Three Ways to Build Upon Roma Progress

Some years ago, I visited a village in Romania, and saw the seeds of a crisis at hand. The area was home to the Roma, an ethnic minority of 10 to 12 million people scattered across Europe who face discrimination and persecution on a daily basis. In this village, the Roma were scavenging on a garbage dump. Without help, I realized, sons would join their fathers on the dump; daughters could only hope to be married off. There was no clear way to escape their fate. 

Today, the children of the Roma have a chance. Thanks to the work of the Roma Education Fund—which I founded, along with the World Bank—and the European Union’s Structural Funds, the sons and daughters are now doing really well in school. Another pilot program, one that I hope will become permanent, will place Roma children from vocational schools into internships with multinational corporations.

This is a bright spot on what has been a rather bleak horizon. My foundations started working on the Roma problem in Hungary and other Communist countries 30 years ago. In those countries, the living conditions of the Roma have actually deteriorated since the Berlin Wall came down. So while progress has been made, there is much more to be done.

I should like to commend the European Commission and the European Parliament for recognizing the problems the Roma face, and for developing a policy in response. Were it not for these efforts, their plight would be much worse.    

Ten years ago, I brought together nine Eastern European governments to launch what we called the Decade of Roma Inclusion. The decade is almost over, but I am happy to report that the European Commission is interested in continuing the program. This effort brings together member and non-member states and offers independent monitoring of government programs. There have been successes, which I hope will catch on, and spread further.

We have developed programs for Roma integration that work. If these programs could be scaled up with the help of additional EU Structural Funds, the Roma could, within a generation or two, be as well-integrated in Europe as African-Americans are in the U.S. today. While we’ve made great strides in educating the Roma children, their population is expanding faster than the programs. Further EU funding could help expand access to the classroom.

We also need to make sure that those who do get a good education don’t forget where they came from. The small cohort of well-educated Roma can assimilate, and escape the hostile stereotyping that face their brothers and sisters. By embracing their heritage, and taking pride in their identity, the few can help pave a path for the many. We are working with the Council of Europe to establish a European Roma Institute that will preserve and rebuild Roma culture.  This will encourage the Roma to embrace their heritage and retain their identity. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has endorsed this initiative, and we are grateful for his support.

Finally, we need to make sure that governments spend the money allocated for the Roma wisely. At present, many countries with large Roma populations have used only a fraction of the funds provided them. The rest of the money sits untouched. Perhaps the Commission could set up a special fund, administered from Brussels, to help facilitate cash flow to local service providers in the countries concerned.

None of this is easy, I know. But if we can better use the resources at hand, and increase the investment in programs with a proven track record, we can improve on the current condition of the Roma. We can create hope, where once there was none.

8 Comments

Hide

Thank you for investing in - for believing in! - the most marginalized, underserved and voiceless ethnic communities in the world. Could any of your work with and on behalf of the Roma people be transferrable to the stateless Rohingya Muslims in Burma and neighboring Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Malaysia?

thank you , for all your hard work.

A big thank you to George Soros for the work he has done. Unfortunately there are too many ignorant and prejudiced people who altogether create an enormous resistance to progress. The Decade of Roma Inclusion, an excellent idea, has failed so far because it has no 'teeth'. Countries have cheerfully signed up to it ad then done little or nothing. UK governemt even refused to write a strategy because they claimed they had no need as everything was going fine - yet anti-Gypsy hatred and poersecution are on the increase and Roma/Travellers are not getting access to basic rights - homes, health servies and education - at the same level as the average population. There have to be consequences when local and national governments fail in their responsibility to this community.

I hope that you, George Soros, have sent in you views to the new Holocaust Commission and are encouraging others to do so too.

Thank you!

Thank you Mr. Soros, for all your contributions. They are greatly appreciated.

While in some areas progress has been made with some bright spots as you point out, you are right to say the overall situation for Roma has deteriorated. I would like to point out that significant cohorts of well educated Roma have assimilated for generations in order to escape hostile stereotyping for generations. We need to stop that. It is harder to do in today’s climate given that polls suggest today’s teenagers, specifically for example in the Czech Republic, are even more intolerant towards ethnic minorities than 25 years ago. The dangers of speaking out, and openly identifying as Roma while living in Eastern European countries today is still underestimated by people living in the West. The pattern has been established and as you say, it will take great effort to make any change. I believe positive media images carry a big portion of that contribution.

In my opinion, it will be easier implement and demonstrate change in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe. The UK educational system has proven that Roma children who were forced into schools for the mentally retarded in their (eastern) home countries were able to excel academically in mainstream UK schools. The issue of safety is not a question in countries with a functioning judiciary, an adequate police force as well as equal access to health care. The UK, Germany and Belgium have a long way to go, but at least they offer a level of social, legal and physical protection that is still unmatched by their eastern neighbors. When Roma risk their lives by staying and fighting for their rights, they see homicides not treated as the hate crimes as they were with the recent murders in Slovakia by an off duty police officer. We have fought through the courts to obtain victorious rulings from the European Court of Justice against segregated schooling systems in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, yet the enforcement of those rulings is still on hold. Years have passed. In the US, Kennedy called in the National Guard and the FBI to protect African Americans when attending de-segregated schools. The EU has a long way to go to commit to that sort of protection in its newer member states. It is hard for Roma to believe in the EU when there is no enforcement of norms among member states. The list of violations in Hungary increases every day (1) . So long as there is no enforcement, there is no visible improvement to the overall safety of Roma to encourage them to be "Out and Proud.”

Positive media images of Roma are needed, for us and for the greater public. The stories of the Roma need to be told by the Roma to the Roma and for the Roma. This will create a movement that promotes the self esteem necessary to face the criticism of the outside world. That criticism warranted or not, is not going away.

In America it was the creation of African American Cinema from 1914-1955 that started this movement (2). It also took two world wars before African Americans were ready to peacefully protest and in many cases to die while standing up for their rights. I do not wish wait through another 40 years or any more wars for this change to take place, however I don’t see the change coming from the few bright lights in Eastern Europe as we continue to step backwards in that region.

Yes, we have proven programs. They need to be shared. They need more investment. That is all true, and I will continue to contribute to that. They need to be reproduced and scaled to national and European wide scales, especially in Western Europe. Change will come through Western leadership. The value of minority cultures must be taught as part of the national curriculum of EU member states in order to create a multicultural society. The way identity is taught needs to change for the majority. Western European nations must take the lead, or be ready for Roma immigration, if not, then take the responsibility for the next genocide.

We, the Roma, are currently one of Europe’s greatest untapped resources. Our growing population needs to contribute to the growth of the economy and contribute to the social systems (particularly pensions). We can only do that if we have an education and can find work. Europe needs to understand that the future belongs to those that can learn, unlearn and relearn to identify who they are. The same concept can be applied to how we all learn, unlearn and relearn history, which is the foundation for national culture. Most of all : how we learn, unlearn and relearn the skills that are needed in the jobs market is the greatest value added for all players in the economy, not just the Roma. The tech sector has proven this.

Roma have proven we have the competencies necessary to adapt. We have proven this within Western European educational systems, in cases where we have been allowed to attend as regular members of mainstream society. We have proven this simply by surviving throughout the ages. Many of us have adapted as immigrants from Romania to France, and have had to continuously adapt to new living conditions under the constantly changing rules of the game. Many of us have already been through this learning process.

We can create such positive images via popular media. Our media. Our stories will create the hope we need. We can set the example that Europe needs to see and prove that there is value in learning such a thing from us. Our experience can be institutionalized as an academic concept. This is very necessary if we want to preserve and rebuild Roma culture. We are the future of Europe. Opre Roma.

Note 1: Please see report published by Harvard, FXB Center, http://fxb.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2014/02/FXB-Hungary-Re...
Note 2: Please see the work of Richard Pena http://www.fidmarseille.org/index.php/en/actualite-mainmenu-138/les-debu...

Dear Mr, Soros you have done so much for our people. i thank you for this. however there are inner problems within our community that concerns me. I am a Roma American filmmaker.

Being rich is not necessarily being insensitive. What touch us the most is the ability of successful people been able to contribute to the consolidation of Social Justice, Brotherhood, Generosity as a legacy of example on the Planet. Thanks a lot, Mr. George Soros! Bernadete Lage
Human Rights Global Forum – Brazil
Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos- MG , Brasil
Pesquisa e edição do Facebook Direitos Humanos Etnias

Sir regarding the quality of Education is concerned lot of degeneration has already happened. We are planning some video based programs to develop the thinking and understanding abilities of students. My question is that if we provide those videos which are done considering the world as one country to your organization can you people promote it further.we are open to inputs from your side also if it will help for the benefit of the students development.

Add your voice