EUROPEAN ROMA RIGHTS CENTER
1386 Budapest 62, P.O. Box 906/93, Hungary
Phone: (36-1) 413-2200; Fax: (36-1) 413-2201
Report on Agreement IAA no. 399/2004, 1300187 between the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR), Council of Europe and European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) on the implementation of the project
“Advocating for Desegregation - Creation of institutional tools towards school desegregation”
The purpose of the project was to bring together the relevant policy actors and institutional agencies in roundtables at the national level in three Central and Eastern European countries -- Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. The project aimed to include relevant national level government and NGO policy makers, with particular focus on inclusion of officials responsible for funding bases, such as officials from Finance and the Education ministries respectively. Key to the project was the need to provide policy coherence and inter-agency linkages at governments where policy commitments have already been secured for educational desegregation, but have not yet been translated into coherent administrative approaches and action. A primary outcome of the current project was the intention by the respective government agencies to include a needs assessment of national Romani communities in the educational sphere, so that follow-up activities can be pursued in 2005. Another aim of the project was to link the outcomes and recommendations of the initiative with the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative, commencing in February 2005.
The project was implemented with a mind to acting on the recommendations set down in the OSCE Action Plan on improving the situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area recommendations no. 73 and no. 74, within chapter V. Improving access to education, as well as implementing recommendations set out in the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation No. R (2000) 4 which was adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 3 February 2000. The recommendations outlined within this document stress that under the terms of Article 15b of the statute of the Council of Europe:
“.... Recognising that there is an urgent need to build new foundations for future educational strategies toward the Roma/Gypsy people in Europe, particularly in view of the high rates of illiteracy or semi-literacy among them, their high drop-out rate, the low percentage of students completing primary education and the persistence of features such a low attendance;
Noting that the problems faced by Roma/Gypsies in the field of schooling re largely the result of long-standing educational policies of the past, which led either to assimilation or to segregation of Roma/Gypsy children at school on the grounds that they were ‘socially and culturally handicapped’;
Considering that the disadvantaged position of Roma/Gypsies in European societies cannot be overcome unless equality of opportunity in the field of education is guaranteed for Roma/Gypsy children….”
Funding for the project was provided jointly by the OSCE under the aforementioned Action Plan and the council of Europe Stability Pact, with additional funding from the European Roma Rights Center (please see attached documents related to budgetary parameters of the project).
· To promote at the governmental /ministerial level the development of instruments for implementation of school desegregation programs aiming to integrate Roma children into mainstream education.
· The total budget is: 33,145 EURO
· To further dialogue and promote the engagement of civil society in the process of fostering the implementation of the Action Plan of OSCE recommendations, specifically the chapter no. V. Improving access to education, particularly recommendations no. 73 and no. 74;
· To lobby at governmental/ministerial level targeting the Ministry of Finance in order to obtain /develop a legislative/institutional framework aiming the establishment of a Public Fund for School Desegregation;
· To advocate at national/ministerial level for the effective implementation of the existent legislation regarding the integration in education;
· To lobby at national/ministerial level for the introduction to the national Parliaments the budget proposal for the Public Fund for School Desegregation in order to be voted.
The main project activity was the implementation of a series of roundtable discussions involving all the major stakeholders in the sphere of education of Romani children in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. The roundtables were designed to serve as an open environment of communication/dialog involving governmental/ministries representatives, parliamentary politicians, international and domestic organizations and authorities, in which to promote implementation of the OSCE Action Plan recommendations no. 73 and no. 74, within the chapter V. Improving access to education. The fundamental aim of the project was to promote the development of national legislative mechanisms that ensured an adequate and effective implementation of the school desegregation programs in the target countries and the expected outcomes of the project were:
1. An increased level of accountability and transparency on the side of the institutions that are administrating /accessing funds for integration in education, in terms of providing accurate and detailed data about the type of expenses realized and results obtained toward desegregation in education;
2. Better dialogue and cooperation between the Ministry of Education, school administrators /teachers and Roma NGOs /parties aiming for an adequate implementation of the measures toward desegregation;
3. Increased effectiveness in functioning of the mechanisms for monitoring, evaluation and assessment of the results obtained in the process of integrating Roma children into mainstream education system.
The project was implemented by the European Roma Rights Center in conjunction with local Romani organisations in Bulgaria (The Equal Access Foundation) and Romania (Romani CRISS). The Equal Access Foundation and Romani CRISS provided administrative support and also undertook encouraging the many political representatives to attend the roundtables. This was a particularly challenging, since a number of these officials were initially hostile to the suggestion that they needed to attend such an event, in some cases with bitter political (and in some cases, personal) adversaries in the process. The diplomacy and tact shown by the two organisations in handling this matter is commendable and should be acknowledged. The Equal Access Foundation and Romani CRISS also provided unedited transcripts of the meetings (appended to this report) as well as helped to clarify any misunderstandings that may have occurred in the aftermath of the roundtables (concerning travel expenses, translation and transcription of texts, etc). Details of individual roundtable actions follow:
On December 3, 2004, the Equal Access Foundation (EAF) and the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) co-hosted the Round Table on Integration of the Roma in the Context of the Bulgarian Education Reform. The meeting was organized with the financial support of Council of Europe (Stability Pact) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as a part of a series of roundtables on desegregated education that saw a series of roundtables take place in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. The aim of this initiative was to create a forum for representatives of political parties, educational experts, and Roma discussing the issue of Roma education in Bulgaria.
In the implementation of project, the ERRC worked in close co-operation with the Equal Access Foundation (EAF), a local grassroots human rights non-governmental organisation based in Sofia. The EAF undertook aspects of the project that entailed contacting local participants, arranging the venue for the roundtable, arranging the accommodation for international participants, providing the necessary administrative support and being our point of contact for the participants who required more information related to the project. Equal Access Foundation contacted all political parties participating in Parliament, who appointed their respective representatives to take part in the first Round Table considering Roma issues as part of the ongoing discourse for educational reform in Bulgaria. The meeting was attended by Ms. Tatiana Kalkanova and Mr. Alexander Philipov – both MPs from the ruling party National Movement Simeon II; Ms. Donka Doncheva and Mr. Toma Tomov – both MPs from the Bulgarian Socialist Party; by Mr. Lyutvi Mestan – MP from the ruling party Movement for Rights and Freedoms; representatives of the United Democratic Forces, the Teachers’ Union in Bulgaria, and non-governmental organisation. MPs from the newly established political parties – New Time and Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria did not attend the meeting.
The ceremonial welcoming speech on behalf of the Minister of Education and Science was delivered by the Deputy Minister, Mr. Yulian Nakov at the opening of the meeting. Despite the fact that there was a special panel for the politicians to present their views and visions with regards to the Roma in the context of the Educational Reform in Bulgaria, the MPs demanded that at the very opening of the Round Table, and after their interventions they left the meeting. This act brought indignation amongst the rest of the participants who felt that the respective ministers were avoiding substantive involvement in the discussions and were avoiding their responsibilities. By the end of the meeting the only MP present was Ms. Donka Doncheva, who shared with the rest of the participants the vision of the Bulgarian Socialist Party that segregation is not a problem in Bulgaria.
Before the MPs from the ruling parties left, they declared that they were ready to reintroduce the Draft Law for the creation of a Fund for Educational Integration of Ethnic Minorities Children to the parliament once again. Ms. Kalkanova highlighted the need for institutionalizing existing best practices of NGOs in the field of educational integration. The Deputy Chair of the parliamentary group of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Mr. Lyutvi Mestan, announced that together with Ms. Kalkanova they proposed to Parliament that 30 million BGL from the republican budget 2005 be dedicated to implementing special measures for educational integration of children from ethnic minorities, such as providing food and transport to primary school children.
Romani Member of Parliament Mr. Alexander Philipov stated that he personally prevented the passing of the Draft Law for Fund at first hearing, as according to him, the draft law failed to envisage that the target would be socially-weak Roma. He shared with the participants that he lobbied for the rejection of the draft law not only among the majority, but also among the left wing opposition. This admission drew an obvious [emotional] reaction from some of those present who thought that his intervention was ill-advised, blaming him for the current problems the passage of the draft legislation was encountering. He responded by stressing that he was a political representative of the Roma constituency in Bulgaria and then left the proceedings promising to remain involved on the current issue (he proved his commitment by participating in the side-event mentioned below). Follow-up activity involves work to change the views of this key player.
The roundtable proceeded into a detailed discussion of educational policy with Mr. Josif Nunev from the Ministry of Education explaining elements of the central government’s education initiative towards Roma, as well as outlining issues involved in the drafting of the Public Fund legislation that had been rejected by the Bulgarian Parliament in October 2004. Future steps were explored by the participants and a number of suggestions were proffered by experts and some of the policy makers still present at the event. The main suggestion was the need for parliamentarians to be informed about the issue related to the education of Romani children and that they should be invited to participate in the number of future debates around the issue that were being planned. The roundtable concluded with an agreement by the participants to pursue a three-point programme. This was:
1. To send a statement to the Parliamentary Commission on Education pointing out the need to review the Draft Law on Fund
2. To send a letter to the government proposing the establishment of a working group for developing a Draft Law on Educational Integration
3. To launch a “travelling debate” on Roma education issues in a number of regions in Bulgaria.
An immediate opportunity for follow-up activities presented itself the following week after this roundtable had taken place when the OSCE held its annual Council of Ministers meeting in Sofia (6-7 December 2004). The organisers planned a side-event at this meeting where they would present to delegates a report of the roundtable discussion as well as outcomes from the meeting. The contact point for Roma and Sinti Issues (CPRSI), Mr. Nicolae Gheorghe chaired the session and unedited transcripts of this event are appended to this report.
ERRC and partner organisations are following up on the project by continuing to advocate for a law on a financial mechanism for desegregation in Bulgaria. The ERRC is also currently examining the idea of building coalitions to set desegregation policy itself into law in Bulgaria, through the adoption of an act on school desegregation. A number of stakeholders have already expressed support for this initiative.
The European Roma Rights Center and the Bucharest-based Romani NGO Romani CRISS, co-hosted a roundtable on the issue of segregated schooling on Romania on 9 December 2004. The event was attended by the Deputy Minister of Education, Ms. Liliana Preoteasa, Mr. Nicolae Gheorghe (CPRSI at the OSCE), Mr. Iulius Rostas, OSI Roma Participation Program (RPP), a number of local government education officials (inspectors of education, pedagogues and teachers), NGO activists and other interested parties. The roundtable was implemented under the parameters of the OSCE Plan of Action outlined earlier above. The main topic of discussion was how to put into practice those elements of the central government’s national education policy in Romania aimed at the creation of equality and quality-based education of Romani children.
The event was opened by introductory presentations by Mr. Larry Olomoofe from the European Roma Rights Center, Mr. Costel Bercus from Romani CRISS, and Mr. Nicolae Gheorghe (OSCE). Here, they reiterated the purpose of the roundtable and the pressing need to create governmental legislation that aimed at establishing a public fund geared towards desegregation in the field of education in Romania. In his introduction, Mr. Gheorghe referred to the need to eliminate the state of “confusion” that persisted when it came to the objectives and/or the agenda dealing with issues related to Romani communities in Romania (and the wider CEE region). According to him, there was an immediate need to prioritise in order to cohere the activities that existed regarding the situation of Romani children within the education system in Romania. The only way that this coherence could occur, was through the creation of a government administrated public fund which brought all the elements together under one organisational body. He reminded the audience about the main objectives of the project – which was the creation of a governmental public fund for desegregation – as well as articulating the OSCE commitment to dealing with the issue.1 On this, he noted that the OSCE action plan, on which the discussion was based, had been approved by 55 OSCE member states and was therefore a binding political commitment to combat discrimination against Roma, including in the area of education.
Ms. Liliana Preoteasa presented the government’s agenda and programs on Romani education. She claimed that whilst she did not want to heap praise on the government’s various programs, she did feel that it was right for her to claim credit for the successes of some of these initiatives. For instance, since 1990, the Ministry of Research and education (MEC) have taken a series of steps for improving the educational situation of Romani children in Romania such as:
· Development of Romanian language curricula, publication of the I, II, IX and Xth grade syllabus, Roma language books which however are not available at all the educational levels, because of the small number of copies,
· The establishment since 1998 of the position of Roma education Inspector in all the counties of the country,
· Special designated places for Roma children, affirmative measures which have been implemented at university, high school an trade school level.
She noted that there was a need for the finance representatives to be aware of their obligations in this matter and accept that there was a need for the establishment of a public fund.
This presentation provoked a number of reactions. There was a series of discussions that looked at the manifestation of segregation in other CEE countries. Of particular interest were the similarities that could be drawn with the situation in Romania regarding educational praxis and policy with other countries in the region. For instance, there is a long-standing practice of categorising [all] children in the educational system based upon IQ tests (mentioned above) aimed at discerning the mental/educational ability of the tested children in Romania. The parameters, dynamics and implications of these tests bore a remarkable resemblance with testing practices in Hungary and Bulgaria (two countries covered in the current project) and the arguments invoked by governmental officials in support of the current practice of tests in these countries were strikingly similar.2
There were a number of contributions from the experts present as well as a detailed presentation entitled “Roma segregation in regards to education” by Mr. Mihai Surdu, in which he presented background information of the current situation faced by Romani children in the sphere of education in Romania.3 His presentation outlined the historical dimensions of the situation as well presenting a number of remedies aimed at addressing the practice of channelling Romani children into Roma-only schools. He stressed that two years ago emerging discussions about segregation revolved around the denial of the phenomenon, i.e., that it did not exist, culminating in criticisms from public officials stating that the term was very harsh. Things have progressed since those days and currently, the issue is critically engaged by all involved and that nowadays, debates are characterised by the discussion over the development of “tools”, “remedies” and other strategies needed to address the practice of segregation in education.4
There was a prolonged discussion about the role of parents and the right to be taught in Romani and whether this was an obstacle to the development of desegregation programmes in Romania or not. Many of the participants stressed the importance for parents (both Roma and non-Roma) to be involved in the debates and not simply engaging professionals and experts.
In concluding, Mr. Larry Olomoofe from the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), Budapest, repeated the ERRC’s recommendations outlined in their publication, Stigmata on the state of Romani education in the CEE region, expressing the immediate need for remedies towards the situation to be implemented. He stressed that the Romanian government had an obligation to their Romani communities to create conditions for equal opportunities in the public sphere – education, employment, health, and housing – and that the continued reluctance displayed by various governmental agencies was unacceptable. Also, he stressed that existing programmes needed to be evaluated since there are currently no clear indicators that can be used to gauge the present situation. Hopefully, the creation of a public Fund should address such gaps.
This was an opinion shared by Ms. Maria Ionescu, Phare Unit in Romania. Her main recommendation was the adoption of “a positive approach, concentrating on finding a series of solutions. Segregation is a complex issue as Larry said. I propose that we meet some other times”.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Gheorghe suggested that desegregation not be applied as mindless dogma. He recommended that a document be produced including particular cases studies on particular actions aimed at improving the quality of Roma education.
There were a number of suggestions for follow-up initiatives proposed at the meeting including:
1. Negotiation with the parties for the inclusion of desegregation initiatives on the government’s agenda.
2. The creation of a tripartite commission comprising of civil society actors, Ministry of Education representatives and the Ministry of Administration that would be in charge of dealing with the issue of desegregation.
The meeting was finally adjourned with government assurances for further discussion with the scope for developing the fund that would focus on creating the indicators for assessment of current initiatives as well as the administration of government educational programmes for Romani children.
On the basis of close analysis of the unedited transcripts of the meeting and follow-up discussion in-house, the ERRC has concluded that in light of continuing confusion on the part of major stakeholders in Romania, the sentient way forward would be to press not solely for a law financing desegregation action in Romania, but actually to move toward setting school desegregation itself into law, through an act of parliament or other legally binding measure. This will be a central point on the ERRC's Romania advocacy in 2005.
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) hosted a roundtable discussion in Budapest, Hungary on the 16th December, 2004. The event was attended by the Ministerial Commissioner for Integrated Education Mr. Gabor Daroczi, Ms. Judit Szoke (director of the NGO Sulinova6), a number of educational experts, NGO activists and other interested parties. The event moderated by Ms. Rita Galambos (educational expert and consultant) and was opened by an introduction by Mr. Claude Cahn, programmes director at the ERRC in which he suggested that serious government measures have been taken on the part of the Ministry of Education since 2002, with an aim that is in line with what the ERRC has recommended for a long period of time. The desegregation program is still at a very early stage and two big challenges remain:
Mr. Gábor Daróczi followed this introduction with suggestions that after the regime change in 1989, Hungarian Roma were among the first in Europe who started organising themselves. Today there exists a variety of different institutions at the governmental level (for instance the network of Rapporteurs on Romani affairs in all departments), the main aim of which is the “mainstreaming” of the education of Romani children and the realisation of the goals set forth in the new Mid-term Package of Governmental Measures, relating to the problems of discrimination in education. According to this initiative, the main target areas of the desegregation program of the Office of Romani Affairs in the Ministry of Education are:
Some achievements: within the scope of the September 2003 amendment of the Act on Public Education, some regulations concerning kindergarten education has changed. For instance, if the parents so request, kindergartens are now obliged to accept any child who has turned three. Kindergarten education is also free of charge for children in a disadvantaged situation.
The reintegration of Romani children who are categorised, on tenuous grounds, as having learning disabilities. This initiative proposes a re-examination of their status as “students with specific educational needs”.
The developing of a special mentor program aiming at helping Romani students to get into universities and successfully finish their education (through means of positive discrimination).
A theme that consumed much attention during subsequent discussion was that of potential litigation in the cases where local authorities and schools refused to implement the national government plans for integration. The situation in Jaszladany was discussed. In Jaszladany, the local council has been involved in establishing a private school located in the building of the local public school, for the purposes of racial segregation. The mayor of Jaszladany has gone so far as to have the head of the local Romani minority self-government -- an outspoken critic of segregation efforts there -- replaced with his own wife. School segregation in Jaszladany has been strongly condemned by the Minority Rights Ombudsman.
There was further discussion on a variety of topics including contemporary methodology, intercultural education, testing of school children, policy initiatives, as well as providing best practice models. There was also the suggestion to conduct follow-up initiatives with Ms. Viktoria Mohacsi, MEP for Hungary at the European Parliament. She was formerly the commissioner for integration at the ministry of education before her current appointment at the EU and has expressed a desire to continue pursuing the goal of integrated, quality-driven education for Romani children in Hungary as well as the wider CEE region.
The afternoon session began with and was dominated by discussion of a project implemented by the EcPec Foundation in a school in the town of Patka, with the support of Ministry officials. Members of EcPec as well as teachers and school administrators were present at the meeting and gave presentations. Patka is a school which had been heavily criticised several years ago in a report by the Minority Rights Ombudsman published several years ago. In the wake of the publication of that report, as detailed at the roundtable, EcPec had begun work at the school, in cooperation with school officials. As a result, several years on, according to EcPec, dramatic improvements had been seen, both in intrinsic terms, as well as in the willingness of school officials to undertake further work with persons outside the school. The Patka project was therefore presented as a positive example.
The presentation of the Patka project generated heated discussion, due mainly to the fact that Ms Eva Deak, the director of EcPec, derived from the example the idea that Patka demonstrates that litigation and other "combative" modes of pressing for school desegregation are counterproductive, and that the one true path is close and congenial cooperation with school officials. This contention was vehemently opposed by Ms. Judit Szoke (who interestingly has until recently been a Ministry official) on grounds that it is all well and good to praise the Patka cooperation model, but such a project would never have come about in the first place had there not been a very critical report by the Minority Rights Ombudsman on the situation at the school, so "cooperation" apparently can only fruitfully follow after there has been a good dose of "combative". The recent arrival of Sulinova -- which Ms Szoke heads -- as an NGO player in Hungary, constitutes an interesting development, as there are some indications that the NGO may act to undertake legal action against schools not complying with Ministry desegregation policies. A number of persons at Sulinova have until recently been Ministry employees.
Further discussion centred on the role of parents who, some participants thought, should be the main constituency pressing for quality desegregated education.
The roundtable was closed by Mr. Cahn who drew on his own experience as a former schoolteacher to note that school administrators tend to attempt insulate schools from outside influences -- such as Ministry-led desegregation policies, or involvement of parents. Mr Cahn said in his experience often litigation and other forms of pressure were necessary to bring schools like Patka to a real integration agenda. ERRC and Sulinova subsequently discussed possibilities for follow-up, and the ERRC will press ahead with legal action against schools engaging in racial segregation in Hungary.7
All of the roundtables concluded with commitments for future actions involving all the parties – government/ministry officials, NGO representatives, and educational experts – with all of them expressing the wish to involve parents and parliamentarians in the debate. The fact that all parties in the cases of Bulgaria and Romania were keen to continue developing the desegregation discourse in their countries is consonant with one of the main aims of the project – the aim of fostering “better dialogue and cooperation between the Ministry of Education, school administrators /teachers and Roma NGOs /parties aiming for an adequate implementation of the measures toward desegregation”. The Hungary roundtable and follow-up discussions have importantly clarified for a number of players the standards and benchmarks according to which Ministry-led desegregation is to be assessed, and what measures may follow if these benchmarks are not met. All three roundtables were considered useful by participants as a result of the broad spectrum of those involved and the recognition that despite all parties hitherto now working with the same goal and interests in mind, their relationships had in some cases been characterized by antagonisms that distorted their interactions. The roundtables had provided all the parties with the opportunities to address their issues and constructively seek permanent solutions to the problems. This represents a firm foundation for the other two aims of the project to be pursued over the coming months.
As 2005 begins, the desegregation agenda in the three countries under the project has arrived at new critical points. In Romania, partly as a result of events such as the roundtable, there is an increasing willingness on the part of some previously recalcitrant stakeholders to name the problem of educational arrangements marked deeply by race as "segregation". As noted in the project agreement, this seemingly uncontroversial issue of semantics has at times generated much smoke, to little real effect. In Bulgaria at the end of 2004, efforts to see a law enacted to ensure funding for government-led desegregation efforts at least temporarily broke down. In Hungary, as government policy efforts have moved into their third year, it will be interesting to see whether desegregation efforts can press forward following the departure for Brussels of their most vocal internal-government proponent, former Ministerial Commissioner for Integrated Education Viktoria Mohahcsi. Efforts to secure into law both funding mechanisms for desegregation and indeed laws implementing segregation will continue in all three countries. It is also manifestly evident that litigation -- either Ministry-led or otherwise -- will be required to move recalcitrant school authorities to implement desegregation seriously. These two points of focus should be at the centre of follow-up.