Kimberly Birdsall

Kimberly Birdsall (The Dzeno Association): At the time of her fellowship, Kimberly was pursuing her Master’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, with a concentration in U.S. Foreign Policy.

East meets West

31 Jul

My liberal middle-class American education is troubling me. I reluctantly admit that the Czechs often find my politics naive, and that my optimism about the good intentions of government sounds hollow to them.

Discussing the UN over beers at a local pub, my belief in the necessity for international norms and moral recriminations does not transfer well. As the conversation (inevitably) turns to the U.S, I find myself defending American actions in the name of democracy and human rights, even if, as they challenge me, the U.S. domestic human rights situation is not one-hundred percent perfect. And even if weapons of mass destruction cannot be found. Or the Bush administration is slow on taking action when it is really needed, for example, in Liberia. Challenging indeed.

A journalist recently asked Ivan if he thought the entrance of the Czech Republic into the EU would be beneficial to the position of the Roma. The million-dollar question. Before answering, Ivan asked my opinion on this, to see what the answer of an outsider and non-European expert would be. I answered that I thought it was a positive step, as the EU would force the governments of the ex-communist countries to reform, and to update their policies and actions towards minorities and bring them in line with human rights standards. If nothing else, all the attention being drawn to the Roma issue was an educational experience for the majority, and had increased international attention and pressure for change.

Ivan smiled, as if humoring a child who believed in goblins and fairies. In theory, he agreed, that was the EU should do. But look closer, he said, at who and what the EU is made up of. The strongest countries in the EU, Germany and France, are amongst the weakest on immigration and minority policy, and France does not even recognize the existence of ethnic minorities on its soil. Western European countries already in the EU do not have to live up to the same policy standards that EU candidate states have to meet, and this hypocrisy means that the EU is not a safe place for minorities at all. Once inside the EU, the Czech Republic will have no reason to continue providing assistance and funds for the development of the Roma communities.

Ivan has been battling the shifty and reluctant powers-that-be in the Czech Republic for years, and has no reason to believe they will suddenly change. His cynicism has impressed upon me the competitive nature of European governments, and the legacy of greed, discrimination, and repression that still haunts the leadership and bureaucracy of the ex-communist countries.

The second question from the journalist was “Do you think that joining the EU will ease the pressure on Roma to emigrate?”

Again, Ivan smiled, this time with a smug look. And he answered, “The Roma are free to travel, as they have always been. The EU will not change that.” And the cynicism and negativity just disappeared…

“Let the Gypsies come and blossom.
We miss them.
They can help us by irritating our fixed orders.
They are what we pretend to be; they are the true Europeans.
They do not know any borders.”
-Gunter Grass

Posted By Kimberly Birdsall

Posted Jul 31st, 2003

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