The only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for enough good people to do nothing

Asproprygos Revisited

I had the great fortune to be able revisit the segregated Roma school that I wrote about in January 2007 and to take more pictures. Following over a year and a half of negotiations, it has been decided (for now) that it is better for the school in Psari Asproprygos to remain as a ghetto school than for the Roma children to have no school at all. You might remember that not long after my first visit there the school was vandalised and set on fire. Earlier this year, another of the prefabs was vandalised so the school was left with two small cabins for classes and an office. In my initial post, I was against the very idea of this place but after much thought and discussion I realise that the situation is very complicated and that it is indeed better for these kids to have some kind of education, in whatever way that is possible.

On the day, I visited new prefabs were being delivered. Thanks to the efforts of a few hard-working teachers, activists and supporters, over a hundred children from the local settlement have been registered. Only 16 were present on the day I was there, partly due to the weather and the swine flu scare but also to the problems I have already written about in my post on the education of Roma children.

I met one of the dedicated teachers at the school who was teaching a very lively bunch in one of the two old classrooms. I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in there, given the level of noise and energy bursting out of the room. Teaching is hard and made so much tougher given the situation faced by this particular school. Attendance is sporadic. There is little support from any governmental or municipal organisations. There is little hope that any of the students will graduate to high school and if they do, will probably be unwelcome.Having said that, witnessing the arrival of the new prefabs and meeting this energetic teacher was a symbol of hope. That change can happen.

At the moment, the school has two teachers. If all the enrolled students attend, more teachers are needed. The education authority will only provide more teachers if more children attend over a long period of time. So there is a problem. All the enrolled children cannot attend together because there are not enough teachers and the authorities cannot assign more teachers unless all the children attend. Which came first ? Chicken or egg,  springs to mind.

The children at this school have already overcome many obstacles to be there. Their lives and living conditions are difficult to even imagine. Just visiting their homes for a short time is deeply depressing although the community has made vast improvementss to this particular settlement at Psari Asproprygos. The shacks have been upgraded and now look more like homes rather than shelters.

The gravel is new and helps keep the mud away from the homes and raising them higher off the ground has helped against rats and the like. The creative and organised effort of this community again made me feel hopeful. They have had no outside assitance. They still have no water pipes or taps, no toilets, no electricity supply, in fact, no basic facilities at all. Yet somehow, they have managed to improve their homes and take pride in that acheivement.

group2

I was asked again why I cannot do anything for their community. The cameras come and go, government officials come and go, delegations from European organisations come and go but little or nothing has actually changed for them in the almost three years since I was there. I do feel guilty about my inability to make a practical contribution. Surely it should be easy to just organise a few taps for this community? What a difference that would make. I heard that many children do not go to school if it’s been raining because there is no way of getting clean before classes. What parent can send their child to school covered in mud ? I had never made the connection between water and education before !

I have more to write about the other settlement I visited but that will have to wait a few days. In the meantime, my mind is full of the children I met this time round. Hoping that the school is a success for them and that they will have a chance at an education. I am also thankful to the people that do the real work for the Roma community. The Greek Helsinki Monitor who are tireless advocates for Roma rights, the activists that volunteer their time and energy to improving the lives of Roma children and the teachers at this ghetto school who are working so hard to give these kids a chance despite the odds stacked against them.

If you haven’t done so already, please see The Roma Series which is a more in-depth look at the challenges facing the Roma community.

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23 Comments

  1. Xenos
    December 9, 2009    

    Institutionalised racism is illegal, contrary to Greece’s obligations as a member of the EU and signatory to various instruments of the Council of Europe and UN. The fact that these kids need an education is a reason for leaving the school to function for the moment, but it is a serious affront to the human rights principles of Europe.

    Greece is beginning to realise with this, asylum issues (not the malakies in universities which they think is called asylum) and the fraudulent national accounts provided by both ND and the previous PASOK government… that it doesn’t share European values. This way of thinking fits in with the Middle East, which is why so many immigrants come to Greece from those countries.

  2. December 9, 2009    

    On 7 December 2009 the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers published its 3 December 2009 decision reprinted below on the execution of the Sampanis and others v. Greece judgment (Greece was convicted for first denying access to school and then segregating in a ghetto school the Psari Roma children). The Greek authorities as usual misinformed the Committee, assuring it that the Roma children in Psari were schooled in ordinary classes and that Roma children were included in the education system in a non-discriminatory manner…

    Ministers’ Deputies

    CM/Del/Dec(2009)1072 7 December 2009
    ———————————————
    1072nd (DH) meeting, 1-3 December 2009

    Decisions adopted at the meeting
    ———————————————

    1072nd DH meeting –3 December 2009
    Section 4.2
    – 1 case against Greece

    32526/05 Sampanis and others, judgment of 05/06/2008, final on 05/09/2008
    https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?Ref=CM/Del/Dec%282009%291072&Language=lanEnglish&Ver=immediat&Site=CM&BackColorInternet=C3C3C3&BackColorIntranet=EDB021&BackColorLogged=F5D383

    The Deputies,

    1. noted with interest the information provided at the meeting by the Greek authorities on the individual measures taken to allow the schooling of the applicants’ children in ordinary classes, as well as on general measures aimed at including Roma children in the education system in a non discriminatory manner;

    2. noted that this information needs to be evaluated in depth and invited the Greek authorities to submit it in writing in the form of a detailed action plan / action report;

    3. decided to resume consideration of this item, at the latest, at their 1086th meeting (June 2010) (DH), in the light of the evaluation of the information already provided and of further possible information to be provided.

  3. December 9, 2009    

    The fact that these kids need an education is a reason for leaving the school to function for the moment, but it is a serious affront to the human rights principles of Europe

    Exactly and we hope this is a temporary measure but no-one’s holding their breath…

  4. DDDDD
    December 10, 2009    

    I don’t get it, why were they denied access in the first place? Has this happened elsewhere?

  5. December 10, 2009    

    as well as this on Greece’s conviction by the European Court

    Greece: European Court judgment on segregated education of Roma in Greece
    http://cm.greekhelsinki.gr/uploads/2008_files/ghm1024_echr_psari_education_english.doc

  6. December 10, 2009    

    @DDDDD
    With respect, you should read this post for background

    But this school IS different. It is a segregated school for Roma children. After the furious protests from parents and teachers at the main school in town against Roma children enrolling at the school, the local municipality, in all its infinite wisdom, built this place exclusively for them. Now the mayor and his henchmen can sit back and say that they have done something positive for the Roma community in the area and everyone is happy. Right ?

    http://deviousdiva.com/2007/01/05/segregated-school/

    and this post that explains the campaign against Roma children in the local school:

    http://deviousdiva.wordpress.com/2005/11/06/parents-against-roma-children/

    icluding this open letter from the International Federation of Human Rights about the complaints

    http://www.ihf-hr.org/viewbinary/viewhtml.php?doc_id=6575

    Hope this makes it clearer.

  7. maria yorgakopoulou
    December 11, 2009    

    Thank you DD for this article. I am temporarily here on research, but stalled as I have a husband who is in hospital since August. I have over many trips made some inroad to the Roma here in Sparti ( they live on the historic Evrotas river. Recently there was a symposium on the river, the local school children were invited to the National Gallery extension here, to create in art their impressions about the river, its history, ecology, with Greek& Greek Diaspora artists. Beautiful work, but no Roma involvement- the only people now integrally part of the river)
    I have gone to their quarters, have been given lovely coffee, taught seemingly tens of children to write their name, but have wavered on returning because parts are very dangerous. My husband, was actually beaten there a few years ago, in daylight. The village I live is on the border and has had some very bad robberies where very old people were beaten. I do not tell my friends where I live, because my participation has scared everyone. I am making some attempts with the mayor’s office, which is disfun ctional. I would like to do an Education Doctorate with this group, but see the pitfalls. They are very kind, when they find out my husband is ill ( and abused in a hospital near here), wish me many children. I have begun photographing the children. There is also a great need for people to baptize the children, I am sure we could have a mass baptism!
    For people permanently here, they need help finding documents- several marriages have not happened, and they worry about not being crowned. They also seem to light up, when i tell them, how I believe I have an assimilated Roma very great- grandfather- they also agree with my reasoning.
    DD, do you know of anyone who deals with the appalling treatment of psychiatric patients? I have written to H monitor, I am my wits end. A daily blog can be devoted to this. Thanks. All the best. I will show the community your article, at least for the pictures.
    PS, My best friend in the village, who is generally sympathetic told me they are like this because
    of killing Christ, having made the nails. I do not know how to combat these attitudes as long as the crime waves continue. I also do not know how to work with them and be safe,too. This is also a problem, when i teach in the US with marginalized communities. Right now, I am happy, they approach me, and we have some rapport.

  8. December 11, 2009    

    @maria yorgakopoulou
    Thank you very much for taking the time to comment here and welcome to my blog. You are an inspiration. I have always visited the settlements with representatives of GHM so have not had to worry about safety issues. I am well aware of the problems that you are facing. Sadly, I do not know anyone involved in the treatment of psychiatric patients although I would have suggested GHM. Panayote Dimitras is a strong sopporter of this blog so perhaps he will be able to answer some of your questions better than me.

    My suggestion would be to find others who might join you in your activism and work together on your project ideas. I have found engaging the children to be the most effective “in” to the communities. The agression that is sometimes displayed towards “do-gooding” outsiders is very real and can be very frightening. I do understand where it comes from but that doesn’t help us achieve anything with meaning within these communities.

    You are absolutely right that you should ensure your own safety first and unfortunately this is a bigger problem for a lone woman. If you feel unsafe, don’t go.

    If you cannot get a group together with you, I would suggest that the most valuable things you could do would be following up the Mayor’s office and approaching the education department about setting up a project with their support. Perhaps ask GHM for contacts with other activists or volunteers in your area?

    I wish I could be of more help to you.
    Please write to me if you ever need a sympathetic ear or just want to rant. You can email me at the deviousdiva@gmail.com

    Best wishes to you and your husband. I hope he recovers soon.

  9. Travlos Konstantinos
    December 12, 2009    

    Excellent Post DD.

    People need to make the best of the situation.

  10. Travelers
    December 13, 2009    

    Here in the USA, travelers as they are known live quite well unlike their Roma compatriots in Greece apparently. I see them traveling from town to town in ther motorcades of trailers and campers doing odd jobs. Although many are quite honest and honorable, the few that cheat people through long cons/short cons like roofing scams can taint the rest of them.

  11. Travelling Troubadours
    December 13, 2009    

    ^^^and how do you treat native Americans?

  12. December 14, 2009    

    Testing new toys for

    comments!

  13. Aborigines
    December 14, 2009    

    Yeah, and how do the Australians treat those Aborigines?

  14. Engine number 9
    December 14, 2009    

    Native Americans do quite well compared to Roma I believe. Many of the best Casinos (owned by Native Americans given to them by the US GOVT) are Native American ones. Here are some of the best ones:

    http://sandiego.about.com/od/indiancasino1/tp/tp_casinos.htm

    Have the Greeks given the Roma any casinos?

  15. Fuzzy Wuzzy
    December 15, 2009    

    Yeah, and how do the Australians treat those Aborigines?

    Not very well but we westerners tend to overlook things which make us feel uncomfortable. We prefer to mock and criticise much poorer countries for their human rights record. As if we’re any better (in fact, we’re much worse).

    Engine Number 9, for every happy story you can give me about native Americans, i can give you one hundred stories where native Americans have been systematicallyabused, discriminated against and in some cases whole communities obliterated. I don’t think Greece has obliterated the Roma have they? To be fair, the article above shows alot of prefab housing being installed and schools being erected for the Roma community. Sure, it’s probably not enough, but it’s a start. It’s much better than the treatment received by native Americans in their own homeland.

    Study Shows More Than One in Four Native American Renters Face Discrimination
    http://www.raconline.org/news/news_details.php?news_id=726

    I was just recently on a reservation where a man was telling me about the still rampant discrimination against the Native Americans. I feel this needs to stop and they be treated as equals because they were here first!
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2207866326&_fb_noscript=1

    Nearly every Native American Indian tribe has experienced some kind of neglect or discrimination. The white man has forcefully moved tribes from their homes, broken treaties that were promised to them, and senselessly slaughtered thousands of innocent Indian men, women, and children.
    http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Neglect-Native-American-Indian/19335

  16. Mixalis Scowcraftopoulos
    December 15, 2009    

    Hey fuzzy wuzzy, I agree. I like all the keen links you mention.

  17. Xenos
    December 15, 2009    

    Fuzzy Wuzzy: I don’t argue about the poor track record of developed countries in dealing with their minorities. I think the point is that the state, in the late twentieth century, became more careful about its behaviour and most of the problems these days are with the racists and bigots in society.

    For Eastern Europe and Greece, the problem is that the state itself is racist. Greece is not the worst offender by far, but even in this case bear in mind that it was not until the 1960s (I cannot recall the exact date) that Roma were accepted as legitimate residents of Greece. They were denied citzenship, voting rights, identity cards, schooling etc. Even now most Greeks will tell you that “gypsies” are not decent people, they choose to be thieves, they choose to live outside mainstream society. I think Greeks do not even know what I have just written above as being their own history.

    So the problem is not just one of exclusion, nor of racism: it is that Roma have been denied their right to existence by the state. I do not recall that this was true for native Americans, or minorities in the UK, or native Australians. If you know otherwise, please say so. Now that we have laws in Europe, those countries that refuse to accept basic humans rights principles have to be whipped into line. This is not a matter of denying problems of the distant past of richer countries, it is a matter of current realities.

  18. Thomas the Tank Engine
    December 15, 2009    

    Hey fuzzy wuzzy, I agree. I like all the keen links you mention.

    I agree too, thanks for the links.

    We westerners really do have a bad record of human rights abuses and racism towards minorities. The sad thing is, the mistreatment and discrimination of minorities continues to take place in our society but much of it is hidden or ignored.

    There’s no need to debate how racist American society is, we all know it is:

    Our politicians are often giving us the politically correct speeches but sometimes the mask slips and their racism comes out for all to see:

    Here are more examples of current realities regarding racism in Western governments:

    and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Western government policy is often discriminatory against people of color and of the Muslim faith, we just don’t get to hear it very often in our media.

    Another shocking example of racist government policy, where a greater percentage of blacks are being killed because they happen to be…black:

    Let’s not try to gloss over our Western governments’ racism, we all know it exists.

  19. Thomas the Tank Engine
    December 15, 2009    

    Even now most Greeks will tell you that “gypsies” are not decent people, they choose to be thieves, they choose to live outside mainstream society.

    Are you suggesting that these arcane attitudes exist only in Greece?
    People’s attitudes towards minorities stem from ignorance and you’ll find it everywhere. I fail to see how ignorance in Greece is any different to ignorance in say, the UK. Most ignorant people in the UK have exactly the same ignorant attitudes towards “pikey’s” or “gypos” as their Greek counterparts. I fail to see the distinction.

    As for Greek government policy towards the Roma, it mirrors the abuse of the traveller community which the UK government policy is quite efficient at:

    This is how our Western states protect the “right to existence” of the traveller community:

    There have been numerous violent forced evictions of the Traveller Community in the UK, by order of the UK government.

  20. Xenos
    December 15, 2009    

    Yes, I recognise this pattern of refusing to accept that things might be worse in Greece (and Eastern Europe) than in the UK or USA. That, after I carefully explained to you that the state refuses to accept international human rights standards. So, we all know who you are (unless you are a clone).

    I don’t know the details of the UK “evictions” but I am certain that they are nothing like the Greek ones. I suppose there is great hardship suffered by Roma everywhere, but I was talking about observance of laws. If the state is itself refusing to abide by law, there is no hope for anyone. That is the case in Greece — the society of corruption and nepotism.

  21. Thomas The Tank Engine
    December 16, 2009    

    I don’t know the details of the UK “evictions” but I am certain that they are nothing like the Greek ones.

    Well, that says it all really. You don’t know the details but you assume that the Greek governments evictions of Roma/travellers is somehow worse than in the UK. That says alot about your own prejudice about Greeks, doesn’t it?

    In fact, the Meadowlands evictions of British Roma was unlawful. The council are forcing British Roma to buy land at £18,000/plot which is beyond reach of most, so they are forced to live illegally. Even those who are able to afford the land are not granted the permission to have their caravan on this land.
    British Roma are forced by UK councils to live illegally so that the councils can secure court orders to instruct security firms to forcefully evict people from their homes. The council have classified British Roma as UNAUTHORISED PERSONS living on unauthorised land – the “right to exist” means nothing to British Roma trying to live in the UK.
    How does forceful eviction fit with your definition of affording “basic human rights”? Forceful eviction of Roma in both UK and Greece is unacceptable – it’s systematic ethnic cleansing, homes are bulldozed and caravans burned, people are beaten to a pulp and communities broken up and “moved on” (as happened in Meadowlands and Hove in UK). In fact, local councils in the UK are being allowed to squander £18 million a year on harassing Gypsies/Travellers, destroying private yards and moving people on. What a waste of money. Can you imagine how many running water taps, school books and many more useful facilities this money could provide for British Roma?

    How is this not persecution and discrimination? How can anyone minimise or downplay this level of harassment?

    I suppose there is great hardship suffered by Roma everywhere,

    Forced evictions in the UK are a far cry from your notion of affording “basic human rights” to traveller communities. Human rights for Roma don’t exist in Greece and they certainly don’t exist in the UK.

  22. December 16, 2009    

    People often change their nicknames. Sometimes this is because of harassment. Sometimes because they just fancy a change. Please stop speculating who different people might be. Nine times out of ten you are wrong. I have no problem on this blog with changes as long as people state a name. Only because it’s harder to have discussions with lots of “Anons”

    Thank you.

  23. Xenos
    December 16, 2009    

    Thomas: I am not going to defend Britain. If it is as bad as you say, I am sad to hear it. Generally, everything in the UK seems to be deteriorating, so I suppose it fits the pattern.

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