Conceptual Paradigma Of Public Policies On Roma
The Case Of Roma Strategy In Rumania *
DAN OPRESCU ZENDA
For centuries, all public policies on Roma
issues were framed by two competing doctrines, the
„Theory of Social Inclusion” and the „Theory of
Racial Discrimination”. The author analyses the main
elements of these doctrines, and resorts to the
example of Rumanian Strategy on Roma to underline
Keywords: Roma, social inclusion, racial
discrimination, unpopular minorities,public policies
For about twenty years, all across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) there have been several attempts to design and implement public policies on Roma; most of these „strategies” and „programs” are to be considered only as sums of various projects1, without a real preoccupation for a conceptual framework which a „strategy on Roma” will eventually function within. To such a situation, proving an obvious precariousness of concepts, the pressures coming from donors and international bodies, to take action in order to significantly improve the state of Roma in a reasonably short period of time, have contributed decisively. Most governments, international donors, even the European Commission, pressed the people who were in charge with designing „Roma strategies” to do a quick job, with the understanding that later on, eventually, the „strategies” would be eventually changed according to reality. In short, the emphasis was regularly put on speed and hurry, and much less on the very consistency of the public policy itself. The normal (i.e.: deductive) pattern of thought (starting from a doctrine, passing through the elaboration of a strategy and its master-plan of measures – or action plan – and ending with programs and projects) was sacrificed in favor of an eclectic collection of many projects having some Roma individuals or, in the best cases, some groups of Roma, as final beneficiaries.
There are just a few main ideas2 to be considered „doctrines” on such a complex and delicate issue as public policies on Roma, mainly (1) the social inclusion theory (SIT), and (2) the racial discrimination theory (RDT). Of course, it is possible to imagine quite a few other theories (e.g.: the theory of racial superiority/inferiority3, like the Nazis’), and most of them are really eclectic, with different ratios of social inclusion and (anti-)racial discrimination. For the sake of simplicity, and only for this reason, I will consider only the two above-mentioned „doctrines”. Of course, the opposite of all these ideological approaches is a phenomenological one (see Edmund Husserl & Co.); I would like to believe that, while I was writing the current pages, and even when the preferred attitude was quite a provocative one, I adopted precisely a phenomenological approach.
(1) Social Inclusion Theory (SIT)
SIT originated into the era of Enlightment, the 18th century; it is an optimistic theory, considering that (a) Roma are human beings, (b) they are, presently, just „uncivilized”, (c) Roma can be „domesticated” and transformed into full humans (= civilized human beings) through several techniques, which must comprise the following:
• Capturing the nomads and settle them down;
• Disinfesting the new sedentary general population, and give them dwellings, new clothes, food, ID cards, even names etc.;
• Putting the children (and some young people) to school; generally speaking, education is perceived as a key element of any variety of SIT; religion (mostly Christianity and Islam) is an important part of any curricula; in extreme cases4, it is advisable to take the children out from their natural parents and put them into foster (non-Roma) homes;
• Teaching the adults new and useful occupations; everybody must work; stealing and/or begging would not be considered „work”; non-working has to be severely punished, as it means not obeying the laws;
• Roma, left to themselves, are impulsive hedonists, living just for the moment and never thinking for the future; they have to be taught to behave responsibly, for their own and their children’ sake, in order to become real/full human beings, activating their real/full potential;
• In time, the „social inclusion” of Roma will eventually lead to their complete assimilation inside the local/regional ethnic majorities (including through mixed marriages, miscegenation and „hybridism”), with Romany disappearing as a mother-tongue, and several Roma traditions being replaced by new, „civilized” ones. Roma – as Roma – will disappear, and all „Roma problems” will disappear as well.
Of course, these traits are just a caricature of the real SIT, but most of SITs will have practically all the above-mentioned items, fashioned in a more or less politically correct manner, depending on the century, decade, year etc. In some countries, SITs were implemented pretty early (during the 18th century, or mid-19th century, or mid-20th century); this „old school” approach was talking about „social integration”, but our much more politically correct times very much prefer the equivalent expression of „social inclusion”5, with exactly the same meaning. Generally speaking, in CEE, SIT is the current dominant theory, being contested only by a few Roma (and non-Roma) radical activists (who are trying hard to push for RDT – the Racial Discrimination Theory). All governments, the World Bank, Open Society Institute (Soros), the European Commission etc. are advocates of SIT (in its various forms, including with some „borrowings” from RDT, mainly for cosmetic and rhetoric purposes). SIT has its roots in the Illuminist (= Enlightment) movement of 18th century, but it was continued by different social currents originating and/or influenced by Marxism – including the half-a-century Communist rule in Eastern Europe, but also in countries dominated by a social-democratic ideology, like the ones in Scandinavia etc.
In Spain, such a policy was designed in 18th century by kings Fernando VI and Carlos III (see the book by Antonio Gomez Alfaro on the arrests of almost all Roma of Spain in July 1746 – Roma were „put to work” until June 1763 …); in Central Europe, dominated by the Habsburg Empire, the typical policy on Roma was the one designed by Maria Terezia and her son, Joseph II6. Practically, quite the same policy was followed all across Europe, and a similar approach has been followed during the colonial era in Africa and South-East Asia (including the Indian subcontinent) with regard to the „natives”7. The „natives” were supposed to be wild, uncivilized, and unaware of such goodies like books, Spanish/English/Portuguese languages, Christianity, soap or decent clothing. It has to be mentioned that this policy was derived from an optimistic ideological conviction that the „natives” may be transformed into real, civilized human beings; mutatis mutandis, the Communists were very sure that it is possible to transform Roma into „new men”, through (forced) sedentarisation, compulsory schooling, and (quasi-forced) working, in line with their emphasis on social engineering for the whole society.
Any SIT is based on the belief that all „Roma problems”8 can be solved if somebody puts the right (= huge) amount of money into the right place, if all „stakeholders” participate in designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating all strategies, programs and projects dedicated to improving the Roma situation.
Any SIT will focus on „public policies”, because only authorities (be them central or local) have the power to generate and implement such major community development programs; on the contrary, most of RDTs have to focus on „Roma rights” (as part of larger „ethnic minorities’ rights”), in order to condemn the majorities (and their – more or less – democratically elected representatives: public authorities) for being racist and discriminating against Roma.
The main supposition of any SIT, the one that all Roma are human beings, and – as human beings – they are able to become „civilized” people, is not excluding a certain form of racism; it is very possible for someone to be a racist and, in the same time, to oppose slavery, extermination, forced labor etc. and to militate for „emancipation”9.
In Rumania, the classical form of SIT on Roma was developed by the sociologist Catalin Zamfir10, who is also a politician of the post-Communist party, specialized on social issues; he occupied several important political positions inside the Government and the Social Democrat Party, especially during 1990-2004.
An adept of SIT will generally acknowledge the fact that Roma (even unpopular, unpleasant and/or dangerous) will continue to live not outside the society of the majority of the population, but inside of it; as such, rejecting the „final solution” of extermination, he/she will try to do everything is necessary in order „emancipate” the Roma, mainly in order to make this unpopular minority more acceptable (or even fully acceptable) for the majority. Of course, I can imagine an adept of SIT who could be not at all cynical, but very idealistic, humanist, Christian etc. In these two cases the actions to be taken will not be different: community development, education, employment etc.
Some of the most delicate issues for any believer in SIT are to pick up what is the best option: to accept segregation or to militate for non-segregation? What is best for the majority? What is best for the minority? Is self-segregation acceptable, and if it is, in certain instances, then to what degree? Is non-segregation better for assimilation?
Any SIT, in order to be successful, has to have the agreement of the representatives of various majorities; in a democracy, these representatives are the local and/or central authorities. This is the reason for which the Roma (and non-Roma) NGOs that are working along the lines of SIT have to consider „durable/sustainable community development”, and to include the authorities (and especially the local ones) into their projects11, to ensure the sustainability of the projects. On the other hand, all authorities would sympathize with NGOs which provide services along the „philosophy” of SIT; the partnership between authorities and the civil society is currently viewed as a sine qua non condition for the success of any SIT-based activity. All too often, these NGOs (in fact, most of them are commercial companies, barely disguised as NGOs), specialized on community development, are the darlings of the authorities, and some authorities are even trying to put them in opposition to the more vocal and critical NGOs, the NGOs which are usually writing reports denouncing racial discrimination against Roma. It is not uncommon for a certain NGO to start as active into the field of community development, and to latter change its focus on denouncing the racial discrimination against Roma (in Rumania, see the „classical” case of Romani CRISS, which was founded by Nicolae Gheorghe to the suggestion of Catalin Zamfir as a „social intervention” <i.e.: community development> Roma NGO, and in recent years became specialized in litigation and reports on discrimination, under the strong influence of European Roma Rights Center).
(2) Racial Discrimination Theory (RDT)
RDT are largely embraced by the most radical Roma12 activists, and it finds its roots in the fertile soil of 19th century Romanticism. Contrary to the Illuminist approach, which is based upon a dynamic, progressive ideology, the Romantic attitude toward Roma is a static one, based on definitive „essences”; RDT considers that the very essence of real „Romanipen” (= the ensemble of facts, ideas, costumes, customs etc. of any „true Roma”, of any time and place) has to be something called „liberty”13; for example, the nomadic lifestyle was understood as the equivalent of freedom of movement, but was also prized as the courage to contradict the feudal rules and order14. The origins of such a perspective are coming, of course, from the pedagogical theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Romantic idea of le bon sauvage. People like Roma (or Amerindians, Pacific islanders, Bedouins, and so on) were considered to be uncorrupted by the „decadent” civilization and, as such, to be the repositories of some „true”, „natural” human qualities: beauty, artistic talent, wisdom, healthy life, family values, etc. From this unique perspective, Roma are, indeed, „the salt of the Earth”: Roma ladies are the most beautiful (and elegant) in the world, Roma men are handsome and the embodiments of freedom and musical talent, they are very intrepid, gifted (by Mother Nature, of course) with multiple craftsmanship, busy as the bees, the traditional structure of a Roma family is the best, even underage (and forced) marriages are welcome, as they coagulate Roma society, preserve the kin-blood traditions, etc.
From this perspective, „the Roma problem” is not at all „a problem of the Roma”; unfortunately for mankind, these wonderful Roma were/are living, in all times and places, among various peoples, and all these peoples were/are deeply racist. Constantly being considered as a highly unpopular ethnic minority by all majorities, in all times and places, the real problem is the racism of all these members of majorities. Because of this racism, Roma were/are unable to attend school, or to find decent employment (into the formal sector of the economy); only because of this racism Roma are, supposedly, overrepresented in prisons15, and because of this racism Roma have to move westward, away from Central and Eastern Europe16. Even India and Indians seem to be unsympathetic toward this special Diaspora, unlike most other countries with large kin-minorities around the world (China, Germany, Greece, Israel, Russia etc.)
In short, the racially induced lack of self-esteem (= in Rumanian, stimă) will conduct to a widespread stigmata (= in Rumanian, stigmă) against Roma17, to use a couple of words very much preferred by radical Roma (and non-Roma) activists. These activists will struggle to expose any local or national majority as racist; in a democracy, all authorities are representatives of local and/or national majorities. As such, this kind of activists and their NGOs will try, through mitigation and even litigation, to condemn, as racist, the majorities and their representatives (i.e.: local and central authorities). There are specialized NGOs, at the national and European level, which succeeded in condemning local and national authorities in front of international bodies like the European Court of Human Rights, OSCE or the Council of Europe; similarly, at national level, efforts were made by such activists to „humiliate” majority’s national institutions (Church, Army, Presidency, Government etc.) through demands for publicly apologizing for past wrongs, real and/or imaginary misconducts against the Roma18. From the symbolic humiliations to the real „reparations” (preferably in cash, following the West-German model) is just one small step, and the most radical activists are prepared to make it19. This position is, somehow, similar to Randall Robison’s Afrocentrism (of course, another specialist on America’s blacks, John McWhorter, will argue that there were already paid reparations, under the form of welfare, affirmative action, set-asides, college grants etc.). Among other things, this is an important factor of the permanent adversity and antipathy of the authorities against radical NGOs which are playing along RDT lines, adversity and antipathy which is fully reciprocated by the activists.
For the adepts of RDS, it is quite a mantra that the Roma – as an unpopular minority – are severely underrepresented into central and local authorities; regarding the political representation of Roma20, the advocates of RDT believe that Roma are only objects (of manipulation) and victims, and not also genuine active players inside society. Only racism is something criminalizing Roma ab initio, and it is making being Roma (or, more properly phrased, Gypsies) a stigma, instead of the high-esteem they merit. It is only because of this stigma caused by racism that so many Roma do not declare themselves as Roma in national censuses, and this stigma is the main reason for which many Roma high-achievers prefer to present themselves not as Roma, but as the representatives of the majority.
If somebody is a RDT believer, he/she will generously disregard all sociological and historical data contradicting RDT. The fact that inside most of local communities with a substantial presence of unpopular minorities (be them ethnic, religious, sexual, linguistic and so on) there are important issues to be faced by all the members of those local communities; only on the long run (maybe even one hundred years …) the cultural, economic, fiscal and development benefits of ethnic diversity, for example, will represent a reality inside such communities. In the short to medium run (i.e.: between 30 and 60 years), by contrary, ethnically diverse local communities tend to have reduced levels of social solidarity and social capital21. It means that inside ethnically diverse neighborhoods residents of all races and ethnic background will have lower levels of trust (even in one’s own race/ethnic origin etc.), lower levels of altruism and community cooperation, fewer friends, lower group cohesion, lower satisfaction etc. – but higher levels of social fragmentation and social isolation, fewer elements of a civic society (including fewer and „softer” non-governmental organization), and higher turnover.
For the followers of RDT, some delicate/unpleasant issues (like violence against women and children, underage marriages, low status of women, labor exploitation of children and even infants, using children22 in immoral/illegal activities like begging, petty thefts, etc.) are just „traditions” to be respected by the „true Roma”, because they are prescribed by „Romanipen”; of course, when such „traditions” are conflicting with more general human rights and/or with the legislated rules of behavior, the Roma minority would be on a collision course with the majority of the population (and with the representatives of the majority, namely the authorities). Of course, it is not „the Roma minority” per se, but a certain number of individuals of Roma ethnic origin; as usual, not reality is important in these circumstances, but the perception of reality, perception felt to be „the true reality” by a significant proportion of people. This „vicious circle” is one of the reasons for which the prejudices23 against Roma have been perpetuated all across Europe for such a long time. When „Roma rights” are considered to be above „human rights” (or, sometime, simply above the law), the Roma would be seen by the majority of the populace not being „above”, but being „under”; put it simply: Roma will be seen not as humans, but as animals … Generally, there are several stages of discourse adopted by RDT activists in defending their (untenable) position: (a) plain negation („it is not true that there are Roma underage marriages anymore”), (b) minimalizing the scale of the phenomenon („there are just a few isolated Roma who still practice underage marriages”), and finally (3) the Roma are innocent, they are just victims („the root/ historical cause of Roma underage marriages is the need for … protection of very young Roma girls of rape from the representative of the different majorities”). The extreme case of such an attitude is segregation, voluntary and involuntary; if there is one law for humans (e.g.: in Rumania, a man can marry just one woman at a time, if she/he is over 18 years old etc.), this law will not be extended to the animals (dogs, cats, rats – but also … traditional Roma, like Caldarash).
If for SIT the key-word is „mainstreaming”, for RDT the key-word is „discri-mination”24. Any SIT will end up, sooner or latter, in „assimilation”; any RDT will end up, sooner or later, in „apartheid”25
and „bantustanisation” (e.g.: all education – from kindergarten to PhD – in Romany, Roma cultural centers, Roma museums, Roma „palaces”, Roma „reserved areas”, Roma pubs, even a separate system of „justice” – stabor, kris – which perpetuates a life outside the mainstream society, if not a life lived, basically, outside the law26 etc.). Of course, in the real world, all „doctrines” which are the fundaments of any Roma strategy have to be, more or less, eclectic, combining, in various degrees, items originated from both main categories. One excellent example could be the governmental Strategy on Improving the Roma Situation/Condition in Rumania, elaborated in a tortuous process between the years 1998-2001, with some continuations until nowadays.
Strategy For Improving The Roma Situation (Condition) In Rumania (1998-2001 Sqq.)
By early-1998, the then Minister for national minorities, Tokay Gyorgy (an ethnic Hungarian, and representing the political Hungarian organization in Rumania), confessed to me27 by saying that he really wanted to „solve” the Roma issues, mainly because the Roma in Rumania, despite being numerically a large minority, had no structures comparable to the ones of the Hungarian minority; by contrary, the Roma organizations in Rumania were not only divided, but also fighting each other ferociously, especially during electoral campaigns. As such, after the local and general elections, the Democratic Union of Hungarians of Rumania had/have obtained hundreds of local councilors, dozens of mayors, dozens of deputies and senators – but the Roma have had only a few local councilors and only one representative in the lower chamber of Parliament, elected on an affirmative action provision of the Electoral Law. However, since the Roma were being perceived as an extremely unpopular ethnic minority, it was necessary to play Machiavelli/Fouche/Talleyrand in order to make a governmental strategy on Roma acceptable for the public opinion, media and political class (not to mention some other „stakeholders”, like Roma activists, Roma local/national leaders, international donors, EU bureaucracy etc.). The best solution was to present the process of designing the Roma strategy as a strong requirement coming from our „Big Brother” from Brussels, namely the European Commission (EC); the strategic goal for Rumania, at the end of the 20th century, was the full accession to the Euro-Atlantic structures, the European Union (EU) and NATO. During a series of discussions with Karen Fogg, the then representative of EC in Bucharest, minister Tokay succeeded in convincing her of the necessity of involving the EC into the process of producing the Roma strategy. In short: the EC would have been considered that a significant improvement of the situation of Roma in Rumania, in a certain period of time, represents a political conditionality for Rumania to accede to the EU, as part of the so-called Copenhagen criteria for accession, whereby states have had to demonstrate a commitment to human rights and respect for and protection on minorities. To make this bitter pill sweeter for the public opinion (and the political class, the media, but also for the plethora of Roma activists), the EC was to finance the first ever PHARE program on Roma (mounting to 2 million Euros), half for „writing” the strategy, and the other half for financing pilot-projects in different areas of intervention (education, health care, employment, media etc.).
With all this money involved in, it was also possible to have on board the best European experts that PHARE money can buy; some money was reserved for media, whilst some other money was spent on lots of meetings between representatives of ministries, and representatives of Roma civil society
We were fortunate to persuade the fractious Roma civil society of Rumania about the necessity of working together on the strategy; we (i.e.: the representatives of central government) were also happy that Nicolae Gheorghe, probably the most important Roma activist (cum intellectual) in Rumania, succeeded in his maneuver to form the Roma Working Group (in Rumanian: Grupul de Lucru al Romilor, acronym: GLAR), despite the opposition from certain Roma activists28 who believed that a governmental strategy on Roma could make them look weaker in front of the Roma populace. Indeed, some Roma leaders and activists were better (intellectually, rhetorically, stronger personalities etc.) than other ones, and „the losers” tried hard to stop the process of producing the strategy. Fortunately, to no avail. The Roma activists knew how to take advantage of this very rare window of opportunity, and the Roma Strategy entered into the legend29, as the first post-Communist public policy on a deeply unpopular ethnic minority in Rumania.
Dealing with the representatives of central authorities was quite easy; it was sufficient to tell them that the „Big Brother” from Brussels is watching us all, so we have to behave; each representative of a ministry had to work together with his/her Roma counterpart, a Roma member of GLAR. After a few months of weekly reunions (some of these reunions took place in mountain resorts, some at the sea-side, some in Bucharest, in the main building of the Government – and even into the large, luxurious room where, these days, the weekly meetings of the Cabinet take place), most of these „pairs” of experts (one from GLAR and another from a ministry) were close enough to become some sort of friends. The foreign experts were very happy, indeed, because of the PHARE money30, not to mention that their „expertise” was mainly a front to protect the people who really were producing the strategy against any unwelcome criticism. The people from the ministries hoped to be rewarded, at the end of the PHARE project, by a „study-tour” in a Western country (some even dreamed of Spain, or France, or Greece etc.)31. They were very naïve.
Then, in late-2000, new general elections took place, and another government (led by the post-communist party – or, better, politely called by that party of center-left, the Social-Democrat Party, Rumanian acronym: PSD) took the power. By mid-2000, the strategy was ready (de facto, but this was kept a secret), and we still pretended that we have to reach a certain „consensus” on more sensitive issues with the representatives of GLAR. By March 2001, the Prime-Minister decided not to delay the launching of the Roma strategy anymore; on a Friday, in early-April 2001, the Prime-Minister announced a Secretary of State from the Ministry of Public Information that the Roma Strategy would be officially launched on the following Monday, a day before the visit of EU commissioner Verheugen (responsible for enlargement). All the GLAR and ministries’ people were to a retreat in Snagov, 40 km far away from Bucharest. On Monday, the Prime-Minister proudly announced that the Government of Rumania has an excellent Strategy for Improving the Roma Situation; nobody (intellectuals, activists, academics, human rights specialists, Roma and non-Roma alike etc.) dared to criticize any line of this strategy, which remains to this day, upon my humble opinion, the best of its kind.
What „doctrine” has this strategy? Is it a SIT or a RDT? None of them (or both). It is a hybrid strategy, a compromise between the radicals who wanted to produce a „strategy for combating discrimination against Roma” (i.e.: a strategy based on „Roma rights”), on one side, and the representatives of the authorities, who wanted a „strategy for social integration of Roma” (i.e.: a very conservative „public policy”). Again, Messrs Machiavelli, Talleyrand and Fouche were put to work: I personally thanked each participant (whether he/she was a representative of the ministries or of the GLAR) for his/her invaluable contribution to the final strategy; I assured every participant that all his/her contributions are to be found somewhere into the strategy, and that these contributions are, by far, the most important ones (I still have all their contributions into my computer, just in case). Finally, everybody was happy (except, of course, people from the ministries, who were unable to enjoy the study-tour they had been dreaming of). The Roma activists (of all kinds) were happy because they believed that they (i.e.: each of them in particular) had produced the Roma strategy; the politicians were happy because there was no „Roma as a political issue” in store for them; the public opinion was in a happy mood because the Roma issues were to be solved in an orderly manner by the authorities; and the foreign experts were very, very happy because they were paid handsomely, and because this success would guarantee future similar programs in other CEE countries, and even beyond CEE (e.g.: Moldova, Macedonia, Kosovo etc.). After the adoption of the strategy, the euphoric Roma activists decided to dissolve GLAR, a mistake some of them regret to this day.
After a couple of years, a new regional (i.e.: CEE) initiative was born: the Decade of Roma Inclusion, with a more openly predominant SIT agenda. In 2006, another new Government decided to be as SIT as possible; the Roma Strategy of 2001 received something called a „goal”, which is: „Significantly improving the Roma situation in Rumania, through social inclusion measures”32. Currently we have several European initiatives, generally backed by lots of money from Brussels, all based on SIT. RDT remains just the doctrine of the most radical Roma activists, the ones focused on „Roma rights” and criticizing all actions (and non-actions) taken (or non-taken) by the central and local authorities, namely the public policies. The heroic battle between SIT and RDT is here to stay.
Sort Of A Confession (Personal)
There are, basically, two main sorts of people who are busy dealing on Roma issues, be them of Roma origin themselves or not: (1) the ones who love everything related to the Roma, and (2) the opportunists, for whom Roma issues are just a way to make a living out of the very existence of Roma people. The first category simply love everything that is related to the Roma: they love the Roma music, the Roma dress, the Roma women, the Romany language, the Roma food, even the smell of the evening fire in a shatra, in brief, the Roma lifestyle.The opportunists (including those of Roma origin, who represent the vast majority of this category) just want to make money (and, eventually, fame) from this niche social activity. I believe that both these categories are honorable, and both of them have their usefulness; in moral terms, of course, the first category is stronger, but in practical terms the second one is much more efficient.
At this stage, I have to make a confession; of course, everybody knows that, since St. Augustine, any confession is also an apologia (into the old Latin sense, of self-justification). First of all, I am not at all a „natural” being, but, as a human, a social one. I do not particularly like the Roma music (for composers, I prefer Bach and Mozart, and for the playing part, I think some Jews are, by far, much better – just another stereotype of mine; on a lighter note, I like Leonard Cohen and Maritza), or the Romany language (I prefer Spanish or Italian), or the Roma ladies (I prefer Japanese, Rumanian or Irish), or the Roma craftsmanship (I prefer Armenian or Arabic), or the Roma cuisine (I prefer Thai, Indian, Japanese or Italian); I also dislike the supposed Roma abilities of witchcraft and Roma „guessing” of the future etc. The reason for which I have been working on Roma issues, at the central Government level, since 1997 until now, is quite simple: I do not like to see how the Roma in Rumania were/are treated as subhumans, as animals by most of my compatriots. If you please, I am sort of a „humanitarian opportunist”, interested in the issues of all unpopular minorities, and in the relationships between these unpopular minorities, on one side, and the majorities, on the other.
P.S.: I would like to thank to Andreea Gavriliu, Humberto Garcia Gonzales-Gordon, Ştefan-Iulian Harda and Joachim Ott for their kind and extremely useful comments and corrections made on the initial draft of this paper. Of course, all errors still there are only my fault; more than that: being so stubborn („… as one of those garbage plastic bags…”), I just kept many of the initial most contentious sentences, just to make the whole paper as provocative as possible. This paper was not written into my quality of public servant, or as Senior Advisor with the Government, but only as a very personal account of how is to produce a Roma public policy (and why).
* The use of the terms „Rumania”, „Rumanian”, „Rumanians” represents the personal choise of the author, of this text, Dan Oprescu.
Of course, most of these projects, implemented especially during the first decade of this century, were just pilot-projects, and some of them were plain failures. Usually, the policy-makers are learning much more from failures than from the so-called success-stories (= the «best practices» models, in the Eurocrats’ language...).
I am calling such ideas „theories” not in the strong sense (= a coherent set of true assertions on physical/social reality), but in a much weaker sense, for which a theory is an ingenious tentative mental construct that might or might not be objectively true. For most of the supporters/advocates of SIT & RDT, by contrary, these theories are taken in the strongest sense possible – i.e. the ideological one. The strongest believers in one theory or another would always claim, when faced with facts which are not in line with their expectations, that the facts are just „examples”, „exceptions” for which we can „find” (= invent) a feasible explanation in order to keep the theory alive. In short, such people would not accept K.R. Popper’s falsification of a theory, and this attitude is saying a lot about (1) the so-called flexibility of the theory, and (2) about the ingenuity of its supporters in defending that theory. The „imaginative reconstructions” of reality (including the past) are just stories, but never science (or history).
Just imagine that the Nazis’ „doctrine”
would pretend that Roma are irrecoverable inferior beings; then, the Nazis’ „strategy”
on Roma would be one of extermination, according to a „master-plan”
in which various ministries, governmental agencies and local authorities are involved and given responsibilities (and budgets), with „programs”
like deportation (to extermination/concentration camps), and „projects”
like the use of the bullets and/or the killer gas Cyclone B. In fact, such a Nazi „doctrine” was functioning during the WWII, and not only against Roma. In Rumania, during the same period of time, Marshall Ion Antonescu’s „doctrine” on Roma was, somehow, an eclectic one: he believed that only nomad Roma (plus the Roma with criminal records) are irrecoverable – and he deported them in Transnistria etc.; the rest of over 90% of Roma of Rumania were considered to be, more or less, „fully” assimilated, „acceptable” etc. See also John Connelly, Nazis and Slavs: From Racial theory to Racist Practice,
in Central European History
, vol. 32, no. 1/1999,(Cambridge: University Press), 1-33.
E.g.: the parents are „irrecoverable”, much too „wild” to be „civilized” by regular methods; these adults will be separated from their own children, in order to give to the children a „civilized” future.
Inclusion of whom? Into what? Inclusion of Roma into the society? Into the so-called mainstream society? Are Roma supposed to be, currently, outside the society? Are they outlaws? In my opinion, Roma are, definitely, inside society – the real issue being the relative disadvantaged position most of them are occupying in all known societies, East and West, South and North,
During the reign of these two emperors, the Roma were forced to settle, becoming subjects of taxes and compulsory service to the lords of the land; they abandoned the name „Gypsy” and were called „New Settlers” or „New Hungarians” (= „Uj Magyar”), were forced to take on military service and craft apprenticeship; some Roma children were taken for upbringing in non-Roma families etc.
Colonization of South, Central and North America by people of European descent followed similar patterns for a long period of time, from 1492 onwards.
Obviously, „Roma problems” are requiring „solutions” (ironically, some even talk of „final solutions”…), and these problems may be solved by spending a certain amount of money on education, employment, housing and health care; the so-called Decade of Roma Inclusion, focusing on these four „priorities”, will solve the „basic Roma problems” (which are related to poverty:
illiteracy, lack of skills, poor housing, lack of modern – „decent” – infrastructure etc.) through the money coming from governments, the World Bank, George Soros etc., and by the good-will coming from the enlightened political leaders of CEE, preferably under the careful watch of the enlightened euro-leaders from Brussels. The key-word is: mainstreaming.
Of course, in a politically correct time like ours, it is necessary to mention that in addition to the main four areas of interest for combating poverty, we have to take into account two other issues: discrimination and the status of Roma women.
9 Mutatis mutandis,
that was the case with most of great abolitionists of the 19th century, starting with Abraham Lincoln (see H.L. Gates Jr. <ed.>, Lincoln on Race and Slavery,
Princeton University Press, 2009); in Rumania, the abolitionists of mid-19th century (e.g.: Vasile Alecsandri and Mihail Kogalniceanu) considered Roma (and Jews!) as „different” human beings compared with the (imaginary) genuine Rumanian peasant.
He (and his wife) founded an influential school of thought on Roma, based on the sociological theory of Roma living in quasi-compact isolated communities, veritable „pockets” of poverty, infractionality, sickness, illiteracy and unemployment. An important Roma activist like Nicolae Gheorghe started his career as Zamfir’s disciple.
„Durable/sustainable community development” will comprise issues like social housing, training and employment of the work-force, health-care, education etc.
But not only Roma activists … It is enough just to be „radical”. On the other hand, I believe that „multi-culturalism” and/or „inter-culturalism” etc. theories are representing just soft versions of RDT, acceptable – up to a certain point – for various majorities. I am not questioning the good intentions of these doctrinaire leftists, to whom it would be absurd to expect people changing their behavior as long as the „root causes” are not solved; for these activists, racism, discrimination, illiteracy, unemployment, bad health-care etc. are just „root causes” for the durability of inequality against Roma. Sometimes, RDT is bordering the „reverse racism” (i.e.: the so-called anti-white racism); meanwhile, while in private some Roma high-achievers recognize that they improve their lives through responsibility and hard work, in public quite the same people tend to take on the „mantle of victimhood”, lecturing that no Roma is able to rise without special assistance from the majority of the population – this is, indeed, a version of the „double consciousness” of which W.E.B. Du Bois and, more recently, John McWhorter (see, for example, Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Majority,
Gotham Books, 2009, 256 pp.) were writing on America’s blacks.
Since 18th century Enlightment, at the level of individual and groups, „social integration” was much more valuated than „liberty”; the same situation occurred, during the same period of time, at the level of state and nation, where „sociability” was considered something superior to „sovereignty” …
Later on, the same „liberty” was seen as a protest avant la lettre
(hippy style) against the bourjois
ideal of sureté
and domestic prosperity. Carmen,
by Merimee/Bizet, is the perfect illustration of this attitude, typical for the second half of the 19th century. See also the film Shatra,
by the Moldovan director Emil Lotreanu, for the same attitude in late 20th century.
At least in Rumania, all available researches and data show a „proportional representation” of Roma in penitentiaries. The real issue of increased Roma visibility in areas like criminality or migration was already researched in some countries (e.g.: Rumania, Germany, France, Austria etc.). See, on migration, ICMPD (project financed under EU Odysseus Programme), Current Roma Migration from the EU Candidate Countries. The scope and features of Roma irregular movements, the reactions of the host countries and the effects on the EU Candidate States,
Wien, February 2001. Also, see Gabor Fleck and Cosima Rughinis (eds.), Come Closer. Inclusion and Exclusion of Roma in Present-Day Romanian Society,
(research financed by PHARE), Bucharest, 2008.
Unfortunately, even some western countries are, apparently, inhabited by racist majorities, as it was possible to observe anti-Roma movements – and even violence – in Italy, Switzerland, France etc. (not to mention Hungary or Slovakia …).
And against all the other unpopular/despised minorities, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, people HIV positive/AIDS, homeless people, the ones in prisons etc. By contrast, there are also popular minorities (e.g.: Germans in today’s Rumania – cf. the case of the mayor of Sibiu, or the overcrowded admission tests for high-schools teaching in German language in Rumania etc.). On stima/stigma duality,
see also SunnySchwartz, Dreams from the Monster Factory: A tale of prison, Redemption and One Woman’s Fight to Restore Justice to All,
(Scribner, 2009), 204.
In Rumania, the test-case could be the Roma (and non-Roma) „slavery” during the Middle Age until mid-19th century; the radical Roma activists will prefer the strong (and modern) word of sclavie
for describing the Roma condition, and the professional historians will use the word robie.
At that times, all people (except the very rich and the clergy) were in different estates of feudal dependency in what it is now known as Rumania (şerbie, iobăgie, rumînie
Compensations/ reparations (but also almost any affirmative action program) is based upon the concept of the indubitable guilt of children and grand-children (and grand-grand-children etc.) for real and/ or imaginary crimes, in accordance with the narrowest tribal wisdom of the Old Testament (cf. Exodus
20, 5 and 34, 7, Numbers
14, 18, Deuteronomy
5, 9 and 23, 3 etc.).
See Zoltan Barany, „Romany Electoral Politics and Behavior”,
in „JAMIE” (= Journal of Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe
), Flensburg, autumn 2001 (see also
). The most important book written by Zoltan Barany (professor at the University of Texas in Austin) on this issue is The East European Gypsies. Regime Change, Marginality, and Ethnopolitics,
(Oxford University press, 2001). Also, see Roma Political Participation in Romania,
report issued by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Washington, DC, February 2003. For the situation in Rumania, see R. Baltasiu, P. Dobrica and G. Jderu (eds.), Reprezentari şi reprezentativitate. Perspective asupra comunităţii romă,
(Bucharest:Omega Ideal Publishing House), 2005.
See Robert D. Putnam, E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century. The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture,
in „Scandinavian Political Studies” (edited by Nordic Political Science Association), vol. 30, No. 2/2007, pp. 137-174. See also: Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,
(Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000). For a conservative perspective on Putnam’s findings, see Jason Richwine, A Smart Solution to the Diversity Dilemma,
in The American
(= the journal of the American Enterprise Institute), Washington, DC, August 12, 2009.
As recently as May 26th, 2009, several Roma activists – thanks God, none of them from Rumania! – signed an open letter to UNICEF, World Food Programme and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs protesting against the inclusion of a short-movie directed by Emir Kusturica into the production of a worldwide awareness campaign against exploitation of children, campaign called „All the invisible children”
(here there are just a few of relevant words of this protest: „We are writing to you to express our grave concern regarding the support and promotion, by your organizations, of the short-movie <Blue Gypsy> by the Yugoslav filmmaker <
sic!> Emir Kusturica in the context of a campaign to raise awareness on children’s rights. Just as in his previous films, Kusturica plays on the idea of lazy and irresponsible Roma parents who force their children into stealing. While we do not entirely deny the existence of such a phenomenon and the need to intervene, we do however disagree with the fact that it has come to dominate the public representation and discourse about Roma <…>. While such an approach may be powerful to attract public attention and funding, it has the detrimental side-effect that it diverts attention from the root causes, i.e. the abject poverty and marginalization of Roma families, to expose one of its possible consequences. It also promotes the idea that Roma themselves are the mainly responsible for their problems <…>. While we do not advocate for a removal of the film from the entire production, we recommend that it should be followed by a public discussion, especially if it is presented in the context of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the declaration of the rights of the child. Our organizations stand ready to participate in such a debate.”
This letter – and many other similar actions – presume that Roma are only victims of racist majorities, that Roma are not fully responsible (because they can not control „the root causes”), and everybody has to obey upon the censorship of self-styled (and unelected) Roma representatives. Of course, the sad irony of this letter is the fact that it is a brutal denunciation of a „Yugoslav filmmaker” as a racist while actually he had made quite a lot to promote Roma (through his movies and Goran Bregovic’s music, e.g.: „White cat, black cat”) of the Western Balkans on the world stage.
Without wishing to enter into any debate about a possible „philosophy of prejudice”, I have to state that most of these prejudices/ stereotypes are just illicit extrapolations of particular life experiences; the prejudices and the stereotypes are not only wrong perceptions of the reality, but also, sometimes, real „statistical truths”, made to economize the processes of thinking and acting in a society. Of course, the higher visibility of Roma is an important factor in developing these stereotypes. Meanwhile, it is worth noting „that falsely accusing others of relying on stereotypes is fast becoming stereotypical in itself” – John O’Sullivan, Who Are We? A Review of Samuel Huntington’s New Book on Immigration and American Destiny,
in „American Conservative”, July 19th, 2004.
24 „Few topics arouse more controversy in the ex-Communist region than the Roma. It is easy to caricature the most vocal positions. On one side stroppy, chippy activists who see nothing but racism by an arrogant white majority. On the other, upstanding, if self-satisfied, citizens who believe that Roma are (put politely) the authors of their own misfortunes or (less politely) a bunch of thieving good-for-nothing parasites.”
– quoted from The road ahead for the Roma,
in „The Economist”, London, May 7th, 2009.
is an Afrikaner word meaning „separate development”; of course, we all know that there are, at least, six degrees of separation … And, of course, according to William Epson, there are also seven types of ambiguity.
Most of the cases „judged” by stabor/kris
and the subsequent „decisions” are plain illegalities, not to mention the (i-)moral aspect when talking about early marriages based on vast amounts of money and/or gold paid by one family to the other one etc. See also, at the European level, the current debate in France on the acceptability of burqa, niqab
(cf. Nicolas Sarkozy, Declaration de M. le President de la Republique devant le Parlement reuni en Congres,
Versailles, lundi 22 juin 2009).
In November 1997, I became public servant and was nominated as Head of National Office on Roma (NOR), a small structure within the Department for Protection of National Minorities, led by Tokay Gyorgy, a minister-delegate, the lowest ministerial level of the Government of Rumania.
The strongest opposition came from Partida Romilor (in English, Roma Party – but here „party” is not taken as a „political party”, but as in „gambling”), the NGO which regularly sends a representative to the Chamber of Deputies, on an affirmative action ticket. Partida Romilor was, at that time, very close to and an intimate political partner of the main center-left political party in Rumania (in power from 1990-1996, 2001-2004 and 2009 sq.).
Any preeminent Roma activist will tell you how GLAR was able to fight against the obtuse opposition of the Government to one or another measure introduced into the Strategy; any preeminent Roma activist in Rumania could swear that the Strategy is, in fact, the result of his/her struggle against not only the representatives of the authorities, but also against all the other „stupid pet ideas” of his/her colleagues from GLAR.
A few spicy details: „the long term EU expert” (= team leader) was paid 12,100 Euros per month (plus 1,000 Euros per month as accommodation allowance), most of „the short term EU experts” were paid 550 Euros per day (plus 165 Euros per night), and even „the local experts” (= citizens of Rumania, some of them of Roma ethnic origin) were paid 1,500 Euros per month. A completely another issue is whether all this money landed into these people’s wallets or in different other places … Nevertheless, the money from PHARE 1998 has to be compared with the current spending on administering post-accession projects financed by EU funds (structural, cohesion, regional etc.); on some projects on Roma, the manager is receiving about 5,000 Euros per month (= 22,000 lei, twice and a half the salary of the President of Rumania), quite the same as the financial manager of the project; even a secretary (of high-school level studies) has a salary between 1,000 and 2,000 Euros (= 4,000 to 8,000 lei) per month. It is obvious that such huge wages (for Rumania, in 2009) are having a highly demoralizing effect on the public servants who were not „lucky” enough to be put to work on these EU projects. Just for comparison, my monthly salary (after almost 38 years of working, of which 12 to the level of central public administration, the Government, as a Senior Advisor), is of 2,700 lei (= 640 Euros).
Eventually, it was not to be. The money allocated for the study-tour (i.e.: 90,000 Euros) were, in 2001, re-allocated to prolong the existence of the PHARE project (= to continue paying the wages of foreign and local experts), even if, by that time, the strategy was already enacted, and the master-plan of the strategy was in full swing. I do not know if the prolongation of the project was due to some hidden agenda, or corruption, or simple stupidity etc. Because of this extension, on early 2001, I resigned as Senior Project Officer (SPO) of that particular PHARE endeavor.
Governmental Decision no. 522/2006, in „Official Gazette of Rumania”, 1st part, no. 371/April 28th, 2006, p. 3.
DAN OPRESCU ZENDA – PPhD (Bucharest University, 1991), Senior Associate Member (St Antony's College, Oxford university, 1990-1991), Civil Society Programme Director (Soros Foundation Rumania, 1996-1997). Since 1997, Senior Advisor, Coordinator on Public Policies of Social Inclusion (National Agency on Roma, Government of Rumania).