Thursday, February 02, 2006

Roma discrimination within the EU

As a dual citizen with the US and Hungary, I am proud of both of my heritages. I am particularly proud to be a Hungarian since we are such a unique people. But I am not proud to be a Hungarian when it comes to the widespread discrimination by Hungarians against Roma (Gypsies).

Some years ago I conducted research on the situation of Roma in Hungary. In the course of my research, I was shocked by how widespread racism against Roma was. Educated liberals who professed their democratic and free-thinking ideals were quick to label all Roma as criminals and low-lifes. Moreover, I learned that in the rural areas of Hungary in particular, Roma children were frequently diagnosed as learning disabled and placed into special classes, creating a de facto segregated school system.

So it came as a shock and a disappointment but no surprise when I stumbled across an article yesterday describing the segregation of Roma children in a Hungarian public school a mere 10 km from Budapest.

The details of this story are shocking - the school placed bars down a hallway segregating Roma children (who were placed in special ed classes) from the rest of the school, denying them access to the fire escape. The rationale? To limit truancy. The story is all the more shocking in that it took place so close to Budapest.

The disappointment? This is but one of countless instances of discrimination against Roma in Hungary - and while this one was stopped because of the proximity of the town in question to Budapest, many other schools continue with de facto segregation in areas of the country that remain far from Budapest's EU oriented influence.

Hungary is now part of the EU - and as such should abide by EU norms. Last time I checked, the EU wasn't wild on segregation and discrimination. In fact, the EU is pretty big on protecting human rights. The ongoing discrimination against Roma in Hungary serves to emphasize my personal feelings that the EU accession process was grossly accelerated for the former Communist countries in a bid to counterbalance US power with a stronger, bolder EU.

One argument, made by my mother among others, is that Hungary's EU membership is precisely why cases like this school's segregation are even coming to light - Hungarians are gradually moving towards abiding by international and EU human rights norms, and such cases wouldn't have been dealt with without EU membership.

But my argument is that such steps should have been a precondition to EU membership. Human rights are very important to the EU and by allowing countries who regularly violate human rights as blatantly as Hungary does into the EU, the EU's adherence to fundamental rights becomes more rhetoric and less reality. Cases of segregation in rural Hungary are likely to remain prevalent for years to come, due in part to lack of interest, lack of motivation, and lack of funding on the part of the Hungarian government. Doesn't the hypocrisy of having representatives from member states such as Hungary, Slovakia and others that regularly violate human rights sitting as judges on the ECJ bother anyone?

By allowing the former Communist countries to become members without first requiring them to meet certain criteria regarding human rights, the EU has cheapened itself and has demonstrated that despite the lofty goals it had been evolving towards, today it is more about power, politics, and economic growth than ever before. Instead of moving forwards, the EU has taken a step backwards - or maybe sideways - joining the ranks of countries like the US that speak idealistically about human rights, all the while violating them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a few weeks ago a Holocaust compensation attorney vaunted for his pro bono work asked for more than anyone in his field in a single payment. Forget the settlement for a moment and imagine what could be done for the Roma with just what the lawyers are making.
Or again: what could the Roma do with what is spent every day, or even every hour, in the Israelification of Iraq?
The most shocking thing I've come across, having some experience with Jewish heritage and reactions to past offenses, was a (I believe) Czech site that had been a Roma cemetary deliberately developed into a pig farm. This was a Canadian documentary, and while they didn't make the Forbidden Ethnic/Cultural Comparison that only evil Nazi Satanists would make, the first thing I involuntarily thought was: Jesus on a trampoline, what if some idiot tried that with the Jews? There were things comparable in the past, like Germans using Jewish gravestones as street paving. But try it now, with a dozen international organizations keeping files, writing letters and holding press conferences. The Roma are most interesting in that here are people who are perhaps closer than any other European ethnicity to Jews -- centuries of forced homelessness and refugee status, forced into ephemeral jobs like trinket dispensing or knife sharpening, universally hated and persecuted in the most gruesome episodes of history. We can compare different ethnicities who come close (obviously, it is a mistake to ask for exact matches) and see how one formerly enslaved people can rise to a totally different position than another that had been yoked beside them. There are people within every group that hold that we must be concerned with protecting ourselves; the frankly less bright often revert to insipid paranoid talk about truly everyone else always being against us. This is a betrayal of the cultural legacy of HaShoah (in which Jews were not Hollerith category number one but eight; homosexuals were three, gypsies were twelve) and as a strategy against racism doomed to failure since it is itself a kind of racism.
The meaning of the endlessly quoted Niemoeller couplets about not paying attention to marginal groups is specifically and clearly in damnation of identification or non-identification with a particular tribe. Hatred against one ought to be perceived as a threat and fought by all. But in France, conservative Jews support LePen because he talks tough about the dirty immigrants; in America people who could easily fall out of safe categories because of religious sectarianism (say, Mormons) talk seriously about the perils of homosexuals committing consesual private acts in theire own homes, and of course of the evil Mexicans who even now are conspiring to violate the virginal monolingual nature of our heteropresexual white children; in China calisthenics or Google can get you prison time; in Mexico they still hunt witches; in Japan they have a bigotry almost for its own sake, against the burakumin, who are ethinically, religiously, racially, linguistically and medically indistinguishable from Japanese so that experts must be paid to ferret them out based on geneaology and names. We humans are prepared to destroy ourselves on every front, when the only real defense is of eachother.

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What just happened in Syria was a good example of how European "cultural sensitivity" has all the wrong motives. Instead of a universal tolerance, Europeans (publicly) tiptoe around Jews because they know they'll get hammered and also because of all their guilt (in private they haven't changed much); Muslims not only don't matter but are the targets of Streicher cartoons equating their religion with violence like a never-imaginable cartoon of Jesus raping a Chechen woman, which we are insulted with the assigment of defending in the name of free speech.

Ever notice how rightist values are all conveniently severed from planet earth? Free speech is for racists, but protest an illegal war and get infiltrated, baited and spied on (or, in Europe, say the wreong thing about the right minority and, far from being defended, get imprisoned); the freedom of the market applies to one nation's industries but not to another's, or to very powerful companies that need no help but not to small upstarts that threaten to make the giants competitive; UN resolutions must be enforced overzealously, indeed in contradiction of the UN, for Iraq, but are nonexistant for Israel, Rwanda or Sudan? Everything is just a Platonic principle floating in the air for them.

7:57 PM  

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