The Roma, found in all the countries of Europe and especially in Central and Eastern Europe, are analogous to long term refugees and face problems with both segregation and efforts at integration. Having presumably left India in response to Islamic incursions, they have never settled anywhere successfully over the long term without negative consequences. Enslaved in Wallachia and Moldavia, (Greenberg, 2010), and excluded from full rights of citizenship in most places, they have kept moving. They took up occupations that depended on their skills rather than on land or property ownership. As mobile workers, they did not necessarily need to integrate into communities.
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During the Communist period, housing and jobs were taken care of by the state, obviating the issue of integration (LADANYI & SZELENYI, 2001). In post-Communist Eastern Europe, this strategy disappeared. Some of them look back to that era as paradise-like (Plainer, 2009).
How should these countries manage their Roma populations today: Continue segregation and target services to them exclusively, or integrate them into a decidedly hostile population? What are the risks associated with each approach?
Segregation has been associated with non-participation in the educational system – certainly not past the lower grades (O’Nions, 2010). It has been associated with exclusion from many work opportunities and much preventive medical care. Segregation, in combination with unregistered construction of housing, or use of abandoned facilities, has meant that safety, garbage collection, and sewage disposal are all unaddressed. Children in segregated Roma communities do not necessarily acquire the language of their nation of residence, and therefore cannot participate fully in the economy when they become adults (O’Nions, 2010). However, they do retain many of their customs, their language, and their social structure, which is a conscious goal for many.
Integration does not have so many successful examples to point to. Greenberg recalls visiting experimental pilot programs in Vidin and Montana, Bulgaria, where in-home visits and joint programs helped to incorporate the Roma into services and education. The apparent dramatic success of this effort, he reluctantly concludes, was because it was a “foundation-funded pilot program, the nature and location of which had insulated in from the constraints of local and national resistance to integration” (Greenberg, 2010, p. 922).
The goal of integration is blocked by characteristics of the communities in which the Roma live, and the Roma themselves, and the way that nations treat ethnic differences within their borders (LADANYI & SZELENYI, 2001). The Roma does not have a pan-national identity which allows them to effectively function as a group across country lines and in communicating with national governments (Uzunova, 2010). In this, they are different from the Jewish people, who have had as long as the history of refugee and diaspora status, but who have successfully maintained a common identity across miles and generations.
They also wish in many cases to preserve their unique culture. This is one of the main drawbacks of integration. Unavoidably, contact with non-Roma in schools, for example, could cause young Roma to question such practices as child marriage. This is the reason that the American Amish maintain their schools.
Additionally, if the population of each country is not brought to accept the integration of Roma into the mainstream, the appearance of Roma in a school, just as in a neighborhood, will precipitate labeling as Gypsy, and lose status. The parallel situation is the “white flight” experienced in many US cities (Greenberg, 2010). The effective result will be segregation again.
There are vanishingly rare examples of successful integration of a refugee population without loss of cultural identity. In the USA, the achievement of many Vietnamese has provided a hopeful and astonishing exception, with many Vietnamese students achieving high honors within years of their arrival in the USA. It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine this phenomenon in detail, but it is worth considering. Since both segregation and integration have drawbacks for the Roma, some creative and culture-sensitive approach is needed that neither imposes the Roma on an unprepared and uncooperative population nor isolates them from contact, services, and opportunities.
Greenberg, J. (2010). Report on roma education today: From slavery to segregation and beyond. Columbia Law Review, 110(4), 919-1001.
LADANYI, J., & SZELENYI, I. (2001). He social construction of roma ethnicity in bulgaria, romania and hungary during market transition. Review of Sociology, 7(2), 79-34.
O’Nions, H. (2010). Different and unequal: the educational segregation of Roma pupils in Europe. Intercultural Education, 21( 1), pages 1-13.
Plainer, Z. (2009). Three roma groups from iris – a fragmented ethnography. Studia universitatis babeş‐bolyai, studia europaea, 157-183.
Uzunova, I. (2010). Roma integration in europe: Why minority rights are failing. Arizona Journal of International & Comparative Law, 27(1).