Sunday, March 20, 2011

Prague and Thessaloniki Premieres for Our School

A young audience in the old Olympion theater in Thessaloniki. Photo credit: Edwin Rekosh (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC
We had back-to-back premieres in the Czech Republic and Greece, synchronized with the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers Review of the implementation of European Court of Human Rights  judgments on segregated education for Roma. That's a mouthful. Let's back up a bit from the jargon here and explain: 

In the mid-1990s, Roma rights activists discovered that Roma children were routinely and in large numbers placed into inferior schools or classes, or even schools for children with intellectual disabilities. They began documenting this widespread pattern, writing reports, campaigning, and also doing something else: Building legal cases so that they could methodically and strategically attack states that permitted this practice before Europe's highest human rights court - the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg, France. In 2007, their efforts bore fruit: the Court found the Czech Republic guilty of unfairly placing large numbers of Roma children in special schools intended for children with mental disabilities. Two more judgments followed, in rapid succession: One that found Greece guilty of placing Roma children in a separate facility, and one that condemned Croatia for not allowing Roma children whose Croatian was less than perfect to study in the same schools as majority children. Taken together, these three cases are, in many ways, Europe's Brown vs. Board of Education moment. 

But change on the ground is slow to come - we're hoping that our film can contribute to understanding why. Activists are extremely frustrated. The Czech Government has promised action on segregation for over three years now - but has done nothing in practice. The Greek Government hasn't even bothered to promise anything. Croatia isn't faring any better. Those governments who were not directly targeted by the Court's judgments are even less likely to find their zeal for school integration. And ethnic tensions continue to rise against the backdrop of economic crisis and renewed extremist nationalism. 

So the body that oversees the implementation of the Court's judgments on behalf of the Council of Europe is trying take a hard look at what is happening and what needs to actually happen to make school integration a reality - as is everyone else. Activist colleagues on the ground are trying new tools for making their case and raising awareness. We're hoping that Our School can be a good tool to untangle the web of cultural practices, structural barriers, and long-standing prejudice that keeps Roma children from having an equitable start in life and the same opportunities as the rest of us.

We're partnering with Amnesty International not only to launch the film on the festival circuit, but also to put it in the hands of those who want to use it. We're grateful to the One World and Thessaloniki documentary festivals for the opportunity to premiere there - and we're honored to be included in their excellent programs. This is just the beginning - but it's a very good one.