The Roma experience of political (in)justice: the case of school (de)segregation in Hungary

Zemandl, E.J. ORCID: 0000-0002-7017-1070, 2018. The Roma experience of political (in)justice: the case of school (de)segregation in Hungary. [Budapest]: ETHOS.

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This report comprises the Hungarian case study of a larger comparative report treating the Roma minority of six countries, contributing to an empirically-informed theory of political justice as lived experience. The Hungarian case examines representations in the field of school (de)segregation or equal treatment in education. We investigate how policy problems are represented by different sets of actors, including formal political institutions, Roma leaders and Roma Minority Self-Governments (RMSGs), civil society organizations (CSOs); as well as the lived experience of political justice of Roma community members in this policy context.

Generally, political discourses across the political spectrum associate Roma with “problems”. The dominant approach is to use paternalistic frames when talking about the Roma. This approach manifests itself in criminalization, benevolence-benefactor, but also victimization discourses. Overall, RMSGs are problematized by interviewees as politically dependent on the Fidesz-KDNP political machinery and local authorities, as well as lacking the capacity, tools, and power to effect substantive or material change on the ground—with little to no influence in education policies. Moreover, RMSG representatives themselves hold different opinions regarding the ills and virtues of segregation.

At the same time, (global) civil society has played a pivotal political role in the formulation, dissemination, and mainstreaming of a policy focus on human rights as well as economic/social inclusion, not only in Hungary but throughout Europe. Local CSOs have played a salient role, serving as service providers, practitioners, field experts, and (legal) advocates. Many of them have taken on the role of representing Roma interests— problematized from the point of view of constitutional rights and social integration—at the level of the courts, in direct dialogue/deliberation with the government, including by participating in de-segregation programs in partnership with local authorities. Critical or progressive CSOs tend to argue from a human rights point of view. This is conceptually different from the government’s emphasis on so-called “catching-up”. The former stance implies that the system needs to accommodate outliers, while the latter stance rests on the implication that it is those left behind who need to change.

Our analysis reveals that Roma’s lived experience of political justice is part of a multidimensional experience of (in)justice; it is also economic, social, and culture experiences, and concerns human dignity more fundamentally. Overall, the themes which emerged include the experience of helplessness, lack of empowerment, and being disadvantaged. Roma experiences with the Hungarian education system are uneven and range from feelings of isolation/separation, disappointment (inability to integrate despite education), to satisfaction with segregated education. We argue that these are strongly related to political justice as they reflect Roma experiences with the policies stemming from diverging problematizations by different actors. This dynamic unfolds in a context where the most isolated and disadvantaged among the Roma have virtually no awareness nor contact with the political world.

The range of “solutions” proposed by interviewees overall reveals that the way forward will inevitably involve a two-way street and thinking in terms of generations and systems. Taking Rövid (2013)’s overview and discussion of forms of Roma political representation and participation, we can deduce that the Roma are largely disenfranchised from equal political rights and that the rights of political autonomy are substantively and substantially limited. Thus, political autonomy is no substitute for equal political rights, since it is the majority or mainstream political landscape which formulates and dominates policymaking, financial distribution, and public discourse. Therefore, as Sobotka (2001) would probably contend, the self-representation model of MSGs and policy formulation model would need to be combined in the exercise of minority political influence over education. We furthermore argue that our empirical analysis demonstrates the added value of cultivating ethnic Roma political figures in mainstream politics at the local level, where they can more directly exercise influence over state institutions. We show that CSOs may indeed have a constructive role to play, provided that they invite and engage in deliberation and mutual construction with local community members.

Item Type: Research report for external body
Description: This Working Paper was written within the framework of Work Package 5 (justice as lived experience) for deliverable 5.2 (comparative report on the tensions between institutionalized political justice and experienced (mis)recognition).
Creators: Zemandl, E.J.
Publisher: ETHOS
Place of Publication: [Budapest]
Date: July 2018
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 16 Nov 2018 15:53
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2018 15:54

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