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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

gypsies or Roma - what's in a name?


Weather in the mountains is cold, windy and overcast. So the first fire was duly lit in Daniela’s bedroom terracotta stove (soba) – and the new woodenhorse (they call it a chevra here (goat) made by our old neighbour Viciu christened. The chainsaw came out of hibernation to cut up the small pieces that stove needs. The wood central heating system needs larger pieces – which are stored outside – but I am always reluctant to start the boiler since I still have not quite mastered the art of getting the right amount of ember to allow the system to activate! In principle I need to to load new wood only every 6 hours.
The attic is slowly becoming more inviting – with carpets and a Chinese room divider with superb silk depictions of medieval life.
Today’s der Spiegel has a story on a German military report on life with less oil which has leaked.

The recent round-up by French authorities of some 300 gypsies and their return to Bulgaria and Romania (with the incentive of a 300 euro payment) is a subject requiring comment – but is not easy for me to write about. I remember vividly the stigmatization of the low income people I represented in the East End of Greenock; the physical and mental ghettoes into which they were driven by bureaucratic systems; the skills and drive which many had but which found little outlet; and how they responded when they were treated with some respect and enjoyed partnership status in various programmes. When I worked in Bulgaria recently, the Ministry of Labour was desperate for advice on how to handle the gypsies – and all I could offer was my (and the subsequent Scottish) experience of trying to develop more equal opportunities amongst groups who had been discriminated against.
The gypsies have support from none less than George Soros himself.
The greatest divide between the Roma and majority populations is not one of culture or lifestyle – as is so often portrayed by the media – but poverty and inequality. The divide is physical, not just mental. Segregated schooling is a barrier to integration and produces prejudice and failure. Segregated housing has led to huge shantytowns and settlements lacking sanitation and other basic conditions essential to a life with dignity. The plight of so many millions of Roma in the twenty-first century makes a mockery of European values and stains Europe’s conscience.
Roma want to and can integrate if they are given the opportunity, as my foundation’s programs have shown. Most Roma share the aspirations of the majority populations: a home with adequate services, a decent education for their children, jobs that enable them to provide for their families, and to interact with the majority in their society. It is because they face appalling discrimination and deprivation at home that they continue to migrate across Europe. The EU must recognize that the pan-European nature of this problem demands a comprehensive and effective strategy for Roma inclusion
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Unfortunately things are not quite so simple. I fiind it difficult, for example, to accept his assumption that a majority of gypsies share the same aspirations as the societies in which they live.
It is, of course, always wrong and dangerous to stigmatise a group. And there is no doubt that there are gypsies (or Roma) and gypsies. We employed several to construct our roof guttering system – and respect and like these individuals. Upper crust William Blacker (whose Along the Enchanted Way I reviewed recently) went further. He lived and worked with them (in a fairly integrated village not far from here on the outskirts of Sighoasara), defended them against false accusations and bore a child bya gypsy who is now being raised as a gypsy lad. Romania has had several famous gypsy intellectuals (eg violinist and conductor Voica) and has its gypsy MPs who are as reputable as the next MP! But there is no denying that they are a group which has its own norms which conflict with those of society at large and which makes integration very difficult – not least since integration is not a mission many share. A Hungarian teacher has posted a comment on Soros article which is worth reading. Even William Blacker had to remark that his gypsy friends were unable to do the necessary planning to ensure they had enough food for the winter months (when they would resort to stealing). And it seems fairly clear that those who went to France did so to take advantage of the system and its riches there in an underhand manner.
There is a strand of liberal thinking which seems to want everyone to suspend moral judgement for groups they have decided are sinned against. Millions of euros have been spent over the past decade by the EU in both Bulgaria and Romania on projects aimed at integrating gypsies into the labour market and society generally. Soros (as he says) has also developed programmes with similar aims. Where are the results? Where are the assessments?
Of course, I know from my own 20 years experience in the west of Scotland that multi-million euros programmes are not in themselves enough to deal with deep-rooted discrimination. As Soros notes -
In 2009, the EU endorsed the principle of “explicit but not exclusive targeting” for Roma, and the European Commission allowed structural funds to be used to cover housing interventions in favour of marginalized communities, with a particular focus on Roma. This is a welcome step and “explicit but not exclusive targeting” should be extended to education, health care, and employment. Most importantly, the rules guiding how structural funds are spent should be changed to allow their use for health and education from early childhood, rather than only for job training.
Structural poverty in Roma communities is intimately linked to poor education and unemployment. The Commission’s Europe 2020 initiative sets specific targets for raising school completion rates and employment levels for all EU citizens. In both of these areas, Roma fall so far behind their fellow citizens that targeted measures to close the gap should be an integral part of the Europe 2020 plan
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But Soros and others will get nowhere unless they recognize and are prepared to admit (as does Blacker) the current behavioural problems of so many of this group.

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