Realizing Roma Rights Conference

Roma Banner for EblastApril 8, 2013 – “Realizing Roma Rights: Addressing Violence, Discrimination and Segregation in Europe,” held on International Roma Day, was the first conference at Harvard University to examine the rights of the Roma, Europe’s largest ethnic minority. In a unique interdisciplinary collaboration, the event was hosted by the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights in partnership with the Mahindra Humanities Center and the Center for European Studies at Harvard, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights/Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues. The program concluded with a cocktail reception and musical performance by world-renowned musician Lulo Reinhardt.

The “Realizing Roma Rights” conference was an integral step forward in the FXB Center’s work with Roma populations in Eastern Europe. The Center currently leads an innovative research, advocacy, and capacity-building program in Eastern Europe with the following objectives:

1)      Building leadership, cooperation and participation skills among Roma and non-Roma youth in Serbia, Romania and Italy;

2)      Investigating the segregation of Roma children in schools in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, and Romania;

3)      And confronting measures and practices in Eastern Europe that contribute to a climate of escalating violence, extremism, and hate crimes perpetuated against Roma communities.

On April 8, 2013, over 100 people – including scholars, policymakers, activists, and students – convened at the Center for European Studies (CES) at Harvard University to analyze the challenges facing the Roma, possible strategies for promoting youth participation and ensuring access to equal education, and the urgency of combating extremism and hate-motivated violence.

The conference was singular for the caliber and range of panelists it attracted. The expert group included representatives from key governance organizations and institutions in the field like the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights Agency, OSCE, US Department of State, US Helsinki Committee, the United Nations Development Program, and the World Bank, scholars grounded in an array of disciplines, and advocates from a range of countries and contexts. High-level theoretical analysis merged with concrete, grassroots strategies to set the foundation for a vibrant network of collaborators working at the intersection of practice and theory.

After welcoming remarks by CES co-host and Executive Director Elaine Papoulias, FXB Director Jennifer Leaning, and Harvard Dean for the Arts and Humanities Diana Sorensen, FXB Director of Research Jacqueline Bhabha chaired a panel on Roma school segregation that explored constraints and applications of the European Union legal framework, as well as the political, economic, social, and legal drivers of enduring structural discrimination. Panelists made a compelling link between the broad landscape of discrimination and violence against Roma in Europe and the more specific and localized practices of segregation within schools. In particular, three aspects of school segregation were discussed: the separation of Roma children within public schools; discriminatory practices that relegate Roma children to separate and poorer quality schools; and the abusive placement of Roma children in schools for the mentally disadvantaged and disabled.

Margareta Matache, a Roma activist and a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the FXB Center, led a second panel of Roma young academics that focused on Roma youth leadership, agency and participation. The panel analyzed opportunities for the development of youth networks focused on empowerment, education, community work, voluntarism and non-discrimination.

Jennifer Leaning, Director of the FXB Center, chaired the final panel on contemporary forms of collective violence, leading a discussion about historical patterns of violence against Roma in Europe and the mechanisms of current anti-Roma violence. Historically, the Roma have been subjected to slavery, segregation, cultural assimilation, forced sterilization and genocide. The panel focused on the ways in which the academic community, civil society, governments, and inter-governmental bodies can combat anti-Roma violence today.

The event succeeded in placing the neglected issues of Roma discrimination, access to education, and training and civic engagement opportunities on the U.S. policy agenda. The convening also strengthened the community of youth advocates, scholars, and policymakers already at work on these issues in Europe and US.

The FXB Center will continue to leverage its own convening power and that of the greater Harvard community to increase awareness of these themes within policy and academic circles. The Center plans to develop a publication that will draw from panelist presentations, highlight its own research findings, and contextualize the work of others in the field.

For further information on the “Realizing Roma Rights” conference, please review the conference agenda and participant bios.