Roma are not included in the social trends and feel discriminated, says Slavica Tasevska – Simonovic, author of the thesis devoted to Roma integration in the EU and Macedonia
“Roma integration in the European Union and in the Republic of Macedonia” is the topic of the master’s thesis of Slavica Tasevska – Simonovic, who has been a part of the Association National Roma Centrum (NRC) from Kumanovo since 2008. Tasevska completed the postgraduate studies at the Institute of Sociology, department of European studies. And the work experience in the NRC, she says, helped her to get closely familiarized with problems faced by the Roma, their lifestyle, cultural values, customs, traditions…
ONE: Why did you choose precisely this topic?
Tasevska – Simonovic: The choice of the topic for this master’s thesis came as a result of several aspects, one of which is the relevance of this issue for Macedonia as a state which aspires to be a member of the European Union. Each report on Macedonia processes the issue of the progress on dealing with the problems with the Roma community in the section about human rights and protection of minorities. Another aspect for choosing this topic was my multiyear working experience in Roma associations and the closeness I feel with this community as a result of that experience. I became a part of the National Roma Centrum’s team in 2008, but I’ve had experience in the Roma association since 2002 which was the antecedent and grew in what we know today as the National Roma Centrum.
ONE: What are the results you came upon while researching for your master’s thesis, what are the main problems faced by the Roma?
Tasevska – Simonovic: What this master’s thesis confirmed regarding this question was identifying the socio-economic problems, discrimination, segregation, limited access to quality education, problems with employment, low-income, poor health, housing problems, lack of personal documentation, migration, and lack of objective data on this population…
Historically speaking, since the Roma rarely had property and experience in agriculture, they became cheap manual labourers in the heavy industry which flourished in the industrial period, but a collapse followed and they lost their jobs. The deterioration of the situation and the living conditions of the Roma occurred after the collapse of the socialist system and they found themselves on the edge of society.
The segregation, as a problem which implies the rest of Roma’s problems, is especially visible through the comparison of the life in Roma neighbourhoods and the life of Roma in other parts of the city who live integrated with the non-Roma population. The shutting off of the Roma and the self-isolation which is the case in the so-called Roma neighbourhoods or ghetto districts is a result of the distrust towards the rest of the world which was created because of the numerous stereotypes and discrimination towards the Roma, the level of education and the need (or lack of it) to get to know the other person. This discontent caused by the longstanding exclusion from the society causes sedimentary and complex problems in the Roma community. The prejudices and stereotypes towards Roma are passed with generations and create an image for this population which places them in the role of “victims”. This image of the Roma as “victims” puts them in a position as passive subjects unable to help themselves and do something for themselves. In order to change that situation we need activities with a positive influence on the creation of a self-image and their encouragement, we need motivation and assurance that they as Roma can do something more than their parents.
Roma as decision-makers, and not as victims
ONE: What are the main differences in the problems of the Roma in EU and Macedonia? Are there differences, and if not – why not, in your opinion?
Tasevska – Simonovic: What can generally be singled out as common for the Roma, no matter where they live, is the state they are in and the challenges they face. Roma are not involved in social trends and feel discriminated. With the economic crisis, the socio – economic situation of the Roma has deteriorated even more, which is logical, considering that Roma are the weakest link in the society. The difference is that European countries are more developed and have more developed economy and social packages compared with Macedonia.
ONE: Are there appropriate actions and strategies for problem solving?
Tasevska – Simonovic: The problems faced by this community are acknowledged by the political factors on a European level and there’s room to act in order to improve this image. Undertaking several international initiatives such as the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 shows the interest of the high political levels, not only to actualize this issue, but the issue is put on the agenda for resolving. This means creating strategies and allocation of funds for this purpose. On the level of the European Union, numerous efforts for integration of the most marginalized minority living in the EU have been undertaken. The commitment towards the advancement of this realistically bad situation in which the Roma live is visible on many levels and is seen through a number of initiatives taken in the direction of making political decisions that could be a possible way to start the process. But if you look realistically and ask the Roma how their situation changed since 2005, you can see that there are some changes, especially in the field of education, but the poverty and their struggles are still present in their lives. The implementation of these policies for Roma is enabled by funds from foreign donors and the holder of these programs is the civil sector, while the countries are less involved as carriers of activities.
The use of Structural Funds and the possibility of achieving the goals for Roma inclusion, the European Roma Summit, the European Platform for Roma Inclusion, the ten basic principles for Roma inclusion are indicators of the political commitment in achieving progress on the inclusion of Roma.
But, the European Commission reported that the member countries do not use the EU funds appropriately for effective socio-economic integration of the Roma. It is stated that the lack of knowledge and capacity to absorb the EU funds for these purposes is accompanied with weak inclusive strategies.
ONE: Where have the actions been more successful, in Europe or in Macedonia?
Tasevska – Simonovic: According to some estimates on the progress of the states in addressing the problems of Roma, it is concluded that the countries that are part of the Decade of Roma Inclusion show better results compared to the countries that are members of the European Union, and are not part of this initiative. Taking into account that the economic power of the EU countries is higher, and they have less progress on this issue, it can be concluded that it is not a factor for progress in resolving the Roma issue. Macedonia is part of the Decade of Roma Inclusion and on the level of a state policy on this issue there is a national strategy under which to act and also operational action plans. But the implementation of these policies is often implemented by civil society organizations with funding and support from international foundations.
Tasevska – Simonovic: Since these are complex issues and accumulated problems, it is logical that it takes time and creation of a process with an effective approach and appropriate addressing on the issues in order to achieve some results and improvement. But, this requires mutual effort from all stakeholders who are included in the problem creation. What I believe is important, and what should be taken into consideration in the approach with which we treat these issues is to regain the trust from the Roma by treating them as a decision making factor, and not as an ethnic group in need of help.