The first Mayors Making the Most of EU Funds for Roma Inclusion (MERI) conference and awards ceremony took place on October 11 to 12, 2012 in Budapest, Hungary. Awards were given to mayors and municipalities from 15 European countries with best local practices in Roma inclusion.
The event, launched in partnership with the European Commission and the Open Society Foundations, provides a platform for local authorities to exchange, learn, and support each other in their efforts towards Roma inclusion. It aims to bring mayors and other representatives of local authorities into the loop of the European framework for Roma inclusion, and highlight available European Union funds for this objective.
In the spring of 2012, Making the Most announced an open call for nominations of best local Roma inclusion practices identifying implemented practices at local levels. Out of 104 local practices submitted from Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and some old European Union (EU) member states, 24 were selected by the MERI selection committee as worthy of acknowledging, sharing, and debating in eight workshops at the MERI event. 17 of these 24 were selected for awards in sectors including education, employment, housing, Roma immigrants in old EU member states, and also for sustained efforts and comprehensive approaches to Roma inclusion. Examples of some of these local practices chosen for awards are included below.
Roma Integration Is Not an End, It Is Mandatory for the Success of the Municipal Local Development Strategy
Tsonko Tsonev, Mayor
Kavarna is a modern town with good infrastructure and well-developed public services in the north-eastern part of Bulgaria along the Black Sea. It has resort complexes, spacious beaches, and a fishing port. Since 2005 Kavarna has won recognition as a center of Balkan rock music. In 2011 the Kavarna municipality had 15,358 inhabitants, of which 2,075 people self-identified as Roma.
Tsonko Tsonev (born June 3, 1967) graduated from the Faculty of Law at St. Kliment Ohridski Sofia University. He was a municipal councillor in Kavarna from 1995-1999. Before he was chief jurist in the municipality from 1994-1995. He has been a barrister with the Dobrich Bar Association for a decade and is an expert in civil cases, many of which have been found in favor of Roma clients. In 2011 he launched his third mandate.
In 2004 and 2005 the municipality began to make capital investments to replace and reconstruct the infrastructure in areas with large Roma populations. Water pipes were replaced, a sewage system was built, sidewalks were fixed, streets were asphalted, the kindergarten and elementary school in the district were repaired, and new playgrounds and two Internet clubs were built. In 2007, a two-story office building was converted into a dormitory to accommodate ten of the poorest Roma families. The mayor signed contracts with the mayors of four Polish cities where the majority of Roma from Kavarna are employed—Roma work there legally, with registered companies, and pay duties and taxes and bring their money home.
The case is a good example of how results can be achieved in all policy fields by implementing systematic and sustainable measures. The diversification of resources, coupled with the municipality’s ownership is worthy of appreciation. The Roma neighborhood was legalized and infrastructure systems were developed, 70 Roma families were provided plots, and now only legal housing construction is allowed. Other results are increasing the number of Roma children with completed secondary school education, an awareness campaign for girls’ education, and a decreased mortality rate thanks to health prevention projects, anti-discrimination measures in the local administration system, and employing five Roma in municipal offices.
Strategy to Eliminate the Segregation Program in Primary Schools and Establishing a Mohacs Area Common Education Center
Jozsef Szeko, Mayor
Mohacs is a city with 20,000 inhabitants in southern Baranya County, situated on both sides of the Danube. In addition to Hungarian inhabitants, four ethnic groups have been present in the city for centuries: Croats, Germans, Roma, and Serbs. Mohacs offers various kinds of education services such as kindergartens, primary schools, basic arts education, colleges, secondary schools, and a technical institute for children from the city and its micro-region. The biggest challenge—beyond unemployment—is the lack of social mobility for local Roma who live in a segregated area in the city’s eastern district. A crucial dimension of this, acknowledged and tackled by the city, is the lack of access to adequate education.
Jozsef Szeko (born 1954) is a Hungarian politician from the FIDESZ party and has been mayor of Mohacs since 1998. After completing his studies, he worked for and in the city. For many years he has been a member of the county assembly of Baranya and has led the micro-region association’s work since 2004. By profession he is a chemical engineer, teacher, and he holds an MBA.
By 2008, the formation of compact Roma settlements had led to segregated schools in Mohacs, with a Roma population of approximately eight percent. A grant from the EU, aimed to change this. The plan and timing of the interventions is included in the Public Education Plan for Equal Opportunities. Mohacs has made several innovative and radical efforts to improve preschool and primary education by regrouping students in non-segregated schools, supporting this change with new pedagogical methods, training teachers in special education, cooperating with the family center and nurses, and extracurricular community activities with parents, students, and NGOs. Both the mayor and the deputy mayor have played a major role in upholding these policies. In addition, both the mayor and the deputy mayor hold roles of paramount significance in upholding these endeavours, to an extent that the impact of the program on desegregation and integration is now visible, despite initial resistance. All school children have been affected by the policy, particularly in the last four enrollment years.
From Educational Integration of Roma Children to Social Inclusion of Parents
Georgi Georgiev, Mayor
Tundzha municipality is located in South East Planning Region of Bulgaria. It comprises 44 rural settlements and has 24,155 inhabitants. Roma living in the municipality of Tundzha represent about 25 percent of the local population. More than 50 percent of the Roma population is under age 20. To mitigate problems arising from Roma living in segregated areas in some villages of the municipality, Tundzha adopted several local programs and strategies to integrate ethnic minorities. Among them is the mayor’s program for municipal development. Mayor’s advice boards are established in each village and participation of local Roma in these consultative bodies is a must.
Georgi Georgiev (born October 1, 1959 in General Inzovo village, Tundzha) graduated with a degree in history from the St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo in 1984. He has been mayor of Tundzha for the last decade and in 2011 he was elected for his third consecutive mandate.
At the request of the municipal authorities, all schools in the municipality have developed educational programs with measures aimed specifically at attracting and keeping Roma children in the education system.
The mayor’s proposal to introduce a free canteen with contributions from the municipal budget for all students began as a targeted program to prevent students dropping out of the educational process. In 2010 and 2011, Roma children were enabled to attend preschool (mandatory for five-year-olds) since the municipality funded the transportation. To encourage attendance of all children aged two to four in all kindergartens, the municipal council reduced fees to less than EUR 7 monthly and provides additional funding from the municipal budget. An extension of the municipality’s efforts to attract and retain Roma children in kindergartens and schools is a project on early childhood development funded by the national government and the appointment of eight Roma educational mentors under a project funded by Roma Education Fund—Budapest. The municipality has developed family centers for Roma children under age three and ten zones of social support for central kindergartens with Roma pupils.
Sustained Efforts to Provide Quality Education for Roma
Bela Lakatos, Mayor
Acs is a town with a population of 7,200, located in the Central Transdanubia Region of Hungary. There are about 600–800 Roma inhabitants, including the population of the outlying grasslands (approximately 250 Roma live in Jeges puszta and Vas puszta). The town is in Komarom–Esztergom County, which belongs to the micro-region of Komarom.
Bela Lakatos, born in 1969, of Roma origins, has been dealing with the issue of social inclusion in various public institutions since 1993. He worked as a school principal in Acs for eight years, and he has been the mayor since 2010.
Acs has been designing all areas of its social and educational concepts with the aim of inclusion. It finances the employment of a child development teacher, a speech therapist, a special needs teacher, and a special needs pedagogical assistant, and two Roma teachers are involved with special education.
All in all, the school received subsidies in the amount of HUF 65 million for methodology and training courses for three projects, and HUF 240 million for reconstruction and equipment in the framework of two projects. The integration of children with special needs has not worsened student performance, and their tolerance level increased.
The two special needs teachers were trained in competence-based approaches and introduced them in both primary and secondary school. They also conduct outreach to kindergartens. Overall, Acs is a model of a successful practice in a small settlement where the mayor is a well-established leader of Roma inclusion reforms. Two Roma teachers are involved in this intervention; 75 percent of the children in the school are Roma.
Taking Steps towards Roma Inclusion
Ing. Ladislav Kalafa, Mayor
Čičava is a village in the eastern Slovak region of Vranov nad Topl’ou with a population of 1,150 people in 2012 and an area of 528 hectares. Čičava has brought together Jews, Poles, Roma, Ruthenians, and Slovaks, who have lived in the village for centuries. According to available historical documents, Roma communities have been living in the region of Vranov nad Topl’ou since the mid-17th century. Today’s the Roma population is near 63 percent (721 persons). Čičava is one place where Roma declare their Roma belonging in public censuses. Their mother tongue is predominantly Romany. The Roma community is represented in the municipal governance through their councillors. All of the local councillors (seven) are of Roma origin.
The mayor, Ing. Ladislav Kalafa, was born on March 31, 1953 and raised in Čičava. After completing his engineering studies at the Faculty of Chemical Technology at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, Kalafa’s worked for companies producing chemicals and explosives. He was elected Čičava’s mayor in 2002. Kalafa continued steady efforts to improve the living standards of the Roma community following in the footsteps of his predecessors, in particular, the mayor Maria Nehilova.
Čičava’s policies consist of measures seeking to increase the living standards of its most marginalized community and continuous efforts to replace shanty houses with low-income municipal housing. An unusual feature of Čičava’s local policies is its pursuit of events and policies that also promote distinct Roma identity. Roma are even well represented in municipal governance. All seven of the local MPs are of Roma origin. The current mayor, Vladimir Kalafa, serving his second term, is of non-Roma origin. In 2006, he replaced Maria Nehilova, also of non-Roma origin, who was elected in 1994. Kalafa has continued Nehilova’s policies to improve Roma’s living standards.
This case was awarded for its long-term interventions and continuity. Fifty-four new dwellings replaced improvised houses, and new infrastructure was built, along with a center for personal hygiene and laundry. Affirmative action by local companies employing Roma was part of the public procurement
Project Alliance “Right-to-Stay” Freiburg / Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald
Integration into the Labor Market and Training for Refugees
Ulrich von Kirchbach, Mayor for Cultural, Social Affairs and Inclusion
The city of Freiburg, with a total number of about 220,000 inhabitants, is one of the largest cities in south western Germany. Its neighbors, Switzerland and France, earn Freiburg the status of a gateway city. Moreover, the city is traditionally a very prominent university town, with various training colleges and vocational schools, attracting large numbers of foreign students every year. The estimated level of migrant population is about 12 percent, including Roma refugees from the former Yugoslavia—900 of whom now live in the city of Freiburg and its environs. A further group of 900 German Sinti has lived in the city for many centuries.
Ulrich von Kirchbach is the Mayor for Cultural, Social Affairs and Inclusion in the city of Freiburg, State of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. Now in his second term of office (eight years per term), he has held this position since 2002. The 56-year-old mayor is a jurist by profession.
The main aim of Project Alliance is to support refugees with a “Right-to-Stay” status to enable them to find employment in order to secure their basic needs. More specifically, it intends to empower refugees to improve their chances of getting jobs through acquiring labor-market-related or occupational qualifications tailored to their individual needs. Project Alliance supports refugees by offering counselling, catering, and German-language courses, assisting them to acquire professional qualifications, as well as providing legal support to secure legal residence, all free-of-charge. This is carried out by means of individual or collective caretaking and support, either in the city of Freiburg or its environs. Freiburg represents a complex, large-scale project in the field of employment linked to education. The city works closely with Roma (and other minority) NGOs and supports their capacity building. Approximately 520 people have participated (70 percent of them Roma in Freiburg). About 230 Roma out of 900 are registered in the program. It is a great model for municipalities, with both the financial resources and the skilled staff to implement such programs.