Exclusion and the European Project: Building Trust with Roma Communities

20 Jul, 2016 -

Note from the editor (Gonzalo): The Roma population in Europe suffers a particular pattern of discrimination that combines widespread marginalization with very little visibility. We have invited Ana Bracic, assistant professor in the department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma and specialist in human rights and comparative politics, to discuss her research about trust between Roma and non-Roma.

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, reports of hate crimes in the UK have increased five-fold. During the last two weeks in June, the police recorded 3,076 hate crimes in England and Wales, a dramatic rise over last year’s 915 incidents. The level of bigotry on display on the streets in Somerset, Huntingdon, and Walsall has been shocking for some. Others maintain that bigotry was always present, but better masked. What might be more shocking than open bigotry is the number and diversity of the people on the receiving end. EU citizens like Poles, Lithuanians, and Czechs are targeted; Pakistanis are targeted, Indians are targeted, as are refugees and other UK citizens of color. Make no mistake, shock and horror is an appropriate reaction. The reaction should be stronger still. But the dismay felt by many now also reveals something else precisely because it is new. When UK taxpayers were told that Brexit may be the only way to escape Romanian Roma (often derogatorily called “Gypsies”) gangsters who swindle millions of pounds in benefits, such dismay was rarely expressed.

For many Roma, maltreatment is unfortunately a fact of life. Historically, the Roma have been enslaved, forcibly assimilated, and subjected to genocide. Today, many Roma remain marginalized and face widespread discrimination in employment, education, and access to healthcare, housing, and social services. When political campaigns in Europe engage in scapegoating, the Roma are often the group of choice.

They have been called responsible for crime in Hungary, Italy, and Turkey, and described as a social burden in Slovakia and Romania. In the context of Brexit, taxpayers were warned that their money is spent building mansions in Romania and a town square in Slovakia. A cynical observer might say that such scapegoating is used because it works, incensing those who are predisposed to agree with it, and being treated as noise by the rest. Very few actually seem to get upset on behalf of the Roma.

The Brexit campaigns have mentioned limiting Roma immigration, but this is not a new idea; Sarkozy massively deported Roma from France in 2010, and Hollande did the same in 2012. In 2001, UK immigration officials stationed at the Prague airport prevented Czech Roma from boarding flights to the UK. Entire Romani settlements have been razed in Italy, while local leaders in Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have all built walls to separate Romani communities from other town residents.

Needless to say, deportation of Roma is unacceptable from a human rights standpoint. It’s a noxious act that suggests racism is ok, and preferred, and viable. It also suggests that sending the Roma back to places they’ve fled because of discrimination is not problematic. But the goal of a pluralistic society isn’t expelling minorities; it is sustainable inclusion—a goal mocked by refusing entry to the Roma who seek a better life and massively deporting or segregating those who have made it across the border.

Instead, nations, regions, and localities should promote inclusive community building, and that includes individual behavior. Addressing individual bigotry will not, of course, end systemic racism and ethnic discrimination; other steps are necessary as well. Without addressing individual behavior, however, systemic inequalities persist. A bigoted official who refuses to help a Roma person apply for personal documents, for example, helps perpetuate systemic discrimination. A nurse who physically abuses a Roma woman in labor does the same, as does a mayor who offers to pay a town resident for spraying a Roma settlement with manure. In eliminating systemic discrimination, individuals matter.

So how do we get non-Roma to include Roma? In a recent study, I explore one possible way of reducing discriminatory behavior by non-Roma: NGO-led promotion of intergroup contact and dialogue. I looked at whether non-Roma discriminate against Roma in two very similar towns in Slovenia. In one (Murska Sobota), a strong local Roma NGO promotes inclusion by promoting positive interactions between Roma and non-Roma, often in the context of cultural events. In the other (Novo mesto), Roma NGO action instead focuses on providing socio-economic aid to the resident Roma. I compared the behavior of non-Roma in these two towns.

To measure discrimination against the Roma, I asked a random sample of non-Roma from each location to play a trust game with another partner, who was either Roma or non-Roma. The trust game is played with a small amount of money (6 euros) that is nonetheless significant to the participants. Using this game to measure discrimination has at least two advantages. First, it measures discrimination in a game context without asking direct questions, which is useful because when asked, non-Roma may not openly admit to being bigoted. Second, the trust game takes advantage of the stereotype that the Roma are cheaters and thieves. Getting the most out of the game requires trusting your partner with your 6 euros. I wanted to see if—following the stereotype—non-Roma were more likely to trust their non-Roma partners with their money, compared to their Roma partners. You can read more about the game rules here.

I found that in the town where Roma NGO action focuses on providing socio-economic aid to the Roma, non-Roma trusted Roma significantly less than they trusted other non-Roma. In the town where Roma NGO action bridges the ethnic divide, and where intergroup interactions and dialogue are more important, non-Roma treated both groups equally. Positive contact between Roma and non-Roma is therefore related to a lower level of discriminatory behavior by non-Roma.

What are the implications of this finding? First, to achieve sustainable inclusion, we need more dialogue and positive intergroup contact. Attempts to limit contact, either through segregation or deportation of Roma, will not get us there. Second, national and international efforts (see the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies) against systemic discrimination are crucial, but not enough—both towns in my study are governed by Slovenian and EU laws prohibiting discrimination, but individuals still make choices, and those choices matter in day to day life for non-Roma and Roma alike. Both approaches are necessary. Brexit-related proposals like deportation are utterly incompatible with the goal of sustainable inclusion, but so is day-to-day discrimination against marginalized groups. We should take the dismay that hate-speech on the street has prompted and use it to push for real, sustainable change, at the level of the individual and the state alike.

6 comentarios

  1. M. Oquendo dice:

    Cualquier análisis de la evolución de ingresos per cápita de la población conocida como clase media trabajadora de la UE y EEUU muestra que esta se viene degradando desde el inicio de los años 70.

    En los EEUU la hoy senadora E. Warren y antes profesora de derecho concursal en Harvard, viene haciéndolo notar desde al menos el año 2006 con datos aplastantes que contradicen el discurso oficial.

    En Europa y no digamos en España, tres cuartas partes de lo mismo.

    Profesora Warren https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A

    Ya va para 20 años largos que –desde dentro del socialismo europeo– se viene advirtiendo que o se revierten las tendencias de creación de «verdadero empleo» (empleo productivo de verdad y no empleo improductivo subvencionado) o el Welfare State se derrumba tras ser causa de brutal endeudamiento. Manuel Escudero en «Pleno Empleo» (1998)

    El autor del artículo habrá observado en primer lugar la baja respuesta de comentarios de lectores. Una forma de indiferencia que puedo entender pero que no comparto. Al menos porque los intentos de Ingeniería Social a costa del manipulado deben tener respuesta clara.

    En segundo lugar porque su artículo exhibe falta de objetividad. También de un desconocimiento (me temo que solo aparente) del comportamiento racional de la gran raza gitana.

    Como si en España nos fuese desconocida esta ancestral cultura de reyes y no lo digo de coña. Gentes de una decidida voluntad de, al igual que tantas ONG’s de payos, formar parte integral de la sociedad Dependiente del entorno Público y Privado.

    Es decir, vivir de la subvención pública y de la caridad privada antes que formar parte del lumpen de esclavos. Un respeto.

    Hablo desde las décadas durante las que, afortunadamente, he podido ayudar a sostener una genial familia gitana –accidentalmente española– y otra residente pero –también accidentalmente– rumana. La familia de mis ya amigos Dolores y Mihail.

    Ambas familias son dignas, racionales y coherentes, ambas familias viven mucho mejor con su modo de vida gitano que si estuviesen integrados en el creciente lumpen payo. Y como puedo echarles una mano lo hago encantado.

    Y, por cierto, tanto Dolores como Mihail son dueños de mentes de una inteligencia superior.

    El otro día, a la puerta de una Iglesia vecina a Callao vi a una señora de unos cincuenta pidiendo limosna. Era nueva, de mirada noble, porte digno y apariencia pobre que pedía con educación. Originaria de Transilvania y peregrina de Italia y Francia. Tierras inhóspitas para con los cristianos. Me paré a hablar con ella y le di unas monedas.

    Tras charlar un rato pregunté: «Dígame, señora, por qué tantos de ustedes terminan viniendo a España con lo mal que estamos»

    Me miró compasiva porque en unos segundos habíamos establecido un pequeño vínculo de respeto y me responde: «Es que en Rumanía no nos dan subvención».

    En fin, que tenemos que espabilar para entender al ser humano y tratarlo con respeto.

    Tomás Moro era un genio. Hace más de 400 años que propuso mantener al transeúnte pero nunca antes de que trabajase gratis para la comunidad que lo sostiene.
    Lean, lean la Utopia, y verán por qué esta forma de democracia es incapaz de seguir el sentido común.


  2. Gerion dice:

    Nukeado por racismo.

    De nada.

    • Gerion dice:

      No se trata de racismo, sino de incompatibilidad cultural, de modo que, al menos, nukéame por un motivo adecuado. Un colectivo que se niega por principios a la integración en la sociedad que los acoge, pero beneficiándose de ella sin aportar algo, tiene un claro símil biológico.
      La próxima vez tendré que decir, aunque lo daba por evidente, que siempre hay excepciones. Pero son excepciones, no la norma.

    • Gerion dice:

      En cualquier caso, comparto la apreciación de Oquendo, y el artículo me parece sesgado. Pena que la moderación no se aplique a la hora de publicarlos.

  3. Carlos Jerez dice:

    Ana, thank you very much for the article. Before I didn’t appreciate enough intergroup contact. I would also recommend George Soros’ work to help roma’s integration, especially, his plan to give private-sector internships to Roma youth enrolled in vocational schools:


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