GLOBALCIT Review Symposium of The Fringes of Citizenship: Romani Minorities in Europe and Civic Marginalisation by Julija Sardelić

Introduction and Response by Julija Sardelić ; comments by Sunnie Rucker-Chang, Djordje Sredanovic, Manuela Boatcă, Tina Magazzini and Will Kymlicka


Julija Sardelić, Victoria University of Wellington

In the midst of the 2015/16 ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe, Robert Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia at the time, attempted to justify his country’s non-acceptance of refugees with the following words: “After all, let’s be honest, we aren’t even capable of integrating our own Romani fellow-citizens, of whom we have hundreds of thousands. How can we integrate people who are somewhere completely else when it comes to lifestyle and religion?”. With this statement, Fico articulated a widespread reluctance across quite a number of EU Member States regarding the acceptance refugees especially from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, at the same time, it articulated another sentiment: the civic marginalisation that Romani minorities face despite often being citizens in Europe (Fico’s statement though could be understood as placing the blame on Romani minorities for such predicament). Fico’s statement demonstrated that the outsider/insider dichotomy in the politics of belonging does not only correspond to citizen/migrant positionalities but remains existent within what Hepworth (2014) calls the topologies of citizenship itself.

Scholars and policy makers have predominantly discussed the position of Romani minorities in Europe (which includes both individuals identifying as Roma as well as individuals who are sometimes externally categorised as Roma but would prefer to be known by other names) either as the socio-economically most disadvantaged group or as most discriminated ethnic minority, especially in the context of post-socialist Europe. The EU Member States, both those who joined the EU in the last enlargements (2004, 2007 and 2013) as well as the ‘older’ ones, have introduced legislation to protect minority rights of Roma as well as accepted the ‘soft law’ approach under the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020 (NRIS) to address the socio-economic disadvantages Romani minorities face (from unequal access to education, housing, health and the labour market). Yet different evaluation reports have shown that the outcomes of such strategies have been mixed at best and, in many cases, the position of Romani minorities has further deteriorated.

In my book The Fringes of Citizenship,I ask the question why the position of Romani minorities keeps deteriorating despite all the national legislation and EU-led strategies in place to improve it? Furthermore, why do individuals, who at least nominally have EU (and national) citizenship and who are (self-)identified as belonging to Romani minorities, in practice have limited rights stemming from their citizenship or even have their rights actively curtailed?

Fico’s controversial statement (which cost his party a place in the EU’s S&D Coalition) as well as many other strategies on Romani integration fall into the same trap: they treat Romani minorities as an exceptional minority with the inability to integrate in the otherwise inclusive liberal democratic EU Member States. But are these liberal democratic EU Member States fully inclusive to all their citizens? Different studies have shown that it is antigypsyism (Carrera et al., 2017), Romaphobia (McGarry 2017), racialisation of Roma, as numerous prominent Romani scholars have shown (Kóczé and Rövid, 2017), or even treating Roma as a subaltern of (post-socialist) Europe (Kóczé and Trehan, 2009) that should be studied more carefully.

Building upon the rich previous work on antigypsyism and racialisation of Roma, in The Fringes of Citizenship I have proposed a shift in perspective. Instead of examining the position of Romani minorities in Europe as primarily a socio-economically disadvantaged group or ethnically discriminated minority, I question what this position tells us about the construction of citizenship itself. In line with the overall theme of the Manchester University Press series Theory for a Global Age, I scrutinise the concept of citizenship as it was constructed in Europe by applying a modified understanding of civic marginalisation developed by David Owen (2013). I argue that civic marginalisation of Romani minorities in Europe is not an unfortunate accident, but that it is systemically produced by the way citizenship regimes are currently set up both in Europe and elsewhere around the globe. I show that the treatment of Roma as marginalised citizens in Europe is not an exception but bears a striking resemblance to how different states around the globe marginalise some of their citizens and then maintain that marginalisation. To understand this phenomenon, I have introduced two new theoretical concepts: the ‘invisible edges of citizenship’ and ‘the fringes of citizenship’. The idea of the ‘invisible edges of citizenship’ refers to different laws, policies and practices by states that are either manifestly inclusive to all citizens, as well as those that particularly address the position of marginalised citizens that could be potentially aligned with group-differentiated rights (Kymlicka, 1995). Yet despite the approaches that states take in order to include all citizens, we can see that they co-exist with, and even reproduce, violations of human rights towards the marginalised citizens, who are – with the invisible edge of citizenship position – at what I call the ‘fringes of citizenship’. This is a space (or better yet positionalities) that shows cracks in the concept of liberal democratic citizenship, on one hand. However, on the other hand, there is also a different note to the fringes of citizenship: it is in this space where marginalised minorities redress, deconstruct and reconstruct the very notion of citizenship through different forms of political action.

Following the introduction, each of the chapters aims to offer a socio-legal enquiry into the civic marginalisation that Roma face by examining different aspects of the invisible edges of citizenship and how they create the fringes of citizenship. Each chapter also attempts to contextualise these within the broader theoretical debates on citizenship as well as give global parallels showing that while Romani minorities are unique, the repertoire of states’ treatment that contributes towards civic marginalisation are not.

Chapter 1 focuses on some of the mechanisms that make Roma a visible minority but invisible as citizens. I look at the minority protection legislation and policies that different states and international organisations introduced and how they encompass the position of Roma. Employing the critical whiteness approach as it was developed by Violeta Vajda in Romani studies (Vajda, 2015), I show how important it is that Roma are named and categorised as well as counted as minority citizens in different EU Member States and candidate countries. I argue that the national minority legislation as well as international policy documents included invisible edges of citizenship, which categorise Roma as a non-territorial and dispersed minority and as an underdeveloped minority: the states often use this as legitimisation to grant a lesser scope of minority rights for Romani citizens. Interestingly, different states around the globe have used a developmental discourse to curtail rights of either Indigenous People or African Americans in the case of the US.

In Chapter 2, I question the dominant perspective in the scholarly literature that positions Roma as migrants. The available statistical figures show that Roma have not been more mobile than any other citizens. Instead, I advocate for a shift that situates Roma as citizens whose mobility rights have been curtailed because of the perception that they belong to a ‘deviant culture’. I show how throughout different moments in history and even in different inter-state arrangements a number of states have managed and limited the mobility rights of Roma that other citizens would take for granted. During the socialist period, numerous countries have limited the freedom of movement for Roma not only by trying to keep them in one place, but with relocations so that Roma would be more ‘equally dispersed’ around the country (for example, the case of Czechoslovakia) or that they would be moved to a less central location (as in the case of Skopje in the SFRY). I then contemplate the ways in which states have controlled the mobility of Roma between EU Member States and candidate countries and focus on the attempts to curtail the mobility of Romani EU citizens among EU Member States. I argue that the way different states treat Roma and limit their mobility rights demonstrates a broader debate on what rights should different groups of citizens have on a certain territory. I then compare how limiting the rights of Romani citizens can be studied alongside how other marginalised citizens had their rights taken away in order for states to have more control over their territories (for further exploitation, for example) as was the case with the Intervention and the treatment of Indigenous people in Australia.

Chapter 3 then continues by scrutinising the education system and the idea of how it should be a balancer for equal opportunity. By examining the cases on educational discrimination and segregation in front of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), I demonstrate how in many cases Romani children who should be offered support for equal opportunities in life are ‘citizens-in-making’ through the educational system, which contributes to their civic marginalisation. While scrutinising the ECtHR court cases and decisions, I particularly focus on the discourses that states’ representatives used in defence of practices that plaintiffs characterised either as segregation or ethnic discrimination. For example, in the case of Roma-only classes in the Orsus and Others v. Croatia, the state representative argued these were in fact classes to help Roma catch up, as they were not familiar with the Croatian (majority) language. The Court decision showed that it was only Romani children in such classes and there was no progression between Roma-only and mixed classes even in cases where children were able to demonstrate adequate knowledge of the majority language. This particular case also argued that despite Romani children being in segregated classes the schools gave them opportunities to mix with other children at school events and that the schools also celebrated International Romani day. In the last part of the chapter, I compare the cases of educational discrimination/segregation in Europe and the US and ask why in the US the cases were successful (at least initially) in the desegregation processes, while in Europe the reports have shown the educational segregation of Romani children (sometimes even dubbed as ‘benevolent segregation’) is on the rise after the aforementioned court cases. I question what role the segregation of marginalised children plays in international relations and demonstrate that in the case of Roma this does not have particularly negative effects on the reputation of the countries.

Chapter 4 explores the position of Roma who face statelessness in Europe and how they are situated in comparison to other minorities who have faced statelessness in Europe and around the globe. The chapter situates minority statelessness in relation to the notion of racialised citizenship. I argue that minority statelessness encompasses a broad spectrum of statelessness positions: in some cases minorities in question are stateless and without political rights (such as in the case of Russian-only speakers in the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia) but still having guaranteed a wide variety of other rights, on one hand. On the other side of the spectrum we have what I call the ‘total infringement of citizenship’ which indicates the presence of racialised citizenship. Total infringement of citizenship usually occurs when traditional ethnic minorities have been repositioned as unwanted migrants in the state discourse, their statelessness is often unrecognised and they have neither the political nor socio-economic rights they would have as citizens. I argue that Roma who ended up stateless after the former Yugoslav state disintegration, stateless Rohingya from Myanmar, and Haitians in the Dominican Republic all faced total infringement of citizenship based on the racialised construction of citizenship.

The penultimate chapter of the book draws upon the performative citizenship theory of Engin Isin (2017) and looks at enactment of citizenship at the fringes. This chapter is particularly concerned with the activist form of citizenship that takes place in everyday lives of people at the fringes. Instead of primarily looking at social movements and activism, as other scholars have done previously (Vermeersch 2006, McGarry 2011), I develop a new term of ‘citizenship sabotage’ to encompass everyday acts of individuals that might seem to only come out of despair, but at the same time they have political consequences and even question how citizenship is constructed to exclude marginalised citizens. One example of sabotage citizenship is a practice of selling votes in the Romani communities. International organisations have usually interpreted these acts out of despair and sometimes ignorance. However, I argue that there could be a different take on such actions: many Roma are well aware that voting in elections has had a limited impact on their position and this could be perceived as a protest against none of the politicians being able to ensure the equality of marginalised citizens.

I conclude the book with a suggestion that rather than focusing on why Roma do not fit as citizens, policy makers should rethink the citizenship arrangements that contribute to civic marginalisation which make Roma seemingly not fit. This alternative perspective needs serious contemplation about how citizenship is constructed at its core without taking for granted that at least in liberal democracies it is built in a way that is supposed to include all of its citizens. The book has received the Harriman Rothschild Book Prize Honorable Mention (ASN Convention, Columbia University).