Marija Demić: ERRC intern

I was born in Niš, Yugoslavia, twenty years ago. I finished secondary school in the worst possible circumstances: war in the area, inflation, political terrorism. For example, classes in the afternoon shift of 1996-1997 were fifteen minutes shorter because outside there were protests. My biggest wish is to become a lawyer and that is why I am studying law in Niš. I am in my fourth and final year in law school and I am very close to my aim. I believe that justice exists, but we have to try harder to find it. I think that people who are judges and lawyers first have to be people of high ethical quality — always above the events that are a pressure every day: not enough money and general intolerance. The behaviour of the general public towards Roma in my country, Yugoslavia, can be described as ethnic and racial prejudice. The police often uses violence towards Roma. For this reason, my contact with the non-govermental organisation Roma Education Center of Niš has been very important to me. I met there many other students from law school and many other very young and bright people. We went together last year to Montenegro for a seminar called “Better Together”. As a result of the seminar we all became more aware of our cultural identity. As Romani students, we are all trying to finish our studies as soon as possible so we can contribute to our community. This is not an easy task; we have to try harder than everyone else to prove that we are as good as the others because our skin is darker than theirs. At the same time, there is a danger of becoming distant from our community, and none of us wants that. I feel like I am always on some kind of edge, always trying to keep balance with both sides. I think am doing that very well — for now. I am thus far the only one from all the students in Niš who has been an intern at the ERRC. I am also the recipient of an ERRC scholarship. This scholarship is for the books I need because they are very expensive. Having the books means also a chance for more knowledge about the legal system in my country and that means that I will be a better lawyer one day. Having been at the ERRC, I have started thinking more and more every day that it would be great for me to become a lawyer for Roma rights, because basic human rights like the right to life, the right of education, etc. are under threat where Roma are concerned. The scholarship helps me feel that my chances for success are equal to the chances of other law students. I was at the ERRC for three weeks in January 2001. My internship involved researching the current status of Roma in the countries of former Yugoslavia and the status of Roma in Yugoslavia and to compare it with other countries. I have never seen such a great library like the one in ERRC. The people there are great; everyone works with incredible will to help as much as they can. I was honoured to share my time with them. I see the Romani issue as a big bag full of holes. The authorities are trying to fill the holes with wrong means. No matter where Roma are, they are always the reliable barbarians — always guilty for everything that is bad. One Roma from Kosovo said, “We Roma were like the stone kicked by everyone who happened to come across it.” But I am an optimist. It will be better in a few years. But we have to work a lot, be strong and brave.

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