widespread public corruption and remaining stigma are only a few issues hampering assimilation. Speaking of stigma, the media plays a large role in shaping public opinion. It is incredibly frustrating when reporters paint a partisan picture centered around the idea that all people are racist toward Roma, while neglecting to discuss hard-boiled obstacles like blatant disregard for core European values as possible root causes complicating integration. For outsiders, it seems, stubbornly propagandized stereotypes make it hard to believe not every Roma citizen is oppressed or poor, just like not every Romani is a thief. Moreover, before defending Roma cultural freedom, it is advisable to learn about what exactly that entails, which more often than not includes gross oppression of women and children.
Clearly we must continue to combat entrenched discrimination, but let’s also recognize and deal with people who cleverly manipulate the system, an act that not only hurts taxpayers and EU at large, but also hardworking Romani who mistrusted because of their compatriots’ actions. That is of course a shame, because there is much to be learned from Roma citizens, whose success stories were built on hard work and taking responsibility for their lives.
Governments and human rights groups have to collaborate toward discouraging exploitation of welfare systems, instead giving incentives to live a law-abiding life. It is not too much to expect citizens to uphold EU values such as democracy and social cohesion. With rights come responsibilities and I believe maintaining a community team spirit is central in making social exclusion of ethnic minorities a thing of the past. Ultimately, however, the fight for Roma equality can only be won as a collaborative effort.
About the author:
Ana Prundaru works as a freelance translator and writer in Switzerland. She received her LL.B in European Law from Maastricht University (Netherlands) and is currently a MSc candidate in legal sociology at Lund University (Sweden). Her written work has been featured in “The Culture-Ist”, “Kyoto Journal”, “Vagabond Journey” and elsewhere.