VII annual conference of the LEAGUE OF ROMA

VII annual conference of the LEAGUE OF ROMA
Soko Banja 28 April, 2014
Mr Osman Balic 

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, dear colleagues,

I am pleased to greet you on my behalf and on behalf of the Presidents’ Council and open the VII Annual conference of the Standing Conference of Roma Associations of Citizens – the League of Roma.

This past year was the first year of operation of the League of Roma as the association of 60 civil society organizations which have come together to ensure continuous monitoring and effective implementation of strategic documents at a national and local level and thus enhance the achievement of goals set within the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015). SKRUG – the League of Roma, as the successor of the League for Decade of Roma is entering the 8th year of its work and operation.

Unfortunately, this is also the last year of the Decade of Roma as the major international initiative launched with the view to improving the status of Roma community. I say this with a dose of regret as the time has come to settle accounts and summarize results although the last 20 months have marked the period of minimal effects in the implementation of action plans pertaining to the Decade of Roma and the state strategy for Roma.

The legal and institutional framework for preserving and protecting minority rights established in Serbia over a decade ago is implemented only in part and not efficiently enough, as well as other laws in Serbia. At the state level, the Assembly and the Government of the Republic of Serbia pay a lot of lip service to the issue while taking no action. Despite institutional mechanisms such as the Council for the Improvement of the Status of Roma and the implementation of the Decade of Roma Inclusion as well as action plans for the implementation of Roma strategy, adopted after a serious of our interventions, they have not been budgeted in state funds and their application is only partial, the goal the Decade has set for Serbia is still far
from being realized.

Independent institutions, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Protection of Equality as our natural partners actively perform their role in this area. The problem is their recommendations often remain unheard.

Political representation of Roma boils down to manipulation, personal interests and is utterly exposed. Roma in Serbia have neither a plan nor capacity for political participation. It is the view of the League of Roma that new Roma leaders must be created and that the level of political culture and political literacy must be raised in Roma community.

The National Council for Roma Minority in Serbia constitutes the only legal and official institution of cultural autonomy which has the exclusive right to represent the interests of Roma community in the field of official use of language and script, information, culture and education.
Although this body has existed for 11 years and performs its activities in a favourable climate, it is an undeniable fact that the National Council has not even as wrote or suggested to the local public a long-term plan for cultural emancipation of Roma community. We regretfully admit that we failed to use the available legal and constitutional opportunities. The best example is the recently celebrated International Roma Day when we saw the National Council handing out awards to themselves. Another example of absurdity was presenting an award to the “Kurir” daily which is a textbook example of a media spreading racial and religious intolerance of Roma. This is how we ended up without anyone to sing the Roma anthem on the International Roma Day among the Roma artistic ensembles. The anthem was performed by somebody else. There were virtually no critical notes, and our national holiday turned into a “holiday” of social anomie at the time people are literally starving and fleeing the country in search of a better future.

The elections for the National Council are around the corner. In my opinion, the League of Roma should run in the elections and use all opportunities at hand while creating the new ones in order for this mechanism to make sense.

The results of the Decade of Roma in Serbia are yet to be assessed, but one thing is sure – it is not implemented by the Government. The reasons for this lie in frequent changes in the power structure, overall inadequacy and insufficient political will of the state and local governments. Discrimination and nationalism in state bodies and the authorities of local governments account for the condition and diagnosis of a state and society suffering from a serious illness. Today Serbia is at the threshold of European Union and Roma are facing the second Decade of Roma which is going to take place in the new administrative environment. Whether we will use the lessons learnt in this Decade nearing its end and to what extent remains to be seen.

Characteristics of Roma policy in Serbia

1. The extensive Roma policy is not legally bounding although it is part of obligatory policy in the function of EU accession.

2. The absence of social consensus concerning Roma policy which is based on affirmative measures. The draft action plan for strategy against discrimination is characterized by relativization of extreme discrimination of Roma as it equates it with general minority issues.

3. The absence of state budget items and funds for the implementation of any kind of policy towards Roma, while the funds of the projects run by international organizations are presented to the public as efforts made by the state. The attitudes of government and institutions make it clear that the Roma policy was adopted only formally with an expectation to be supported by the funds from abroad.

4. The absence of a stable organizational structure for the implementation of Roma-related policies. There is no system of planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, reporting, informing the local, international and Roma public.

5. Generally, the recommendations adopted in 2011 and 2013 with regard to the improvement of the status of Roma community (the so-called Mirel recommendations) which constitute the basis for initiating the inclusion of Roma in Serbia are not implemented.

6. There is almost a political consensus on prohibiting the instalment of Roma men and women in state bodies, public administration and local government despite the epidemic scale of employing party and family members in such institutions. 

7. The extremist organizations instead of being long prohibited are now knocking on the Parliament’s door and becoming a part of Serbian “democracy”.

Priorities of the League of Roma for the coming period:

1. Completing the establishment of thematic and regional boards within the League, its decentralization and establishment of a new system of responsibility and subsidiarity.
2. Introduction of the quality system in the operation of Roma NGOs, members of the League of Roma.
3. Providing orientation to League members for partnerships and cooperation with state bodies.
4. Training and inclusion of Roma NGOs in the process of planning IPA funded projects.
5. Active inclusion of the League into the development of new state strategy for improving the status of Roma community.
6. Institutionalizing the cooperation of the League with the EU delegation to Serbia, OSCE mission, UN organizations and the World Bank mission to Serbia.
7. Creating and organizing social cooperatives, initiation of public works and launching and development of programmes related to country and agriculture.
8. The policy for legalizing Roma settlements and houses.
9. Development of new Roma cultural policy.
10. Education and development of political culture in Roma.
11. Raising the issues of institutional discrimination and the participation of Roma in public sector (initiating legal actions – zero tolerance of discrimination by state institutions and
local government bodies).
12. Inclusion of the League of Rome in international anti-fascist movement and the monitoring of safety risks from the perspective of security.
13. Preparation for and delivery of monitoring of Roma policies.

Will we manage to do all this?
We will if we have to!

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