| THE ROMANIES IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: ILLUSIONS AND REALITY |
The collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe has unleashednumerous ethnic and national conflicts. While international attention isriveted on the widespread killing and destruction in former Yugoslavia, afestering issue threatens a series of social explosions in severalcountries: the fate of the Roma, or Gypsies.
At the request of, and in cooperation with, the governments of theCzechoslovak Federal Republic and of the Czech and Slovak Republics as wellas several European Romani organizations, the Project on Ethnic Relations(PER) organized a joint meeting in Stupava, Slovakia (near Bratislava) fromApril 30 to May 2, 1992 under the title: The Romanies in Central and EasternEurope: Illusions and Reality. This meeting brought together, for the firsttime, leaders of Romani communities in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Germany,Hungary, Poland, Russia, Romania, and Yugoslavia, government officials fromthe region who are responsible for social and minority policies in thosecountries, and academic specialists on Romani life and on interethnicrelations from the United States and Europe. This report summarizes theprincipal discussions that took place at the Stupava meeting.
It is a sign of the keen interest in this question that a meeting originallyplanned to involve 30 participants had to be repeatedly expanded toaccommodate the number of requests to attend. Some 125 people finallyparticipated. The list of participants at the beginning of this reportperforce omits information about some individuals who did not register orwho did not provide complete data about their title or affiliation.
This was no mere academic meeting. While much of the discussion drew onexpert knowledge and research, there was throughout a sense of urgency,frustration and desperation. At times the discussions took on aconfrontational tone. It could hardly have been otherwise. The Roma havelong been the outcastes of Europe and it is sometimes forgotten that theywere among the victims of the Holocaust. They were the target of efforts atenforced assimilation by the Communist authorities. All too often, theseprograms destroyed old patterns of culture and social structures withoutproviding coherent alternatives, and they left poorly educated, unemployedpopulations living in deep poverty, segregated, despised by the majoritygroups, victimized by the darkest prejudices and hatreds, and lacking thegroup cohesiveness or leadership required to defend themselves againstviolence, let alone to compete for a place in the sun.
On the part of government officials, there was occasionally bewildermentabout how to cope with the special needs of the Roma at a time wheneconomies are in rapid decline, national resources are evaporating, and eventhe minimal needs of the general population cannot be met. There wasdisappointment that Roma leaders had been unable to find grounds foragreement among themselves; there was a perception that opportunities thathad been offered to them had gone unrecognized or unappreciated; and therewas considerable confusion about how or whether to strike a balance betweenintegration and the preservation of group identity.
However, the contentiousness that was so often evident came to seem not somuch a conflict between two clearly identifiable "sides" as a reflection ofa collective inability to grapple with a set of social problems so complexand contradictory as to defy any foreseeable prospect of solution. Readerswill find here striking echoes of the debates, hopes, fears, anddisappointments about the position of minority groups in the United States.
Yet in the end, one could not help but be impressed by the good will of allthe participants as they struggled, despite the difficulties, to take stepstoward a more hopeful future. The Project on Ethnic Relations intends tocontinue its efforts to bring together Roma leaders and public officials inthe region.
The meeting included parallel workshops as well as plenary sessions attendedby all the participants. Larry Watts, an American participant who alsoserved as PER's rapporteur, has skillfully woven together the principalthemes of all these separate sessions, in part on the basis of tapes andnotes provided by others. Of course some selectivity was required to producea coherent summation, and it has not been possible to include every aspectof the discussions; we apologize to anyone whose contribution may not beadequately captured. In any case, PER, which has prepared and isdistributing this report, is solely responsible for its content.
PER takes this opportunity to thank all those who participated in themeeting and the many organizations and individuals who made it possible.Cosponsors included the government, and the Office of the President, of theCzechoslovak Federal Republic; the government of the Slovak Republic; theGovernment of the Czech Republic; the Citizen's Initiative of the Romaniesof the Czechoslovak Federal Republic; the Institute of Ethnology of theSlovak Academy of Sciences; the International Romani Union; the MinorityRights Group of Slovakia; the Marai Foundation; and the Milan SimeckaFoundation. Local arrangements were made by the European CulturalRoundation. PER's work is made possible by grants from the CarnegieCorporation of New York and the Starr Foundation.
Allen H. Kassof, Director
A note on terminology: Faced with great inconsistency at the conferenceabout the name used for the ethnic group that was the subject of the meeting, we sought the advice of linguistic specialists. (The English term Gypsyand the several European variants of Tsigan are considered by many to bepejorative.) At their suggestion, this report uses the term Rom to refer toa member of the group; Roma to refer to a plurality of members and to thegroup as a whole, and also as an adjective to modify group members ("Romaparticipants," "Roma children"); and Romani as an adjective to describe thegroup's language and culture. These terms are sometimes confused withRomania, the country, or Romanian, because of the similarities in spellingand the fact that Romania has a significant minority of ethnic Roma; in factthere is no connection.
Other conference materials: A group of Roma leaders met separately betweensessions of the Stupava conference and issued a document, "....." in thename of the International Romani Union. Copies are included in the initialdistribution of this report. Additional copies can be obtained through theInternational Romani Union.
Illusions and Reality
After welcoming remarks by Klara Orgovanova, Martin Porubiak opened theconference. He took note of the conference subtitle, "Illusions andReality," and remarked that distinguishing between the two was a worthwhilegoal. Today, after the euphoria of post-Communist Europe has begun to fade,hard realities must be faced in a region suffering from the consequences ofa prolonged "rule of lies." Apprehensions lead to a search for enemies:people who are both near at hand and "different." The legacy of the former"social engineers" is falling most heavily the Roma population. Inexpressing American solidarity with beleaguered Berlin during the Cold WarJohn F. Kennedy said, "Ich bin ein Berliner." Today, everyone at thisconference, including the representatives of the federal government and theCzech and Slovak governments, is saying, "Wir sind alles Roma."
Rajko Djuric stressed what was to become a recurrent proposition at theconference. The gaps between illusions and reality, theory and practice,plans and implementation, national legislation and local enforcement, createmistrust and alienation on all sides. Governmental authorities who fashionlaws and provisions concerning minority rights often view Roma criticisms oftheir actions as ingratitude and bad faith. On the other hand On the otherhand, the Roma community, which is often unaware of these provisions becauseof inadequate publicity, perceives the central authorities as uncaring oreven abusive when, as is commonly the case, the provisions are notimplemented at the local level.
Allen Kassof pointed out that the United States can offer no ready solutionsto the problems of European ethnic conflict. Americans have had only partialsuccess with their own efforts to deal with racial and ethnic conflicts, asthe race riots that had just erupted in Los Angeles so vividly attested.What Americans can offer is decades of experience in grappling with theseproblems, a tradition of public discourse and objective research, and aneutral stance towards particular ethnic problems of eastern Europe. Ethnicstrife threatens the entire region and constitutes the single greatestobstacle to the development of democracy. The concern of the Project onEthnic Relations (PER) is reflected in the wide array of its initiatives inthe region, including this meeting on the Roma. There are two major reasonsfor singling out the Roma for urgent attention. First, there is an immediateand practical need: outbreaks of often deadly violence directed against theRoma because of their status as an underprivileged and disadvantagedminority. Second, the Roma constitute a test case for the new Europe, wherea sophisticated internationalism exists side by side with dangeroustribalisms. How will post-Communist societies deal with their minorities?.It is tragic that, a half century after World War II, ethnic warfare isagain common in Europe. Surely we must not surrender to its inevitability.
As the conference progressed, it became apparent that three issues were ofmost concern to the Roma: human and civil rights, minority rights, andcommunity development and political organization. As Peter Skerry noted,there were in reality two parallel and related conferences going on: onedealing with issues and problems of social policy, the other dealing withthe Roma's efforts at political organization. While issues of social policycan be discussed separately from those of political organization and, insome cases, initially should be treated separately so as not to losevaluable time or allow the current situation to worsen, the long-termsuccess of remedial social policies will depend on successful politicalorganization among the Roma.
Basic Rights and Ethnic Violence
Within Central and Southeastern Europe the ethnic rights debate ranges fromminimal claims which can be accommodated within universally-acceptedindividual rights guarantees, such as freedom of cultural expression, tocollective rights demands which at their extreme advocate versions of ethnicapartheid. What rights are granted within this range is a political issue,subject to the negotiation of the respective parties within the broadboundaries of international laws and agreements.
Many of the conference participants maintained that the most immediateconcern of the Roma in Europe is a guarantee of basic civil rights,particularly protection of life and limb. As Ian Hancock pointed out, thisis especially important to a people who, for centuries in certain Europeancountries, have been subjected to capital punishment merely being Roma andwho, moreover, were among the main victims of the Holocaust.
Numerous participants stressed the significance of ethnically-motivatedviolence during the post-Communist transition in Central and SoutheasternEurope. The violence directed against the Roma in all the former socialiststates is pervasive. Since the beginning of 1990, Roma have suffered morethan 45 attacks, resulting in the deaths of twenty Roma and the destructionof over four hundred Romani dwellings. The violence has been especially welldocumented in the former Czech and Slovak lands and in Romania and Hungary,but it has also taken place in Poland, Bulgaria, and former Yugoslavia.
Although, from the perspective of the Roma, the important aspect ofanti-Roma violence is grounded in deep-rooted prejudice and racism, itbecame clear during the course of the conference that there are demographicvariations in the specific nature of the violence and the rationalizationsand justifications behind it. As Emil Scuka recounted, in the urban settingof Hradec Kralova in the Czech Republic on September 12, 1991, fascistskinheads claiming a desire to "protect racial purity" attacked a Romaniclub, beating its members and killing a Rom. In Romania, however, as NicolaeGheorghe pointed out, violence against the Roma was generally a ruralphenomenon, usually consisting of assaults on local Roma inhabitants aftersome real or imagined precipitating event. In Bolentina, on April 6-7, 1991,after a Rom allegedly raped a village woman, the villagers drove 137 Romafamilies from their homes--the entire Roma population of the village--andburned the homes of 26 Roma to the ground as "retaliation.".
Unfortunately, governmental responses have been markedly ineffectual whenthey have been made at all. In the case of the attacks by the skinheads, asseveral participants noted, although there was little or no ambiguityconcerning the identity of the attackers or the ethnic nature of thetargets, only one of about thirty persons was prosecuted on charges ofracism and propagation of fascism. There has been a marked reticence on thepart of state and municipal authorities to recognize the ethnic nature ofthe violence and a corresponding tendency to underplay any fascistic andracist incidents. For instance, a member of the law faculty at ComeniusUniversity in Bratislava asserted that it took him six months to have anarticle on such attacks published. Even then he was told he ought not talkopenly about such matters and that other factors such as the attacker'sidentity were more important than who was being attacked.
Likewise, according to Aladar Horvath, the skinheads have had the help ofthe police on the streets of Hungary, and the justice system there has madeno public comment on demonstrations against the Roma. Manouch Romanovdescribed how, in Bulgaria, Roma were "chased like dogs in the street," andDjuric asserted that, after he had received several death threats, his homewas ransacked by state authorities and he was forced to leave Belgrade andYugoslavia. It emerged from discussion that, aside from the pervasive andbroad support for anti-Roma attacks, which was often shared by centralauthorities, one of the obstacles to ending such attacks is the desire ofstate authorities to preserve a positive and "clean" self-image,particularly in circumstances in which they perceive their state incompetition for Western aid. Racist and fascist violence, even if committedby marginal groups, is seen as something best kept quiet if the state is tocontinue to receive necessary aid during the current transition.
The racial/ethnic nature of the violence in rural settings is neither hiddennor ideologically driven, yet local authorities are still perceived as doinglittle or nothing to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. Gheorgheexpressed the general frustration of the Roma. He acknowledged thatinvestigations into mob incidents are difficult and time-consuming and thatauthorities in Romania, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics aretrying, but the Roma are looking for some sign of good faith, some evidencethat the governments are serious about putting into practice theconstitutional provisions recognizing and guaranteeing basic human rights.While Roma who are charged with crimes are quickly apprehended, crimesagainst Roma appear to be investigated in an extremely leisurely manner, andoften no suspects are apprehended at all. What accounts for this variationin the speed and effectiveness of the justice system? When pressed by Romaleaders, the local authorities in the Bolentina case suggested that the Romathemselves did not want to pursue the prosecution too vigorously because somany villagers were involved that it was likely to create more animosity andresult in more attacks against the Roma.
Various participants pointed out that local police and justice authorities,when they do not lack the will, often lack the capability to deal with mobviolence. Where central authorities do not provide support or exert pressurefor the implementation of state policies and the enforcement of laws at thelocal level, the local authorities are left to make their own arrangements,which will then depend on the resources available to them and their personalproclivities. Such arrangements often ignore centrally mandated policies andlaws and violate basic human and civil rights of local minorities. Thisphenomenon is as evident in rural Romania, Hungary, and Poland today as itwas in the southeastern United States during the 1950s. The failure ofcentral authorities to publicly and persistently condemn ethnic violencesends ambiguous messages to a population already saturated with negativeimages of the Roma.
It was clear from both Roma and governmental participants that centuries ofnegative images play a tremendous role in the current violence. Viktor Sekytnoted that in the past, Roma in Bohemia were considered a "pathologicalgroup," and under the pretext of suppressing Romani crime, the statesuppressed the Roma's rights as well. Dushan Ondersek added that thissituation is common throughout central and southeastern European societies.In a recent pollXXX 81 per cent of the population stated that they wereagainst having a Rom as a relative, 62 per cent were against having a Rom asneighbor, and 19 per cent were against having Romani as work colleagues.Communist regimes, according to Ondersek, created a false sense of security,which has now given way to a sense of social insecurity. A combination ofethnocentrism, parochialism, and barriers to the diffusion of informationleads to the use of minority populations and especially Roma as scapegoatsfor this insecurity.
Vojislav Stanovcic suggested three other factors behind current anti-Romaviolence. First, in the whole of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union,authoritarian political views were prevalent. In Yugoslavia, for example,more than three-quarters of the population expressed extremely authoritarianattitudes in a recent poll. Second, the new oppositions are often not somuch democratic as anti-Communist and nationalist. Finally, during Communistrule nationalism was a strong opposing force. The collapse of Communism madeit possible for nationalism to become stronger than ever.
Donald Horowitz noted that the negative image of the Roma was similar to thestereotyping of subordinate ethnic groups in hierarchical societies formedthrough slavery and conquest. This was the case, for example, with theBurakaman of Japan, blacks in the United States, and the low castes ofIndian and African societies. The Japanese Burakaman, for instance, werecharacterized as dirty, lazy, sexually promiscuous, and akin to four-leggedbeasts. But such images can be changed. Policies of equality and theeducation and creation of elites among the subordinated groups have provenparticularly effective in undermining such ethnic stratification.
Horowitz went on to say that ethnic violence displays several commoningredients and follows a general timetable, which can be interrupted.First, justifications for the killing and destruction are made both beforeand after the fact. Second, official and unofficial condoning results in thedeliberate or inadvertent "miscuing" of the population. Finally, immunityfrom punishment or retaliation is conferred, either de jure or de facto, andthe consequent absence of fear facilitates further incidents of ethnicviolence.
The attitudes of elites, especially at the local level, are criticallyimportant in that they can either remove or provide these essentialingredients. Clear signs of elite disapproval tend to significantly inhibitviolence as do police neutrality and a determination to enforce applicablelaws at the local level. Conversely, police bias and indifference areuniversally present in instances of attacks on ethnic groups.
The sequences of events in ethnic riots is fairly regular. They begin amidsta decline in multiethnic political participation and severe fluctuations indomestic policy, which create general uncertainty. The mass violence ispreceded by rumors of prior aggression on the part of the target group,which have the function of justifying the forthcoming "counter"-violence asself defense. (These rumors often project certain atrocities on to thetarget group that the attacking group intends to inflict on it in"retaliation.") Following the incidents of ethnic violence, three recurrenttypes of events often all but ensure that such incidents will be repeated:exceedingly slow investigations, nonapprehension of suspects, andinsignificant punishments.
Kassof observed that, only two years after the revolutions, it is hardlysurprising that disorganization characterizes the various governments of theregion as well as the various Romani organizations. Improved organizationwill come in time. Meanwhile, the fact that the Roma are weakly organizedcan hardly be accepted as an excuse for violations of their basic civilrights, which governments have a fundamental obligation to protect.Governments in transition have both an opportunity and responsibility toestablish strong laws against discrimination and to closely monitor theirenforcement.
Drawing on experience in the United States, Jennifer Hochschild suggestedthat there is a moment of opportunity when new people come into publicoffice. Horowitz added that the relatively limited amount of violenceagainst the Roma in among the states of central and southeastern Europe,compared with amounts elsewhere in the world, tends to confirm the existenceof such a moment of opportunity, during which intervention may be undertakento avoid devastating ethnic violence. Riots are often preceded by a briefperiod during which strategies are devised and forces marshalled; sometimessmall incidents of violence are staged to test the resolve of theauthorities. This would be a time for the authorities to emphasize the needto enforce the rule of law and to protect all groups and individuals fromviolence. Instead, out of a fear of "stirring up trouble" or appearing"anti-national" to the majority population, they may down play theproblem--but this behavior may then be interpreted as a lack of resolve topunish the instigators or even as passive approval of further violence.
The "Rootless" People
The Rom are a unique group in Europe. As Gheorghe pointed out, they are apeople in diaspora who have no homeland. The Roma do not consider India,whence they began their migrations centuries ago, as a homeland; indeed,they reject the notion of a homeland altogether. This lack of a territorialbase has had a profound effect on the perception of the Roma by hostsocieties. As Helena Klimova noted, the ownership of a historical territoryis closely associated with the idea of permanence and stability. Atransnational group, lacking a geographical homeland or political territory,is perceived as unstable and, hence, untrustworthy. Several participantssuggested that the heart of the problem is that the Roma do not fall easilywithin the framework of traditional national politics. Some suggested thatnew categories are needed.
Scuka argued that it will be difficult to resolve the problems faced by theRoma in any one state if they cannot be resolved in all of Europe. Atpresent, their lack of a territorial base is a great vulnerability. Djuricobserved that this lack prevents them from taking part in the currentnegotiations in Yugoslavia, even though these negotiations directly interestand affect them.
Another unique aspect of the Roma is that they have been the target ofrepeated attempts by state authorities throughout Europe to deny them theiridentity. Traditionally, the Roma were a social caste--a separatecollectivity that inherited an imposed position of inferiority. Until themiddle of the nineteenth century, they were subject to slavery. This statuswas "justified" by racial characteristics. In the twentieth century the Romawere reclassified from a social caste to a social problem, in which theiridentity as a cultural group was denied. Hancock pointed out that Roma wereinitially vulnerable to attacks on their identity because of geographicalfragmentation as the original migrations followed separate routes intoEurope, and this vulnerability was then exacerbated by linguisticfragmentation through natural dialectical differentiations and, mostradically, by the assimilationist policies of host societies.
The first target of assimilationist policies was usually the use of adistinct language--a primary determinant of ethnicity. Concomitantly, theRoma were treated as a purely "social" population rather than an ethnic orracial one. As late as the early 1980s, Bulgaria forced all members of theTurkish and Romani ethnic groups to take Bulgarian names and use only theBulgarian language, thus giving up their own ethnicity. Similarly, inHungary until 1968, all minorities had to take Hungarian names and adopt theHungarian language. After 1968, the policy was abandoned but continued inpractice; the decree abolishing it was not publicized.
In Poland, according to Andrzej Mirga, the Roma were recognized as people ofGypsy origin, but the Gypsies were considered an "ethnographic category"rather than an ethnic group until 1989. After 1989, the Roma were recognizedas an ethnic group but not as a nationality group, which would have entitledthem to certain rights not available to ethnic groups. The greatest positivechange in 1989 was the removal of the Roma from the control of the Ministryof the Interior, where the police had collected data on them, which wereconsidered secret, to be used in implementing the policies of assimilation.Now, the Roma are the concern of the Ministry of Culture, which has adopteda much supportive role and has established a genuine dialogue with the Roma.
Milena Hubschmanova described Czechoslovakia's policy of forced assimilationafter World War II. The Roma were labelled a social group with a dyingethnic identity; they were not allowed to have Romani teachers for theirchildren, nor could their language be used in classrooms. According to arepresentative from the Slovak Academy of Sciences, postwar communistpseudoscience held that the Roma had no culture of their own and that theirlanguage bordered on slang; therefore, they had no right to a distinctethnic existence. Consequently, they were prohibited from setting upfolklore ensembles and clubs, from printing in the Romani language, and evenfrom relating Romani stories over radio or television. Because state policyhad for many decades refused to recognize the Roma as a self-standing ethnicsubject, they were reduced to the level of a peripheral, "socially degraded"stratum of society. Acknowledgement of membership in the Romani ethnic groupamounted to admission of membership in an antisocial stratum. (In Slovak,the word for a Rom, tsigan, is barely distinguishable from the word for liarand cheat, cigan.) This also had the effect of robbing the Roma of rolemodels, since economically, intellectually, or politically successful Romatended to disassociate themselves from their ethnic backgrounds completelyrather than accept stigmatization. Tomas Haisman noted that, since 1989, thefederal, Czech and Slovak governments had instituted new principlesestablishing the full equality of all ethnic and national minorities.
There were several reasons why the European states considered it in theirinterest to treat the Roma only as a social population rather than as anethnic or racial one. First, Hancock pointed out, as a social group, theRoma themselves could be blamed for their lot, but if they were an ethnicgroup, the host societies would have to take some responsibility for theirdisadvantaged status. Second, in the welfare capitalism of Europe, thestatus of ethnic minority (or national minority, when the two aredifferentiated) often confers certain entitlements and rights which thestatus of social group does not. This was the reason that the Germangovernment, in March 1992, refused to sign an agreement recognizing a Romaminority in Germany, although the Roma have had a centuries-long historythere.
Finally, categorizing the Roma as a social group or "problem" legitimizesintrusive state intervention to deal with the "problem." Perhaps the mostradical instance of such intervention was the policy of social sterilizationadopted by the Slovak government between 1980 and 1990 to curb what itcalled "unhealthy high fertility rates" among the Roma. Although Slovak lawstipulated that sterilization was to be applied only to women 35 years orold or more who had four or more children, there were many cases of women asyoung as 21 and with only one child undergoing sterlization as a result ofpsychological and financial pressure. Roma participants at the conferencedemanded that such policies be halted and condemned as attempted genocide.
Another aspect of the redefinition of Romani identity was the transformationof ethnic and cultural differences into social deviance. Romani children whodid not speak the host language very well were treated as mentally deficientand put into special classes within which they could advance only to thefourth grade. Young Roma thus became increasingly alienated and isolatedfrom the host society, experiencing an enforced "social retardation" whichled to withdrawal, aggression, and other forms of antisocial behavior.
While policies of forced assimilation did not achieve their stated goals,they were successful in a purely negative sense: they destroyed traditionalsocial structures, occupational skills, and values without providingreplacements. As Renata Weinerova explained, the traditional legaloccupations of the Roma were peripheral activities oriented toward rurallife. Moreover, the work activity was seasonal and sporadic, in accordancewith the nomadic life-style of the Roma. Those trades with the highestprestige among the Roma--horse-trading, music, and smithing--were alsovalued by the host populations.
However, the Communist regimes put an end to the capitalist enterprise ofhorse-trading, while orchestras and smithing were forbidden as privatebusinesses. With their old trades gone, the Roma were relegated to the ranksof unskilled labor. In one sense, they retained their nomadic life-style,moving from place to place and town to town, but it was not out of choice.Instead, they moved under societal pressures and were kept at the lowestlevel of social stratification, gradually losing the definingcharacteristics of an ethnic group and coming to resemble an urbanproletariat. In this sense, whole settlements of Roma became "rootless."After the long years of imposed inferiority, the continued experience ofcolor prejudice, and pervasive negative images, it should come as nosurprise that many Rom have internalized the belief in their ownunworthiness.
It is within this framework of beleaguered ethnicity that the Roma, asGheorghe explained, are undergoing a process of ethnogenesis--from adespised marginal community known as tsiganis to a recognized ethnicminority known as the Roma. In view of this fact, it is not surprising thatmuch of the discussion was centered upon language issues and the need tostandardize the Romani language. There was general agreement that, as adefining characteristic of ethnicity, a single unified language was animportant tool for strengthening ethnic identity and for facilitatingcommunication among members of the ethnic group. With very few exceptions,both Romani-speaking and non-Romani-speaking Roma supported the efforts ofMarcel Kurtiade and others to standardize the Romani language.
Democracy and Disadvantage
Ironically, the collapse of Communism and the advent of democracy has been,in several respects, a negative development for the Roma. Societaltransition fosters insecurity, especially in conditions of economicdifficulty, and many search for "guilty" parties to scapegoat. In Romaniaand Poland, the Roma are now characterized as the group most heavilyinvolved in black market activities and are frequently blamed for the lackof consumer goods or for high prices. Under the Communist regimes, violenceagainst the Roma was fairly well restrained (unless it occurred at statedirection.) Since the revolutions, however, both open discrimination andviolent racism have been on the rise. Before, the state dictated socialnorms and behavior, and these norms were always defined so as to enhance thestability of the state. Now, the as yet weak state leaderships bend beforepopular opinion and, when popular opinion is racist, the state has donelittle to counter it. Gheorge, in agreement with Stanovcic and Klimova,noted that, while claiming and desiring to be democratic states, mostEuropean nations remain ethnic states and, in the midst of transition, theycontinue to drive towards ethnic homogeneity.
Another serious problem for the future of the Roma is that the emergence ofdemocratic principles has in some cases actually reduced their access toadvantageous treatment. Under the Communist regime, the Roma were allowedand even pressured to enter secondary school. Now, however, there is acompletely different attitude. In the Czech lands and Slovakia, forinstance, the Roma must compete on an equal footing with all othercandidates, and the results are determined by computer. The principle ofethnic equality, and the unpleasant memory of granting rewards andexceptions to persons of the "working class," often lead governments toprohibit quotas and special treatment of groups and the treatment of anethnic minority as socially disadvantaged.
It is true that the societies of central and southeastern Europe are movingtoward democracy and a market economy, but more attention is being paid toimplementing the market economy than to operationalizing equality anddemocracy. These societies, all with substantial disadvantaged populationsof Roma and deep-rooted and long-standing prejudices against them, have notinitiated any affirmative action, Headstart, or other programs of positivediscrimination. It appeared from the conference discussions that there wasan lack of understanding on the part of government officials concerning therealities of disadvantaged populations and what would be required to bringabout equality for them. In general, these officials seemed to feel that aguarantee of something quite a bit better than the status quo before thecommunists took over, such as guarantees of equality and the provision ofcertain resources on par with that available to other ethnic groups, wereenough and should satisfy the Roma. This was evident from such questions aswhy, after the government has provided assistance, the Roma were not takingadvantage of it. "The government has built the road but now the Roma mustwalk it themselves."
Roma leaders replied that, while they did not expect governments to doeverything for them, they still required their aid. As Scuka explained, theestablishment of the necessary juridical framework in Czechoslovakia,especially the declaration on human rights that recognized the Roma as anationality group, was an important achievement and deserves the thanks ofthe Roma; nevertheless the Roma are now like children who are still unableto walk on their own. As Hancock put it, the Roma have not yet escaped the"cycle of despair." The needs are to instill belief in self, to teach newskills, and to provide opportunities. As Hochschild explained, there are twostrategies for dealing with such "estranged poor." The first is to enablethem to enter mainstream society, and the second is to provide a satisfyingalternative. In the first strategy, the teaching of skills must beaccompanied by a restoration of faith if it is to be effective.Unfortunately, such programs require a lot of money and long period of time.
It was evident that this topic had evoked considerable frustration on bothsides. Governments felt that they had done their share, and that they hadlimited resources and many other complicated and costly problems to dealwith. Within the Roma community, frustration arose over the gap betweenprovisions and implementation, form and content. Some Roma participantsaccused the governments of bad faith. There was also great frustration amongthe Roma directed against themselves, especially among those from the Czechlands and Slovakia who recognized the efforts made by the government andwere angry at their people's failure to benefit from them because they werenot in a position to do so. At times, the discussion of how to remedy thissituation was hampered by mutual recriminations.
An additional source of frustration for the Roma participants was theirperception of a patronizing attitude among government officials. On theother hand, many government representatives cited their unhappy experiencesduring the past two years in dealing with numerous Roma organizations whichwere often at odds with one another. There was a clear feeling on the partof government representatives that the Roma first needed to speak with aunified voice within their own countries before they could be takenseriously. This stance was opposed by Roma leaders, who pointed out thattheir people were still in a period of experimentation in politicalorganization and, while some leaders are self appointed, after one or twoyears they will either have succeeded or discredited themselves. At thispoint, it was premature to demand that a single leader be designated.
Haisman, expressing the governments' point of view. said that after one yearthe Czechoslovak federal government had still not managed to gather all ofthe Roma organizations at the negotiating table. On several occasions, thegovernment took important decisions with the backing of many Romaorganizations, only to be subsequently attacked by other Roma organizations.The problem lay in knowing how to identify authentic representatives. PeterVisek asked whether there was any standard policy in such cases and whetherit would not be better for the state to appoint representatives. Skerryreplied that, if the state is to make important decisions affecting theRoma, the Roma organizations had to articulate their own interests. Anyarranged alternative is paternalistic and will be viewed as an illegitimateimposition.
In some cases, the new democratic governments have left the Roma out of thedecision-making process altogether. Scuka noted that the Slovak governmenthad accomplished more than the Bohemian and the Czechoslovak federalgovernments because it had involved more Roma in the process. In Bohemia,there were no Roma in the department concerned with such matters. Accordingto Scuka, despite the availability of able Roma in Bohemia, the non-Roma, orGadze officials said that they were "more competent." Mirga related "abeautiful example" of how such problems are dealt with in Poland. Bothrepresentatives of the Roma minority and academic experts were invited bythe government to a long meeting. The Roma presented their point of view,and then the experts had their say, after which the government ministersasked the Roma to leave while the government and the experts resolved theproblem.
Horvath described the evolution of Hungary's law on national minorities asan indication of the government's attitude. A Roma parliament, together withrepresentatives of the thirteen other minorities, prepared a draft law andasked the government to start negotiations on it. These negotiations werecompleted in February 1992 and the results presented at Strasbourg. But thegovernment then enacted a law completely different from the one proposed bythe minorities. This law violated international law and treaties to whichHungary is a party by limiting rights of cultural autonomy and providing noguarantees of minority rights.
All Rom participants stressed that, after long experience of being treatedas the objects or victims of state policy, the only method that would gainsupport and cooperation from the Roma was one of partnership. HanaFristenska pointed out that, although the Roma are now theoretically equalwith other minorities in Czechoslovakia, they still suffer from socialhandicaps, Governmental programs will be effective only if they are coupledwith power-sharing.
Current Status and Future Policy
One of the issues raised during the conference was the quality of statisticsrelating to the Roma. None of the demographic statistics from any of thestates in the region were deemed reliable by the Roma participants. Evenwhere deliberate political manipulation of the numbers was not suspected,the statistics depended heavily on the organization that collected them, thepurpose for which they were collected, and the methods of collection. Often,official census statistics gave figures very different from those publishedby local record offices. For example, the 1991 Czechoslovak census listedthe Roma population at about 114,000, while the 1989 records of the urbanand communal offices of public administration showed a total of 399,681.Likewise, the 1992 census in Romania listed approximately 470,000 Roma,almost twice as many as the 1977 census but still well below the numberaccepted by local Roma leaders, who contend the population is between 2.0and 2.5 million. Minority groups generally have an interest in claiming thelargest possible number of members, because larger numbers normally meangreater political power, whereas governmental authorities often favor lowerfigures for minorities, to emphasize the "national" character of the stateand to deemphasize the multi ethnic nature of society.
A spirited debate arose over a presentation by Weinerova presentingpreliminary data linking the economy of the Roma to that of the majoritysystem. After acknowledging the complexity of the problem, Weinerova brokedown the occupations of the Roma into legal and illegal, and skilled andunskilled. Such research inevitably has political implications. While a fewof the Roma participants discouraged it, the majority, after expressing somecautions, supported it. After so many years of being scapegoated for allsorts of crimes, the Roma needed to emphasize the positive aspects of theirculture, especially during the current process of ethnogenesis. Horowitzsaid none of the statistics are reliable; they are often distorted byexaggeration and selective interpretation. Hancock added that expectationsof high criminality among the Roma are preserved in cultures in whoselanguages "to gyp" means "to cheat." Nevertheless, the rate of convictionrate for theft is no higher among the Roma than the national averages, whilethe rates of conviction rate for rape and murder are significantly lower.Still, there is an internalized image of Roma as "bad guys" which has beenfostered by literature and journalism.
Hochschild remarked on the problems of what data to gather and whether togather them. Often, the data do not come out in a way one would like. Somemay decide not to gather data at all, others not to use them when they havebeen gathered, or to use them only in the context of other data. Still, evenwhen data are intrinsically political, they need to be gathered. At present,effective measures to address the social problems of the Roma are hamperedby a lack of information and a resistance to gathering information.
Gheorghe presented the "ego-and-id" character of such research for Romaleaders. On the one hand, as a sociologist he wanted to encourage Weinerova,but as an ethnic Rom he wanted to discourage her efforts to examine the darkside of Romani culture. However, he realized that it would be impossible towin sympathy or persuade others if such issues as Roma "deviance" were notdealt with openly. But the methodology of such work must be very rigorous.For example, in a recent poll published in Prague, it was asserted that 80per cent of all thievery in that city was committed by Gypsies. But how werethefts counted? How was "Gypsy" defined? One of the central problems indetermining the amount of deviance among the Roma is the definition of Gypsyor Rom. It is clear that there are professional thieves among the Roma, justas there are in other groups, but how many of them there are is not known.
Concerning strategies for addressing the needs of the Roma as adisadvantaged population, the Slovak minister of education advocated theeducation of Roma students in their mother tongue because it made learningeasier and allowed children to learn more quickly. Until the Romani languageis standardized, the local dialect could be used as the language ofinstruction if teachers are available. The Romani language should be used atthe preschool level and again in the upper grades of primary school, but notin the lower grades, in order to ensure a good knowledge of both Romani andthe national language. Also, as in American Headstart programs, a preschoolshould be introduced where children can learn to adapt to the schoolsituation. Often, there is great pressure for children to be "like theothers"; in a recent poll, only 5.6 per cent of Roma students replied thatthey would like to be linked with their ethnic background. Specially trainedteachers of Roma children are needed who are aware of the problems that Romachildren are apt to face, including high proportions of failure in the uppergrades, unemployment of parents, and problems related to the source offamily income. Hancock also noted the pressure on Roma children from theirown parents, who may not want their children going to school past a certainage or socializing with the Gadzes and forming non-Roma romanticattachments.
Hochschild set forth an array of choices concerning the strategy of socialdevelopment facing the Roma communities. These choices included both appealsto be made to central authorities and decisions to be taken regarding Romapolicy goals. At the most basic level, the Roma could choose totalassimilation or total separation. Total assimilation would imply theabandonment of anything like a strong Roma identity for the sake of beingincorporated into the dominant society. Total separation implies completewithdrawal from the main community, including language, schools, eventerritory. This general choice entails a series of corollary choices. Whatwill be the dominant language of the Roma? Will Roma children be educated inthe larger society or will they maintain their own skills? Are Roma to beincluded into government on equal terms or according to specific negotiatedarrangements? For the Roma, there is also a third alternative, representingan entirely new political possibility: trans-European nationality.
A second set of choices concerns the strategies deemed necessary to achievethe desired goals. Several participants emphasized that policy choicesalways bring costs, often unintended, and careful evaluation was thereforenecessary to limit unwelcome side-effects. Gheorghe repeated on severaloccasions that it was important to keep in mind the experimental nature ofpolicies and to continue to evaluate them. Have they been successfulelsewhere? Under what circumstances? Have they been successful within theregion? What have been the noneconomic costs associated with them? Are theRoma willing to pay these costs? Skerry noted that in welfare state politicsthere is a strong tendency to regress to one-sided arguments, Claims aremade on the basis of victim status to prove legitimacy and worthiness; theclaimant group refers only the positive features of its culture, denying orremaining silent about any negative aspects whatsoever. In the U.S. case,for example, sometimes only the benefits of social services are presented,ignoring the costs and trade-offs.
Gheorghe spoke to this point, stressing that all aspects should beconsidered in making policy choices. For example, the Roma should carefullyevaluate the effects of the subsidies given in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.Have they been good or bad? Have they achieved their stated aims or havethey contributed to political alienation and a relationship of dependency?Have populations become more talented because of money spent on the culturalactivities of the Rom? None of the answers to these questions is clear.
Hochschild noted that, while claims of victim status may be effective ingetting something out of the dominant society and eliciting resources fromthe state through manipulation of guilt and social responsibility, there isa very real danger that the disadvantaged group may come to believe in them,to internalize victim status as an unchanging reality of life. Historically,it may be true that one has been a victim of state policies. However,insisting on victim status in order to continue to elicit state resources,after the state has made a genuine attempt to change its policies and toenlist the former victim as a partner, may reinforce a victim mentality andcreate a barrier to achieving the very goal for which the strategy had beenadopted. Thus, policy choices require much conscious forethought.
Hochschild highlighted several other factors that could affect the successor failure of the policies chosen. First, would the Roma focus on auniversal or a targeted policy? Universal social policies are designed tobenefit the entire population. Since they are inclusive, they arepolitically palatable, but they may not benefit those who need them most.However, the universalist approach to certain demands of the Roma--forinstance guarantees of basic human and civil rights--could be an effectivetactic. Instead of claiming protection only for the rights of the Roma, thedemand could be broadened and based on the need for implementation of therule of law for everyone, which is generally a more persuasive argument forstate intervention and public sympathy. In most cases, however, a targetedpolicy aimed at ethnic welfare is necessary to address the needs of the Romaas a group or of people who are disproportionately poor.
A second consideration concerns the relationship between the attitudes andbehavior of the Roma and the behavior of the dominant population. It isclear that discrimination against the Roma exists and that the Roma in turnfeel estranged and tend to behave in undesirable ways, thereby creating avicious circle. This circle can be broken into, although it is probablynecessary to change both official and Roma practices before there is realhope of changing attitudes.
Third, it is necessary for the Roma to begin forming political coalitionswith other groups. Currently, the Roma are not considered attractivepolitical partners, yet they are not likely to get far without politicalcoalition-building. It is a difficult and uncomfortable step, but anecessary one. Such coalitions are likely to change from one issue-area toanother.
Finally, the Roma need to think about trade-offs among goals and tactics. Acommon political tactic is to demand as much as possible as often aspossible. This sometimes makes very good sense, but from the governmentperspective it is not useful. Resources are scarce, and the Roma need toestablish priorities and be prepared to negotiate trade-offs so that theirhighest priorities can be reached as soon as possible. For example, canintegration begin in the schools of the dominant population, or is itimperative that schooling be separate? Is the mother tongue to be used inprimary schools only or must it be used in higher education as well? TheRoma need to distinguish among demands they that must be implemented as soonas possible, demands that ca be deferred, and demands that can be abandonedaltogether.
At the conclusion of the conference, several Roma and governmentalparticipants thanked the Project on Ethnic Relations for initiating whatproved to be a very fruitful gathering. Haisman noted that the conferencewas conceived as an initial meeting that would provide the pattern forlong-term dialogue among the majority cultures of central and southeasternEurope, the minority culture of the Roma, and the culture of the UnitedStates. The American role, Haisman added, has been to try, rathersuccessfully, to unravel some of the confusion.
Livia Plaks of PER reiterated that the Americans had not come to teach, butto help in the process of mutual learning about the complexities of thesocial problems left in the aftermath of socialism. An understanding ofthese issues, she said, also sheds light on American minority problems. Allof us are asking, what is my responsibility to myself, to my group, to othergroups? She remarked that it was encouraging it was to see the greatreservoir of goodwill in these discussions and the willingness to listendespite profound disagreements. The American participants, she said, weredeeply impressed by how forthrightly the governments, the non-governmentalorganizations, and the members of the Roma community have begun to addressthese complex issues. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Czech and Slovakand Roma co-sponsors and organizers of the conference. It is a veryencouraging sign for the future, even though it is only the beginning of aprocess. PER looks forward to a follow-up conference in Bucharest.
Gheorghe noted that, during the second conference, the Roma will again bepartners and not simply beneficiaries. That conference will benefit from thediscussion at this one. He added his approach underwent a change in thecourse of this conference. He came seeking to have the conferenceparticipants subscribe to an activist political statement focussing on theplight of the Roma, which a group of Roma participants, meeting separatelybetween sessions of this conference, had indeed produced. But he nowacknowledged that a non-partisan report reflecting the wide variety of viewsand the controversies revealed during these days would carry a good dealmore authority. Therefore, he wished to thank the sponsors not only fortheir material help but for the balanced strategy that they brought to thetask.
CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS (Partial List)
Jiri Neustupny, Monash University, Melbourne
Manouch Romanov, Roma Democratic Union
Martin Butora, Federal Office of the Presidency
Klara Ferlikova, Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic
Hana Fristenska, Czechoslovak Federal Government
Tomas Haisman, Czechoslovak Federal Government
Peter Huncik, Federal Office of the Presidency
Milena Hubschmanova, Charles University Faculty of Philosophy
Helena Jacosova, Slovak Federal Government
Anna Jurova, Slovak Academy of Sciences
Jan Kompus, Roma Civic Initiative of Czechoslovakia
Milan Lescak, Slovak Academy of Sciences
Arne B. Mann, Slovak Academy of Sciences
Miroslav Mihok, Roma Civic Initiative of Czechoslovakia
Vladimir Olah, Matica Romska
Klara Orgovanova, Government of Slovakia
Pavel Pekarek, Ministry of Labour
Martin Porubiak, Government of Slovakia
Jan Rusenko, Roma National Congress
Miroslav Rusenko, Roma National Congress
Attila Szop, Government of Slovakia
Emil Scuka, Roma Civic Initiative of Czechoslovakia
Rachel Tritt, Human Rights Watch
Viliam Zeman, Slovak Ministry of Culture
Suzanne Pattle, Minorty Rights Group
Clair Auzias, Institute for Children & Family
Pierre Brumberg, Modern Times
Jean Pierre Liegeois, Center for Romani Studies
Suljo Adzovic, RCU
Dan Brzezinski, Union Roma-Sinti Hamburg
Rajko Djuric, International Romani Union
Rudko Kawczynski, Roma National Congress
Momara Sejdovic, RCU Hamburg
Janos Bathory, Office for National and Ethnic Minorities
Janos Bogdan, Roma Parliament
Aladar Horvath, Hungarian Parliament
Ferencz Kalanyos, Roma Parliament in Hungary
Judith Toth, Ministry of the Interior
Giovanna Grenga, Center for Romani Studies
Andrzei Mirga, Jagiellonian University
Nicolae Gheorghe, International Romani Union
Nadezda Georgievna Demeter, Institute for Ethnology & Anthropology
Valerij Nikiforovic Samsurov, State Committee for National Affairs
Ian Hancock, International Romani Union
Jenifer Hochschild, Princeton University
Donald Horowitz, Duke University
Allen H. Kassof, Project on Ethnic Relations
Livia B. Plaks, Project on Ethnic Relations
Peter Skerry, Center for American Politics & Public Policy
Theodore Zang, Kaplan Fund
Vojislav Stanovcic, Belgrade University