on the use and abuse of statistics, Instrumentalizing Minorities edition

on the use and abuse of statistics, Instrumentalizing Minorities edition

This is what happens, Larry. This is what happens when you present data from one question from a two-year old survey in a sexy shaded map and let the Twitters have at it.

The tweet and article in question from Pew Research Global, here.

This sexy map and the corresponding article (which I’m sure considerably fewer people actually read) have got some rave and not-so-rave reviews on the one social network that rots my brain more than any other:

  • Ukraine Twitter? Happy. These numbers (apparently) prove that “Ukrainians are the least anti-Semitic [people] in eastern Europe,” the “most accepting of Jews,” and “more tolerant to minorities than any of its neighbours.”
  • The national news agency of Azerbaijan? Happy. Armenia, apparently, is “the most anti-Semitic country in central and eastern Europe,” they tweeted Thursday morning.
  • Armenian/Armenian-watcher Twitter? Unhappy, if not confused, with some suggesting the high number for Armenia could be rooted in lack of Israeli recognition of the Armenian Genocide and/or Israeli supply of weapons to Azerbaijan.
  • Polish nationalist Twitter? Unhappy. “Dirty manipulation,” since western European countries like France weren’t surveyed, where a Holocaust survivor was murdered last week in what French police are calling an anti-Semitic crime.
  • Islamophobes? Unhappy, because apparently all anti-Semitism is the result of Muslims and these numbers don’t jive with that theory.

This map – but, honestly, more the fevered reaction to it over the last day on social media – has got me pretty unhappy too, but for some different reasons

First (and relatively minor, in fairness) lot of people are suggesting this data’s new. It’s not. This report was released almost a year ago, based on surveys Pew did in central and eastern Europe in 2015 and 2016 on religious belief and national belonging. I still have a copy of this report on my mobile from last year.

Secondly, I’m not a fan of the question(s) and the way they’re presented in the survey.

This is the exact question that was asked. Identical questions were asked about Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Roma, in that order.UntitledI don’t like this question. Yes, I understand what it’s basically drawn from (Bogardus social distance scale questions), but look at it in the context of the preceding survey questions and it’s just….weird. (Page 18, here).

The preceding questions are all about religious observance – here’s the three that precede Q59.

So we jump from these right into a question that’s basically HEY WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT JEWS

There’s no seguing into or introduction of the battery of questions on Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Roma; we move from “what do you think about your religion?” to “so tell me what you think of these minorities and/or people different from you.” It’s an odd jump, in my opinion, and one where more than one respondent must have wondered what the hell was going on.

Worse, though, is the question itself. Again, I get that these are somewhat standard questions – I’ve seen similar ones in other unrelated surveys – but, really, does “Would you be willing to accept Jews as: a. Members of your family, b. Neighbors, c. Citizens of our country” even make sense to an average respondent??

It makes me ask far, far too many questions about whether this question, and the data from it, is even reliable. How has this question been translated into the many languages used in actually administering the survey? Does it make any sense in them? Does it make less/more sense in some languages? Or, worst, does it mean different things to different respondents in different languages? If I was at the table discussing this survey in its design phases I’d have been asking a lot of questions about all this.

But what bothers me the most here is how these findings – or, more accurately, findings from *one question* on a two to three-year old survey – are being exploited.

As I’ve written about before, there’s a healthy crew of people out there who are more than happy to use Jews (or at least imagined representations of Jews) as a means to score political points (e.g., ‘look how well we treat our minorities,’ not like [insert enemy country here or Muslims in general]). Worse, though, are the ones who use The Jews In The Way That We Imagine Them as a cudgel to bash other minorities in their own countries (read: Muslims and Roma).

This is hypocritical, creepy and, if you’re a member of a majority and you’re doing this, what you are doing is bad and you should feel bad.

Valeri Simeonov strikes again: demands German “green jihadist” MEP be deported “by truck” to Turkey

Valeri Simeonov strikes again: demands German “green jihadist” MEP be deported “by truck” to Turkey

Valeri Simeonov is one of Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Ministers (in charge of economy and demographic policies), a co-spokesman of the far-right United Patriots and head of the Bulgarian Council on Ethnic Minority Integration.

He’s also a man with a mouth, one that’s doing a good job embarrassing his government right now – a government that happens to be hosting the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

This week Simeonov and his party, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (one of the three far-right parties that comprise the United Patriots), released a statement calling for the deportation of Ska Keller, the German co-chair of the Greens in the European Parliament. She’s been active in protests in Bulgaria against government plans to expand development in Pirin National Park, development that Keller and others say could lead to over-development in the park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is all far too much for Simeonov and friends, who responded to Keller’s presence with all the subtlety that could be expected from someone who’s called Roma “naked, self-confident and ferocious humanoids.”

The NFSB statement, signed by Simeonov, called Keller a “green jihadist” and demanded that Keller be deported from Bulgaria – specifically, “declared persona non grata and be deported by truck to Kapikule,” a border crossing between Turkey and Bulgaria, since they “don’t think the cost of airfare can be justified.” The party even offers to provide transport for her.

Simeonov himself, of course, has some experience at Turkey-Bulgaria border crossings; he assaulted an elderly woman during a protest to stop Bulgarian Turks living in Turkey from crossing the border to vote in last year’s elections.

This love of Turkey and Bulgaria’s Turkish minority shines through when they demand to know “from the height of which minaret, this Ska (what a name?!) who graduated the Sabanci university in Istanbul and serves the justice of a foreign country… and wants the Bulgarian sovereign government to change its position.”

“I have been an active politician for many years and I have never had something like this happening to me – either in any European country, or in other, non-EU states,” Keller told BIRN.

But Simeonov’s no normal politician. As I wrote last year:

  • He’s been convicted of breaking anti-discrimination legislation with some of his comments about Roma.
  • Speaking in an interview in October with a cable television channel, Simeonov said that “bTV turned out to be like an infantile fatty with certain mental abnormalities put into a porcelain shop, not knowing what he is doing.”
  • After it emerged that a deputy minister from the United Patriots had been photographed giving a Hitler salute, Simeonov reportedly made comments to the effect that in the 1970s, he had been taken on a visit to Buchenwald and “Come to think of it, who knows what kind of joke photos we took there…can anyone say now, submit your resignation and go back to the village”.
  • “I cannot allow a handful of Sorosoids to badger us while we are trying to solve important problems.”
  • “…it is indisputed that a large part of the Gypsy ethnicity lives beyond any laws, rules and general human norms of behaviour. For them, the laws do not apply, taxes and charges are incomprehensible concepts, electricity, water, social and health insurance bills have been replaced by the belief that they have only rights, but not obligations and responsibilities. What has created the belief in our swarthy compatriots that everything is allowed… and that everyone is obliged to feed, dress and treat them for free?”
  • In 2013 his National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), in its platform, said it “initially envisages the abolition of all illegal structures in Gypsy ghettos and the creation with minimum resources of individual settlements outside the large settlements. Promotion of voluntary birth limitation through free contraceptives. The isolated settlements can be turned into a tourist attraction, which is a mass practice in the most developed democracies…”

Aside from the embarrassment he’s causing his own government, Simeonov doesn’t seem to be doing himself many favours these days. While the United Patriots managed to score just over 9 per cent in last year’s parliamentary elections, recent polls show them hovering at between 5 and 6 per cent. What’s more, the #SavePirin protests actually seem to be fizzling out a bit, at least here in Sofia. Has Simeonov just done his bit to help change that?

Why is the Czech Republic still discriminating against Roma children?

Why is the Czech Republic still discriminating against Roma children?

This week marks ten years since the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Czech Republic was discriminating against Roma children in the education system.

A decade later, things aren’t much better. The 2007 rulingD.H. and Others v Czech Republic – stated that the Czech education system was funneling Roma children into substandard schools and was incorrectly classifying many Roma children with mild mental disabilities.

But today, even though Roma children make up less than 4 percent of all elementary school children in the Czech Republic, they make up more than 30 percent of all Czech children diagnosed with mild mental disabilities. That figure’s barely changed over the last four years.

While the country’s tried to enact some reforms to the education system – for example, the proportion of Roma students attending separate ‘practical’ schools has declined – segregation is still an issue. This year Czech ombudsman Anna Sabatova said that “[over] a quarter of Roma children are still being educated in very ethnically homogeneous schools” and that in some communities “there is a continuing practice of educating the Roma outside…or separately from non-Roma children within the same elementary school.”

It’s why, in 2014, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic, accusing the country of breaching EU racial equality directives.

Speaking at a conference this week hosted by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Open Society Fund Prague, one Roma community organizer described how she and her fellow activists travelled around to nine different cities and towns across the country, speaking with some 1,500 Roma about what they thought of the country’s education system.

“These people didn’t perceive any change for the better,” Magdalena Karvayova told the conference. Worse, said Karvayova, the Roma she talked to were “extremely distrustful” of everyone, from governments to bureaucrats to even NGOs.

“You should have thrown them to the hyenas!”

It’s easy to understand why Roma in the Czech Republic feel this way when you hear what their leaders and fellow citizens have to say about them.

President Milos Zeman recently said that “90 per cent of ‘unadaptable’ people in the Czech Republic are Roma,” using a phrase in Czech – nepřizpůsobivý – that, according to independent Czech internet daily Britské listy, is a “frequently used euphemism to replace racist abuse directed systematically against the Roma.”

One far-right politician, a secretary of the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) that got almost 11 per cent of the vote last month – and is now the fourth-largest party in the Czech parliament – reportedly said in a restaurant in the Czech parliament that “Jews, gays and Roma should be gassed.”

“He demanded that all homosexuals, Roma, and Jews should be shot immediately after they have been born,” one MP reported him as saying.

After three young Roma boys made international headlines in March when they snuck into a zoo in the city of Jihlava and stoned a flamingo to death, some Czech social media users didn’t hold back on what they thought of Roma.

“Bastards! I would do the same to them!” said one person.

“You should have thrown them to the hyenas,” another user said. Others said the young boys, being Roma, had “inborn genetic deficiencies,” with “intelligence lower than that of the dead flamingo.”

It’s no surprise to learn that Czechs, in general, aren’t particularly sympathetic towards Roma. In a poll earlier this year 43 per cent of Czechs indicated they were “very unsympathetic” towards Roma, while only 4 per cent described themselves as “very” or “somewhat sympathetic.”

“It’s a trend that’s been getting worse and worse”

There are at least some steps in the right direction. Over the past decade more and more Roma children have been attending mainstream schools instead of special, ‘practical’ schools. Reforms to make the system more inclusive began in September 2016, aimed at increasing participation of children with special needs (including children from deprived backgrounds) in mainstream education.

Still, it’s not enough, Czech ombudsman Anna Sabatova said at the conference. The new problem, she said, is segregation within many mainstream schools, where Roma children are still educated separately from non-Roma students.

“It’s a trend that’s been getting worse and worse,” Sabatova said, adding that the government needs to understand more about why these schools have opted for de facto “separate but equal” segregation.

This is what worries David Benar, Czech Deputy Minister for Human Rights. Himself Roma, Benar worries that the country is moving closer and closer to a system of “separate but equal” segregation of Roma within mainstream schools. And Roma like him won’t stand for it.

“Roma people are not in a good mood.”

(Photo credit: Wikipedia commons/Anglos)