Romani Activists Statement: Open Society Institute/World Bank Conference July 2, 2003

On June 30, 2003, approximately seventy young Romani leaders from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro and Slovakia addressed the governments of their countries with policy recommendations regarding the situation of Roma in these countries. The statements were presented during the conference "Roma in Expanding Europe: Challenges for the Future", held in Budapest, Hungary, June 30-July 1, 2003, which heralded the inauguration by philanthropist George Soros of a "Decade of Roma Inclusion". The statement which follows below is a summary of the national Romani delegations' policy recommendations as presented to the Prime Ministers participating at the conference, intergovernmental organisations, donor institutions and other participants on July 1, 2003 in the Hungarian Parliament by Rumyan Russinov, speaker on behalf of the Bulgarian Romani delegation to the conference and director of the Open Society Institute's Roma Participation Program:

I am Rumyan Russinov, a Bulgarian Rom, and honoured to represent the 7 Roma young leader delegations at the conference. The delegations represent about 70 Roma activists in our 20s and 30s who were competitively selected to participate at this conference.

My task is to present to our Prime Ministers and other guests a synthesis of the Roma young leaders vision and policy recommendations from the 7 participating countries. Many of our delegations held preparatory meetings with large numbers of Romani NGOs at home before presenting our recommendations yesterday and so you can be sure that these recommendations are shared by many Roma beyond ourselves.

First and foremost, all delegations have prioritised education, employment and housing as the three most important areas to be addressed and noted that discrimination runs through all of these areas. In education, we want to integrate the school systems; to desegregate the schools and the classrooms and to provide equal and quality education to Roma in the mainstream school system from pre-school through university. Our main recommendations are as follows:

  • obligatory and free pre-school education in desegregated classrooms for up to two years for all children;
     
  • Romani assistants in the classroom especially in pre-school;
     
  • anti-bias training of teachers and school administrators;
     
  • engagement of Roma parents in school-based decision-making;
     
  • no more Roma first grade school children put into Special Schools for mentally handicapped children starting in September 2003; school support for Romani children in the transitional period from substandard to regular education; social support for disadvantaged Romani families with children at school age; integration of Romani history and culture in the textbooks for all levels of education.

We know that this will be expensive but we can not imagine that it is more expensive than keeping us illiterate and on social benefits for all of our lives. We want to participate fully in society and we want to have access to equal education and meaningful jobs.

Some specific points raised by the delegations in regard to education were:
 

  • The Bulgarian delegation insisted that the government establish a
    fund for support of the desegregation of Romani education.
     
  • The Slovak delegation insisted that the government review the system of psychological testing for the placement in special schools and ensure that the system does not produce racially disparate effects.
     
  • The Hungarian delegation emphasised the need to involve Romani
    parents in the educational process of their children and to strengthen the relationship between Romani parents and schools.
     
  • In the Czech Republic, the government should expand the national
    action plan for Roma by establishing regional Roma information centers
    to provide link between Romani communities, local and educational authorities.
     
  • The delegation of Serbia and Montenegro called the government to
    amend the vocational education curriculum to teach economically adequate
    skills.
     
  • Affirmative action programmes for Roma in high schools and universities were recommended by the delegations of Romania and Serbia and Montenegro.

In employment, our main recommendations are:

  • Tax incentives for employers who employ Roma;
     
  • Access to low-interest credit for small family business of Roma
     
  • Implementation of programmes for upgrading the qualifications of Roma and for teaching Roma skills which are adequate to the demands of the labour market;
     
  • Implementation of counselling programmes for employment and training for development of small and medium-size business.
     
  • The Czech and the Slovak delegations also proposed involvement of Roma in government construction tenders and setting aside a percentage of such tenders for Roma construction firms.
     
  • The Bulgarian delegation called on the government to set up a labour bureau which provides in-house and per-hour work for Roma and to support Roma agricultural business by establishing agricultural business consultative centers.

In the area of housing, all delegations called on their governments to ensure that Romani housing meets basic standards for adequate housing. To solve the issue of Romani housing which is very complicated and combines citizenship issues; lack of security of tenure, non-transparent procedures of local governments; racism and discrimination, we call upon all countries to:

  • Legalise Romani housing and ensure that owners are provided with ownership documents;
     
  • Immediately set up a national watchdog agency to oversee and evaluate the distribution of municipal property and the resulting hardships it is causing the Roma.
     
  • In addition, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia we call on the governments to cease the practice of segregation and ghettoisation of Roma by relocating them from town centers to the peripheries. The Slovak and the Macedonian delegations recommended that housing provisions which discriminate against Roma preventing them from access to municipal housing should be eliminated. In Serbia and Montenegro the government should urgently address the housing situation of the internally displaced Roma from Kosovo and of the Roma who have been forcefully
    resettled from Western Europe.

All delegations emphasised combating racial discrimination against Roma through the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation complying with the requirements of the EU Race Equality Directive. We also want to have independent mechanisms set up to monitor implementation of anti-discrimination legislation and assist victims of racial discrimination in seeking remedies. Furthermore, it is necessary to train police, judges and other law enforcement agencies to implemet anti-discrimination law well and swiftly.

Other areas underscored in particular countries are:

  • In Romania, the delegation demanded that the government should recognise the Roma slavery and the Holocaust through public apology along with urgent adoption of a package of reparatory measures. Furthermore, the delegation called on the government to create an adequate framework for ensuring the cultural autonomy of Roma by setting up Roma identity promotion institutions such as schools specialised in Romani language and graduate education in Romani language.
     
  • In Hungary, the delegation stressed the need to establish formal channels of dialogue between grassroots, national NGOs, intergovernmental organisations and the government. The delegation called on the government to provide support for Roma community centers and establish non-profit development agencies to train Romani activists committed to the grassroots.
     
  • In Macedonia, the delegation called on the government to set up a government commission on Roma to advise it on Romani policy issues and to adopt a national plan for the improvement of the situation of Roma in the country.

Finally, we want to have broad-based Roma and Roma NGO representation in all matters of local and national government which affect us. We want to be at the table making decisions about our future. We also call on the EU to make sure that Roma are broadly involved in design, implementation and evaluation of all PHARE and future EU spending on Roma projects in our countries; and we call on the EU to guarantee us that once our countries become members of the EU, the National Action Plans and any interim memoranda preceding our accession solidly anchor the Roma issues in them.

We fully support the idea of the Decade of Roma Inclusion as a critical mechanism to close the ever-widening gaps between Roma and non-Roma in our countries and to finally include us as full and equal citizens of our countries and in the European Union."

 

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