(Roma In Europe series)
(European Union Member States Continue To Segregate Roma Children In The Classroom)
The foundation for a better future in any society is found through education. In a world where we are rapidly being reduced to the sum of what our degrees and diplomas say we have achieved there really is no other way forward. Regardless of our own determination and personal ingenuity the world around us views us through paper work. If an portion of our society is thus kept from having access to even the most basic levels of education they are therefore kept from the vast majority of what our society has to offer.
Would we elect government officials that were kept from graduating even the most preliminary levels of education? Would we trust a doctor to treat our ailments if he/she was never able to go to medical school? Would we believe a teacher if he/she had never even been to any form of upper level education?
It is a common trend amongst unskilled labor, the backbone to our economy, that many are placed in those roles due to a lack of education. We may rather enjoy believing that everybody has access to education at any level if they simply apply themselves. This provides us an excuse to look down upon the grocery clerk while ironically they make our daily lives possible. It gives us the ability to stare down our noses while the sun beats down upon the construction workers that slow us down in our daily commutes to our so called prestigious jobs. But what if we knew the stories of these people, if we knew what obstacles they had to overcome, we might look at the systems our society flaunts in a different light.
For some of the most neglected members of our society the story that they start with almost immediately erases the opportunities we take for granted. Personal choice becomes less of a reason for their place in society as society itself begins to hijack those said choices. In the case of the Roma in Europe this hijacking can be summed up as blatant discrimination on the part of governments, local communities, and the society in which the Roma live.
Centuries of looking down upon the Roma as a permanent underclass (or outsiders) has left a systemic discriminatory perception about who the Roma people are. It has left the very name Roma, or gypsy, a sort of slur in and of itself in European society. When someone feels cheated they say they have been "gypped". When a stranger appears to be poorly dressed and unkempt they are flat out referred to as a "gypsy". And then there is the romantic prejudices of the Roma as being fortune tellers, witches, and symbols of bad luck. All of this has left a barrier that Roma people have had to climb over to reach the world that has attempted to go forward while leaving them behind.
Roma children in Europe are the first to notice this when it comes to the hallmarks of childhood. Instead of being allowed into the same school systems that other European children get to go to many Roma children are forced to either attend schools designed solely for Roma or take classes designed for the mentally handicapped. In Greece this has been more evident than in other European states. When schools were built in Sofades (a town comprised of roughly half Roma citizens) the Roma who were closer to schools catering to "Greek" children were told they had to go to schools farther away. The reason: these children were Roma, and Roma children are not allowed to attend school with other children in Greece. Plain and simple discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.
“It’s shameful that, despite three separate European Court rulings now, Greece has failed to change its ongoing discrimination against Romani schoolchildren and the flagrant violation of their right to education,” said Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.
Last year countless European courts took up the issue of Roma children's rights to an equal education in European schools. These court decisions were considered historic since they for the first time addressed the long upheld discrimination by European society against the Romani people. In many ways these courts took upon the same fight that American schools had been forced to do when they desegregated schools and allowed black and white children to be educated side-by-side. Yet that is a point that European nations tend to avoid since they were supposed to be the leaders in ending slavery, segregation, and all that "old world" bigotry.
Some might ask why we should talk about segregation while Romani families face violent attacks by racists (both in politics and in racist extremist groups) in the Czech Republic and Hungary. Some might ask why we should worry about school while Roma are still facing deportations from France, Germany, Italy, and other "developed" European countries in the West. And while these concerns are very pressing indeed, the open hostility in society at large is the basis for why these conditions exist in the first place. If we are to accept that children can be introduced to the idea that they are less than human from the start of their "education" then we accept that other children can be taught that the prior are the "them" in an "us vs them" scenario. It allows for the effects of discrimination to be imprinted upon the next generation while the one in control allows the cycle to persist.
"What startled me most of all was the unbelievable aggression, the hateful speeches, and the openly racist positions occupied at certain points by the loudest participants, male and female, from the special schools. These are the same people who meet disadvantaged Romani children and their parents every day. They are the very people who educate those children, " said Michaela Marksová-Tominová, Czech Shadow Minister for Human Rights and Equal Opportunities.
When hate is allowed to be the first taste of what a society has to offer for a child it becomes a lens through which that child will view the world in which he/she lives. While many can overcome this discrimination through hard work on their own part, many others cannot. It is an obstacle that chips away at what our society can be and will become. It destroys the foundation of a society for generation to come. Thus permitting the instability we have lived with thus far to persist into the world we leave behind for our children and grandchildren.
When we deny education to a child we aren't telling that child he/she can be anything that they can dream of. We tell that child that they aren't valuable in our society. We tell them that for as long as they are alive they will always be outsiders in our community. The denial of education (full, equal, and integrated) is a method of oppression and rejection. It forces upon the next generation the prejudices of the previous generation. And for this reason it denies society at large the hope for a better future.
If Europe is to continue forward in its progressive views on what it means to be European they will have to come to terms with their past. Either they fully integrate the Romani people into European (accepting the differences and not forcing assimilation) or Europe admits that they are a society that accepts apartheid. For in a world where we claim that "all men are created equal" we can never expect that being kept separate be viewed as equality.
(Note: not all sources listed)
Open Society Foundation
Prague Daily Monitor