Segregation in the Center of Europe in the 21st Century. Is it Possible? Reality (Part One)

Segregation Roma

Segregation is a kind of discrimination; that is a factual or legal separation within a society into social groups that are distinguished on their racial, gender, social, religious or other grounds, and further restricting their rights in legislation.

This article may not be liked by many readers and, especially, by the authorities; because the problem affected is very inconvenient and concealed. Moreover, there are few fields in which we can see so many tricks, distortion of facts, outright lies, as in matters relating to Roma integration. In words and on paper for the years, during which the program has been implemented, for integration of the Roma population of Ukraine it has already been done a lot and the situation of the Roma living in Ukraine has become better than before. In fact, if you address this issue immediately and thoroughly, it becomes apparent, that the situation is sometimes even worse. This means only one thing: the government fulfills its obligations solely in words or on paper. In fact, the topic is suppressed that predictably lead to deterioration of the overall situation.

Relic of the past

When people talk about segregation, the first thing, that occurs, are the stories about United States in 50s, when using a non-tolerant, but the then terminology dark-skinned could not sit in a bus along with white passengers, and institutions often had signs that animals and dark-skinned people were not admitted. Also South African apartheid can be recalled; that was official government segregation policy, which included separate areas for living of dark-skinned indigenous population, and accordingly significantly limited the rights of the Bantu people.

Today, the legalized segregation seems something distant and barbaric. In the civilized world, legislation, that would recognize and involve the segregation, is hardly possible. That, of course, does not mean that there are no cases of segregation. Instead, they happen even in the most advanced countries in this regard.

Not to mention the situation in Ukraine. In our country, cases of race and ethnic hatred are recorded regularly; the country became a figure of scandals and was criticized by international human rights activists and international media. Ukrainian society usually encounters such statements and materials badly, claiming that it is fiction or serious exaggeration aimed at discrediting the country and that records of such cases can be found in many other countries, including the ones in EU.

But, first, cases of hate on race and ethnic grounds in other countries can not justify the same crimes in Ukraine, and secondly, even if it seems that “our” case of racism are exaggerated and boosted it does not refute the fact that they are still there.

In addition, anyone would hardly deny the fact that in Ukrainian society everyday racism and ethnic hatred are very strongly developed (just imagine the constant talk about the fact that all power is captured by the mysterious Zionists, and attempts to find Jewish roots of each authority person, as if this might help to explain the heavy state of the economy). If it often shows up in conversation, sooner or later it will manifest itself differently.

But even worse is, when racism is so regular that it becomes something familiar, like part of life, and eventually develops into segregation.

Resentment can be called by the very assumption that there are cases of segregation in modern Ukraine. However, the realities that once flourished in segregated countries, and now in Ukraine, are so common, that analogy is easy to find and it is clear that the problem is relevant for the Ukrainian state.

For some – unacceptable for others – standard

Yes, we have no laws that would legalize unequal position of different social groups, but reality shows that this phenomenon may well flourish without legal justification.

For example, while in Ukraine you really will not find anywhere tables that prohibit entry to certain categories of people, in fact, such cases are not so rare. Since the beginning of anti-terror operation, the stories began to appear that the people in the military form are not allowed to the clubs or restaurants. Recently many were shocked by the story in Lviv, where the waiter drove out from the cafe the immigrant from the Donetsk region, who was suffering from cerebral palsy.

All these cases were very scandalous and caused serious resonance in society. People are rightly outraged that in the 21st century a personal dislike of staff or owner cannot be the basis for access to the common areas, entertainment and public institutions. Often are heard proposals to boycott these institutions, and the usual apology did not satisfy outraged community, because this is too little.

We completely share the response to unacceptable behavior and agree that such cases are shameful in modern country. That’s just they are not so rare as it might seem in the high-profile cases.

The whole national group of citizens of Ukraine – the Roma minority – is regularly subjected to similar harassment for years and almost to anyone it does not seem something extraordinary, worthy of publicity. Worse, there are many of those who support and endorse the decision of owners of establishments, explaining he would not want to sit in the same room with Roma or to shop in a store with them. According to the study “Youth of Ukraine 2015”, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine with the support of the UNO, most young people showed their intolerant attitude towards Roma: More than 54% of respondents would not like to live next to Roma. More than half of young people, namely those whom we call progressive, they do not even want to live nearby. Not to mention sitting at the same desk in school? Or employment? Or the provision of medical care? Friendship?

Segregation Roma

In fact, contact with Roma in shops or cafes are a rather rare occurrence. As a rule, Roma simply cannot afford to sit over a coffee or go to the store to purchase, so they do not even try to go there. But if someone from Roma would try to go these places, he risks coming across the scandal, which will be extreme and no protection of the public can be expected.

This is not just our assumption. Such stories repeatedly occurred in the Transcarpathian region. The most well known case occurred in Uzhgorod, in the resort complex “Aqua riopark” in 2013. Then the guard refused to let a group of local Roma to the pool area without any motivation. The fact, that the main and only reason for the ban was the nationality, became clear after the incident was commented on the controversial owner of the complex, Sergei Ratushnyak. He explicitly stated that in his complex the Roma will not rest next to white people, explaining it with their low hygiene standards and the risk of spreading disease.

This attitude of a former mayor of Uzhgorod has caused a considerable resonance in the society but the people, who supported him for a position, were in the majority. The fact, that the main “face control” for Ratushnyak is a skin color, was proved by another incident around the same “Aqua riopark” when in 2015 the Indian students of Uzhgorod University were not allowed inside.

Considering that foreign students have a high social status, the reason could be related to the inappropriate appearance or inadequate behavior. The very refusal Ratushniak explained again with the risk of infections, and commented on the case in a very rude manner. “Last year the number of the AIDS-patients got 14 (!!!) times bigger in the city. Administration of all public places have the right to suspect the visitors of the presence of alcohol, drugs, toxic substances, the presence of sexually transmitted diseases and inadequate behavior. As of {them} that raised the mess around this – let freaks offer free access to their pools and water parks or the one that did not let me to build the park in Bozdoshskii. If you wish to change the rules in the complex, ask the aforementioned to pay for all my expenses for the acquisition and construction and let there all syphilitic and TB gypsies from the region and around the world. I am concerned about the health and comfort of Uzhgorod and its visitors,”– he said in the commentary on news sites.

What is sad, this position expressed in such a tone, was to the taste of many residents of the city. The very result of the mayoral election in the city, which took place in the same 2015, shows the popularity of the mentioned Ratushniak. In a civilized country such statements about other nationalities would mean the immediate collapse of his political career. In the Ukrainian city he received a second result of the election. Hence, we conclude that many residents support the differentiation of people on a national basis, consider restricting access right in public entertainment places for a particular nationality, and see the person, who supports this division, as the head of the city a man. Even if someone does not agree with the idea that the result between the election of a new mayor of Uzhgorod and attitude of Ukrainian Roma community can be a ground for such an analogy, it’s worth a read the comments of the Transcarpathian residents, taking about the initiative of Roma. At that time Roma told “no” to the arrogance of authorities that set up a monument of a janitor for them. Then, when Roma accumulated their forces and held a flash mob in defense of their rights. And what is the result? Monument is still there, the feedback of the residents of Transcarpathian region impressed us negatively. So can the Roma society get revealed when both the authorities and the community mocking of them?

Life in the Ghetto

Another striking feature of segregation is that group of the population, that is exposed to discrimination, is forced to live in isolation. Again, in contrast to the “classical” countries, where segregation was practiced, in Ukraine there are no laws that would oblige Roma to live in the camps, but in fact they have no choice. Still, the Roma in Transcarpathian region, who managed to escape from the camp and live outside surrounded by citizens of other nationalities, are an exception to the rule. The vast majority of Transcarpathian Roma lives in isolation from the others, only among members of their social group. They live in very poor living conditions, which would have never agreed others. Poor living conditions have always been typical to any ghetto.

In addition, the system means some isolated health care facilities, educational institutions. If there are no medical institutions for Roma in the Transcarpathian region (although hospitals have a long practice not to place the Roma patients and patients of other nationalities together in the same medical wards), the schools for Roma only are still quite common. Formally, they are created as schools for minorities like schools with education in Hungarian or Romanian. But in reality, they are another kind of isolation and leave to Roma students no opportunity to get educated enough to continue their studies. Roma schools usually have two main problems – lack of professional level of the staff and the low level of overall development. As a result, students-newcomers simply do not have any opportunities to develop – they get no educational base and have nobody to catch up with, unlike in regular schools, where classmates have different levels of progress and the backward ones can follow example of the strong ones, in Roma educational institutions all children have a low educational and, more importantly, motivation levels.

Turning to health care, we note, that, although Roma turn to the same doctors as others do, the level of medical services for them is much lower. This is due to the negative and dismissive attitude towards representatives of national minorities. Neither doctor, nor nurse will not pay as much attention to the Roma patient as to the representatives of other nationalities. And inability of Roma to pay for a better medical care – is only one of reasons for this attitude.

Documentary isolation

The next sign of segregation is restrictions in the documents and, accordingly, in the civil law. As in all other cases, Roma have legal right for all the necessary documents, certificates or other. In reality they are faced with the human factor in government and local governments, because of it, getting the required document often turns for them to an ordeal. The most difficult issue is getting passports and birth certificates. A very large percentage of the Roma population of the Transcarpathian region cannot get personal documents through the bureaucratic nuances. The thing is that the passport can be obtained only on the basis of other documents that identity the person. First of all, it is a birth certificate. Young Roma, whose birth was not registered by their parents for various reasons (neglecting, indifference or even absence of documents) are left out of society. They turn into people-shadows that simply do not exist for the state. Because of this, they can neither study nor work, are not entitled to social assistance, the right to vote, they are powerless to law enforcement, have limited mobility in the territory of Ukraine and cannot cross the Ukrainian border.

However, due to the complicated legal procedure in the Civil Registry, they do not even want to start and powerless Roma are simply shown to the door. As a result, in a country that declares the equality of all citizens, we get a large group, deprived of most of their rights and its members are actually not citizens of the country.

By Nataliia Kozyr,
The Charitable fund “Progress”

PS: The centers of legal information and advice that provide free legal aid to Roma people working with the support of the “Roma of Ukraine“, International “Renaissance” Foundation. To learn more about the activities of a network of centers, foundations and principles of work visit the website under “Legal Empowerment of Roma communities.” The views in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the International “Renaissance” Foundation and other civil, religious and political organizations and individuals.