Saturday, March 27, 2010
ROMANI IN EUROPE
Anti-Roma prejudice not demolished in a dayThe paradox of a Roma victory in the European court of human rights is that many Roma people fear a backlash all the more
By Slavenka Drakulić
Sunday 21 March 2010 16.00 GMT larger |
The last time you heard about Roma people was, in all probability, when one of them was stabbed, burned or shot at in Hungary, Slovakia or Romania. The largest ethnic minority in Europe, numbering an estimated 7-9 million people, Roma are also the poorest and most discriminated against. They are "others" and, as such, often object to state policies of segregation and the racism of groups and individuals.
The fact they have lived in Europe for no less than 500 years doesn't apparently make much difference. What matters is they are of a different colour and culture, easily distinguished and, generally speaking, not integrated. Yet, as citizens of European states, they should be equal under the law. But as we all know from George Orwell's Animal Farm, all are equal but some are more equal than others. Never was this more so than in the case of Roma citizens.
Consequently, it is not news that they are again being victimised. But it is news that they have won a significant court judgment, because this happens so rarely. This week, the European court of human rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg upheld the claim of 15 Roma pupils in Croatia, where Roma are about 1% of the population, that they had been discriminated against. In 2002, Roma from the region of Medjimurje sued elementary schools because 15 pupils were segregated in a class and taught 30% less than the obligatory curriculum. Such a decision was justified by their lack of knowledge of the Croatian language. Roma live in ghettos and adults barely speak the Croatian language.
First a local, then a regional, court turned the Roma case down. Finally, the constitutional court did the same – after dragging its feet for six years (which the ECHR judged to be an unreasonably long time). However, the Roma took their case to the ECHR, which has now ruled in their favour. It is not the children's fault they don't speak Croatian very well, and this – or anything else, for that matter – should not be a reason to discriminate against them, the ECHR determined. Besides sending out such important messages of equality under the law, Roma pupils were also awarded €4,500 each in compensation, as well as €10,000 in total for expenses and legal costs.
This looks like a clear-cut case and a remarkable victory for Roma, something they should be proud of. After ruling that it is illegal to put Roma children in schools for children with special needs – as has been done in the Czech republic – it is now illegal to put them in separate classes, too.
Yet this victory divided the Roma community in Medjimurje itself. Apparently, many of them even signed a petition against taking this case to a court. Why? The answer is simple: fear. Roma are afraid that, after this ruling, they could be discriminated against even more by their non-Roma neighbours. "The state feeds us; it gives us roads, electricity and water. What if we wouldn't get social benefits and there are no jobs? I am not playing games with the Croatian state," said one in a television news interview, surrounded by a group of angry and frustrated Roma men.
It is a paradox that the court ruling in favour of greater tolerance and integration of Roma has provoked their frustration. It only underlines how very insecure they feel. It will take a larger social change in Europe, and not just a judicial decision, to erase that anxiety.
Posted by Morgan at 3:59 PM