Magazine article The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs

A Look beyond Labels for Equal Education: The Presence of Racial Discrimination against Roma in the Czech School System Can Be Properly Addressed through a Careful Race-Blind Reform of Multicultural Education That Teaches Students to Reject Stereotypes

Magazine article The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs

A Look beyond Labels for Equal Education: The Presence of Racial Discrimination against Roma in the Czech School System Can Be Properly Addressed through a Careful Race-Blind Reform of Multicultural Education That Teaches Students to Reject Stereotypes

Article excerpt

Despite prior attempts at school reform, racial discrimination remains rampant in Czech classrooms. Roma children are forced into substandard separate schools and if kept in regular classrooms, are often treated as inferior to their Czech peers. Persistent negative Roma stereotypes in the Czech Republic fuel these actions, which bring the Roma into a vicious cycle of dead-end schools, poverty, and crime.

If schools fail to properly educate Roma children, there is little hope for their social mobility. But if schools fail to educate Czech society and teach tolerance towards all ethnic minorities, there is little hope for any governmental policy reform to be successful. Education remains a vital socializing institution, and discrimination against Roma can improve through a careful, race and culture-blind reform of education in the Czech classroom. While the results may not be immediate, the effective and nuanced introduction of "Transcultural" education will help the Czech Republic become more tolerant towards the Roma community.

A Brief History of Roma in the Czech Republic

The Roma have, in fact, experienced prejudice for centuries within the Czech Republic. Since their arrival in the CR in the 15th century, they have faced waves of discrimination laws, poverty, and anti-Roma sentiment.

In 1547, Prague's Roma population was exiled after receiving blame for a fire which broke out in the city; in 1697, killing a Roma was not a crime; in 1710, Joseph I issued a decree to hang all Roma men. While such outright discrimination against the Roma ceased under Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, the Empress set in place a policy that remains the root of the problem today: socialization. In attempting to assimilate the Roma, Maria Theresa weakened their distinct culture. She sought to settle the nomadic Roma people quickly and perhaps insensitively. Nomadic life was forbidden, the Roma language was banned, and children were taken to non-Roma families for re-education.

World War II brought the harshest period of Roma discrimination. Almost all of the original Czech Roma population perished in Nazi concentration camps. But the Czech Roma population grew under communism when the state brought Roma from rural Slovakia to perform unskilled labor. An echo of Maria Theresa's pitfalls, the insensitive dissolution of Roma culture into Czech culture crippled the Roma identity.

These past efforts to socialize the Roma into what is seen as the authentic Czech culture have led to their social exclusion and subjugation. They live a life of cultural stagnation. The majority of the Roma community now live in a perpetual state of poverty and crime, paired with both direct and underlying discrimination from Czech society.

The present insensitivity towards Roma culture characterizes laws that both hinder and advocate their liberties. Most governmental measures foster animosity among Czechs, many of whom view the Roma culture as degenerate. While the state has recognized the Roma's struggle and has implemented policy support such as public school reform, this support fails to address the real issue--how to integrate the Roma into Czech culture without seeking complete assimilation or exclusion.

The Current State of the Czech Classroom

On the 13th of November 2007, the European Court of Human Rights highlighted this exact problem. They declared that the Czech state continues to practice policies of exclusion against its Roma minority and specifically this minority's children. Eighteen students from the Moravian region of Ostrava, a town 60 miles from Prague, initially challenged the Czech state in 2000. They stood as voices for the Roma children who were sent, solely based on their Roma origin, to remedial schools for children with mental disabilities. The process of segregating Roma children in separate remedial schools has been a fixture of the Czech school system since its existence. …

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