Disability, Deviancy, and Delinquency: Discourses and Practices of State and Science on Roma-Children in Socialist Czechoslovakia

Dr. Frank Henschel (Universität Bremen, Kulturgeschichte Ostmitteleuropas mit Schwerpunkt Geschichte der ČSSR (Prof. Dr. Martina Winkler))


The Czechoslovak socialist state in cooperation with scientific experts maintained a broad institutional network of facilities for childcare and education. Most of these institutions were designed as complementary to familial care: nurseries, kindergartens, and school clubs were instruments of the regime in order to assure care and education in accordance with both, communist ideology and scientific parameters of the “healthy” and “normal” child. Some institutions, though, were meant to fully replace the family, in cases when parent(s) were not seen able to properly raise their child(ren). Therefore, the state extended and differentiated children’s homes. Children’s homes served not only for “normal” children, but also for children with physical and mental “disabilities” or those who were diagnosed as “difficult”. Pedagogues, psychologists and pediatrics developed concepts and programs for care, education, as well as re-education, rehabilitation and prevention. Within this process, Roma-families and Roma-children were increasingly considered to deviate from the “normal” population, in terms of lifestyle, attitude and behavior. The central question for state and science was, how Roma become “useful” citizens of the socialist society. The paper will examine, how the “Roma-issue” in the field of childcare and education was brought up and discussed in scientific journals and state documents from the 1950s to the 1980s. It analyzes the perceptions of “disability”, “deviancy” and “delinquency” with regard to Roma-families and children and how state and science intervened into lives of families by separating children in home facilities.