Book review: Nordic & Baltic Roma


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Subject: Book review: Nordic & Baltic Roma

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Book review: Nordic & Baltic Roma


Book review: Nordic & Baltic Roma
 
Hernesniemi, Pivi & Lauri Hannikainen. 2000.
Roma Minorities in the Nordic and Baltic Countries. Are their rights
realized?
Rovaniemi: Lapland's University Press.
Publication of the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority
Law. 100 pp. (Juridica Lapponica 24). ISBN 951-634-749-5. Price FM
150, 25,23 + porto.
(Ordering address: Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority
Law, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Box 122, FIN-96101
Rovaniemi, Finland. Tel. +358-16-341.2591. Fax: +358-16-341.2590.
http://www.urova.fi/home/pyvi
 
Reviewed by Peter Bakker, Aarhus, Denmark
 
This book is devoted to the legal status of the Roma in Scandinavia
and the Baltic countries: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania. It deals with these seven countries separately,
and the same themes recur in the different chapters. The book ends
with concluding observations and the full text of the 1998 EU policy
recommendation. Combating racism and intolerance against Roma/Gypsies.

The authors work for the University of Lapland and have a special
interest in minority rights. Other books in the same series deal with
general studies of minorities and case studies on e.g. Sweden,
Slovakia, the Saami, Ogoni and Maasai, and other subjects. The current
report was initiated by the Finnish branch of the Minority Rights
Group, and realized with financial support from the Finnish Ministry
for Foreign Affairs. One of the authors is a political scientist and
the other one a lawyer. They cooperated with Roma organizations in the
different countries and academic and with journalistic researchers in
the different countries. The result is a useful book, providing
information on some of the lesser-known Romani communities.

The introduction deals with general information such as the numbers of
Roma in the different countries (between 800 in Estonia and 25,000 in
Sweden) and the terminology used. In all cases the Roma are small
minorities in their states of residence, and the legal status ranges
from official recognition in Finland and Sweden to the status of
largely forgotten minorities in Estonia. Nevertheless, the Roma in all
these countries are not well-off and they belong to the lowest ranks
of society. So a lot can be improved.

The report focuses on the policies of the states in three areas: the
prevention of acts of discrimination and the ways to react against
those; the possibilities of the Roma in the process of decision making
and finally the educational possibilities of the Roma. For each
country, the authors discuss legal bonds to wider organizations such
as the Council of Europe, ratifications of other international
conventions. The chapters ideally provide some historical information,
information on different groups (often connected with date of
arrival), national legislation concerning (the prevention of)
discrimination, specific legislation concerning Roma, the existence of
anti-discrimination bodies, the consultation status of Roma in
questions concerning minorities, and activities and programs affecting
Roma. The authors tend to recommend some improvements, for instance in
the case of Denmark and other countries they would welcome the
creation of a consultative body with representatives of the state and
the Roma. In addition, a number of written sources are given,
especially referring to applicable legal documents, and a list of
addresses of anti-discrimination organs, experts and Romani
organizations (if any).

Considering the Finnish background of the publication, it is not
surprising that the chapter on Finland is the longest in the book.
This is also because Finland has reasonably elaborate legislation
concerning Roma, including constitutional recognition, Romani programs
on the radio and the existence of a national consultative body with
Roma. Nevertheless, despite legal protection, societal discrimination
of Roma is widespread, including in the police force and municipal
governments.
 
Roma are discriminated against by other citizens in housing,
employment and in access to public places. The educational
possibilities for Roma (including the use of the Romani language) are
good in Finland, but nevertheless there is a high drop-out rate in
schools. Norway and Sweden both have a population of Romanos who trace
their ancestry to the first waves of immigration of Romani speakers
into Scandinavia in the 16th century. In both countries there are also
groups of Roma who immigrated during the early 20th century. In Sweden
the early and late groups seem to cooperate more closely than in
Norway. In both countries (and this is to some extent also true for
Denmark) there was relatively severe state repression until some
decades ago, which is shown by sterilization programs aimed at, among
others, the Romanos.
 
But times have changed: both Sweden and Norway have a number of
supportive programs and projects for the development of their Roma
communities, and Sweden has recognized all groups of Roma in
international agreements: they are one of several official national
minorities in Sweden. Norway has paid only little attention to the
Roma minority, and a consultative body is recommended here as well.
Sweden¨s efforts in legislation and cooperation with Roma are praised,
but discrimation in the labor market persists. For the Scandinavian
countries, the authors were able to rely on existing publications and
consulting with organizations. This proved much more difficult in the
Baltic states, where Romani groups are only beginning to get organized
politically, even though the first Roma arrived at the same time there
as in the Scandinavian countries.

In Estonia there are between 800 and 1,000 Roma from three different
groups, who are not recognized in the 1993 Act on Cultural Minorities,
despite requests. Most Roma-connected projects in Estonia were private
initiatives of Finnish Roma organizations, and the Roma are hardly
organized politically. The government neglects or ignores its Romani
minority.

The number of Roma in Latvia is estimated at between 7,000 and 15,000.
They have their own school and organization. The government has not
done much for the Roma yet, but the situation is clearly improving,
and it is expected that the Roma will be recognized as a minority.

There are some 3,000 Roma in Lithuania, in several organizations. The
government is actively working on solving the problems of the Roma,
which are found in the areas of education, the acquisition of
citizenship, poor housing conditions and unemployment. The so-called
Roma Integration Programme of the government could benefit from
increased participation by Roma.

In all three Baltic States citizenship of the new countries appears to
be problematic: there are many Roma who have not been able to
successfully apply for citizenship of the newly independent states.
This is partly due to literacy problems of the Roma. In their
concluding observations the authors discuss the rarity of violence
against Roma in Nordic and Baltic countries, but the overall presence
of discrimination in different areas of society. This despite the
adherence to human rights conventions. The need for affirmative action
for Roma is stressed, and the participation of the Roma in decisions
concerning the Roma. The states with larger Roma populations (Finland,
Sweden, Latvia) perform better than the others. Nevertheless, even
Sweden and Finland were criticized for their treatment of Roma by the
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as recently as
August 2000. This mostly concerned discrimination in employment,
housing and schooling.

This book shows that even governments that are doing their best to
improve the situations of its Roma citizens, are not able to change
the attitudes of their citizens and civil servants. Unavoidable in a
pioneering book of this scope, there are a number of omissions and
errors in the book. For instance, on p. 29 it is claimed that the
Romani language can only be studied in Paris and Budapest, but there
are actually around a dozen universities in Europe that regularly
feature courses in the Romani language. Further I was surprised that
there is no mention in the chapter on Denmark of the discriminatory
practice that is only used against Roma in the Ellsinore community:
Roma parents whose children do not regularly attend school will be cut
on their welfare.

Overall, the book gives a pioneering survey of the legal position of
the Roma in countries that are internationally not well known for a
presence of Roma communities. The situations are quite variable, with
the small, neglected groups of Roma in Estonia as one extreme, and the
exemplary constitutional recognition in Finland. It is a pity that not
all chapters have the same depth, but that is unavoidable if one wants
to make an inventory of Roma human rights where hardly any such
studies have been undertaken before.

The studies would be necessary reading for all those working with
Romani minorities, not only in the countries concerned but also in
other states. For Roma organizations they also give useful links,
national and international contact addresses and guidance on the ways
to complain about discrimination.
 
Peter Bakker                                         
Institute for Linguistics                          
Aarhus University, Nobelparken          
Jens Chr. Skous Vej 7                          
DK - 8000 Aarhus C                             

email:  linpb@hum.au.dk
tel. (45) 8942.6553
tel. institute: (0045)8942.6562 
fax institute:  (0045)8942.6570
Building 467, room 521

Home page: www.hum.au.dk/lingvist/linpb/home_uk.htm   

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