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October 5, 2022

Roma integration starts in school

The Romanian Premier’s recent visit to Paris was a success. After the long “freeze” which was due to former French President Sarkozy, the traditional ties of friendship and collaboration between Romania and France are once again boosted through new bilateral agreements. But an old “thorn” surfaced even in this friendly atmosphere. We are talking about the problem of the repeated waves of immigration of thousands of Romanian roma ethnics to France. Why repeated? Because, unlike other states for which the Gypsies’ social integration represents an eminently European problem, France under the leadership of Sarkozy chose the solution of expelling the Gypsies back to their countries of origin, including Romania. But since such expulsions were accompanied by the paying of important sums of money to the Gypsies, this financial “generosity” stimulated the Gypsies’ repeated waves of immigration to France.

Today it is clear, including for French officials, that the Gypsies’ social and professional integration is the only solution to transform their quasi-isolated community into a productive social reality. But a great problem appears here too. Just as in the case of any other community, the effective and rapid social and professional integration of Gypsies calls for their full school enrollment. And precisely this goal is rejected by some spiritual leaders of the Gypsy community, dubbed “bulibasi,” which avoid school “like a pest house,” to quote them. Why this fear? Out of their fully unjustified fear that literacy would distance the Gypsies from the “specificity” of their ethnicity. Even though none of them openly boasts with this specificity. But precisely this inner hostility towards literacy aggravates the issue of social integration, despite all efforts that Romania has always made in favor of this optimal solution. Always, not just for the more than 150 years since the Gypsies present in the Romanian lands regained their freedom. Unlike other European countries where the Gypsies’ immigration from Asia turned them into slaves, in the Romanian lands they were at first only bondsmen. Our main landlords were in control of solely their work, not also their lives. They were hence solely bondsmen, not slaves. And with the Union of the Romanian Principalities the Gypsies’ children had access to the education system too. On the basis of this Romanian tradition too, the World Bank and the Soros Foundation proposed to European countries a decade ago for the year 2005 to mark the start of the International Roma Integration Decade. The setting up of a special World Bank fund was outlined. But during the same period Romania, an enthusiastic supporter of the Gypsies’ social and professional integration, registered a significant event when it comes to favoring roma ethnics through positive discrimination: the special seats for young Gypsies in high schools and other schools were more numerous than the number of candidates that showed up. Despite the fact that the said seats had been established on the basis of requests made by the numerous Gypsy organizations and associations. The lack of candidates as such being considered a mere mishap, Romania continued the process of positive discrimination, through projects that had some of the most diverse goals: from giving Gypsies access to public services to creating a press agency for Gypsies, from offering legal or health consultancy and assistance to enlarging brick factories that would employ the young unemployed persons of this ethnicity appreciated for its veritable art in this line of work. It was soon noticed that the social and professional integration goals included in these projects cannot be fulfilled no matter how generously they are financed. Why is that? Because they cannot be supported by the Gypsies themselves, most of which are illiterate. Hence the endlessly repeated conclusion that without literacy the Gypsies’ social and professional integration remains a permanent desideratum. Consequently, the Education Ministry went further and drafted an “Education Strategy for Roma,” mostly based on their positive discrimination in all education cycles. Apart from the fact that in Romania there are numerous schools in which the Romani language is used as a teaching language, the ministry distributed and distributes, each year, hundreds of seats for young roma through the education system, seats fully subsidized by the state. The principle in action here is that the Gypsies also need their own elites, with proper tertiary education, that would channel their existence in a positive way. But some of these seats remain untaken given the lack of candidates. Including in primary and secondary education which is free in Romania. And such absenteeism unfortunately continues. That is why although they represent an ethnic minority of approximately 1 million persons in Romania (the last census registered approximately 0.6 million), our roma ethnics register the highest school dropout and illiteracy rates in Romania. And here lies the fundamental problem of socially and professionally integrating them: irrespective how high the degree of their positive discrimination is, how many facilities they are offered and how much effort the Romanian state is willing to make for their social and professional integration, the said initiatives cannot have the expected positive consequences as long as the Gypsies’ “bulibasi” act against literacy. In order to change these traditional mentalities the Education Ministry resorted to cooperating with NGOs and religious organizations. But since they often have other goals (religious conversion, autonomy on ethnic criteria etc.), their interest in school education suffers. A less used resource could be the action of the Gypsies’ quasi-political organizations. They could support school enrollment by focusing their electoral programs not on demagogical promises (including the adoption of laws for the waiver of criminal actions) but on calls and help for literacy, calls addressed to young Gypsies and their parents. And such “electoral campaigns” should have a daily frequency. Because the enrollment in primary and free education in Romania does not represent an individual option, a choice between “yes” and “no,” but a citizen’s general obligation. Unfortunately, understanding this modern principle is impeded by the arrogance of many Romanian politicians that emphatically state that “the state has to be at the citizen’s disposal, not the citizen at the state’s disposal!” Both alternatives are unproductive, even extremist here, precisely because they rule out the balance, the creative synthesis. What is “undemocratic” and “anti-liberal” in the state forcing the school enrollment of every youngster? Isn’t democracy, as a superior form of creative expression, opposed to illiteracy? Why this feudal conception of dividing contemporary people into antagonizing categories? These are questions on which contemporary politicians of all ideological persuasions should ponder more. Much more!

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