Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Congressman Joseph R. Pitts
Commissioner - Helsinki Commission

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Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing on the problems facing the Roma throughout Europe. Unfortunately, as clearly documented by various organizations, ethnic persecution and discrimination persist against the Roma in most nations in Europe. Stereotypes of the Roma abound throughout Eastern and Western Europe. Unfortunately, there is not overwhelming evidence that the majority ethnic groups in Europe desire to help end these stereotypes and the racism that does exist.

As a number of experts and journalists have reported, educational opportunities and reform of educational systems appears to offer hope for bringing positive change for Roma children. News articles over the past few years detail the common attitude towards Roma students: “The special schools are tight for most Romany children. They are more comfortable there … We assume these children will not be any kind of scientists or studying types. Their calling will be the manual crafts.” There is nothing wrong with children learning manual crafts, but there is most definitely something wrong with assuming that simply because a child is Roma in origin, he or she will not be “scientists or studying types.” Another educator stated, “The fact that so many Romany children go to special schools is not a mark of discrimination. It is a matter of intelligence.” An appalling and very disturbing statement that oozes racism.

In the early 1990s, one of my staff members lived in a small town in Romania while teaching English classes. When she arrived in the town, many of her students warned her to be careful of the “gypsies” because they were dirty, dangerous, violent, lazy, and were thieves. When my staff member challenged these attitudes during class discussions, the students protested that all those things they said were correct. Only one student said, “I never thought about this before. I was always taught that this was true. I have to think about this.” Sadly, most of the students did not feel challenged to think about the views that had been passed on to them and accepted without question.

Education is the key to bringing positive change to individuals’ lives. I commend the work of the people of Vidin, Bulgaria for their efforts to bring change.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses.