High school for Roma sparks confusion in Romania

30/03/2012

An initiative to establish a high school for Roma youth generates controversy within the community.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 30/03/12

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The school will be located at a former military base in District 5 of Bucharest, home to a significant number of Roma. [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]

Roma NGOs in Romania are vehemently criticising a proposal to create a high school for community youth in Bucharest after the project was marred from the very start by a series of confusing statements.

It began on March 13th, when Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu announced the founding of the first Romani teaching high school in the country, based on a project submitted by the minorities group in parliament several years ago.

The school, to be housed in a deserted military barracks supplied by the ministry of defence, is aimed at curbing the very high dropout rate among Roma children.

But one of the initiators, Varujan Pambuccian, leader of the minorities group in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, stressed that the classes will be conducted in Romanian, and the Roma children will only have access to Romani language and civilisation courses at the high school. Pambuccian put the confusion down to a language lapse on the part of Ungureanu.

Roma leaders are up in arms over the confusion. "This shows they do not know what they want," Magdalena Matache, executive director of the Romani Criss, a leading NGO representing the Roma community, told SETimes.

"They just threw out an idea, without any prior public debate and without any concrete document to support this project. It is a chaotic and improvised initiative. The Roma people cannot any longer be used as political maneuvre instruments," she added.

"In this current shape, the initiative is also a form of segregation and discrimination: by ethnically separating the Roma students from the others by forcing them to attend the Romani language and civilisation classes. The law only allows for either integral Romani teaching schools or bilingual ones," she continued.

Matache said a Romani teaching system cannot be created overnight. "There are no school manuals in the Romani language or high school specialised teachers to teach Romani. These resources take at least a decade to put together to start a serious Romani teaching system."

The initiative was a just a diversion, she said. The project was made public to distract public attention from a fierce debate in the ruling tripartite coalition about the creation of a Magyar teaching medical school in Targu Mures, which brought the coalition to the brink of collapse.

Pambuccian defended his initiative. "First of all, my project is not meant to target an ethnic problem, but a social one," he told SETimes.

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"We want to create a high school for the poor communities and give the youth there a job, to turn them into tax payers, not criminals. The classes will be held in Romanian because we need to prepare these young people for the society they will integrate into. On the other hand, let's be honest: many of the Roma youngsters do not even speak the Romani language," he said.

"The Roma community faces enormous problems and if we do not address them correctly, if we do not understand their source, then we cannot settle them. Unless the authorities get involved, they do not have any chance because they are kept in the dark and ignorance both from within and outside the community," Pambuccian added. He said he is preparing three "coherent programmes" for the Roma community, covering three key areas: education, health and labour.

Florea Stancu, a 43-year old Roma who owns a flower shop in Bucharest, told SETimes "It is funny that, on the one hand, they preach education as a means to take the Roma community out of misery, but on the other hand, no concrete steps are taken in this direction or, if taken, they turn out to be some mere hesitations."

"It is education that will take this community out of the dark. There's no other way, no doubt about that. But this cannot be done as long as we are taken advantage of and still used as only an electoral tool. I think the spark has to be lit from the inside."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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