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  • Anđela Davić

Roma people in Serbia: Politics manipulates with Roma community

Srđan Šajn's "Roma Party" ran as a minority list in the spirit of the recently held early parliamentary elections, but failed to garner enough votes to pass the census.The president of the political party "Democratic Union of Roma", Duško Jovanović, believes that the reason for such poor resutls is that the Roma community is manipulated in every election cycle.

"The fact is that the Roma national community is constantly manipulated in every election process because poverty and low levels of education are used to get cheap votes," he said, adding:

"That includes buying votes with money and food packages but also various forms of intimidation of Roma, such as threats to abolish social benefits, sending extraordinary inspections to the companies of those Roma who have different political affiliations, and imposing high penalties on their companies."

Jovanović believes that individuals from the security services of Serbia and people from various ultra-right organizations are primarily used to intimidate Roma citizens, and states that the Roma Party received a large number of votes given the circumstances that Roma face every day.

"The Roma party received over 6,000 votes and my opinion is that this is an excellent result if we take into account the above facts and that the leader of that party, Srđan Šajn, did not directly participate in the election campaign because he lives in Austria and did not come to Serbia for election time," states Jovanović.

What is necessary for a nation to truly mature politically?

The president of the Roma Party, Srđan Šajn, on the other hand, believes that the consequences of 0.2 percent of votes (above 6,000) are actually a consequence of election theft and pressure on Roma citizens from state bodies such as the Center for social services, and also the rise of local mobsters, which create various problems for Roma citizens on a daily basis. However, he believes that this is not only a problem of the Roma community but of the (im)maturity of society as a whole.

Several tasks have been fulfilled, which are a precondition for their participation in democratic processes. Primarily, a crisis mass of educated Roma of the first generation was created. However, in order for one nation to truly mature politically, another generation must be created because in a democracy it is necessary to have an opposition. On the other hand, an institutional framework has been created for the implementation of the Roma integration process.

"The National Council of Roma was formed, councils for Roma integration were created within the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Government of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, and for a while we had a Subcommittee on Roma Issues in the Serbian Parliament. Local mobile teams have been created", states Srđan Šajn and adds:

"We managed to change about twenty laws with amendments. The essence of the changes is that affirmative action measures are now a legal category. So, we have been working for twenty years to create the conditions for the Roma community to become a true political factor, and in the next 10 years that will happen“.

Less than one percent of Roma are graduating from college

The problems are big not only in the sphere of politics but also in education, where a very small number enroll and graduate from higher education institutions.

The manager of the project "Introduction of the Roma language with elements of national culture in primary schools in Serbia" within the Center for Education of Roma and Ethnic Communities (CEREZ) Ljuan Koko states that less than 1% graduate from higher education.

"There are many reasons why Roma students perform so poorly during school, but something that obviously exists are stereotypes and prejudices that, combined with discrimination, form a specific hate triangle that has proven to be the biggest problem for Roma students to continue their education," he said.

"The biggest dropout of students is not in colleges but in primary schools, between fourth and sixth grade. Our research shows that out of 100 students, only 66 students finished primary school, only 25 students decided to continue their education and less than 1% managed to complete college or university," he adds.

In addition to discrimination, stereotypes and prejudices, there is also great poverty.

Another problem is poverty, which initiates the vicious circle of misery in which the Roma community finds itself. And that often means that they cannot continue their education because they are poor; they cannot get a job because they have not finished their education; and thus they cannot provide better housing conditions for themselves and their families. This vicious circle of misery in which the Roma community finds itself has lasted for decades " says mr.Koko.

Education as a privilege of rich and middle class

The Association of Roma Students states that the number of Roma students in Novi Sad has gradually increased since the association was founded in 2000, but that number is not large. When the association was founded, the faculty in Novi Sad was attended by 18 students. Since 2015, that number has gradually increased and reached 60 students. However, in the last five years, the number of Roma students has been decreasing, so that there are about 30 students at the university.

"The reason for the decline is the fact that the Roma Education Fund (REF) has abolished the scholarship program for Roma students, as a result of which Roma parents do not have the funds to send their children to university," said Nenad Vladisavljev, a member of the URS.

The reason for low integration into higher education institutions is also reflected in the fact that highly educated Roma still do not have an adequate place in society.

Many of us work in non-governmental organisations or accept jobs in the state administration that are below our qualifications, such as municipal coordinators for Roma issues or pedagogical assistants. That is why it is necessary for our country to provide adequate employment for highly educated Roma men and women in order for their position to send a clear message to young Roma men and women that education pays off, "says Vladisavljev.

As for the relationship between men and women in terms of higher education, the Association has always recorded a larger number of women than men, but this is a specific feature of colleges and universities — this does not apply to other levels of education and the Association is not sure why.

When we talk about the Roma community, those stereotypes and prejudices through which we look at that community are dominant, and these stereotypes and prejudices have been formed over the years through public policy, social events, but also through educational programmes in schools.

"Roma students in the school environment do not recognise themselves as a common element in education. Those who are more successful students are forced to conceal their origins as much as possible. All that was additionally generated by poverty, uneducated parents, a deprived environment, and a lack of incentive measures" he states.

The interest of the Roma community in education has significantly improved, but unfortunately, material constraints make education for the poor in the country generally less accessible. Nenad Vladisavljev believes that higher education is increasingly becoming a privilege of the middle and rich classes, while it is becoming inaccessible to workers and families of the socially endangered

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