Nelson Mandela believes that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The trouble is education for all might lead to equal rights for all – and who wants that?
The cinema release of “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was closely followed by a striking article about the plight of Roma people in Europe. Some of the region’s Capitols are accused of ignoring the political and social rights of millions of people in their Districts. How long before rebels emerge and take to the streets?
The Romani have never identified themselves with a territory, have no tradition of a distant land from which their ancestors migrated, and claim no right to national sovereignty in any of the lands where they reside. Instead, Romani identity is bound up with the ideal of freedom expressed, in part, by having no ties to a homeland. In a world of nationalisms and political and economic sovereignty, many find this unsettling.
The absence of a written history has meant that the origins and early history of the Romani people were long an enigma. Now, historians (and geneticists) agree that the Roma’s origins lie in north-west India and that their journey towards Europe began between 200 and 600 AD – a migration prompted by factors such as discrimination, instability, conflict, and the search for a better life.
In Eastern Europe especially, centuries of persecution followed. Even the admission of Eastern bloc countries into the European Union seems to have made little difference to the saga of exclusion and poverty. Today, most Roma families live in small shacks with no electricity or running water and Roma poverty rates are up to 10 times higher than other people where they live, while their lifespan is 10 or 15 years lower.
In “Europe needs a Roma working class” (The Guardian 26 November 2013) George Soros wrote:
“There are more than 10 million Roma living in Europe, mostly concentrated in the Balkans and in the European Union’s newest member states, especially Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Hungary. What is truly shocking is that their living conditions have actually deteriorated since many of them became EU citizens. At the same time, the majority population’s attitude has become more hostile almost everywhere in Europe.”
The media regularly report violent attacks on Roma communities and individuals. There are protests against influxes of Roma (and other migrant workers) and outcries that they steal not horses but state benefits and jobs that “belong” to local people.
Why does this matter? Marginalization of the Roma or of any other group that might be described as indigenous, leads to the Hunger Games in reality. Very few people in their right minds want to see an escalation of xenophobia and racial hatred, at the bottom of whose slippery slope lies totalitarianism.
George Soros has an interesting alternative. The Soros Foundation has been active in educating Roma for more than 25 years:
“Together with the World Bank, we established the Roma Education Fund in 2005. The REF is ready to help national education authorities across the EU improve their performance in educating Roma children. Indeed, its programmes currently reach more than 100,000 students each year, including more than 1,600 university students who receive scholarships. But these numbers are woefully inadequate relative to the magnitude of the problem. Half of the Roma are of school age, and the population is growing faster than the capacity of the REF. The fund’s annual budget is only €12m (£10m), of which my foundations cover nearly half, and we find it difficult to secure additional funds. That is unacceptable. The programmes developed by the REF ought to be scaled up by governments, with the help of the EU, and made available to all Roma children in Europe.”
Visionary or what? And suppose the bureaucrats in the world’s various Capitols also invested in the future of other deprived and marginalized children? It might stave off a revolution.