New Book Sheds Light on Roma School Desegregation

Educational barriers for Romani youth remain a crucial challenge for European human rights. In the new release from CEU Press and the Roma Education Fund (REF) “Ten Years After: A History of Roma School Desegregation in Central and Eastern Europe,” edited by Iulius Rostas, contributors make a thorough assessment of the public policy initiatives undertaken in the past decade. The book focuses on past initiatives and present challenges but also has broader importance: to frame Romani institutional discrimination as a key policy debate for European and global human rights. Comprised of historical analysis, interviews with important political actors, and in-depth policy reviews, this new book provides an updated assessment of Romani school segregation and policy efforts designed to combat these institutional barriers.

“No inclusion of Roma is possible without the support of the majority population,” said Rostas. “It does not matter how such support should be generated, but society has to accept that the ‘only game in town’ is the full inclusion of Roma and other vulnerable groups.”

Costel Bercus, president of the board of the Roma Education Fund experienced the stark segregation at a school visit in Sibiu, Romania. “We were taken to a special school for children with disabilities, or handicaps, as they called them,” he said. “We saw [Roma] children playing in the classroom, interacting, talking to us even though we were complete strangers to them, so they looked completely average to me. I came to the conclusion that that there was nothing wrong with the children, but it was rather the system that was handicapped.”

In the book’s conclusion, Rostas identifies the model of a policy cycle as the key explanatory framework for struggle against Roma school segregation. In doing so he provides a solid theoretical foundation that allows for a multifaceted process of desegregation that is often uneven, transnational, and critically engaged. This theoretical engagement underscores the book’s core contribution: to give policymakers, scholars, and human rights activists the tools and contexts necessary to initiate change at the local, national, and global level.

“The enlargement of the European Union has drawn attention to human rights norms in the accession process as governments of new member states and applicant countries have sought to comply with EU regulatory requirements,” said John Shattuck, president and rector, Central European University, in the book’s foreword. “But, just as in the U.S. in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, governments have been slow to translate rhetorical adherence to human rights norms into policy action.”

The book and the broader research it was based on was presented by Rostas, Bercus, Andrew Ryder, and Marius Taba at the 2012 European Educational Research Conference in Cadiz, Spain on September 21.