Why Roma Integration Is a Rare Opportunity for the Western Balkans and Turkey

This week, a new initiative promising to improve the situation for Roma in the Western Balkans and Turkey will be launched in Brussels. Coming on the heels of the Decade for Roma Inclusion, Roma Integration 2020 will build on the lessons learned from the decade in supporting national governments in closing the gap between Roma and non-Roma.

Unlike in the decade, the European Commission will be at the forefront of the effort, sharing the cost with the Open Society Foundations, which initiated the decade. However, a major lesson we learned is that international pressure alone, even if it comes from the European Union during the accession process, cannot be a vehicle of change in the lives of Roma.

The decade has revealed that the international appearance of progress can conceal devastating regression at home. National governments adopted strategies and action plans in the framework of the decade as a way to demonstrate fulfillment of EU accession criteria. Once Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and others were granted membership in the EU, however, these strategies quickly fell by the wayside.

Moreover, when the financial crisis hit in 2008, a backlash ensued against governments and European institutions that had publicly committed to do more “for Roma.” Opportunistic politicians quickly realized the potential of empty slogans like “Gypsy criminality” and “Roma privilege” to gain quick and cheap votes; others felt they risked losing votes if they did anything positive for Roma.

In the past 10 years, we have seen Roma bombed by neo-Nazi terrorists in the Czech Republic, murdered by right-wing terrorists in Hungary, and forcibly removed from homes in France, Bulgaria, and Italy. Therefore, the European Commission cannot really present member states as a standard against which it can assess progress the candidates make on the situation for Roma.

The European Commission’s role in the new initiative can make a difference if it mobilizes domestic political and institutional forces that can translate international political promises into the everyday work of doctors, teachers, employment officers, and urban planners. EU strategies and EU-funded projects isolated from the work of regular civil servants cannot do this job.

In the framework of the Roma Decade, governments proudly reported that they employed Roma mediators in health institutions and schools, many of them funded by EU money in one way or another. Many of these mediators probably do some useful work. But this is no substitute for quality health care and education for Roma citizens.

More concretely, if a non-Roma child does not go to school, its teacher will ask the family about the absence. But if a Roma pupil is not present in school, the teacher will leave the issue to the Roma mediator to investigate. If a mayor is asked by Roma citizens to introduce drinking water in a Roma settlement, he will tell them to look for EU funds to solve the problem, while in non-Roma neighborhoods, the introduction of drinking water would be paid for from the local or national budget.

There are notable exceptions, yes, and we should acknowledge them. But they are simply too few.

We know Roma do not face different problems than other citizens. But unemployment, inadequate education, unsafe streets, and poor quality health care affect the Roma in a much higher degree than non-Roma. This gap in negative consequences is not a result of “cultural difference” but politically reinforced anti-Roma prejudice in public institutions. Therefore, the response to this situation must be found right there: in the domestic political process and civil service.

I hope the new initiative will mobilize courage among politicians and civil servants who believe that treating Roma as full citizens—not only on paper, but de facto—is a matter of duty, not international pressure or funds. There are some who are open and willing, but they may feel isolated and ignored by their own colleagues who do not have the courage to counteract the popular backlash.

Roma Integration 2020 should provide an opportunity for these kinds of public officials who are not in charge of Roma, but of policy reforms and public budgeting. They, together with their colleagues in charge of Roma issues and civil society advocates, will have the space and support to find ways that schools, hospitals, and employment agencies can provide service to Roma as they do for other citizens.

After the Roma Integration 2020 launch event in Brussels ends, a rare opportunity for the Western Balkan countries and Turkey begins. As in no other area, they can show that EU candidates can do better than EU member states when it comes to Roma. In the coming years, we shall see if the politicians and civil servants of these countries have the leadership, courage, and sense of duty to prove it.

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Add Ibiza to the list of places where Roma have been forcibly evicted from their homes...April 2016. So much discrimination, so little understanding...

I fully agree with the ideas of this article and I know very well what these words mean in the real life of Roma community and of myself....My question is if this new initiative will be open just for Western Balkans states and Turkey?

Rom sam .Radim i zivim vec 18 godina u Italiji(Bologna),gde imam stalnu boravisnu dozvolu,...Pre 10 godina ,Grad Bologna,na osnovu graduatorije socijalno ugrozenih ljudi ,mi je dodelio opstinski stan sa jako niskom cenom placanja mesecne naknade( 50 eura)...Prihvacen sam od Italijana kao i svi ostali stranci ( Drzavljanin sam Srbije), Ja i moja supruga (isto Romkinja),smo mali privatni preduzetnici i zaradjujemo dosta solidno...Dosta Roma je proganjano od strane Italijana ,iz razlicitih kampova gde su ilegalno boravili sa porodicama . Romi koji su stranci ,drzavljani BiH,u dosta slucajeva bez legalne boravisne dozvole..i tu dolazi do problema..mada postoje i problemi Italijanske mafije koja zaradjuje na njima. Stvar je kompleksna. Problem je isto i u nasem Romskom mentalitetu..stilu zivota..ne brizi..ili cak i neznanju,o jednom stereotipnom nacinu zivota ( u kamperima,ziveti od kradja...itd). Na svu srecu malo je toga ,ali jos uvek dosta vidljivo. Mi, Romi ,treba da se organizujemo,da uticemo vise sami na sebe....drustveno ,prema sebi...kao sve druge nacije. A Srbija je ,na zalost, prica za sebe....totalan nemar i izolacija Roma i Romske populacije...Drustvo koje misli da sa mrvicom socijalne pomoci moze da resi "ciganske" probleme...Nije tako Gospodo...Romi su Narod.

And so the decade of Roma Inclusion has led to Roma Integration 2020 - and yet the abuse goes on. Being Roma still carries, and will for the foreseeable future, a crippling stigma that will not be banished by studies and edicts but rather by a change of heart in the citizens of the country and an honest government which will institute reforms and see that they are carried out. That is at least one whole generation of Roma away.

Yes, I agree sustainable changes come from within the situation and not outside. Changes from outside are always superficial and they are always measured from what the outside wants to see and not what the inside wants to see and feel.

I would like to ask you some questions about the Roma Decade. Could you tell us what was the results of the programme because I don’t see any one, particularly in Romania.
Now after “ciordeles” still the money of Roma from OSI they fund other way of stilling and that is the EU funds. They took money from the EU funds to do sth for Roma people and they do the projects for the offices and make false reports for the EU saying that the have done a good work for Roma. Some of Roma leaders took lots of money for Roma from OSI, as a consultant, hundreds of euro in 1 year, to offer false expertise for Roma in Romania, without any results. In this sense I think that isn’t willing from Roma intellectuals and leaders to do some real results in communities and help them to have a better life. Therefore, I think that OSI is supporting those Roma intellectuals and leaders to become poorer then it is.
MR Soros have to make some clean in its yard because he waste lots of money and trust in false Roma intellectuals and leaders who don’t want the better of Roma.
The Roma Decade didn’t work well because Roma intellectuals sold themselves cheap to the governments (by offering some jobs and funds) in not resolving the real problems of Roma and to make false reports about Roma.
I know Mr Zeljko was against those Roma leaders from Romania and accuse them about stilling and false results but now he is helping them in hiding the false results and giving them lots of money through an realistic projects. What is going on with you Mr Zeljko because I have had very confidence in you, do sth for your Roma and don’t listen to false Roma “leaders”.
God please help the Roma people from the enemies and false Roma “leaders”!

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Good Governance Worldwide (www.goodgovernanceworldwide.org) - an online journal of the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA). We provided a link to Zeljko Jovanovic's article on Roma integration some years ago and wish to follow up with an update on the "rare opportunity." I would appreciate corresponding with Mr. Jovanovic and/or chatting by phone, Whatsapp, etc. Best, Warren

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