Why Europe’s “Roma Decade” Didn’t Lead to Inclusion

For many Roma, life has gone from bad to worse.

The Decade of Roma Inclusion has ended. This unprecedented collaboration between 12 European countries, encouraged by the World Bank and the Open Society Foundations, started in 2005 in Sofia, Bulgaria. At that time, the prime ministers of these countries made a promise to “close the gaps between Roma and the rest of society,” and committed their domestic public institutions to fulfill this promise by 2015.

Did governments deliver on the promise? In short, no. The Roma Inclusion Index shows some progress in literacy levels, completion of primary education, and access to health insurance. But all in all, the daily life of Roma remains a struggle no other ethnic group in Europe faces.

On average, in the decade countries, only one in ten Roma completes secondary school, almost half of Roma are unemployed, and more than one in three Roma still live in absolute poverty, meaning they are severely deprived of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health care, and shelter.

One change is noticeable: when the decade began, there was less money and more political will to deliver; today there is more money, but less political will.

How did this happen?

One contributing factor is, paradoxically, the accession of Eastern European countries to the European Union. Ten years ago, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania saw the decade as an opportunity to demonstrate their fulfillment of EU accession criteria on human and minority rights. As they were granted membership in the EU, the decade quickly lost its relevance for them.

Another influence was the financial crisis, which brought with it anger and economic anxiety. Against this backdrop, a backlash ensued against governments and the EU committing millions of euros “for Roma.” Opportunistic politicians quickly realized the potential of empty slogans like “Gypsy criminality,” “Roma privilege,” and “unwillingness to integrate” to gain quick and cheap votes. Others realized they risked losing votes if they did anything positive for Roma.

This toxic mix increased opposition to Roma children in ethnic-majority schools and Roma families living in ethnic-majority neighborhoods. Anti-Roma riots, forced evictions, violence, and killings became part of life for Roma—particularly in Hungary and Bulgaria, where the decade was born. The economic crisis catalyzed anti-Gypsyism as an effective weapon in domestic politics.

In western EU countries, the fear of Roma immigration coupled with long-entrenched anti-Roma stereotypes fueled antimigration and anti-EU politics. Mainstream political parties, wary of far-right electoral gains, implemented a dual strategy of hardline anti-Roma politics at home, with sympathetic policy gestures internationally.

For instance, domestically France and Italy took a hard line against Roma. Italy launched a policy of fingerprinting Roma and placed them in apartheid-like encampments, while France bulldozed Roma settlements.

At the same time, at the international level, both countries pushed for measures on Roma inclusion in eastern EU countries in order to discourage those Roma from migrating to the West. This was one of the major reasons behind the creation of the EU Framework for Roma Integration Strategies, which called on all EU member states to develop a targeted approach to Roma inclusion, and to submit their strategies by the end of 2011.

This hypocrisy had devastating effects on Roma in eastern EU countries like Bulgaria, for instance. Although the EU provided generous funds, Bulgaria did not use them to prevent evictions or offer alternative housing. It simply signed on to the EU Framework, just as it signed on to the Decade of Roma Inclusion, to create the appearance of pushing positive change, while in reality making few real efforts.

Indeed, last summer, the government calmed ethnic-majority protesters by demolishing hundreds of Roma houses. Today, Bulgaria and countries like it have ample funds to improve the situation of Roma—but national political elites don’t dare risk punishment at the ballot box by enacting policies favorable to Roma.

The Decade of Roma Inclusion and the EU Framework for Roma Integration were two of the most significant international political developments for Roma in the last 10 years. Did they improve life for Roma in Europe? On the contrary—for many, life has gone from bad to worse.

What the Decade Revealed about Change in Institutions

This status quo exposed by the Decade of Roma Inclusion—the international appearance of progress concealing a devastating regression at home—works well for a narrow elite. Too many politicians, civil servants, experts, staff of international organizations, donors, and local NGOs comfortably entrench themselves in the industry of report writing, conferences, and usually EU-funded projects.

These activities might lead to limited improvements, but at the domestic level they have been ineffective at creating equal access to public services for Roma.

We, who claim to be most concerned about and committed to inclusion, need to change the way we work. This starts with some hard truths about the real obstacles to inclusion.

Anti-Gypsyism, as a form of exclusion, is not haphazard. It is embedded in our domestic institutions and structures. It runs through public offices, schools, hospitals, the labor market, the welfare system, police, and elections. A Roma child denied schooling with everyone else is not the result of one rogue, racist teacher—a whole system, built and entrenched over time, has led to this.

Anti-Gypsism, as a form of exploitation, brings political power to some—anti-Roma campaigns bring in votes—and economic gain to others. Increasing the number of Roma children in schools for those living with disabilities, for instance, increases those schools’ revenues.

Nor is anti-Gypsyism a unique instrument. The poor, the young, women, migrants, Jews, Muslims, LGBTI, and people with disabilities are excluded and exploited too, although the instruments against them—male supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and others—are different.

Individually, these groups are not powerful enough to challenge comfortably entrenched elites and institutionally embedded exclusion. It is essential to form broad coalitions among all those excluded and together force change in public institutions.

The decade, the EU Framework, and EU funds are not without merit. They might help in raising awareness about challenges and possibilities for change, but they should not serve as fig leaves for governments to conceal their lack of commitment at home. Such international interventions and funds can help only if they expand participation in sharing domestic political power and public budgets beyond the narrow elites.

Only when the excluded and the exploited are a constituent part of setting priorities for public institutions and funds will we experience a change in the way schools educate, hospitals cure, police protect, the economy works, and elections give free voice.

Only then will we have trust in our public institutions.

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Robert Merton the sociologist made a distinction between manifest and latent functions - manifest are the stated functions/aims and latent are the hidden or real aims/purpose.
The main reason the decade led to little improvement for the Roma is that although inclusion was the manifest aim the latent purpose of this initiative (just like all of them) is that it was about creating a lot of nice jobs for middle class gadje bureaucrats, policy wonks and academics/ researchers to cry false tears over the Roma while securing their own cuhsy jobs and good salaries. So long as the Roma have these parasites riding on their backs they will never achieve inclusion because the parasites need them to be excluded and marginalised to justify their own careers.

@ Dave: You nailed it !!!

Eesti avalikud institutsioonid paistavad silma silmakirjalikkusega. Pildi hägustamiseks tegeleb riik sihikindlalt asendustegevusega. Puuduvad selged kriteeriumid hinnanguteks ja avalike institutsioonide kohustustest romade kogukonna suhtes. Romadel kaob usk EL kontrollorganite tegevusest Eestis.

A shift from horizontal logic of Left and Right to a vertical common logic of ecology, feminism and sustainable, equitable and democratic development is already in process at the theoretical discourse. Development is not about helping a few people get rich or creating a handful of pointless protected industries that only benefit the country’s elite, for the urban rich and leaving the rural poor in their misery. Humane development is about transforming societies, improving the lives of the poor, enabling everyone to have a chance to success and access to health care and education. This sort of development won’t happen if only a few people dictate the policies a country must follow. Making sure that democratic decisions are made means ensuring that a broad range of economists, officials, and experts from CEEC are actively involved in the debate in a new model of global humane governance. It also means that there must be broad participation that goes well beyond the experts and politicians, so the democratization of the actual geo-governance and ESC institutionalized such a civil dialog and this represents a great opportunity. But still the people in Western countries escape their responsibilities stating that transition countries must take charge. We need some time for the reactualization of our humanistic European tradition in new ideology.

For millions of people from CEEC and Western Europe globalisation has not worked and they are losers. Many have actually been made worse off, as they have seen their jobs destroyed and their lives become more insecure. They have felt increasingly powerless against forces beyond their control. If we fail to learn from our mistakes, globalisation will not only succeed in promoting development but will continue to create poverty and instability. This will be a tragedy for all of us. Unemployment could persist for years, and government intervention would be required. The free market ideology should be replaced with analyses based on economic science, with a more balanced view of the role of government drawn from an understanding of both market and government failures.

These challenges are present at the surface structure but what are the remaining challenges, at the deeper structure? And what new strategies and policies should be formulated to effectively address these challenges? A big issue for actual history is who will be the responsible for the failure of the states? Who will be the guardian of the general interest when the private interest will go too far? Who will be accountable for the Human rights violation when the states are force to give up their sovereignty? These are questions without a proper answer. This thesis cannot provide an answer; it can only invite you on further reflections and research on this field.
We can start by assuming that ”as long as the nation–state system continues to dominate global interaction, the state will continue to be the key provider, or alternatively, the major abuser of human rights towards its citizens.” This paradigm seems to be out-dated because at the deepest structure, the biggest violators of human rights are the Transnationals and some International Intergovernmental organisations as well.
Global Humane Governance is the magic word for the management of the common affaires of the World and European Union is the only International actor having the real material and spiritual potential to do it, because UN doesn’t have the material capabilities for it.

The United States and EU should launch a global « Marshall Plan» to provide evreyone on earth with a decent standard of living. We can already hear the cries of people that such global plan would cost too much. But let’s look at the numbers!
The cost of it was estimated to tens of billions of dollars, on top of an already large proposed defense budget of 342.7 billion $. A 1998 report of UNDP estimated the anual cost to achieve universal access to a number of basic social services in all developing countries: 9 billion $ would provide sanitation for all, 12 billion $ would cover reproductive health for all women; 13 billion would give every person on Earth basic health and nutrition; and 6 billion would provide basic education for all. Only a fraction of tens of billion of $, we are already spending. (780 bilion dolars every year)

Could not agree more

Having a project named 'Decade of Roma inclusion,' is not enough to expect a radical change at the end of the decade.

What were the blueprints for the decade? Was there an assessment period, halfway through the decade to determine whether the blueprints were working or not, and the reasons for this?

Were there checks and balances put in place? It's not enough to entrust a huge fund toward a project. What place was give to the concerned - Roma minorities, in all this - I know - no place.

I can smell hypocrisy in the project itself. A particular people are purportedly being helped, but a gag was placed on their mouth - they had no voice in the matter.

Thank you for poinitng out the EU accession paradox. But this paradox is much broader than Roma rights. Eu accession in Eastern Europe means rise of populism and nationalism, dropping charges for war crimes, like in Croatia, reducing minority rights..
I am afraid of the moment when Bosnia and Serbia join EU and the consequences. Somebody should do a proper study of the phenomena

time for change

True , time for change helen :)

The favours were through the lack of political will, with a lack of urgency, the money that was alercated, was not ring fenced, so was only partially used on trivial projects, that only looked as though they were having an effect.

Actually, I think the politicians and NGOs stole the money. They created dozens of projects, authored paid-studies on all those projects, and only a very small portion of the money went to the communities to effect actual changes. The core of the problem is in the Roma communities and in the Roma families: there are many alcoholic fathers, there are many illiterate mothers who do not know how to nurture their children intellectually. Experience shows that programs that reach the families and communities have the biggest impact, e.g. mandatory kindergarten from the age of 3, afternoon school for mothers+kids, etc. More positive changes occurred since the end of this "Roma Decade" than during.

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