The Roma are an ethnic group originally from India who are dispersed widely but mainly concentrated in Eastern and Central Europe. The Roma are semi nomadic and have no real homeland (Appelbaum, 2011). The majority live in Eastern and especially Central Europe where they are yet to be embraces as European citizens. For a long time this group has been discriminated against, suffering injustices and violation of rights. They have been denied their rights to employment, housing, education and healthcare. They are often mistreated by the police and have become common victims of racist attacks and forced evictions. These issues were not addressed until the media recently began to expose their harsh living conditions and the discrimination and mistreatment they faced from the Europeans.
The Romani children have been for a long time unjustifiably excluded from the main stream education and have been confined to special schools where their potential is not exploited. As a result of substandard education they are ill equipped for the job market and find it hard to find employment. The Roma make up a significant percentage of the population in the Czech Republic whose constitution states that all children have the right to education. However even when measures have been taken to integrate these children into main stream education and remove the special schools category there is still a lot of discrimination against the Roma children and intentional effort to exclude them from the mainstream education. Segregating sane normal children to schools for the mentally ill was deemed unlawful in the European Court of Human Rights in 2007 yet this trend has not been done away with to this day. Research studies have indicated that in Slovakia 80 percent of the children placed in special schools for the mentally ill are Roma children (O’Nions, 2010).
In Italy discriminatory laws have been passed in an effort to keep the Roma and Sinti minority out of the country. These laws they claimed were intended to address security threats and the Roma were perceived as posing a threat to security in Italy. Over the last decade the Roma have been forcefully evicted from both unauthorized and authorized settlements. These evictions rarely follow lawful protocol and more often than not violate international human rights standards. These communities are never offered alternative housing and receive no notice or issuance of warning.
The Roma are believed to have been exiled from India in the year 1000 likely triggered by the Muslim invasion which occurred around that time. The specific event is not known but is perceived to have been a conflict that resulted in their persecution. The Roma were and to some extent still is a religious group who in those days perceived the non Roma as unclean.
Their mass exodus saw then travel through Greece and the Middle East covering today’s Western and Eastern Europe by the 16th century. During the 15th and 16th centuries the Roma settled in Europe in large numbers. They were a very skillful people with expertise in music, craftsmanship, fortune telling and military and these endeared them to the natives who graciously welcomed them. The Roma however kept their distance from the natives as they perceived them as unclean while maintaining respect for them. They however were victims of outrageous accusations in regards to crime and delinquency. They were discriminated against on the basis of their skin color, religious rituals and nomadic nature. Eventually even the natives who had welcomed them began to shun them.
The Roma even in the wake of modernity face various problems. They lack access to healthcare and government services, are deprived of quality education and decent housing, and are victims of labor discrimination and unemployment. These problems have been partly as a result of a European citizen that have refused to embrace and accept them but also in huge part due to the Roma lifestyle and attitude. Over the years the Roma have divided themselves into tribes and clans which are constantly in conflict. They have held on to traditional lifestyles and religious rituals and have not really been keen on learning and embracing the American culture either. In order to fit into an alien community it is important that one make an effort to learn what is required of them and to make an effort to fit in socially. This of course does not justify discrimination against them but it helps fuel this discrimination. The Roma owing to past experience do not trust the government which also makes it difficult for them to be assisted. This has got to change and they have to be willing to cooperate with the government and the authorities if their situation is to be addressed appropriately (Lewy, 1999).
The above issues may have encouraged the discrimination but the government’s unwillingness to step in and their indifference in the face of such awful living conditions are mainly to blame. It is their duty to ensure those human rights standards are observed at all times and to fight for the minority groups in the face of discrimination. The Roma have been deprived of education and resources which make them ill equipped to compete even for low paying blue collar jobs.
It is difficult to efficiently estimate the Roma population in Europe due to their constant mobility but they are estimated to range between eight and twelve million in Europe, where they are mostly concentrated. Recently the government has shown interest in addressing the Roma situation and a starting point has been the granting of freedom of movement in Europe just like every other European Union member state citizen. This raised concern of course among the public who feared for a flooding of the Roma into Europe. These fears though unfounded were expected and somewhat understandable. The government has recently been committed to helping improve their living conditions and protecting their rights. However, in order for them to experience improved living standards there will have to be a change in people’s attitude towards them which will take years.
However, even with the new interest by the government in bettering their lives a new challenge has emerged. Nationalism has been rising in Europe and while this may be good for European citizens it may spell disaster for the minority groups. Nationalism brings about a distinguishing of nations from states. A nation in this case comprises of an ethnic group or cultural community while a state is considered a political entity.
Nationalism in the past has been the cause of violence as many nations exile and get rid of non nationals amongst them. Seeing as most Europeans have a growing sentiment for the Roma it is feared that nationalism is one of the excuses likely to be used in exiling them and further discrimination. Nationalism has a way of bringing out the differences in ethnic and cultural groups not in a celebratory way but in a resentful manner. It may encourage further discrimination of minority groups especially in the Western countries.
Nationalism with good reason has been the topic of moral debates due to the issue of crimes and violence perpetrated in the name of nationalism and the oppressed nations. The argument that ethno cultural societies co existed in peace in the olden times does not hold water because in the olden times globalization was a foreign idea. Every one lived in their homeland as opposed to today’s integration of different ethnicities living together. Therefore nationalism based crimes and violence poses a much greater threat in modern society compared to traditional society (Mukherji, 2010).
On the one side nationalism may be beneficial in that it allows a nation to keep its customs and culture without being pressurized to conform to other cultures. While this should build respect for other people’s cultures and beliefs it often has the effect of increasing resentment for cultures that are different as one culture considers the other inferior. In the case of the Roma their attitudes, culture and religious beliefs are already a cause of resentment towards them. While they maintain the right of keeping their culture they run the risk of never being accepted by the European citizens and therefore continue to suffer the same discrimination. As much as the European citizens need to respect the Roma culture, the Roma community also needs to learn and respect the European culture if they are to be accepted into their education system and the job market (Lames, 2007).
The Roma however, in some areas have become integrated, they speak the local language, working with and living among the local population and attaining high education levels. In a sense they have proven that making an effort to be part of the European society has worked for them. However the rise of nationalism in Europe threatens to frustrate these efforts. This is mostly because the European population has got a firmly embedded negative attitude towards the Roma and nationalism it is feared may be used as an excuse to further discriminate and deprive the Roma of the rights due to every European Union member state citizen.