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Report from Seminar 1 B on Educational strategies against intolerance
Presentation by Ms. Dimitrina Petrova
Presentation by Ms. Milena Hübschmannová

Presentation by Ms. Milena Hübschmannová
Hübschmannová, Milena

Communities under threat: Identifying critical areas for education policy development

Phundardo drom
(Open road towards better communication)
After November 1989 the policy of forced assimilation towards Roma was renounced and Roma officially acquired a political status equal to other ethnic minorities. In fact they now have formal political rights for the first time in their history.

This is a crucial starting point to their phundrado drom (open road): i.e. a full realization of their romipen (ethnic identity), a vision of the place which they want to gain in society and the way to achieve it.

The gadzhos were never used to dealing with Roma as with equal partners. Genocide, eviction, deportations, ghettoisation, forced assimilation, paternalism – – these were the established means whereby the dominant majority tried to solve the “gypsy problem” (for which read: the problem of communication and coexistence with a diverse ethnic partner).

The Roma, for their part, being always exposed to manipulation, had no experience of striving for their human, social and ethnic rights. Thus when eleven years ago the road to Roma emancipation was opened, both, Roma and non-Roma were encountering two persistent ghosts of the past (mule): the superiority syndrome on the part of the gadzhos and the inferiority complex on the part of Roma.

The essence of the superiority syndrome is total ignorance about romipen, i.e. about the specific values of Romani culture, language, history, famous personalities, etc. What is worse: gadzhos, who for centuries have been taught that they are more civilized and that their duty it is to (re)educate the "gypsies", do not consider it necessary to get educated in romipen. Most of them are convinced that they know Roma perfectly well.

The inferiority complex of ethnic minorities on general is manifested in “colonized consciousness”: contempt for their own ethnic values, which are ignored, ridiculed or condemned by the prestigious majority, adoption of showy material pseudo-values which might help to gain the respect of the gadzhos and are more easily obtainable than education in the “foreign” language and culture. Many Roma who attained the average“gadzho standard” (higher education, for instance) – – were hiding their ethnic identity for fear of the “gypsy stigma”. They are often no longer taken for “gypsies” by their gadzho environment. Hence the false image of a “gypsy” who can be only an uneducated asocial being is perpetuated and the vicious circle of the gadzho superiority syndrome and the Roma inferiority complex is being perpetuated.

Moreover, the ghosts of the past haunt a road which goes through a setting of a turbulent and painful transition from planned to market economy, from totalitarian regime to democracy. The Romani saying te o gadzho mardo, o Rom mardo duvar (when the gadzho is beaten, Rom is beaten twice as much) holds even today: if a factory goes bankruptand dismisses workers, Roma are the first to go –and the last to hired. Many are forced to live on welfare benefits – – and be blamed for living on welfare benefits. The concomitant phenomena of a disastrous social situation (slot-machines, drugs, petty criminality, prostitution), “justify”" then the murderous attacks by skinheads.

Why am I saying all this? Because I think that diagnosis of the situation indicates the ways of therapy. Knowledge about the general social laws, and knowledge about the specific character of the communicational partner is the basis for the therapy. Roma say: ko dzhanel, axalol (he who knows, can understand better). Knowledge should be intermediated – – in different ways with respect to the various target groups – – to the whole population.

Education in its broadest sense is responsible for spreading real knowledge, the integral part of whose validity is ethics. Extremely many steps have been taken on the part of enlightened gadzhos as well as on the part of enlightened Roma. Let me give at least some examples: The official authorities met the demand from JUDr Emil Šcuka, president of the Rom party ROI, for the institution of Roma advisers in schools, in local and district committees, in ministries. A private Romani social college was founded by E. Scuka three years ago, where Romani language, history and culture were incorporated into the curriculum. The Evangelical Academy in Prague offers a five-year course of distance studies (secondary level) to adult Roma. Romani language and romistics is being taught as a five years' course at the Charles University in Prague (since 1991). Several other universities offer their students lectures on Romani history, culture and language. Innumerable lectures, seminars, discussions are initiated by various NGOs – – supported mainly by the Soros foundation, PHARE etc. Two Romani weeklies and two Romani monthlies are being published by Roma. More than thirty Romani (or bilingual) books were published in the past 11 years (in comparison to 4 publications since the 15th century till 1989). The Museum of Romani culture (founded in Brno 1993) has many fantastic educational activities to its credit. Many other such activities are in progress.
There is one very positive result of all this: more Roma are getting well-oriented in their identity searching process, fewer are finding it necessary to hide their identity, and in the mass they are interested in Romani history and culture transcending the boundary of their family and clan: information which until now (and unfortunately even now) they were/are not getting in a “prestigious” public institution like school.

One would say, reviewing all the attempts to optimize communication between Roma and the ethnic majority, that the problem must be solved. And yet: on 5th January 2001 various journals published results of a survey of tolerance towards various divergent groups in the population (foreigners, Roma, drug-addicts, the disabled, homosexuals) – – and tolerance towards Roma was found to be lowest: 24 %. A survey of news published about Roma from 4th to 11th January 2001 may indicate why it is so. Out of 56 items there is none presenting romipen in a positive light. “Positive” are articles which praise efforts by gadzho institutions to educate Roma – – or Roma associations which co-operate with the gadzhos and send children to school. The old “patronizing” model of “re-educating” the Roma. The longest and most numerous articles describe in strong words the case of a neglected Rom child and an innkeeper who has to pay a fine for not letting Roma into his inn (with hidden sympathy to the innkeeper). Sensationalism prevails over ethics – – or over knowledge of how the feedback between cause and effect operates.

Where is the mistake? It seems that the channels between the reservoirs, in which the valid information about positive ethnic values of Roma gather, and the public are blocked. How can blockages from the "phundardo drom" towards better communication and co-existence be removed? The intellectual elite and intelligent pragmatic politicians have started along the path towards tolerance on a world wide scale –and this gives cause for optimism.

The “ghosts of the past”, fostered currently through several centuries are so rooted, that we cannot expect the to be defeated overnight. Roma as well as gadzhos have to foster patience and perseverance.

The “attacks of the ghosts” should be counteracted by massive doses of “education” - about positive values of Roma and romipen. Roma writers, painters, sportsmen, musicians should find their place in textbooks from the very first class of primary school. Portraits of famous Roma should hang on the school-walls along with portraits of Czechs and others.

Information about positive ethnic values of Roma should be incorporated into computer games. About three years ago a computer game appeared, called “kill yourself a gypsy”. If something like that happens, the law should handle the case very strictly.
Videos about Romani culture should be available in every school. Culture is not represented only by writers, artists etc. – – but also by values, e.g. the deep respect of Roma towards old people: relatively speaking, very few Roma are discharged by their relatives to homes for seniors (Roma call them orphanages).

If Roma should be given some “special chance” – – for instance to study their language at school and have special classes in their history – – it is their natural ethnic right, and compensation for all their past disadvantages. “Special classes” where through romipen Roma children can achieve better in general education are not “segregation”. Segregation is when Roma children, whose ethnic needs are not respected at school, are sent en masse to schools for mentally retarded children.

Public opinion is mostly influence by mass-media, especially by TV. In schools for journalists, basic information about romipen should be taught – – and far more attention should be paid to the general ethics of journalism. May be a special team should monitor information about Roma in the press and respond to it either by explanation – – in some cases may be even by going to law.

I have tried to mention things which I consider essential – – and unfortunately I was unable to make my contribution shorter.

On the whole I am optimistic, because the “"phundrado drom” has started and good will to proceed is all the time growing stronger, both on the Roma side and on the part of enlightened gadzhos.

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