Anita van der Hulst
Dual PhD candidate/guest
Anita van der Hulst participates as a dual PhD candidate in the Leiden University Dual PhD Centre.
Dissertation: Wegbereiders. Roma en Sinti in Nederland en Tsjechië over het profijt van onderwijs, 1950-2020.
The main research question in my thesis is why so few Roma and Sinti have succeeded in moving on to higher education over the past seventy years. From 1950 onwards, access to education for people of the lower socio-economic classes improved throughout Europe. The Roma and Sinti in particular, however, have hardly benefited from this.
To answer this question in greater depth, I limited myself to Roma and Sinti in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, two countries with different post-war histories. Beside literature, reports, newspaper articles, images and discussions with experts in the field, the main source for my research consisted of more than fifty biographical interviews with people from this difficult-to-access group, men and women of different ages and educational levels, in these two countries.
The parents of the Roma and Sinti in these biographical interviews were, in general, extremely poorly educated. It was not until the 1960s, when their freedom of movement was definitively restricted in both countries, that all Roma and Sinti children were able to attend school regularly. In communist Czechoslovakia, the majority of Roma were routinely placed in schools for children with a mild mental handicap; this still happens with almost a quarter of the Roma children there. In the Netherlands, barring exceptions, the first Dutch Roma and Sinti children only began to move into secondary education from 1990 onwards.
In the Netherlands, the unequal educational opportunities for children from low socio-economic backgrounds are an obstacle for Roma and Sinti children to make up for their social disadvantage. The poverty and social segregation among Czech Roma, however, is often so severe that the gap with the lower middle classes is virtually unbridgeable. Discrimination and racism against Czech Roma are virulent and ubiquitous.
Compared to the Czech Republic, the social exclusion of Roma and Sinti in the Netherlands is less severe. Yet, Roma and Sinti in the Netherlands have developed a similar suspicion of people outside their own circle. Throughout their common history in large parts of Europe, with centuries of stigmatization, expulsion, persecution and genocide, in the eighteenth century and in the Second World War, Roma and Sinti have developed a deep distrust of authorities and of the rest of society in general. School was also mistrusted because Roma and Sinti parents tend to suspect schoolteachers of meaning to impose the norms and values of the dominant society on their children. Those who did receive an education have, in the eyes of the others, crossed the border to that outside world, and they were no longer seen as Roma or Sinti, but as gadzje, as the non-Roma are called. This is why the highly educated did not function as role models until recently. The socially active Roma and Sinti, in turn, tended to hide their origins from (potential) employers, for fear of not getting a job or losing their job because of deep-seated prejudices. That is why the successful are not visible, neither in society nor among policy makers, and that is why the marginalised, low-educated Roma and Sinti continue to dominate the picture.
Yet, the life stories in this study show that there is a cautious turnaround. In both countries, the parents of the young generation of highly educated people, often low- educated themselves, were able to encourage their children to continue learning. They had come to regard better education as the only way towards a better life for their children.