International Roma Day – celebrated on April 8 each year – is an opportunity to celebrate the rich Romani culture but also to focus on obstacles that continue to face the Romani people.
The Roma have been a part of Europe’s rich cultural tapestry for hundreds of years. With their own unique languages and culture, the Roma number an estimated 10 to 12 million across the continent, while one million American citizens of Romani descent live in the United States. With each generation, they have contributed creativity and energy to Europe’s cultural landscape. Despite slow progress over decades, many Roma still live on the margins of society and continue to fall victim to violence and discrimination in education, employment, housing, and healthcare. They face an uphill fight to do the normal things that most of us take for granted – going to school, seeing the doctor, applying for a job, or finding decent housing.
The United States marks International Roma day each year to signal our commitment to the inclusion and equal treatment of all Roma. We also commend the activists and citizens who fight every day to end discrimination against Roma and other minorities.
Slovakia has the right to be proud of its fast growing economy and falling unemployment and it continues to attract outside investment with its talented labor force and strong economic fundamentals. But the long term prospects of this economic development depends, in some part, on better integration of the Roma. No country can meet 21st century challenges when a large segment of its population – and its workforce – is marginalized. Roma today face sharply lower odds of graduating school and finding jobs – a result of a self-perpetuating cycle of unequal access to education and employment. Addressing these inequalities is not only a human rights issue, but also a smart economic strategy and an investment in Slovakia’s future. Providing Roma with the equal access to the education and skills they need to find employment contributes directly to Slovakia’s competitiveness.
The United States works with our European and international partners to promote equal treatment for Roma and all minorities. We also must continue the conversation with the Romani community to learn more about their needs, their challenges, and their hopes for the future – not just of their community, but the future of the country of which they are a part. The United States has paid its own high economic and societal price from segregation, unequal opportunity, and social marginalization which has meant we have failed to benefit from the full economic potential of all our citizens. Our experience may help other countries dealing with these difficult issues.
Our history is not perfect, but it is ours. We can learn from this history – as Americans, as Europeans, as Slovaks – and together create the foundations of a more inclusive, prosperous society for generations to come.