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About the Author

Mirza Softic
Web Journalist (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

I am a freelance journalist with interest in politics, NGOs, marketing and management. A euro sceptic, but love to travel across Europe :). I am planning to set up a hostel in the center of Sarajevo called "Yugoslavia", because I am a very 'Yugo nostalgic' person. And left-oriented forever! P. S. Photography is my favorite hobby :). This radio that you can listen on my website is ESN Radio. To turn it off, click on the circle button. Counter free counters

Post

Roma People Between Better Life And Eternal Misery

Published 10th April 2010 - 37 comments - 8747 views -

Sarajevo, 10th of April 2010

Few days ago, for the first time, I heard about the «International day of Roma population». Regarding to this symbolic date, important for the Roma people all around the world, an action called «I am a Roma woman» has been initiated by Bosnian authorities and local NGOs. This action should bring closer this national minority to the wider population and eliminate at least a part of prejudices that Balkan people usually have towards the Roma. People say very often that Roma are dirty, that they are thieves, begging for money, etc., and these kinds of prejudices disappear rarely from our heads. In order to make a first step towards the elimination of possibly held prejudices, watch the video below. In this video you can see Roma women who are very successful and who live an ordinary Yugoslavian life, that is, they went to school (each woman is from another part of our former country) and they are now working for an average company or factory with their high school level education, they have children and they are more happy than unhappy, regarding to their opportunities.



Although, experiences say the opposite, that is, they say they are very uncommon cases. Everybody knows that the state does nothing for Roma people, so the members of this community very often dig the containers to survive, don't go to schools, have serious problems with drug addiction, live like slum dogs, sometimes even with no documents, they don't know where they were born and where their home is, how many sisters or brothers do they have and how they could manage to survive. The most unknown data about them are the data about their mortality and cemeteries. You can almost never see an older gipsy, which could be a sign that they die prior to the average.

UltraPhoto

When I think about the way my parents raised me, and how other parents raised my friends, with whom I played football and went to school, I remember how we never, but really never, played with Roma children. Gypsies, as we always called them, were from a lower class than we were, even in our childish world. We tried to avoid them as much as possible, sometimes we even feared them, sometimes we beat them, sometimes they beat us, but with this ‘weird’ group we had no contact. They held a reputation of bad, dangerous guys, who sometimes inhaled glue, although we never attempted to include them into our society, and decide for ourselves if we were right or wrong. We simply considered they stink and were disgusted by them. I never had a Roma friend or classmate, and I didn't communicate with them. Even the media indoctrinated hate toward the Roma, through the news («Today, the young man of Roma nationality attacked a young woman and took all her money»), movies or some other forms of «education». For example, in the best Yugoslavian movie ever, «Who is singing there? », there is a scene where the main character, Danilo Bata Stojković, says «We know who usually steals», referring to the only gypsies in the bus.



Two weeks ago, I visited Brussels to participate in the European Blogging Competition, and during that journey I saw many Roma from various Balkan countries, mostly from Serbia, in the city center. Most surprisingly, a woman with a child asked me in my own language, «Hey countryman, do you have one Euro for me? », and I could not stay careless. When I tried to start a conversation, as it was lunch break, she replied in bad Serbian, so we exchanged only few sentences. A few moments later, I witnessed how she had been thrown out outside the bakery, followed by curses in French, which I couldn't understand. I realized that this was probably one of the many similar scenes how civilized Europe's capital deals with gypsies.
But, through our short conversation, I noticed one big difference. To my question, «Does your child go to school? », she answered «Off course, there is no joking with Belgian police», and she added «I can choose between his school and my prison, but in prison there are no Euros from the tourists». She also told me that she's very happy because she doesn't live in Serbia or Hungary anymore, where the authorities of these two countries don't pay attention to poor people. She's sure that her child will be happier than she is, and that he won't have to swim across the Danube, as she had to in search for a better future. “Few months ago, I was playing the accordion, but it did not pay off, as I am directly breaking the law, and as I can’t follow these rules, I gave up. Now I simply outstretch my hand, the police are urging me from the street, but I can stay at least for few hours, which is enough”, she added and continued, “Mišo (her son) goes to school, and he will earn his own bread, and as for me, if God blesses me with something that is fine, if not, there is nothing else to do. Mišo is the only important one in this situation. If God blesses my Mišo, I would be more than happy”. In the Balkans, it is the only way that Roma population can be happy (if God blesses them), because the state will not do anything for them. As a beginning, the state could start to implement the law on compulsory primary education for the Roman people, and there would be for sure less Roma on the streets. Till then, we can keep saying that they stink, avoid and discriminate them, but in my opinion, it is better to give them a chance. As an illustration, let’s hear this likeable street musician, who played on the streets of Brussels. He plays the trumpet very nice; he’s originally from Trnovo (a village nearby Sarajevo) and he is happy if somebody talks to him. An open dialogue is for sure a better way to include the Roma people into our societies, than to be constantly running away from them. They don’t need a lot and they are not worse than we are.


Category: Human Rights | Tags:


Comments

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 10th April 2010:

    Isn’t it terrible how xenophobic ideas are implemented into children? Education, education, education.


  • Mirza Softic on 10th April 2010:

    Children’s ideas come from home, unfortunately… We’ve been always thought about Roma as at least “weird” group of people :(.


  • Kive on 10th April 2010:

    Interesting story. Good you brought this issue under our attention. Thumb up!


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 10th April 2010:

    MIRZA! THANK YOU for this post. I’ll try to bring it around. Your policy is an actually great, simple proposal, with clear implementation measures.


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 10th April 2010:

    I would like to write about this as well. Let’s see how it goes.


  • Raul Cazan on 10th April 2010:

    GREAT! Funny, we had Rroma joining right in front of the building where the seminar on development journalism was taking place. and they were speaking Romanian.smile


  • Mirza Softic on 10th April 2010:

    Yeah, I also heard the Roma people who spoke my language. As you can see, I even had the lunch with one lady.


  • Mirza Softic on 10th April 2010:

    Ivaylo, I would be more than happy if this story continues. Go and write about it, it’s a real problem in our Balkan countries.


  • maOna on 12th April 2010:

    great story…very important topic, issue….let’s think about human rights thoroughly and honestly….thank You for this.


  • Emi on 12th April 2010:

    State should regulate this. Provide better education even with force if it is necessary because that is the foundation for any progres.


  • Mirza Softic on 12th April 2010:

    maOna and Emi, thank you for your comments. I agree that state MUST regulate this, even with force. Also, I don’t think that it’s help if you give somebody 1 € or more, it is much more complicated to provide help to this group.


  • Murdoc on 13th April 2010:

    In Serbia primary education is compulsory for everybody (including the Roma people), but there is one problem… Parents of Roma children have more interest to send them on the streets to beg for money. I’ve even heard of cases where parents sold the things (like clothes, sneakers, pencils, books,...)that children got from various donation projects… :(
    Maybe “there is no joking with Belgian police”, but in our corrupted and disorganized system, full of different social problems, it’s hard to set the priorities and make a complete order. :(


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 13th April 2010:

    Murdoc, the key point I get from Mirza’s post is that there must be enforcable and monitorable crackdown if the policy is not followed. Easiest is to have police in 100% of the cases taking in the parents if their kids don’t go to school. Mirza, again. Then parents are forced to make their kids go to school, instead of beg.


  • Mirza Softic on 14th April 2010:

    Yesss… But these parents that Murdoc says about them, they should be punished and the problem is solved. If there is a will, it’s not so difficult to make things work in this field.


  • Vladimir Nedovic on 15th April 2010:

    The discrimination of Roma in the Balkans should have been an indication of our racist and fascist tendencies long time ago, and a warning about what we are capable of doing to our neighbors. It is a very harsh repression and constant humiliation that they have to deal with in the Balkans, and changing that means changing the mindset of ordinary people, starting from children like you describe. Like him or not, Kusturica did do something to bring the status of Roma to light, and make at least some of them happy. I know, that is not enough.

    And although it is not my intention to further the stereotypes, I just love the Roma street players, many of which are my friends in Amsterdam. Therefore, I leave you with this excellent example from Vojvodina, where a new Roma rock star might have been born:

    <object width=“480” height=“385”><param name=“movie” value=“http://www.youtube.com/v/GWv1n9X3Og4&hl=nl_NL&fs=1&”></param></param></param><embed src=“http://www.youtube.com/v/GWv1n9X3Og4&hl=nl_NL&fs=1&” type=“application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=“always” allowfullscreen=“true” width=“480” height=“385”></embed></object>


  • Vladimir Nedovic on 15th April 2010:

    Well, alright: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWv1n9X3Og4


  • Anita T on 17th April 2010:

    Great story Mirza -

    I also grew up in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and our contact with the Roma children was non-existent. We would see them outside, and we were often warned that they will steal something, that they are dirty and lazy. Most people have this view that they are lazy and don’t send their children to school, even if elementary school education is mandatory.I never had Roma classmates, and their culture and history was completely left out from the curriculum.

    This is why this problem isn’t as simple: the Romas are virtually invisible in every aspect of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian society. They have high illiteracy rates, high unemployment rates, and higher mortality rates. In a country where unemployment is high, and with disadvantages such as illiteracy, poverty, and discrimination which they face from the general public and employers, how are they to get ahead?
    We cannot just punish their parents because they don’t send their children to school. If they are indeed selling donated goods, we must ask why, and we will soon discover that they live way below poverty line, and do not have any institutional support to make education relevant for their children, nor are there measures to support Roma children who are falling through the cracks.

    I currently live in Canada, and Aboriginal and Black high school students have higher dropout rates. We cannot simply say that these groups are lazy and need punishment for their lack of school commitment - we must look at systemic reasons (which are very real, whether they are actively or passively promoting segregation), and make changes now.
    I think it’s absolutely sad that Romas who live in B&H and other parts of the Balkans often do not speak the local languages properly. This is indicative of extreme isolation and segregation. How many children born in England and France do not speak English and French fluently?


    Once again Mirza, thanks for sharing this story.


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 17th April 2010:

    Interesting post indeed. This is new to me. Nice!


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 17th April 2010:

    Anita T, thank you for saying that… I had not considered the additional factors in my previous comments. Please, let’s discuss this again and further, and in more depth…


  • Anita T on 17th April 2010:

    You’re welcome, Ivaylo - we can of course discuss these issues.
    It’s also important to discuss the Roma’s accessibility of services and mainstream media and communication. We must ask the question: where are they when we are talking about issues that concern them? Are we consulting their leaders and communities?
    If we accept (beyond stereotypes) that their communities live in abject poverty and are marginalized, then we must find ways to change that. How are we doing so far?
    Well for starters, authorities are not concerned with learning about their culture, their history, their needs. So how do we make changes when we don’t officially know or care about these populations which are living as second class citizens all over Europe?

    I think education plays a huge role, but it alone will not solve problems if we have a population who is educated but unable to find employment, normally we’d have a brain drain.
    So we must consult these communities and their leaders, conduct studies and act in an informed way. We cannot continue to leave people behind, and continue to portray them in stereotypes such as thieves, illiterates, liars, cheats, tricksters, fortune tellers, musicians, and mystical figures which have some sort of magical powers that can somehow harm the rest of the population. These stereotypes go beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia, you see them in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and other Eastern European nations.

    So we would have to look at various dimensions of this issue. Where is affordable and/or social housing (how are they to have homes if they are systemically marginalized and unemployed)? Where is the support for all and especially vulnerable children in the early years, as well as throughout the rest of their school years and adolescence? Where is the representation of the Roma people in all levels of government or other significant development organizations and agencies?

    The saddest part of all of this is that marginalized populations have never been a priority in the Balkans - and that needs to change soon. We can’t possibly be thinking about the future if we fail all of our citizens and treat them like they aren’t human.


  • Mirza Softic on 19th April 2010:

    Vladimire and Anita, thank you for your comments and I am inviting you to follow other posts, too.

    I am wondering so much time what is the best option for these people and I can’t find a proper solution for all of them. Punishment is, of course, not an option, forcing to go to schools must be an option, but how? What kind of forcing should we use to achieve their better education?

    Vladimir mentioned one good point, about artists in Amsterdam, I also always communicate with street musicians, as well as with other street artists, and always you can hear some very deep story from their lives.

    If I were someone who decides, I would try to use the best qualities of every human, so these people can sing, play various instruments, record movies (like in Kusturica’s case, but off course it’s not enough), and also go to schools.


  • Mirza Softic on 19th April 2010:

    One of the persons who did really good things to Roma, is Esma Redžepova, great Macedonian musician who adopted many of them, and all of them graduated at the faculties. So, that means that there is a way. Sometimes, I have a feeling that they don’t know that the school is the most important.


  • Mirza Softic on 19th April 2010:

    By mistake, first I put my stories to this blog http://we.thinkaboutit.eu/profiles/blogs/roma-people-between-better?xg_source=activity , but two people gave me the comments, which I will put here:

    Comment by Ari Rusila on April 17, 2010 at 6:42pm
      Delete Comment Nearly a year ago I wrote an article “UN death camps, EU money, local negligence” about Roma children living in UN camps in North Mitrovica, Kosovo, living in place which is described the most toxic site in Eastern Europe.

      Briefly the story was following:


      While Nato troops arrived to Kosovo – for “humanitarian intervention” – on June 1999 their Kosovo Albanian allies started their revenge not only against Serbs but also against the Roma which the Albanians accused of collaborating with Serbs. The largest Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (RAE) community was in south Mitrovica. They were forced to move over Ibar river to Serb dominated north Mitrovica. Under international administration those displaced families were placed in camps located heavily polluted mining and smelter complex. The international administration know that camps were in dangerously toxic environment, the experts and non-governmental organizations demanded immediate evacuation for Roma families, however after nearly ten years – in post-war Kosovo, 200 km from the European Union’s borders – these families still are trapped in camps slowly dying from lead poisoning.

      The story not only gives another perspective related to “humanitarian intervention” but also to post-conflict capacity building in international protectorate with “European perspective”. EU has put billions of its taxpayers money to development projects in Kosovo but when progress and outcome – after 10 years - is like with this Roma camp case one may ask if priorities, programs and project management are updated and if the results as as poor also with other regions where international aid is used.


  • Mirza Softic on 19th April 2010:

    Comment by Mamen Salas Burguete on April 15, 2010 at 8:14am

    Very interesting post. Discrimination against Roma are also taking place in other countries throughout Europe. Italy and Spain are good examples that I know.
    It is disgusting to hear that some local governments implement plans like “Nomades” in Rome, Italy, to get people out of the city to the outskirts of town, where they do not have a place to live in. It is based on an so-called “security measure”.
    By talking to average citizens you get to know the sense of reject towards these people, accused of not wanting to integrate in society. I think integration is not a matter that can be solved by one side. It is a bilateral question. People that feels rejected and are treated discriminatorily, that have tough problems to find a job or that are considered untrustworhy tend to believe that they have to manage with such a situation the best way they can, with the possibilities they are given. The “easy” way is to continue in their margination and go on trying to survive in such a situation of marginality. They cannot “get in” a regular way of life if society does not open the door to them. Marginality, poverty and difficulties to have a normal life can lead to the criminality that other citizens perceive, not only in Roma groups but in any other society group that are subject to continual rejection and discrimination. BUT it can and must be changed with a common effort. First of all, we all have to realize that society critics are not directed towards this ethnic group in particular. Root to the problem are the conditions these people live in. A global change must be made in our minds and in our system. And this will be only the beginning of a long way to integration, respect to diversity and equal rights and treatment to everybody.


  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 20th April 2010:

    Great post! This is such an important issue, and I think it is about time that the balkan countries start dealing earnestly with the situation of the roma people. I have an impression that most of what has been done up to now, has been down to please the EU.


  • Mirza Softic on 23rd April 2010:

    Daniel, thanks for the comment.

    I agree with you in one hand, but in the other hand I have to tell you that also in EU countries there is a big problem of Roma people. For example, they have very bad status in Hungary and Romania. I lived in Budapest where I had many Roma neighbors, who told me about that issue and fascistic approach to them by the state authorities.


  • Marina on 27th April 2010:

    I just saw a pregnant Roma girl who is not more than 13 years old… It’s really sad, nobody cares of these people, unfortunately :(.


  • Mirza Softic on 27th April 2010:

    Marina, thank you for your comment. It is so often picture on the street, you can see it everywhere. Also, a big problem is misuse of children for begging, even if that children are 5-6 years old :(.


  • Princess on 29th April 2010:

    I am a Roma woman, who had so many discrimination at my home place, in Romania. When I moved to northern Bosnia, I had less problems, because I am high educated and well situated. Even now, some people discriminate me when they get to know that I am Roma. It’s terrible, but unfortunately, in the Balkans, everyone is discriminated, less or more.


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 29th April 2010:

    Princess, I know a very beautiful, sharp, intelligent girl and had known her vaguely for at least an year. Only then I learnt that she is gypsy and a friend told me that she has not been announcing it publicly because of discrimination. And the environment that I live and work in is supposed to be the most equal, etc, that you can find - higher education, liberal arts, after all. I am very sorry for this.


  • Mirza Softic on 03rd May 2010:

    Princess, thank you for your story which you shared with us. I agree with you that everyone is discriminated here, on the Balkans, unfortunately, but I also think that we should pay more attention to Roma.

    The newest thing that happened in Bosnia is following: One Roma and one Jewish guy, as the representatives of community of “others” (which means that they are not Serbs, Bosniaks or Croats, which are only nations who can apply for a presidency member) claimed the state because they cannot participate on the elections and cannot be elected in the presidency. They did a great thing with that move, because they won and now the constitution must be changed.

    The moves like this should be practices in all other countries and this is the only way to fight for your rights. But, Princess, don’t give up and live your life, it can be very nice if you know how to live it smile.


  • Mirza Softic on 03rd May 2010:

    Ivaylo, all of us know some people who hide their origin because of discrimination. This video above (the first one) is a great approve that it doesn’t have to be like this.


  • Husić on 07th May 2010:

    It’s a sad story :(.


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 12th September 2010:

    Jay, it’s a bit different… Here in Bulgaria, there are many Romas who live and work just like everyone. But most are underprivileged, undereducated, and live in what you may call poverty, and their children too.


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 12th September 2010:

    It is somewhat difficult to digest the idea that they can be left alone, without help, or aid, to continue living without shelter and basic means of what we call normal life (food, clothes, minimum education).

    Of course, you are right that they need to decide to transform their social group - which also happens, there are Roma NGOs, leaders, but they are too small a minority.

    BTW, can anyone who’s read the forum and blogs brief us about the latest posts on the Roma issue?


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