I met Crina Elena Morteanu in Budapest four years ago. At the time we were studying in the same - Central European - university (CEU), and occasionally passed each other in the corridors. Crina Elena had slightly darker skin, but in such multicultural space I would never have guessed her nationality and had no idea she is Roma until the very graduation. International University is indeed a remarkable space where different cultures mingle in everyday life, and the stereotypes are changing and melting away, because everyone here is a guest, and every guest becomes a minority.
But outside of this “greenhouse” life flows in slightly different furrow. "I was born in Romania in a Roma family. During my studies I felt discrimination from both my teachers and colleagues, "- Crina Elena was sharing her experience. “I have always had to double my efforts in order to meet the expectations of the professors. Although I was stigmatized in school, the experiences I passed through motivated me even more to further my education. Due to all my negative experiences and being thirst of justice, I decided to study law. After I completed my studies in law I felt I could be better empowered to fight for my rights and for other Roma people’s rights if I further my education and knowledge on human rights. As a result, in 2009 I completed a Master of Laws in Human Rights at Central European University in Budapest. Presently, I am working on right to education of Roma children in Europe, for a human rights organization, based in Budapest.”
The CEU each year invites Roma students to study under a special scholarship scheme, which was designed to enhance opportunities for gifted Roma youth and to help them integrate into society. Such grant programs are working in a number of European universities - it was available in Lithuania as well. However, young Roma are facing the biggest problems when trying to get employment. “After graduating, I got a master's degree, but for a long time I could not get work in my native town, because then I became ‘over-qualified’,”- says a young Romani woman from Romania. However, she did not let it stop her, improved her knowledge of English and went to continue with her studies abroad.
The experiences of Crina Elena and her peers are not sweet, but they can be considered success stories. These young people have been able to break through, despite of many obstacles – not everyone is so successful. The young educated Roma often return to work in their own community, international organizations or local structures representing Roma interests. “The number of Roma intellectuals has increased over the years. This is one positive aspect that has changed since 1990 when Roma rights movement started, "- told Crina Elena when asked about the changes. Two years ago the integration of the Roma issue was raised at European level. For the first time it was proposed to create a strategy for Roma integration issue. However, until now, the process has not been significantly advanced. "The EU does not have policies for distinct ethnic groups: there are neither Jewish policies nor Basque or Breton, so I do not think that suddenly Roma policy will appear. The very structure of the European Union is not in favor for this - and perhaps this is a good thing, "- shared Michael Stewart, teaching at London's University College and CEU.
Meanwhile, most of the Roma in Europe, however, go on in a vicious circle: they distrust, they fail to integrate - they are not trusted. Different countries have different approaches trying to solve this problem, sometimes in especially drastic ways. In 2010 the former French President Sarkozy decided to just send the entire Roma communities from his country back to Romania and so “to get rid of the problem” – just like Italy, Denmark and Sweden did before him. Even in Romania, where Roma comprises 3.2 percent. of the population, prejudices against Roma remain as strong as in other countries. Only last week a radical right-wing organization proposed an “initiative”: to pay Roma women, who voluntarily agree to sterilization. Fortunately, this proposal received his angered reaction from the public, and the district council member who welcomed the policy had to resign from his post. However, Romania had another project, which has been already finalized: the mayor of Transylvania’s Baia-Mare town has decided to move several Roma families to the outskirts of the city ... and then built a high wall separating the Roma from the rest of the town. “It is safer,” - he argued. Only for whom?
On the one hand, the European Union is often defined in terms of values, which we call its foundation. Freedom, equality, free movement of people - all this is promised to the candidate states and their citizens. However, stereotypes and attitudes against Roma remains a stone around the neck of these fundamental values. And while integration of the Roma is extremely complex and multifaceted problem, over the years some countries have moved forward. As Crina Elena says, “I believe what is happening with the Roma nowadays is not anymore a question of human rights but of acceptance. Is the majority ready to accept us, the Roma as part of the society?”