10 May 2013
Roma musicians perform during a Roma funeral in Hodasz, Hungary. The majority of European Roma, commonly called “gypsies,” is Christian, with a strong representation, particularly in eastern Slovakia, of Greek Catholic or Orthodox. (photo: Balazs Gardi/VII Network)
Today, The New York Times ran an article on Roma integration into the Slovakian school system, drawing a parallel to the United States's own history of overcoming segregation:
Gazing out his window during morning recess on his first day at work, the principal of an elementary school here, Jaroslav Valastiak, was caught up short: all the children playing in the asphalt-covered yard were white, a strikingly monochromatic scene at a school where a majority of pupils are dark-skinned Roma.
Lunchtime brought another shock. The school canteen served only white children, with Roma pupils left outside with bagged rations, instead of hot food. Classes were also divided, officially on the basis of academic aptitude, but in a manner that ended up grouping students along rigid ethnic lines.
“The segregation here was as obvious as fireworks,” Mr. Valastiak said.
The 59-year-old principal has spent the past year trying to break down barriers, both physical and mental, in a painful struggle for integration that some here say echoes that of the United States more than a half-century ago.
“The situation in Slovakia now is exactly the same as it was in the United States,” said Peter Pollak, a Roma member of Parliament and the government’s plenipotentiary for Roma communities, who recently visited the United States to learn about its battles over segregated schooling and other entrenched barriers to equality.
In a continent faced with an economic crisis, soaring unemployment and bursts of nationalist populism, the elementary school here in eastern Slovakia is a microcosm of one of Europe’s biggest challenges: how to keep old demons of ethnic scapegoating at bay and somehow bring its most disadvantaged and fastest growing minority into the mainstream.
You can read the rest here.
ONE has been sharing stories of the Roma of Eastern Europe for years. To learn more about the Roma of Slovakia, see Jacqueline Ruyak's Those Who Remain Behind. Ms. Ruyak also reported on the Roma of Hungary in Our Town, which included a sidebar on the progress of anti-discrimination legislation in Eastern Europe at the time of its publication.
Tags: Cultural Identity Hungary Slovakia Roma