Roma people are an integral part of Montenegrin society

On the occasion of 8 April, World day of Roma, Centre for Civic Education (CCE) took the opportunity to point out on extremely hard position of Roma community in Montenegro, and the need for stronger commitment, primarily of state, and then of all other social actors, in order to stimulate social inclusion of this minority group.

In spite of numerous strategies, action plans, affirmative action measures, amendments to laws regarding the area of protection against discrimination, and efforts of education authorities to make the education more accessible to Roma, this minority community is still not integrated within Montenegrin society. The reason for that is also the inadequate or unequal application of many existing solutions, short duration of assistance programmes that do not possess developed sustainability, as well as the insufficient scope of consultations with target group, thereby ignoring many of their needs.

Devastating fact is that the majority of Roma are not aware that Montenegro conducts the Roma Decade, international initiative within which governments of Central and South-eastern Europe committed to work on the improvement of social-economic status and inclusion of Roma. Action plans for the implementation of strategy, numerous activities that stem from, or rely on this initiative, are being conducted without the knowledge or participation of Roma.

Political participation of Roma remains one of the biggest issues regarding the protection of access to rights. It usually comes down to elections and voting, whereby Roma are being manipulated and their right to vote abused, due to severely poor economic situation, which they face. Roma do not have authentic representatives in Parliament of Montenegro, nor in local parliaments, even though this right is secured to all other national communities. Amendments to Law on the election of councillors and MPs from 2014 failed to include amendments aimed to create the conditions for larger representation of Roma, thus leaving the threshold for entry in municipal and national parliament unattainable for this minority group. The issue of political under-representation is current and recognised as such with previous, as well as with newest Strategy for the improvement of position RAE population in Montenegro for 2012-2016, which only indicates that the strategically outlined objectives are not being implemented. Action plan for Chapter 23 does not contain specific measures related to solving of this issue, which is equally important for the success of democratic reforms of Montenegrin society, required by the process of European integration.

What is of special concern is the lack of reaction from government regarding the issue of underage marriages between Roma and silence of institutions that should prevent this form of massive violation of human rights of children, primarily of girls. According to the latest research, three out of four Roma girls are married in manner in which they are sold in the age between 12 to 17, which is a typical form of human trafficking that institutions choose to neglect, inarticulately justifying the violation of constitution and laws thereof, by saying that they do not want to intervene in the tradition of Roma.

When it comes to area of education of Roma, there is some quantitative improvement, but it remains questionable whether the changes are essential. Regulations that further determine the criteria of establishing constitutional principle of affirmative action, regarding the area of education, do not exist. Hence the number and conditions for enrolment of this minority group, on all levels of education, are determined arbitrarily. Roma are neither to be found among teaching staff, nor among the employees in key institutions of educational system. In addition, the educational programmes of general education and programmes for training of teachers do not pay much attention to Roma as an integral part of history and culture of Montenegro.

Factors that limit the participation of Roma on labour market are moderate advancements in the area of education, problems in securing documents, fear of discrimination in broader social and working environment, which further aggravates the perspective of social mobility of Roma and their coming-out from vicious circle of poverty. Attitudes of citizens on Roma are still, for the most part, coloured with stereotypes, prejudices and hatred, and social distance in relation to Roma reached alarming proportions.

It is undisputed that important efforts and initiatives are invested to improve the status of Roma, however, it usually comes down only to adopting strategies and action plans, that resemble a wish list, while the actual life of Roma is taking place on the margins of society, far away from what could be referred to as decent life. Therefore, on the occasion of World day of Roma, it is important to urge primarily the government, then the civil society and citizens to support them by our acting, through acceptance and cooperation, in fight against poverty and social exclusion. Like the rest of us, Roma possess significant capacities and abilities that could contribute to society, but first it is necessary to free them of burden of prejudices and stereotypes, which deteriorate both their and our possibility of development and progress as a society.

Petar Đukanović, programme coordinator