debating Roma reparations  

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The most important debating tournament in Romania took place at the “Mihai Viteazu” high-school and the reporter summarized a debate with a BIRT on whether the Romanian government should provide reparations to the Roma community for the Holocaust. This is worth a discussion.

Then I checked the graciously provided link in the article signed by Adriana Simion and found a very juicy final.

Here’s a direct quote from the official website, suggesting that the BIRT of the final was “Romania should introduce the imperative mandate” and lists the winners:

Finala Forumului Național a fost jucată pe moțiunea „Acest Parlament crede că România ar trebui să introduce mandatul imperativ”, fiind disputată între echipa Guvernului formată din Mihaly Tordai (C.N. „Mihai Viteazul”, Sfantul Gheorghe), Edmond Vrânceanu (C.N. „Mihai Viteazul”, Sfantul Gheorghe) și Cosmin Bejan (C. N. „Mihai Viteazul”, Sfântul Gheorghe) și echipa Opoziției formată din Dora Szegedi (C.N. „Cantemir Vodă”, București), Teodor Abeaboeru (C.N. „Cantemir Vodă”, București) și Valeriu Cărășel (C. N. „Mihai Viteazul”, București). În urma arbitrajului unui panel de 9 arbitri cu experiență, felicităm câștigătorii naționali, echipa Opoziției: Teodor Abeaboeru, Dora Szegedi și Valeriu Cărășel!

Unfortunately, though the BIRT of the final from the official website is far more interesting and exciting to me, that website has no further details for me to comment. I will list and comment instead what Adriana Simion has previously summarized.

For starters, I pleaded for debates and debating and even held one here. I have argued on this blog in the past to pay Roma kids to go to school and other similar pro-Roma policies, mostly at a time when “opinion-makers” and “influencers” were very openly anti-ziganist – antiziganism is still strong in Romanian society, but seems less visible and there are more voices of reason. I have also summarized some other arguments for a similar idea, i.e., to give financial support to families with many kids. I am very much a contrarian, and now that the public discourse is saner, I feel a need to go in the anti-PC direction.

Here’s a quickly corrected Google Translation of the original arguments, as printed in Romanian in Adriana Simion’s article linked below in sources, with each point followed by my comments in italics.

1. Pro (Gov) - winner

I am personally not necessarily against reparations, but the devil is in the details.

The Roma in Romania have suffered various forms of oppression, from simple marginalization, to crime and genocide.

The examples given here were the legionary regime and that of Marshal Antonescu and the ethnic cleansing he initiated, in which, in addition to the expulsion of the Jews to the concentration camps in Germany, both Roma and sick people, disabled or members of some religious sects were persecuted. And, said they, all we can do now is to help their offspring emerge from the precarious living situation, created and maintained by the state through marginalization.

Not really an argument, but more of a necessary “framing” of the debate.

International law says that a reformed institution has a duty to repair the mistakes of the previous institution, the one that committed the abuses.

An example in this direction is the German state and its historical reparation model to the Jews. (wiki-general)

This is a “factual” point which is not really an argument in debating because if it truly is a fact, then it’s not debatable. The opposing team cannot be expected to know international law to determine its value of truth. On the other hand, if it’s a fact and both teams had time to prepare for the topic that was known in advance, it could also be considered as part of “framing the debate”.

In Romania, after the fall of the communist regime, the Roma continued to be disadvantaged compared to the majority population.

An argument[example] is represented by the ghettos in which they live, on the outskirts of cities, and where over time, too little has been invested. Non-existent schools, lack of infrastructure and lack of sanitation or water and sewerage networks were the main impediments that the Roma encountered in their attempt to emancipate themselves in post-December Romania. The absence of an intervention of the Romanian state means that the effects of the abuses committed by the communist regime are still felt today.

One could argue that the communist dictatorship did not really discriminate them and on the contrary, took significant measures to ensure school attendance and provide housing, much like it did with most population, so “continued to” is false. After 1989, the general (i.e., “for everybody”) standard of living dropped initially, together with the economy. The absence of government action, itself debatable, can hardly be considered active discrimination, especially when majority members suffered (and still suffer) it as well.

The welfare aid that the Romanian state offers today does not imply the recognition of a historical mistake and does not return the dignity.

In addition, only through financial compensation can the power dynamic that exists today change, i.e., the Romanian state that mercifully helps and the Roma community that “only benefits from social aid without any beneficial contribution to society”. In order to have an equal opportunity, the members of the Roma community must have at least a very good educational system and access to medical facilities. A financial compensation can help them to have access to the services of the private healthcare system where racism is by no means as important as in the state system, because the main interest of the private companies is the profit and the satisfaction of the generic client.

I wish I heard more of the rebuttal on this one (hard to believe that there wasn’t one). Basically, the Gov is saying that the government fails to do its job due to systemic racism (somewhat true) and that reparations / money would allow the Roma community to access the private sector which is supposedly free of discrimination. Except, of course, that private companies are often guilty of systemic discrimination as well. Today we talk mostly about gender discrimination (for instance, Google is underpaying men: Q, nyt), but in the past, there were businesses in the USA that refused to serve black people to such an extent that a “green book” had to be published, revealing for black motorists the few businesses that did not discriminate (movie trailer, wiki). Today in Toronto people are protesting the opening of Chick-Fil-A because it discriminated against LGBTQ. There are so many examples of discrimination by private businesses that such cases make it regularly to the Supreme Court in USA. But most of all, this fallacious thinking can be summarized as “the government should act without bias, but it doesn’t; the private sector should also act without bias, and it will” – but why assume that the private sector will succeed where the government failed? Why assume that the profit motivation is stronger than the requirement to follow the law and/or official policy???

All these compensations will, in time, lead to a change in the general perception of the Roma community.

The more Roma are treated equally and have benefits, the more they improve their self-confidence and society and change their social status. The more they do this, the more they will be respected by the other citizens who are otherwise willing to believe in the intrinsic evil of the Roma community.

False, especially on the last part!!! The perception of undeserved benefits and special / preferential treatment by the government creates resentment among the majority and furthermore it erodes the merit of those minority members who become successful despite the deck being stacked against them. That’s the whole raison d’etre of “white nationalists/supremacists” and “reverse discrimination” accusations.

A stronger argument would be that financial reparations might make future populist politicians (and their fans) think twice before discriminating in the future, knowing that those they are discriminating against and their offspring might end up “better off” at the expense of their constituency.

2. Con (Opp) – lost

The Romanian democratic state has no moral duty to compensate the Roma community for the injustices of the past, because they were committed during political regimes in which the leaders were not elected by the people.

The students argued that, as long as the regimes that oppressed the Roma were dictatorial, a democratic regime, such as today's, cannot be held responsible for what happened in the past. In addition, when the people elected their leader, during the Cuza period, the Roma were released from slavery.

The con seems to argue against facts, see my comments above. I would have argued that we don’t live under Salic/clan law and in modern times we consider individuals rather than groups. So the strongest argument against reparations is that it looks at the minority as a group, and purports that the majority (also seen as a group) is somewhat collectively responsible for the crimes of a few, which is the original sin committed by the racists who had been discriminating against the minority. In so doing, they are perpetrating against the majority the crime originally perpetrated against the minority. It’s also debatable whether today’s regime is truly more democratic than the one that supposedly perpetrated the crimes in question, especially since it appears that the Romanian (and actually European) majority continues today, as it was in the past, to be strongly prejudiced against the Roma/Gypsy minority (and as such discrimination is “the will of the people”).

Those who have gained from slavery represent only a small part of today's Romanians and it would be unfair for most to suffer from the mistakes of others.

However, says the team "against", the historical injustices against the Roma community cannot be denied, but they must be combated by harsh laws against racism.

This is a good point (much like what I’m saying above), but poorly delivered. There already is a very clear article 16(1) of the Constitution: Cetăţenii sunt egali în faţa legii şi a autorităţilor publice, fără privilegii şi fără discriminări. Whether there are or not good “harsh” laws in Romania is not known by me, and not so relevant, since if there are no laws, or if they are not properly enforced, individuals can go to CEDO (PDF)/ECHR. This could have been their argument – while reparations by groups to groups are morally dubious, individuals can and should seek reparations through CEDO if their rights have been abused.

Practical arguments: Romania cannot afford to pay large amounts of money for damages.

The Romanian economy does not allow to compensate the Roma with an amount of money of more than 5,000 euros and this amount is impossible to make a real and systematic difference in their life.

[original comment: Listening, I did not understand if the young people made some calculations on the amount of 5,000 euros and analyzed the Romanian economy or just said a random amount.]

Well.. Obviously, the number seems to have been pulled out of their ass and as such makes them look bad. Secondly, if true, it’s a factual argument and – see above. But let’s repackage it as “Romania is too poor to pay reparations to a sufficient amount to make a difference.” That’s not a great argument because it implicitly accepts the premise that the gov BIRT is right which is a capital sin – the Opp should oppose no matter what. It’s also a bad argument because this debate is about a principle, which they are thusly conceding.

Such a measure, financial compensation for the sufferings of the past, would illegitimateize any form of positive discrimination in the future.

This last point is dumb – maybe they said something else and it wasn’t well understood by the reporter. If the reporting is accurate, money used in this way does not have that power – it’s laws that make something illegitimate, and this is actually a point they are also making, seemingly contradicting themselves.

Since Pro/Gov won, I didn’t criticize their arguments as much as the Con/Opp’s. I am far more tempted to discuss and fortify the con (opposition) argument, not because it is right (I actually favor Roma reparations) but we reach the best decisions and outcomes in adversarial situations only when both sides put their best foot forward. I’d have advanced different arguments on both accounts, and though different, the Pro/Gov side seemed to have had stronger arguments than the Con/Opp side which is why I dealt mostly with the latter.

One such argument would be that all the help and “affirmative action” for the black community in USA has not achieved significant success; similarly, there are those who claim that aid for Africa is counterproductive. Meanwhile, communities that arguably found ways to help themselves (such as the Jews and Asians) are much further ahead. Finally, in terms of practicalities, the issues with reparations for the First Nations in Canada for example is an issue of getting aid to communities ravaged, among other things, by unrepresentative, corrupt leaders and other [arguably] self-inflicted wounds; money pumped in such communities end up benefitting a few “leaders” and their cliques. 

Identity Politics: Let us not forget that one of the arguments Prof Jordan Peterson keeps advancing is that we should not compensate or provide advantages to groups because we can form an infinite number of such groups so it becomes impossible to do so “equitably”. This is a “practical impossibility” that proves that the argument is fallacious: idiotic, Joe Rogan, SA. There are also several “equity” articles worth considering: theory, law, economics, social.

And that’s all the time I had.

LE: Almost on cue, PSD introduces a law to combat anti-ziganism (hn-antiz). It seems odd that the law starts by claiming that the “antiziganism” term is vague:

”Deși termenul constată o recunoaștere instituțională în creștere, nu există încă o înțelegere comună a naturii și implicațiilor sale. Antițigănismul este adesea folosit într-un sens restrâns pentru a indica atitudinea anti-romă sau exprimarea stereotipurilor negative în sfera publică sau discursul de ură. Cu toate acestea, antiţigănismul dă naștere unui spectru mult mai larg de expresii și practici discriminatorii, inclusiv multe manifestări implicite sau ascunse. Antiţigănismul nu se referă numai la ceea ce se spune, ci și la ceea ce se face și la ce nu se face. Pentru a recunoaște impactul său complet, o înțelegere mai precisă este crucială”, potrivit expunerii de motive a proiectului.

Propunerea legislativă a fost înregistrată la Senat, ca primă Cameră sesizată, Camera Deputaţilor fiind decizională.

Sources / More info: ardor, hn-ardor, yt-ardor, hn-antiz

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