Anthropology Today is published monthly in the UK; there’s an article in the (August 2008) periodical in which Canadian anthropologists David Scheffel writes about his experiences in Slovakia. In his reflection on ethnic micro politics in Eastern Europe the irony of his narrative ‘brings to light’ the fact that the micro politics of Slovakia is much like that of Hispaniola and the black/white or African/European politics of the two countries –Haiti and La Republica Dominica- attempting to survive ‘under one roof’.
Although the author never contrasts or compares his experiences to the black/white skin color politics that can be seen all over the world, he does in fact bring to the forefront the skin color politics of Slovakia and his own experiences trying to be a ‘middle man’ and bridge a gap that is more than 200 years old. He also brings to light the irony that there is concern voiced by the European watch councils that state on paper that they will not tolerate apartheid, yet living in Slovakia he claims to have seen the money from the EU used to enable segregation to displace Romani (gypsies) residents who are seen to affect tourism negatively. It causes a reader to wonder about the size of the segregation and if the members of the European councils realize it exists, or even if they want to know that it exists and the relationship between it and allocated money.
Extraction: ‘In spite of expressions of concern voiced by pan-European watchdogs and national governments, municipal administrations in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic have managed –at times using funding provided by the EU- to entrench a residential segregation favoured by the ‘white’ establishment and resembling a type of apartheid not seen here since the Jewish ghettos were dismantled ….Romani residents have been displaced in an attempt to attract foreign investments, tourists and local elites.’ (Paragraph 3 pp23)
Although the writer refers to the apartheid as ‘insidious ethnic cleansing’, though unacceptable, I don’t think ethnic cleansing is the right term to describe the movement occurring in Slovakia; since there is no account in his narrative that there is genocide or physical harm with intent to kill to prevent a culturally different group from assimilating or existing, to call it such is to minimalize the events historically that have been connected to the ideology aforementioned as ‘ethnic cleansing’ (-after all ethnic cleansing was a real movement based around genocide, whereas segregation is not necessarily always based around such, nor results in physical destruction of an entire group, nation, state and practice system related to specific peoples).
The point is, besides wrongful use of terminology, that to state it as such without any connection to destruction of a set of people is to promote false information, because the usage of words causes inference to be made and changes the understanding of the relationships and the effects that are currently taking place. For example, if your friend Paul is visually impaired, you would never run down a street yelling ‘o my GOD Paul is blind, Paul is blind!!!’, because the effect on the social psyche and their –the people’s- understanding of Paul’s situation to his environment changes, and thus their response changes. Such is the case when you publish papers in international periodicals and you don’t choose your words carefully, you promote a picture that you may not necessarily want to promote.
Regardless of the author’s personal viewpoint, and my own, the main fact is that there is a real problem with skin color in world, and clearly in Slovakia, where the author informs us that ‘the problems they face (i.e. gypsies/Romanis) … is the uncompromising determination of most of the ‘whites’ to defend the racial homogeneity of their village, with pitchforks and shotguns if need be (Paragraph 5 pp23)’. In a village where everyone has bigger issues than skin color –poverty-, this adventurous anthropologist manages to get stuck in the middle of a racial and class war.
After Habitat for Humanity did their ‘duty’ and built needed houses the Romani’s saw it as an opportunity to move up in class status, and the ‘elite’ saw it as a chance to make sure that the area stayed ‘homogenous’. However, this anthropologist having to work with both groups felt strong inclinations to assist the Romani’s who had taken care of his property for years while he did what ever he set out to do (not clear from the article, though I suspect it’s to investigate hidden micro politics in Slovakia). After dividing the property in half and believing that the two parties would be satisfied as people often say only in the moment, he returned to find the two parties quarrelling about ‘every conceivable detail, from access to the common well, to damaged to fruit trees and toddlers defecating on the wrong side of the property line; the underlying cause was the perceived elevation of the caretaker’s family above their proper station… (paragraph 4 pp24)’.
So like most Anthropologists, he becomes a participant in the lives of those observed, shares their lived experiences and decides to engage in solving a historical and ideological based problem. He informs his reader that despite his best efforts to help those in need acquire a better life he finds no acceptable solution that would engage identity upliftment and self growth. Obviously he doesn’t state is in my words, but you get the point when he states ‘…I was about to acquire a second village property –this time quite openly on behalf of another family eager to escape the ghetto. On the eve of the transfer day, the owner called and rescinded the agreement without any sensible explanation. Later I learned that unnamed members of the ‘white’ establishment had threatened her with symbolic expulsion (including the destruction of her parents` gave) unless she sold the property to another interested party which had just appeared in the form of the mayor…; when the external politics has come to an end, the internal politics continues as those that have acquired a new life are titled ‘cigani’ which is the local term for the Romani’s on the ‘whiter’ side of economics, and are shunned by their ‘own’. The author also refers to them as ‘black whites’ since this is the titled the Romanis outside of their sphere has given them. They now carry a double stigma of marginality (due to obtaining property) ironically much like the children of cross-cultural groups in homogenous territories.
In any event the author states that there is a bigger point than micro politics and shady exchanges of money to keep the ‘right people’ in and the ‘wrong people’ out, and his ‘vignette of action anthropology gone awry needs to be placed in the context of the proverbial ‘bigger picture’ and that bigger picture is “ ‘…that integration is a complex process that, as every immigrant knows, requires a receptive host society. No anti-discrimination programme designed by NGOs and EU bureaucrats can compensate for the absence of neighbourliness and old-fashioned social solidarity” (last paragraph p24). To that –the latter- I must say ‘ya!!!’.
Although the article brings to light micro politics and skin color in Slovakia the problem of anti-discriminatory politics without receptivity goes beyond skin color (thus NGO assimilation efforts may need a bigger bulldozer), for even the HIV infected and affected know this plight -that anti-discriminatory promotive efforts fail without a receptive host-; they are –those associated with HIV- at times neither the ‘accepted’ in the support groups designed for the infected (i.e. “outsiders not welcomed”), nor seen as ‘acceptable’ by the general population who continues to fear, see or behave as if the affected were contagious, leaving the middle man striving to belong to a part of two worlds where both groups feel they don’t fit in.
For those reading about poverty and micro politics for the first time, you may be wondering why so much fight over once empty land besides the skin color and homogeneity issue; the fight is not necessarily about the land versus the chance for peace and quiet, a better constructed house, safe water for your family, proper refuse disposal (which affects health and crop growth) and as the author notes reliable electricity.
Scheffel David, ‘narrative: ethnic micro politics in Eastern Europe’ IN Anthropology Today, August 2008, Vol 24 no. 4 pp23-25