Nezdet Mustafa: Portrait of a Romani politician
07 November 2001
Nezdet Mustafa is currently the mayor of Suto Orizari, an independent municipality in the Macedonian capital of Skopje. According to the official census of 1994, the municipality of Suto Orizari had at that time 16,907 inhabitants, out of whom around 80 percent were Roma and the rest were Macedonians, Albanians and other ethnic groups.2 Unofficially, non-governmental organisations state that there are around 40,000 inhabitants in the municipality and most of them are Romani.
Even before its establishment, Suto Orizari - or "Sutka" as it is known affectionately by locals - as a community had attracted a lot of attention among Romani activists and non-Roma working on Romani issues. In the first place, it is one of the largest Romani communities in Europe. Secondly, unlike some of the larger communities in Central and Eastern Europe, where the overwhelming atmosphere is of extreme poverty and misery, Sutka has a certain vibrance. Until they emigrated to Germany, for example, the foremost Romani theatre group in Europe - Phralipe - was based there, and following their departure a number of groups have sprung up to fill the void. Similarly, the first Romani political parties were formed in Sutka. To many visitors, Sutka has appeared as the vision of a Romani future, if real Romani autonomy can ever be secured.
Nezdet Mustafa - "Nedzo"
Nezdet Mustafa is a charismatic Romani man who was born in 1962. After his high school education, he studied philosophy. At the moment he is studying towards a post-graduate degree in social work and political science at the university in Skopje. Nezdet's first Romani cultural activities started when he was a high school student. During the 1979-1980 school year, he was a member of the Romani theatre group Student. During the same period, he was active in some non-Romani youth organisations in Macedonia. In 1990, NeÂľdet became the first general secretary of the first Romani party in Macedonia, the Party for the Full Emancipation of Roma (PCER). The PCER heavily used the language of emancipation, and in practice focused on calling attention to raising the level of education of Roma in Macedonia. In 1992, Nezdet was one of the people who established the Romani broadcast Bijandipe at Macedonian Television in Skopje.
In 1994, Nezdet Mustafa went to Germany and established himself in Cologne. There he worked especially on the issue of trying to secure the right of stay in Germany for Roma from Macedonia, many of whom were threatened with expulsion from Germany. Soon after arriving in Germany, he established an organization in Cologne, which cooperated with the Hamburg-based Roma National Congress in organizing a series of protests against the expulsions. In 1996, Nezdet returned to Macedonia and in November of the same year he became mayor of the Suto Orizari municipality, having secured around 9000 votes out of a total registered voting body of 12,330. In November 2000, he was re-elected as mayor of Suto Orizari municipality. His platform has fairly consistently been, from the beginning:
- to improve living conditions of Roma in the municipality;
- to reduce employment among Roma through training programmes, and to develop opportunities for the employment of Roma;
- to develop local social and health care provisions for Roma in Suto Orizari;
- to promote Romani culture and the standardisation of the Romani language in cooperation with the Institute of Languages in Macedonia.
In early summer 2001, it was at the initiative of Mr Mustafa that Macedonia's "smaller minorities" - Roma, Serbs, Turks and Vlachs, formed a common platform during negotiations over Macedonia's future legal and administrative basis, brought about by anti-state violence by ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and international efforts to resolve the dispute. I spoke with Nezdet Mustafa in September 2001 about his views on politics and Romani issues. A condensed transcript of our discussion follows:
When the Suto Orizari municipality was established, many non-Roma were very sceptical that we would be able to work effectively. Many of them said that the community could not exist because of poor management. On several occasions I heard my colleagues - other mayors from around Macedonia - talking ironically about Suto Orizari as a municipality.
Nezdet, tell us about your work as mayor.
I spend a lot of time talking to locals, as well as with people outside the municipality. Everybody believes his problem is the most important one, and I try to devote real attention to solving local problems. This is a job in which you have to promote and advocate the problems of the community all the time as the most important. And if you want me to be honest, it is really true that wherever they are, under present conditions, Roma should be a priority.
What is Romani politics for you?
Romani politics is when Roma fight for equality and the respect of others. Roma in politics in general have to realise their collective interests.
You are the leader of a Romani party in Macedonia. How do you, as a Romani politician, think about Romani politicians and Romani politics? Do you think that non-Roma know about Romani politics? Do you think that Romani politicians and Romani politics exist?
Real, high level Romani politics do not exist. At least I am very sceptical that they exist. But I am sure there are people who started doing some kind of Romani politics. There are Roma who are ready to work and to develop Romani politics. And those who are not involved should be more engaged in Romani politics. I am concerned that the new movement of international Romani politics we are seeing now is driven by non-Roma and could make Roma modern slaves and servants.
What is international Romani politics? Who are the people involved in international Romani politics?
I am talking about the international Romani politics started by Sait Balic and Rajko Djuric in 1970 at the London Congress, and I am also thinking about new people from the International Romani Union (IRU) and Roma National Congress (RNC). These are the international powers in Romani politics. Let me tell you, I knew Rudko Kawczynski, the head of RNC, when I was in Germany. I was very involved with his politics, and I acted to realise some of his political points. I still admire Rudko and his more recent political efforts. I appreciate the International Romani Union (IRU) and its structure and I think it indicates something of a future Romani Parliament. But I do not agree with the manner in which IRU was re-established: Support for the IRU congress in Prague in 2000 was mainly provided by a country that does not respect the rights of Roma at all, namely the Czech Republic. What we miss in our organisations is financial sustainability and independence. The lack of financial sustainability is a big problem in Romani politics. Actually let's take Macedonia as an example. Romani political parties cannot organise their local offices well because they have very little money. Some of the Romani parties do very poorly in elections primarily for this reason.
Roma do not vote in high numbers in southeastern Europe. Those who vote are often illiterate and ill-informed about the platforms of the party for whom they vote, etc. Also, I have seen for example here in Macedonia intense competition between Romani politicians. How healthy is competition between Romani parties?
I am grateful to all those Roma who vote. Roma who vote show that they really want to find a way out of their suffering and crises. But also let me tell you that there are Roma who do not vote for Romani parties. That is really our mistake... a Romani mistake. We politicians have to ask ourselves why those Roma do not want to vote for us. But those Roma also have to know that if they do not vote for a Romani party, they vote against themselves. Competition is something completely essential to politics. Competition brings results to people. But unfortunately, Roma sometimes do not understand the limits or styles of competition and the results can be disappointing. We Roma cannot allow competition to destroy our community.
What do you think about the present Romani leadership?
This is an area where Roma must pay much more attention, because many people see a people via their leaders. We Roma have to create our Romani diplomats if we want a real voice in international politics to fight against assimilation, discrimination, the segregation of Romani children, the exodus of Roma from the countries in which they live, etc. Also, those Romani diplomats have to bridge the gap between Roma and non-Roma, so that both sides can work toward the integration of Roma, without assimilation. For that integration though, the majority has to be more flexible, tolerant and understanding of our culture, tradition and habits. And if the majority side agrees with this, then for integration to proceed, we will need to solve the problem of poverty in Romani communities. Poverty has a huge influence on the levels of respect Roma are granted in society. And if the lack of respect for Roma continues at its present levels, I would not be very surprised if Roma start becoming more radical in representing their issues.
The consolidation of Roma is the key to a universal international Romani politics, because I think that by bringing together all our Romani intellectual capacities, we have to create a Romani ideology such that all Roma are respected from India to America... wherever Roma live. Suto Orizari could be very good place for Roma to consolidate these ideas. Suto Orizari could be the place where all Roma can come to discuss their ideas and find ways of realising them.
Nezdet, te oves bahtalo so phendan kire gindimata pe Roma thaj politika ande Luma3
- Martin Demirovski was ERRC local monitor for Macedonia until October 2001, when he took up the position of Roma Officer in the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Unless otherwise specified, information on Suto Orizari was provided to the author by the office of the Suto Orizari municipality.
- "Nezdet, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on Roma and politics in the world."