Gypsies, Roma, Europe, Exclusion, Privilege
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Europe is the world’s best example of a group of countries offering similar levels of political freedom, tolerance, and economic prosperity and security. Following the fall of Communism, Europe began to outpace the rest of the planet on aggregated indicators of development, and, according to Freedomhouse.org, only two of the world’s forty seven “not free” countries, Belarus and Russia, can be found on this continent. The Roma, frequently mislabeled as “Gypsies,” are among the few troubled populations residing in Europe. In the comprehensive 2006 Final Report on the Human Rights Situation of the Roma in Europe, one Romani man describes being a “Gypsy” in the following statement: “There is a lot of prejudice and discrimination against Roma in my country. We find it hard to do things that others take for granted. It's difficult to get your child into a good school and higher education is often an unattainable goal. There are problems with the housing because no-one wants Roma in their neighborhood. We encounter problems because of who we are every day and we want to do something about it because our government turns a blind eye to racial crimes committed against Roma. Quite often we have problems with the police, they suspect we all must be criminals. Even if you manage to graduate, it's really hard to get a job. People assume that Roma are crooks and will steal or swindle. We don't want to be given preferential treatment, we just want the same opportunities as everyone.”
Although there has been a great deal written about the Romani people, there has been very little cooperation between academic fields. Studies surrounding the political realities affecting the Roma ignore the role culture plays. Anthropologists have done a reasonably comprehensive job summarizing distinctions between the dominant culture and that of the Roma, but generally do not discuss how those discrepancies can make life more difficult. Economists cite how a failure to assimilate into the formal economy affects the Roma, but rarely address the sizable barriers to assimilation. Development experts are attuned to the difficulties of life in Roma communities, but rarely expand their focus enough to make statements about the entire population. Finally, a disregard for a painful history which includes slavery, exile, and genocide results in unfair terms for the conversation about the Roma.
This gap in scholarship contributes to the way European populations think about the Roma. Policymakers and voters can accept individual instances wherein a member of this population might be excluded or disenfranchised, but rarely does the whole picture come into focus. Many are reluctant to believe that in the progressive, democratic meritocracy that is modern Europe one population could be at such a disadvantage, and interactions with Romani citizenry only serve to reinforce the racist idea that they are somehow to blame for their exclusion.
I argue that the exclusion of Europe’s Roma populations stems from three different arenas- culture, politics, and history. These factors culminate in a pervasive and deep-rooted system of, what I have called a democratic nationalistic privilege enjoyed by the majority populations in Europe. The advantages of living in a free and developed part of the world are withheld from the Roma, and ingrained racism exacerbates the problem. My report intends to raise awareness of the Roma’s plight and help bring about a dialogue aimed at more fair treatment. Changing the terms of conversation surrounding the Roma may be a first step in eliminating their status as an exception, unable to access the prosperity enjoyed by the rest of Europe. Rather than the social exclusion they experience, changing the understanding and context of the Roma's position can contribute to their simple ability to live alongside fellow citizens harmoniously.
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