“I was beaten by other children…I was the only Roma child to survive more than 3 months in the ordinary school…other children went to the special schools…I was just lucky.” (Marie Gailova)
“Aged 5 a psychologist deemed it most appropriate to send me to special school…my determined mother insisted otherwise…even with good grades, basic school as the only Roma in the class was problematic…other children would not look me in the face if they saw me outside school…I would not have survived without the 2 Czech girls I befriended…I was just lucky.” (Lucie Horváthová)
Lucie Horváthová and Marie Gailova come to similar conclusions about their educational experiences as Roma in communist Czechoslovakia. I frowned as I first heard them attributing their remarkable achievements to chance, yet as I have learnt more about their childhoods and those of others like them, I have come to realise that the use of the word ‘luck‘ is not merely an expression of modesty…
Schooling for Roma in the Czech Republic was – and remains – a lottery where the odds are stacked against success. Under Communism, the practice of channeling Roma into schools for children with mental disabilities called ‘special schools’ was widespread. Democratic rhetoric may espouse the principal of equality but regime change has not resulted in the stop of such segregation. A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 2006 forced the Czech government to acknowledge that 75% of Czech Roma were placed in special schools and that Romani children with average or above average intellect often ended up in such establishments.
Official recognition of continuing de facto segregation is a positive step, but until now little has changed; gross disparities between Roma and non-Roma in Czech schools in terms of both opportunities and outcomes persist. Too much remains in the hands of good fortune.
Lucie Horváthová is an example of what is possible when that element of luck is combined with determination, intellect, passion, hard work, humour and a good heart. As a Roma from the Czech city of Pardubice, she has overcome great odds. Her strong character cannot hide the emotions that are awoken as she tells of her past. She finds it hard to comprehend how the child, told by a psychologist at the age of 5 that she would benefit from going to special school because of an apparent inability to master the Czech language (Romani is her native toungue), now sits talking of her experiences working as a local government advisor, as a candidate for the local green party and most recently for the Czech Cabinet of the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities…all in fluent ENGLISH.
Lucie Horváthová ‘s words are tinged with a mixture of sadness, anger, gratitude, pride and bewilderment:
- Lucie is grateful to the few friends she did have at school that helped her to block out the prejudice with which she was confronted on a daily basis and to complete her education.
- Since becoming a master’s student of social anthropology, Lucie is angered by the suggestion that she has only got as far in life as she has because she is Roma. She has had to work as hard as the next person at university and asks simply to be treated as normal.
- Lucie is proud to be Roma and all that it entails; the langauge, the traditions, the songs, the food, the community feeling, and respect for the elderly – all are of profound importance to her. Yet she is also aware of problems existing within the Roma community; during her time as a local government Roma advisor she was sandwiched between the administration and poor and often problematic Roma families. She was often left frustrated by both parties.
The Lucie Horváthová of today is anything but purely a product of potluck. Nonetheless, appreciation of the fact that life could have been very different without that element of good fortune is what drives her work as a voice for the Roma; “it is my destiny to be active” she insists.
Lucie believes firmly that the Roma situation needs to be addressed immediately but not in isolation – exclusively ‘Roma’ solutions could worsen problems in the country. In the video I leave you with she talks of the dangers of dwelling on the negative and the need for emphasising the success stories of Roma integration. The initiative she presents, Gypsy Spirit 2009, is one idea of how to give progress a voice.
Posted By Christina Hooson
Posted Aug 18th, 2009