Roma in the Czech Republic and Slovakia

The flag of the Romani

If you’re Roma, you probably want to leave the Czech Republic. According to a new study of Romani children of Czech and Slovak nationality who migrated with their families to the UK, overall conditions in the host country far exceed, sadly, those found in their home countries. These children performed better in school and experienced far less racism than a control group of their peers. As has been well-documented, the Czech Republic’s institutional treatment of the Roma is deplorable. In 2007 the European Court of Human Rights found the country in violation of the basic right of Romani children to receive an education free from discrimination, and yet discriminatory practices still persist inside the country. Almost 30% of Romani children in the Czech Republic are sent to “special” schools as compared with roughly 1% of the larger “white” population. These special schools, allegedly for those with learning disabilities, are de facto segregated schools whereby the process of Czech-Romani integration and inter-community recognition is further retarded.

In case you’re thinking, well of course they do better in British schools, after all the sun never sets on her majesty’s educational system, think again. As The Economist points out, in many other respects Czech and Slovak schools are actually better than those in historic Albion. “Czech and Slovak kids on average easily beat their UK counterparts in subjects such as maths.” The difference lies in the simultaneously subtle yet profound forms of institutional racism perpetrated in Czech lands as well as in a general atmosphere of division and non-acceptance.

Though the study is fascinating and goes a long way to setting the record straight with regard to the scholastic abilities of Romani children (it’s the schools, not the children), one problem with the study, as I see it, is that the children studied had already immigrated to the UK. Thus it’s at least possible that these children come from families that value education more and are perhaps more interested in the possibility of upward mobility than other Romani families that haven’t left their home countries. These kinds of things are hard to measure, but should be noted nonetheless.

There are many factors, both micro and macro, that affect an individual’s or family’s propensity to migrate. In systematizing these things, researchers often talk about push and pull factors. The former involve those things about sending countries that increase the likelihood to emigrate while the latter, those things about receiving countries that increase inward immigration flows. And although the Czech Republic has lately become a net migrant-receiving country, it is clear that w/r/t the Romani, push factors still predominate. As the study notes:

All the parents interviewed during this study valued the overall atmosphere at school, their children’s feeling of being welcome there and their experience of equal treatment, equal opportunities, and the absence of anti-Roma sentiments and racism expressed by their children’s non-Roma peers and teachers, which they all said their children had experienced in various forms in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. They all said the prospect of their children’s education and employment was one of the most powerful driving forces behind their decision to move to the UK. Many of them thought it would take generations to change these practices and attitudes in Slovakia and the Czech Republic and some doubted whether they would ever change. All of them believed their children’s chances to succeed later on in life were much better in Britain than in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

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