Roma Marginality in the European Union: An Examination of Divisions in European Society

Eric Helms

March 7, 2011


The Roma, with an estimated population of between ten and twelve million, are Europe’s largest and most marginalized ethnic population. They have faced hundreds of years of racism, persecution, and discrimination in all facets of life. Levels of education, employment, health, and standard of living are drastically lower than that of their European counterparts and are continually declining despite the growing importance of “the Roma situation” in the international community. The grave human-rights violations in Italy and France in recent years have only increased the need for the systematic Roma strategy in Europe. The aim of this paper is to examine the various reasons for the division between Roma and non-Roma in Europe and explore potential ways to transform the conflict.

Conflict History

In order to examine the current conflict between Roma and non-Roma in Europe, it is necessary to first discuss their origins and history. Due to the lack of a written Romani language, there is a dearth of concrete information on the history of the Roma. In recent years however, a series of linguistic studies have arose creating a widely accepted theory that the Roma have origins in Northern India. Although this theory has only recently gained acceptance due to further scholastic inquiry, the idea was first proposed by Istvan Vali, a Hungarian pastor from the University of Leiden who compiled a list of a thousand Hindi and Punjabi words from three students from Malabar, India. This lexicon was then presented to a group of Hungarian Roma who surprisingly understood a significant portion of the words.[1] Further linguistic evidence suggests that the Roma migrated from India through Persia and the Caucasus, the Byzantine Empire and into southeastern Europe in approximately the 14th century.[2] Upon reaching Eastern Europe, many travelers began to settle, primarily in Bulgaria and Romania, although some continued on to central and Western Europe reaching Spain and Portugal in the early 15th century.[3]

For the sake of brevity and relevance, this paper will not focus on the factors that affected the Roma from their arrival in Eastern Europe to the mid-20th century. In reality (or “It is sufficient to note that”), the situation for the Roma remained poor throughout history until the end of World War II when Eastern Europe found itself under socialist (or Soviet?) control. Although it can be argued that Roma fared much better in the Ottoman Empire than in the Habsburg Empire, the inter-war period following World War I found a relative stabilization of the Romani socioeconomic status throughout Europe.[4] It is under the socialist system in Eastern Europe that the Roma began to see a relative improvement in their situation and in fact, experienced the greatest period of prosperity in their long and tumultuous past. In a sharp contrast from the exclusive policies of the preceding systems, the socialist era utilized a fundamentally inclusive approach towards integrating the Roma into society and had a greater impact on their conditions than any other regime type.[5] The situation for the Roma under socialism is best stated by Zoltan Barany in his comprehensive study on the effects of different regime types on the Roma in Eastern Europe:

Although the Roma still remained at the bottom of socioeconomic indicators, full employment, free education and healthcare, state assistance in housing and child-rearing, and a number of positive discrimination programs had considerably improved the objective conditions of most Gypsies. Moreover, as a general rule, the Roma did not have to fear for their physical security because the state seldom tolerated overt ethnic conflict.[6]

The relative prosperity experienced by the Roma after World War II came to an abrupt halt in 1989 upon the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. In fact, “the period of democratization has signified more hardship and calamity for the Roma than for any other social group”.[7] In the eyes of many central and Eastern Europeans, the Roma were negatively associated with communism, and were not considered a legitimate part of the nations and polities which replaced it.[8] The most important outcomes emerging from the fall of communism have been the detrimental impact on Romani education, employment, and socioeconomic status. Although these areas were by no means ideal before 1989, the transition to democracy has seen significant decline in all three areas for the Roma of Eastern and Western Europe. Whereas under socialist rule all citizens under the age of sixteen were required to attend school, the emerging democracies have remained largely apathetic to encouraging Roma education. As a result, the absenteeism and dropout rates of Roma have increased at a substantial rate.[9] The resulting employment prospects are equally dismal under the new democracies. During the state-socialist era mandatory employment allowed Roma to work as regular, often unskilled, laborers for decades. However, after 1989 thousands of inefficient businesses and factories were shut down or scaled back leaving a significant portion of the Roma population unemployed. Although the unemployment figures for this period vary greatly, it is known that the proportion of unemployed Roma was significantly higher than that of the dominant population.[10] The significant decline in education and employment has had a disastrous effect on the current situation facing the Roma and will be discussed more in-depth in the following section.

Overall Situation in Europe

The situation of the Roma in Europe today is a hardly an optimistic one. According to a United Nations Development Program report in 2003, ‘‘by measures ranging from literacy to infant mortality to basic nutrition, most of the region’s Roma endure living conditions closer to those of sub-Saharan Africa than to Europe’’[11] The reality is that the Roma are stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty stemming from discrimination, lack of marketable job skills, biased media portrayal, and the negative Romani views towards education and integration.

Although there is a lack of concrete data in European Union member states, the Roma population across Europe is estimated to be between ten to twelve million.[12] Roma populations of varying size are located in every European country with the largest communities residing in Romania (1,800,000) and Bulgaria (800,000).[13] It is in these countries that Roma face the highest levels of discrimination and marginalization in all facets of life, often times driving them to migrate to Central and Western Europe in search of better living conditions.

Examining the Contributing Factors to the Conflict

Of the many factors contributing to the growing division between Roma and non-Roma in Europe, the problems associated with economic inequality and educational attainment have had the most detrimental effect. A study conducted by Yale in 2002 shows that while nearly 50 percent of non-Roma in Bulgaria complete their secondary education, a mere 6.2 percent of Roma accomplish the same with only 35 percent actually completing primary education.[14] Sadly this statistic is not an aberration in relation to Europe as a whole. Studies have found the percentage of Roma completing primary and secondary education to be uniformly consistent across Eastern and Western Europe.[15] There are a variety of interconnected reasons that explain the low rates of education found among Roma, the primary reason being the poverty and marginality found in Roma communities. As Barany points out:

In practical terms the extremely low educational level of most Gypsy communities—the most important reason for their continued marginality in contemporary Europe—can be partly explained by the notion that education requires considerable investment in time, energy, and resources and as such has been conceived by many Roma as a luxury they could not afford.[16]

With a majority of the population living well below the poverty line, school supplies, proper clothing, shoes, and daily lunches are luxuries which many Roma simply cannot afford. In Bulgaria, for example, over 80 percent of Romani households live under the international poverty line of $4.30 purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita with an astounding 41.4 percent living under the $2.15 PPP per capital line. Both percentages of Roma living in poverty are several times higher than that of the ethnic Bulgarian population.[17] Additionally, Roma who desire to send their children to school often face an inordinate amount of barriers. Due to the segregated nature of villages and towns throughout Europe, most Roma neighborhoods are situated at a distance from the city center, usually on the town’s periphery. In most countries Roma neighborhoods are virtually ignored by regional governments and municipalities leaving them with poor, unpaved roads, no streetlights, and no public transportation. Since the low socioeconomic status of most Roma leaves them without the option of purchasing a car, children are often forced to walk long distances with the threat of harassment or violence in order to reach public schools located in the city center. Ron McNamara, the International Policy Director for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe recently stated at a seminar in Washington D.C. that “parents will not allow their children to attend school outside the Romani neighborhood. Many people argued that because of fears of racist harassment and attacks on the Romani children in the majority environment, the Romani parents would obstruct the desegregation efforts.”[18]

Yet another barrier Roma face when pursuing education is lack of cultural understanding and sympathy in regards to language from school administrators and teachers. The Romani language is the primary language spoken at home by a majority of Roma families, regardless of where they live. Although most Roma eventually learn the country’s dominant language, children entering pre-school or kindergarten have often not developed a solid knowledge of the dominant language due to their limited interaction with gadje (non-Roma.) This lack of knowledge often evokes harassment from students and teachers alike, discouraging Roma even further in their attempts to learn. Another factor contributing to the low-education levels among Roma is the institutional use of segregated and remedial schools. Although segregated schools have largely been abolished in Europe, the spatial separation of Romani neighborhoods from the majority population has had the unintended effect of creating segregated schools in communities with significant Roma populations. The unintentional segregation of schools has created two significant problems for the Roma population throughout Europe. The first is that the educational quality in predominantly Roma schools is inferior to that of the majority population. In most cases the teachers employed by Roma schools are highly under qualified, often times having completed no more than a secondary education themselves. Barany once again uses Bulgaria as a prime example of practices in the region by stating: ”In Bulgaria, teachers in Gypsy schools have usually lower qualifications than their colleagues in mainstream educational institutions. According to Savelina Danova of the Bulgarian Human Rights Project, many teachers who work in schools catering to the Roma are sent there as a form of punishment.”[19] The most detrimental practice to Roma education utilized by regional and national governments in Europe is the placement of Roma in “special” or remedial schools. This policy, rooted in the Socialist idea of “defectology,” has led to the channeling of a large percentage of the Roma population into schools for the mentally and physically handicapped.[20] Although the reasons for this practice vary, “in many cases Romani children who are not proficient in the language of the school system or have behavioral problems but show no evidence of mental retardation are routinely transferred to special schools.”[21] A 1997 study of schools in the Czech Republic found that 64 percent of Roma children in primary school were placed in special schools as opposed to four percent of the total population.[22] Figures across Europe are relatively consistent and have not improved in recent years. Studies by the European Roma Rights Centre and the Bulgaria Helsinki Committee in 2004 found that in the 138 special schools in Bulgaria, approximately 85 percent of the students were Roma.[23] This practice has apparent detrimental effects on the prospects for Roma in terms of continuing education and future employment.

The final and potentially most disastrous factor hindering Roma education is the lack of importance placed on a structured education by the general Roma population. In a study performed by the Department of Sociology at the University of Bucharest, Roma respondents over the age of sixteen listed school and education as the sixth most important factor to success in life behind money, working hard, luck, skills and qualifications, and health.[24] Quite simply, the lack of encouragement from parents to attend school combined with the multitude of other factors creates an unfavorable and discouraging climate for Roma youth.

A byproduct (or result?) of the problems associated with the education system in Europe for the Roma is unemployment. As discussed earlier, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe left a majority of Roma unemployed with little hope for the future. Traditional Romani skills and crafts, such as x, which had previously provided ample work, have rapidly become obsolete. Combined with the lack of formal education for a majority of the population, and racism and discrimination in the unskilled labor market, the job market for the Roma has become exceedingly difficult. In Bulgaria and Romania, approximately 75 percent of the Roma have little or no training in either modern or traditional trades.[25] This lack of skills leaves a large portion of the Roma population with minimal employment opportunities, usually limited to street cleaning, ditch digging, and cardboard scavenging. In addition to disproportionally high levels of unemployment, the duration of unemployment for Roma is significantly higher than that of the majority population. Whereas in Bulgaria the average level of unemployment after 1989 for ethnic Bulgarians was 27 months, the Roma average was nearly twice as long at 51 months.[26]

Despite the obvious loss of income and subsequent decline in living standards, extended periods of unemployment have had a significant psychological effect on the Roma. As scholar William Julius Wilson noted:

“in the absence of regular employment, a person lacks… a system of concrete expectation and goals… In the absence of regular employment, life, including family life, becomes less coherent. Persistent unemployment and irregular employment hinder rational planning in daily life, the necessary conditions of adaptation to an industrial economy.”[27]

The direct result of high levels and extended periods of unemployment has been a sharp decrease in living conditions, appallingly low levels of health and sanitation, a rise in crime and an increased reliance on social aid. Barany states that “wages earned for employment in the 1980s have been replaced by unemployment benefits, welfare payments, and social aid—especially per-child subsidies—as the chief source of income for the majority of the region’s Roma (50–60% in Bulgaria, 70% in Macedonia, and 74–76% in Slovenia).”[28]

One result of the marginalized position of the Roma that must be further analyzed is the subsequent increase in crime. Of the many stereotypes associated with the Roma by majority populations, the Roma predisposition towards theft is one which is not only detrimental, but also the extremely misguided. One of the main contributing factors to this stereotype is the low visibility of Roma. Due to their history of marginalization, discrimination, and racism, the Roma have adapted by making themselves largely invisible to the general population. A casual visitor to any Eastern or Western European country would have a difficult time ascertaining just how large of a presence the Roma have in these countries. This is due to the Roma’s ability to avoid the public attention as well as the location of their neighborhoods. Roma neighborhoods and encampments are generally found on the outskirts of towns and villages and are placed in such areas due to both their desire to remain among other Roma, as well as the forced segregation policies of national governments. Angus Bancroft notes:

Under Communism a high degree of spatial segregation between Roma and non-Roma was developed and maintained. There was a two way process behind this. Government housing allocators kept Roma apart from other citizens. They state that Roma would wreck newer flats and put them into old ones, and were also concerned to keep ‘decent’ people separate from the Roma. In addition there were the choices made by Roma themselves, who preferred the older type of accommodation, being more suitable for large families. The result is that Roma in many cities of Central and Eastern European countries live with a high level of spatial segregation, which paradoxically appears to have increased the result of the efforts of Communist governments to change their way of life.[29]

The result of this spatial separation is that the conceptions of the Roma by non-Roma are generally formed upon limited interaction with Roma in city and town centers, most often consisting of beggars, cardboard and scrap collectors, and petty thieves. It cannot be denied that a percentage of Roma resort to theft but the widely and often unfairly publicized frequency of crime simply does not justify the widespread popular view of Roma as criminally inclined. This viewpoint also fails to address the socioeconomic circumstances that propel many Roma towards criminal behavior.[30] Zoltan Barany outlines a convincing argument for the reasons why Roma resort to crime: “Quite simply, many Roma have nothing to lose especially because incarceration in many cases signifies an improvement in their situation. Considering that their conditions include all the major socioeconomic catalysts of criminal behavior in an acute form, one may wonder why Romani crime rates are not higher.[31] According to some sociologists, a majority of Romani criminals come from the most disadvantaged 30-35 percent of the Romani population. Thus, their criminality is largely responsible for the way the majority population views the Roma community as a whole.[32]

The attitude towards the Roma throughout Eastern and Western Europe is unequivocally one of suspicion, mistrust, and often times hatred. A 1991 survey of various Eastern European countries showed that between 66 percent (Slovakia) and 91 percent (Czech Republic) of the majority population harbored negative views of the Roma.[33] Other polls show that over 33 percent of Czechs aged between 15 and 29 agreed with skinhead attacks against the Roma, 30 percent believed they should be deported or isolated in ghettos, and 10 times more people could imagine a visit to earth by extraterrestrials than could conceive of marrying a Roma. Another Czech study showed that 40 percent of students at a police academy were uncertain if they would help a Romani child in an emergency while 10 percent were certain they wouldn’t, and 90 percent blamed the Roma in attacks by skinheads.[34] Unfortunately, this prevailing negative attitude has only worsened in recent years. The book Roma Realities, published by The World Bank, paints a grim pictures stating, “The prejudice reigning among the majority population has denigrated in recent years into open racial intolerance.”[35] This negative attitude is expressed not only through discrimination in employment and education, but is also predominantly featured in the media. The examples of media bias and racism in Europe towards the Roma are abundant and to list even a minuscule portion would require years of research and compilation. However, for the sake of this paper it is beneficial to provide a few pertinent examples. Barany describes a particularly disturbing example, which also highlights the growing problem that European youth are learning to harbor negative attitudes at an early age:

This point was made all the more poignant by one Magdalen Babickova, a 17-year-old high school senior and finalist of a Czech beauty contest. When asked of her life’s ambition, she told a nationwide television audience that she wanted to become a prosecutor in order to cleanse her hometown of Gypsies. It is more worrisome yet that spontaneous applause greeted her announcement and that no one at the contest objected to her views; moreover, the host responded by calling her ‘a very brave girl’ and telling her: ‘We need that sort of lawyer.’[36]

Yet another example is outlined by Valeriu Nicolae and Hannah Slavik in their book Roma Diplomacy:

The evening of October 26, a talk show on the Romanian TV station OTV included two items related to Roma: one concerning the rape and murder of the Roma girl, and the other about a fight involving Roma. During the broadcast, several commentators suggested that the murder was related to the fact that Roma parents are unable to take care of their children. Comments on the fight involving Roma included the suggestion from a caller carried live on TV that ‘Gypsies should be shot dead.’[37]

Instances of intolerance, racism, and bias such as these are abundant in Europe and are tragically the norm as opposed to the exception. The universally negative attitude facing the Roma exacerbates their marginality and perpetuates the cycle of poverty and discrimination found in education and employment.

Yet despite economic, educational, and politic inequalities, the conflict is in essence identity driven. Misconceptions of Roma, often based off of antiquated stereotypes, by majority populations fuel the conflict and hinder the reconciliation process. Roma are considered to be ethnically inferior, lacking the capacity or desire to work in the formal economy. It is widely assumed that Roma prefer to abuse social assistance systems through unemployment and per-child payments instead of finding proper employment. These misconceptions are further exacerbated by the perceived unwillingness to integrate into society. Barany lists three reasons for the negative and misguided perceptions of the Roma:

First, most people’s perception of and interaction with the Roma rare shaped by negative factors and experiences. They are generally aware of the differences in culture and lifestyle, the Gypsies’ low educational attainments and poverty and their social and economic ills, particularly the high rates of Romani crime. The second reason is that East Europeans, generally speaking, have little tradition of tolerating ‘others.’ Nationalism and ethnic enmity are phenomena with long histories in the region. The third reason is that post-communist transition processes have actually contributed to rising intolerance in the region.[38]

One final reason for the conflict which must be examined is political oppression and scapegoating. Rightwing extremist and nationalist political parties have increasingly used anti-Roma rhetoric in recent years to increase party popularity in national elections. The Hungarian ultra right-wing party gained an incredible 16.7 percent of votes in the European Parliament elections in April 2010 while Bulgaria’s Ataka party has continued to enjoy a high level of support through its attack of Roma and Turks.

Additionally, member state governments have increasingly used the Roma as a scapegoat in response to rising criticism and disapproval ratings from majority populations. In 2008, the Italian government declared a national “nomad” emergency as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s approval ratings among Italians reached abysmally low levels. The decree, adopted in May 2008, allowed the prefects of Roma (Rome?), Milan and Naples to derogate from the “rules of law in force” to adopt specific measures aimed at Roma, Sinti, and other undocumented third-country nationals living in “nomad camps.”[39] Among the specific emergency powers included in the derogation were the monitoring of formal and informal camps, identification and census of those residing in the camps (including children), fingerprinting and taking photos, the expulsion and removal of persons with irregular status, the clearing of camps and evicting their inhabitants.[40] Following the collection of personal data, the Italian government created a database which contained information only about Roma for the purpose of “dismantling Roma camps and expelling Roma from the country.”[41]

A more recent example of this can be seen in French President, Nicolas Sarkozy’s, 2010 plan to demolish over 300 illegal Roma camps and expel Roma individuals and families to Bulgaria and Romania due to perceived violations to the 2004 Directive of Free Movement. The move, which was widely considered to be in response to low levels of support among French nationals, violated numerous human rights laws (?) and sparked a rise of anti-Roma rhetoric and hate speech throughout Europe.

Goals of the Involved Parties

In order to properly explore the avenues available to transform the conflict, it is necessary to first examine the goals of the parties involved. Although small factions of extremists among the majority populations in Europe exist, the desire of most non-Roma ostensibly remains the integration, and often times assimilation, of Roma into the European community. Roma integration is best seen as a multi-faceted process that includes spatial integration (i.e.: desegregation of official and unofficial Roma communities), inclusion of Roma within the official workforce, Roma contributions to the social welfare system through income tax payments and cultural transformation to that of the majority population.

On the other hand, the desires of the Roma lie primarily in non-discrimination and equality, while maintaining their culture and traditions. Equal access to education, employment, healthcare and housing and the ability to enjoy them free of discrimination and harassment are at the core of the Roma rights movement. It is important to note, however, that Roma desire to maintain their language, culture and traditions throughout this process. A large issue of contention derives from the debate between assimilation, integration, and social inclusion. While non-Roma desire the full integration of Roma into the mainstream community, this is often proposed through assimilation, which threatens the existence of Romani culture. It is for this reason that a distinction must be made when examining the goals of both groups. A more reasonable and likely outcome lies in social inclusion, which can be considered as a form of integration which allows the Roma to maintain their culture while actively participating in, and contributing to, the national and international community.

Conflict Transformation

Reconciling the deep divisions in Europe between Roma and non-Roma requires a long-term, multifaceted approach with the participation of the European Union, national governments, civil society, and individuals. It is only through the cooperation of all actors that a significant change will be seen in Roma relations.

On an institutional level, change must start with the European Union. Historically, the EUs track record in the field of Roma rights has been inconsistent at best. Despite an abundance of programs, projects, and grants aimed at reducing Romani marginalization and discrimination and promoting equal access to education, employment, health care and housing, the EU has consistently failed to tackle large-scale human-rights violations against the Roma. The most notable examples of this are the failure of the European Commission to adequately respond to the mass human-rights violations in Italy and France. The situation in France in the summer of 2010 provided the Commission with a prime opportunity to rectify its past mistakes when approaching grave human-rights violations from member state governments.Following a leaked memo that was circulated by Sarkozy’s office, explicitly stating that the country’s Roma minority was being singled out, European Commissioner of Justice, Viviane Reding issued a strongly worded condemnation and a subsequent ultimatum to the French government. The ultimatum, giving the French government two weeks to begin the legal implementation of the 2004 Free Movement Directive, was praised by human rights organizations and considered a bold, but (and?) much needed, step towards taking Roma rights seriously. Human Rights Watch went so far as to say “Reding's courageous stance against France inspires new confidence that the EU's new human rights architecture may fulfill its promise.”[42] Yet a mere two weeks later the Commission announced that it would suspend its human rights complaint against France and not pursue infringement proceedings against the state. Although it has continued to monitor the situation in both France and Italy, the opportunity to make a strong stand for Roma rights is now in the past. Succinctly stated by journalist James A. Goldston:

This could have been the shining moment when the European Union finally stood foursquare beside itsRoma citizens. It could have been the moment that the European commission, the Council of Europe, and the alphabet soup of Euro-agencies stood up and said it is time to behave according to the fundamental European values everyone in Brussels and Strasbourg loves to talk about and to take the steps necessary to bring the Roma into European society. The opportunity has passed.[43]

In order for the division between Roma and non-Roma to be reduced, the European Commission needs to more stringently monitor human rights violations against Roma in Union Member States, and when violations occur, initiate infringement proceedings and, if necessary, refer to the matter to the European Court of Justice. The failure of the Commission to adequately address human rights violations in Italy and France in 2008 and 2010 has sent a message to the European community that it is acceptable to utilize anti-Roma rhetoric in the political sphere and to violate the rights of Roma as political leverage. The lack of prosecution of the French government has emboldened other national governments, most prominently in Italy and Hungary, to examine the feasibility of expelling their Roma populations as a way of fostering political support. In order for discrimination to decrease against the Roma, the European Commission must finally prove that it stands by the Roma and begin prosecuting states that are committing human rights violations through the use of economic and financial sanctions.

This commitment is equally important when examining the actions of eastern European member states, particularly Bulgaria and Romania. Since joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania have been under constant scrutiny for their compliance to the stipulations outlined by the EU.In 2008 the European Commission froze over 130 million Euro in PHARE funds allocated to Bulgaria due to fears of corruption and non-compliance with EU law.[44] Yet despite member state obligations to non-discrimination on grounds of ethnicity and commitments to actively seek solutions to the problems associated with Roma social exclusion, EU funds are not withheld when states fail to uphold these commitments. Access to developmental funds and programs in member states, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe, should be contingent on states actively and positively seeking to improve Romani social inclusion and reduce discriminatory and racist practices.

On a structural level, many of the reasons for the division between Roma and non-Roma stem from low levels of educational attainment. An increased education level of Roma youth would positively impact employment levels, income disparity, housing and health care. Indirectly, it would help to combat the negative stereotypes associated with Romani culture including reliance on welfare, unsanitary living conditions, high birth rates and resistance to integrate into the majority community. As discussed earlier, there is a wide-range of reasons hindering Romani educational attainment. In order to address these problems, a variety of activities are necessary. The first step for attaining this goal is for governments to develop, improve, and implement desegregation policies for all levels of education. This measure must also include abolishing the practice of placing normal-functioning Roma children in “special schools.” Additionally, measures must be taken to increase Roma access to preschool. In order to do this governments must add facilities to accommodate all children and either eliminate or subsidize school fees and transportation costs to ensure that all children are able to attend. Finally, governments must assure that students whose first language is Romanes receive assistance in preschool and early grade levels to ensure that they don’t fall behind, thus, decreasing the chance of dropping out at an early age. This goal can be attained through teacher training courses, hiring bilingual education mediators from the Roma community, and developing preschool programs that place an increased emphasis on language acquisition and bilingual techniques.[45]

Much of this can be accomplished by the institutions and organizations already in place, primarily, the European Union. The EU should adopt standards prohibiting both official and unofficial racial and ethnic segregation in education, provide formal monitoring through inspections and sanctions, and provide funding only to countries and schools who effectively implement integration and anti-discriminatory measures. In developing and implementing these standards, the EU should work with the Roma Education Fund (REF). The REF, established in 2005 within the framework of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, aims to reduce and eventually close the gap in educational attainment between Roma and non-Roma.[46] The objectives of the REF are to ensure access to compulsory education, improve the quality of education for Roma student through curriculum reform, implement integration and desegregation, improve access to preschool education, and increase access to secondary and post-secondary education.[47] In order to attain these goals the REF funds projects and proposals from Romani NGOs, provides university scholarships to Roma students who would otherwise be unable to afford higher education, and supports policy development and capacity building programs throughout Europe. By working directly with the Roma Education Fund, the European Union can insure that its policies and programs most effectively and efficiently increase Roma access to education and improve levels of educational attainment.

In order to reduce income disparity and levels of unemployment, public awareness campaigns by the European Commission, EU, and NGOs are needed to inform municipal and national governments of the benefits of investing in Roma youth education and workforce inclusion. A 2010 World Bank study found that the exclusion of Roma from the workforce results in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in productivity and fiscal contributions to European governments. Lower bound estimates of annual productivity losses in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Serbia total over 2 billion dollars while annual fiscal losses are estimated at 860 million dollars for the same four countries. Additionally, the annual fiscal gains for bridging the employment gap are between 2.4 to 7.7 times higher than the total cost of investing in public education for Roma children.[48] The inclusion of Roma into the formal work sector is important as it both combats the stereotype that Roma are unwilling to work and reduces income disparity between groups. This issue is becoming increasingly important as the percentage of Roma among the working-age population continues to rise.

Finally, in order to improve relations between Roma and non-Roma throughout Europe, racism, discrimination, hate speech, and negative perceptions must be challenged. Discrimination and racism towards the Roma among the majority population is taught and fostered at an early age, particularly in eastern European countries. In order to combat these negative perceptions, it is of the utmost importance to address the issue before it becomes ingrained. One way of doing this is through the integration of diversity and Roma culture into school curriculum. Governments should require the inclusion of Roma history, culture, and language in textbooks and educational materials, which should be developed in close consultation with Roma communities. Additionally, positive interaction with Roma is one of the most important factors in combating racism. By facilitating these interactions at an early age through education, sports, and the arts, negative perceptions of the Roma can be prevented or decreased.


The division between Roma and non-Roma in Europe has persisted for centuries and stems from a diverse, yet interconnected, range of reasons including economic inequality, unequal access to social services, political scapegoating, and cultural misconceptions. Although violence between the groups has largely been isolated and small in nature, a comprehensive plan for reducing Romani marginalization and increasing social inclusion is needed before the situation further deteriorates. Yet there is reason for optimism. A concentrated effort between the European Union, its member state governments, and civil society stressing increased access to quality education, the benefits of inclusion in the formal work sector, diminished discrimination and hate speech while holding governments accountable for their actions has the potential to greatly improve group relations and decrease the divisions that have plagued the continent for far too long.

[1] Fonseca, Isabel, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey (New York: Vintage, 1995), 86

[2]Ringold, Dena, Mitchell A. Orenstein, and Erika Wilkens. Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle (Washington DC: The World Bank, 2005), 6

[3]Ibid 225

[4]Barany, Zoltan. The East European Gypsies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 110

[5]Ibid 113

[6]Ibid 151

[7]Ibid 3

[8]Bancroft, Angus. Roma and Gypsy-Travellers in Europe: Modernity, Race, Space and Exclusion. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 125-126

[9]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 169

[10]Ibid 173

[11]McNamara, Ronald. The Human Rights Situation of the Roma: Europe’s Largest Ethnic Minority. Briefing on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington DC, June 16, 2006. 2

[12]European Commission, The Situation of Roma in an Enlarged European Union (Luxembourg: Office for Official Publiations of the European Communities, 2004), 9


[14]Ringold, Orenstein, and Wilkens. Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle, 42

[15]Open Society Institute. Monitoring Education for Roma (New York: Open Society Institute, 2006)

[16]Barany, Zoltan. The East European Gypsies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 46

[17]Ringold, Orenstein, and Wilkens. Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle, 29

[18]McNamara, The Human Rights Situation of the Roma: Europe’s Largest Ethnic Minority, 4

[19]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 168

[20]Ringold, Orenstein and Wilkens, Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle, 45

[21]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 167

[22]Ringold, Orenstein and Wilkens, Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle, 45

[23]UNICEF 2007, 56.

[24]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 166

[25]Ibid 173

[26]Ringold, Orenstein and Wilkens, Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle, 40

[27] Wilson, William Julius, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, (New York: Knopp, 1996), 73

[28]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 166

[29]Bancroft, Angus. Roma and Gypsy-Travellers in Europe: Modernity, Race, Space and Exclusion, 60

[30]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 141

[31]Ibid 183

[32]Ibid 180

[33]Ibid 193

[34]Ibid 194

[35]The World Bank, Roma Realities (2009), 93

[36]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 191

[37]Nicolae, Valeriu and Hanna Slavik, Roma Diplomacy (New York: The International Debate Education Association, 2007), 21

[38]Barany, The East European Gypsies, 189-190

[39]Open Society Foundations, “Roma in Italy: Briefing to the European Commission,” October 10, 2010, available at



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