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


Sunnie Rucker-Chang, The Ohio State University

It was not so long ago that publications on Romani Studies, and even more so Critical Romani Studies, were uncommon. And much of what exists from a generation ago that made it into classes and bibliographies on the subject have been criticised for perpetuating unsavoury narratives that focus on Romani difference. The publications upheld the unassailability of the transnational Romani community, lacked engagement with critical theory, and scholarly contributions from Roma. However, the last decade has witnessed a burgeoning of scholarship, activism, and scholarly activism reframing and reimagining Romani communities, particularly in postsocialist states, both EU and non-EU members. These texts decenter normative discourses and opt instead for a more nuanced and socio-historical, political, cultural, and importantly critical point of view. Julija Sardelić has already made important academic interventions questioning the mechanisms of socialist and postsocialist citizenship, mobility and migration, minority, and human rights, particularly Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav space, and these are only some of the aspects of her work. With The Fringes of Citizenship Romani Minorities in Europe and Civic Marginalisation, Sardelić brings together the broad themes of her work through a socio-legal lens of citizenship studies and contributes to scholarly literature in a number of fields, only one of which is Romani Studies.

To offer a summary of the text, I turn to the near end of the book where Sardelić poses the following question: “…do Roma fit the definition of ‘ordinary citizens’- that is, do they manage to obtain education and secure formal and decent employment? Can they escape socio-economic disadvantage, ethnic discrimination, and civic marginalisation?” (81). In other words, are the fundamental human rights of Roma guaranteed? With this question, the reader is offered great insight into the questions that Sardelić seeks to answer in this volume, which all respond broadly to the notion of how difference is formed and concretised in Europe, which has important ramifications on negatively racialised populations, despite an unwillingness to engage with race and claim it as it exists in Europe (Lentin, 2008). Through careful, sustained analysis, Sardelić uncovers the systemic nature of marginalisation through various aspects of citizenship: mobility, educational access and segregation, racialisation, and active and activist citizenship. She places her findings into a broader global context illustrating that there is little that is unique in the instrumentalisation of racialised difference, whereby the negative has consequences that affect the lives of many through every-day and established systematic practices. This articulation disrupts the long-held disassociation of Eastern Europe from “the West” and the “systems of representation” that have been employed by scholars and reified by societies—both directly and indirectly—to uphold the difference and distance between “the West” and “the Rest,” whereby polities with a history of state socialism were categorically distanced from the West (Hall, 1992) and even the idea of “Europe” by extension. The Fringes of Citizenship is therefore actively engaged in advancing some of the primary features of the academic movement of Critical Romani Studies to connect Romani populations—this case European—and scholarly engagement to critical race theories that illustrate how racialised difference is foundational to global hierarchies and not simply those with histories of empire.

The systemic nature of civic marginalisation is a theme that runs throughout the book and the comparators that Sardelić notes in chapters three and four in her discussions of school segregation and statelessness, respectively, illustrate how structural and systemic marginalisation is a global phenomenon that “has a negative effect on the wider citizenry as a whole” (89). In Chapter 3 Sardelić begins with comparing the 2010 case D.H. vs. Others argued in the European Court of Human Rights and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education United States Supreme Court case but takes the comparison much further and offers important explanations on obvious parallels but not so often articulated differences. In many ways Chapter 3 of The Fringes of Citizenship flows from the work of several scholars who have noted similarities, between African American and Romani school segregation (Felix Chang and Sunnie Rucker-Chang, Andrej Mirga, and Iulias Rostas among others) but Sardelić centres her discussion on the European, and particularly postsocialist, landscape. What becomes clear is that there is broad, transnational convergence rather than difference in the systematic ways that societies create hard borders around citizenship and belonging. Recognising this point, it is worth noting that legal action to challenge segregated schools in the US, in both 1954 and 1955, were catalysts for the assertion of multiple rights in the US, which spurred a movement demanding an expansion of civil rights focusing on and lead by African Americans. Educational segregation in both Europe and US affects those who are defined in similarly negative ways. Given this, how can it be that we define the source and nature of exclusion by way of race in the US but another way in a different context simply because of tradition? The obvious answer is that we cannot, and the comparisons raised in this volume illustrate race and its harmful effects cannot be denied neither in the US nor throughout Europe—even if they are camouflaged in an ambiguous, and seemingly less pernicious term of “ethnicity.”

In drawing out the similarities between the Brown vs. Board of Education and D.H. vs Others cases, Sardelić recognises the unfortunate reality that “[t]here was no consensus that the ECtHR represented the ultimate legislator in Europe as the Supreme Court did in the US. Furthermore, there was no consensus in the countries in question that discrimination was taking place; but even if it did take place there was no agreement that it is morally wrong or that it is bad for the economy, foreign relations or the international standing of the countries in question” (57-8). In stressing these points, she further highlights how anti-Roma racism and discrimination is accepted in both its banal and systemic forms, which raises significant questions about a lack of potential paths forward for Romani liberation and equality. It also indirectly questions the contradiction between theory and practice in shared European values as well as the idealised narrative of “Europe” and “European purpose” that followed the World Trade Center attack in 2001, by European theorists such as Jurgen Habermas, for example. Contrarily, it illustrates that the post-2015 xenophobia and nativist rhetoric that arose then and persists today could, or should, not be surprising since the source for such reactions were embedded in European systems and structural racisms that have existed for generations.

In Chapter 4, Sardelić offers an important and groundbreaking discussion on the question of statelessness and second-class citizenship de jure statelessness (66), which occurs when a member of a particular group is not adequately shielded from injustices in their country of birth. She notes that there is a positive correlation between statelessness and belonging to a minority group and “that the total infringement of citizenship follows from minority statelessness when racialised citizenship formation is already in place” (65) and in doing so the author opens a wide conversation about transnational belonging and difference, human rights, and minority protections. She continues by showing how the phenomenon of (de jure) statelessness is not only a postsocialist phenomenon, observable among European Romani populations, but also observable in another ‘post’ context—the postcolonial. Among those groups included in this discussion are Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states, Haitians in the Dominican Republic, Rohingya from Myanmar, and the Windrush generation in the United Kingdom. Among the general discussion about racialised and second-class citizenship, Sardelić also includes Puerto Ricans who live on the island and therefore have no right to vote in United States elections despite being citizens (67). The connections that Sardelić makes between European postsocialist states and the ‘West’ explains a symbolic imaginary rather than geography and, in doing so, disrupts the foundational analytical category of ‘ethnicity’ in Slavic and East European Studies as a primary marker of difference. It further illustrates how ethnicity is, in many cases, the functional equivalent to ‘race’ in the systematic and structural ways.

Sardelić concludes in the fourth chapter that the cases of racialised citizenship originated “from different postsocialist and postcolonial contexts, yet they share a common mechanism: states reinterpreted the belonging of these unwanted traditional minorities as if they were foreigners rather than co-citizens” (88), which is an important intervention in the ongoing conversation of the relationship between postcolonialism and postsocialism and its intersections, particularly regarding the role of racial hierarchies. This perspective provides a framework for understanding how Western regimes of race and racial hierarchies persist for Romani communities in European postsocialist settings and, while it is not directly addressed in this volume, this framing opens a broader platform for questioning how ‘invisible edges of citizenship’ affect the place of other racialised minorities in postsocialist and postcolonial contexts, particularly religious minorities, and those lacking protections from kin-nations The Fringes of Citizenship is a welcome addition in Romani Studies and European legal and social-cultural scholarship. It will be a useful tool for academics and students in legal studies, citizenship studies, postsocialist studies, Critical European Race Studies, and even educational studies, particularly for those interested in minority education. Sardelić has provided a context for scholars to continue multiple dialogues on belonging, difference, and trans-European instrumentalisation of race. The volume provides an important exploration of the aforementioned topics, and, given the scope of the comparisons made in this book, there are multiple scholarly outgrowths that can come from it. Two that are particularly generative for me were the discussions that disrupt divisions between East and West and therefore have implications for how we can discuss difference and Otherness, beyond ethnicity, in Slavic and East European Studies, which is my primary scholarly area of focus. It further provides a space to expand the references and connections between East and West in the formation of difference by way of citizenship by recognising who is afforded full citizenship, who exists on the margins of citizenship, and why it persists intergenerationally and across time, space, geographic, and legal borders. The volume does not make predictions about the future, which, I suppose, is the safer choice but given the long durée of systemic exclusion, racism, and Otherization of those on the ‘fringes of citizenship’ it indicates that systems of oppression will persist. The Fringes of Citizenship points to ways that people affected by such processes will “talk back” (Hancock, 2010) to such systems, which is how movements are not just articulated but realised.