Roma Education Fund’s Statement on the ongoing public discourse and court case surrounding the secondary scholarship program designed for Roma

Budapest, January 29, 2019

 

Roma Education Fund’s Statement on the ongoing public discourse and Court case surrounding the secondary scholarship program designed for Roma 

 

The Roma Education Fund (REF) expresses its disagreement about the ongoing public discourse and the National Court’s repeal of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination ruling surrounding the Roma secondary scholarship program. The core issue is whether the scholarship program designed for Roma is discrimination against poor ethnic Bulgarian students or not. 

REF warns the Higher National Court and the Government of Bulgaria that the scholarship program itself is not discrimination against any group of individuals in the country. Instead, REF supplements the state’s efforts in partnership with the Ministry of Education in achieving the educational goals of Bulgaria regarding the EU 2020 strategy; as well as the goals of the National Roma Strategy, respectively the EU framework for Roma integration, being part of  Bulgaria’s internal legislation and policy framework. This clearly implies that the secondary scholarship program is in line with Bulgaria’s political commitment regarding Roma integration. 

The inequalities Roma face are recognized and formulated in the National Roma Integration Strategy. In order to address these challenges, clearly targeted policies are required based on ethnic and socio-economic background of Roma in Bulgaria and as such should be addressed through affirmative and mainstream policy interventions. Affirmative interventions are by its nature temporarily aiming to equalize the starting position of groups lagging behind. In other words, affirmative measures serve the equal opportunity framework, which is largely part of the EU acquis as a tool for equal opportunities. TheRoma secondary scholarship program is this necessary intervention for tackling issues of educational challenges that Roma face[1]. Thus, Roma scholarship programs are a particular set of mechanisms that combat discrimination instead of being an instrument of discriminatory practice against others. 

Observing the ongoing public discourse, it is clear that the understanding and perception of discrimination in the respective context is wrong.  The scholarship program and its framework is not an intervention that discriminates others, rather it addresses discrimination (segregation, exclusion from mainstream quality education, parental and school officials’ negative attitudes). Claiming the scholarship program as discrimination and requesting its termination will not provide better conditions for poor ethnic Bulgarian students. Instead, it will deprive those who are in need and subsequently keep others in the same problematic circumstances. REF insists that its co-founded programs are a specific reflection of communities’ needs for development which is parallel to the mandate of the ruling government. Moreover, if Bulgarian students are in need of scholarship support, this question needs to be respectively addressed to appropriate state institutions and the EU, instead of opposing and attacking programs designed for specific groups of individuals.

Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union since 2007. The fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria, which includes the protection of minorities, has been a precondition to joining the EU. Although, neither Roma nor other groups are legally recognized as official minorities/nationalities living in the territory of Bulgaria. Thus, the original undertaking of protecting minorities cannot be fully realized as the necessary legal frameworks are not in place. Furthermore, the lack of legal recognition and group specific rights, further strengthens the position of egalitarian ideas and its manifestations being a wrong pathway. 

REF insists that the Higher Court take into account the above mentioned arguments and its representing principles when ruling over the case of the secondary scholarship program. Based on the arguments presented, we must ensure that the court outcome concludes that the program is not discrimination since REF-supported intervention does not violate any human right but rather assists to combat Roma exclusion and marginalization.Along the specific educational problems supported by official data, the division of secondary scholarship program is justified in aiming to bring social and economic inclusion of Roma, further benefitting the entire society in the long run. 

 

Should you have any further inquiries, please contact:

Roland Ferkovics, Policy and Advocacy Officer

Roma Education Fund Headquarters, Budapest 

E-mail: rferkovics@romaeducationfund.org




[1]Early school leavers among Roma is 67% compared to the general population being only 13%; 93% of Roma did not complete secondary education compared to 30% of the ethnic Bulgarians; the total enrolment rate of Roma to secondary education is 57 % while this ratio is 87 % in case of the general population (FRA, Second European Union Minorities and Discriminatory Service, Roma Selected Findings, 2016; European Commission, Education and Training Monitor Bulgaria 2016).



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