With a history of discrimination and racism that has pushed the Romani people to the periphery, grand gestures from the Slovak government aren’t enough to inspire integration.
But small gestures of mutual recognition between community members make a difference, said anthropologist Dr. David Scheffel. These small behaviours have impact, even after a lifetime of marginalization.
Scheffel has studied the growing political participation of Romani people for more than 15 years. In 2005 he published the book, Svinia in Black and White: Slovak Roma and their Neighbours. The book was a case study of a single community of Roma and the inability of its inhabitants to integrate into the ethnic Slovak population.
This week Scheffel’s latest paper, which published in Romani Studies in 2015, receives the Stanley Z. Pech Prize for best article during the Czechoslovak Studies Association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.
In the paper, “Belonging and domesticated ethnicity in Veľký Šariš, Slovakia,” Scheffel examined the long history of relations in a small Slovak town where Roma live side by side with ethnic Slovaks, and he posed the question: “Why is it that in some mixed communities Roma have managed to integrate? Why can they succeed in one location but not elsewhere?”
The answer seems simplistic, he said, but can be found in the willingness of both parties to make concessions and act with civility.
“It comes down to neighborliness. There is a notion that relationships have to be nurtured, and that you have to look after them. This is something the Slovaks are good at, and they expect the Roma to do the same,” he explained.
“It is the phenomenon of civility. It is a fragile entity and a fragile phenomenon, but it cannot be taken for granted. There is still racism. There are still grudges. People may not be friends, but they will be civil in order to prevent small conflicts from escalating,” said Scheffel. “Maybe that’s the best we can hope for given the history.”