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Reviewed by:
  • Realizing Roma Rights ed. by Jacqueline Bhabha, Andrzej Mirga, & Margareta Matache
  • Morten Kjaerum (bio)
Realizing Roma Rights (Jacqueline Bhabha, Andrzej Mirga, & Margareta Matache eds., University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), ISBN 978–08122–4899–9, 308 pages.

"No one will be left behind" is an important call included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).1 The fact that the 8 to 10 million Roma who live on most continents, but primarily in Europe, are one of the most marginalized and stigmatized minorities in the world underscores the importance of these global goals: 80 percent of Roma are at risk of poverty compared to an EU average of 17 percent, and 30 percent live in households with no tap water.

Most adults will recall literature from their childhood in which the Roma were portrayed at best as a highly exotic people living on the outskirts of the city in caravans playing music and living a life of freedom, as well as being portrayed mostly as thieves and people not to be trusted. These stereotypes predominate greatly when it comes to Roma populations. Very few think of the wold famous football player, the doctor, and the teacher in our neighborhood who may all share a Roma background.

Most of the time they live a life ignored by political agendas, only to surface when particular situations arise, as in the summer of 2010, when the French government decided to expel a large group of Roma to Romania. The lack of awareness and concern regarding the Roma is also reflected in the almost total neglect of the history of their mass extermination during the Second World War. Next to the Jewish population, the Roma were the most targeted by the Nazi regime; despite this, these crimes have attracted minimal attention, a fact that contributes to the sense among Roma that they do not belong.

For this and many other reasons, Realizing Roma Rights is a most welcome contribution to the meager world of human rights-based studies of the Roma population. The book states that it "aims to bring Roma rights issues to the foreground for an international readership,"2 an aim that I hope will be achieved. The book is well edited and presents a comprehensive picture and analysis of current issues surrounding the Roma, in particular in Eastern and Central Europe. The editors, Jacqueline Bhabha, Andrezej Mirga, and Margareta Matache, have a deep understanding not only of the human rights dimensions of the condition of the Roma situation, but also of the political, cultural, and historical questions that are important to include in order to fully comprehend the magnitude of the challenges faced and to provide a contribution for purposes of future scenarios for the Roma. Matache and Mirga themselves have Roma backgrounds and have been actively engaged in Roma politics in Europe.

The book is divided into twelve chapters written by different authors and grouped into five parts. In them, the reader is presented with the roots [End Page 703] and current manifestations of anti-Roma discrimination, as well as political responses and actions addressing these issues in America and Europe, including strategies for inclusion. One part of the book focuses on anti-Roma violence, including hate speech and discrimination in Central and Eastern European countries. The last part addresses the issues of Roma mobilization and participation in politics and local decision-making.

In several chapters, the authors analyze European political developments and the push from the American side to recognize the human rights for Roma. Andrezej Mirga provides an excellent analysis of the Council of Europe and OSCE strategies, as well as EU engagement with Roma issues. Mirga concludes that neither the increased political attention given to these issues, nor the additional funding they have attracted has led to tangible results. He analyzes well the absence of political will in the member states concerned and the cumbersome EU financial structures that make the system inefficient. I concur with this; however, I would add that the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies has contributed an important element, namely a stronger evidence-based approach to the efforts to strengthen Roma inclusion. The framework is largely based on the 2011 survey...


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