The Slovenia Times

Roma In Politics? Outrageous!



Out of 26 Slovene communities only one, Grosuplje, still ignores the Law On Local Autonomy and denies Roma the right to a councillor. But Roma continue their struggle for equal political participation and recently proposed an amendment to the Constitution, providing the additional 91st Member of Parliament. In addition to two minority members, Hungarian and Italian minority, Roma would thus have their representative. There are between 7.000 and 10.000 Roma living here. The majority are autochthonous, living on the territory of Slovenia since the 14th century, and some came to Slovenia as economic migrants before the break-up of Yugoslavia. Article 65 of the Slovene Constitution provides a special situation and special rights for the Roma community, which gives the basis for some of the privileges Roma have and some they still are fighting for. The general public opinion on the Roma population is negative. According to Slovene public opinion research half of participants in the survey answered they didn't want a Roma for their neighbour. Media portrayals of Roma are mostly discriminatory as well, reporting mainly on problems with them. According to the president of the Roma Association of Slovenia Jozek Horvat - Muc, there is "a general improvement in media attitudes toward Roma". But apart from avoiding the use of a phrase Gipsy, which has a negative connotation, there are rare attempts of objective reporting, as many media analyses warn. Living like stray dogs Sadly, but some of the stereotypes could be justified by the terrible living conditions of Slovene Roma. The majority of their settlements are illegal. They have no electricity and no water. There are various diseases spreading among them which stem from the lack of hygiene. In some cases the unemployment rate is as high as 80 %. They mainly live off social welfare and that is partly the reason they have so many children. Their kids attend special schools and some are uneducated. Some are involved in criminal activities. And some Roma don't want to change their nomad life style. On a recent visit to Slovenia even the commissioner of Council of Europe Alvaro Gil-Robles warned that "mayors should enable water and electricity supply. Roma are citizens and just as everybody else, they should have the right to decent living". And that is why the political participation of Roma is so important. In Murska Sobota, for example, where Roma have had their councillor for the second term now, the situation has improved drastically. They've legalised Roma settlements, painted their houses, their children attend local schools and in this way Roma are integrated into the community as equal partners, which is as Darja Zavirsek, national correspondent for Council of Europe, pointed out "the goal of the political participation of Roma". Roma media Roma are organised in 22 regional Roma societies united under the Roma Association of Slovenia. Some Roma are not a part of this Association since they claim they don't need it. As such, Roma are not united in their political demands, which is often being used against them. Nevertheless, the Association has proven it existence to be well worthy. They've organised several radio and television broadcasts, such as e.g. Roma 60 on the radio station Murski Val and similarly on the radio Studio D in Novo Mesto. There is also a show on a local television TV As called Roma views (Romano dikhijpe) which is then transmitted to other local television stations as well. Most importantly, Roma are the producers of these shows themselves, the finances are covered by the government's Office for nationalities. The Roma Association of Slovenia also publishes a bulletin called Roma World (Romano Them), financed by the Ministry of Culture. And another Roma society Romani Union publishes Roma News (Romani Nevijpe) financed by the municipality of Murska Sobota. A Roma, Member of Parliament? And how real is the possibility of a Roma becoming a Member of Parliament? "I believe it's quite feasible," claims Jozek Horvat - Muc. "In 1993, Roma were acknowledged as European minority and there are 15 million autochthonous Roma living in Europe. Slovenia has signed and ratified some conventions protecting the rights of national minorities. All we have to do now is achieve the status of a national minority in legislation and then promote the change of Constitution, so as to allow the third national minority member of Parliament." Similar arrangements are known in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, etc. "A Romani member of Parliament is just one form of political participation and the point is that they co-operate in decision processes and therefore promote co-operation between Roma and Nonroma," says Vera Klopcic, a researcher on the issue of Roma at Institute for Ethnic Questions. Why the double standards? The harsh opponents to the Roma idea mainly support the argument of a double voting right (which a special councillor and special minority member of Parliament really represents). Politicians claim Roma should first try enrolling in some of the already existing political parties or form their own and play by the rules of representative party democracy. However, experiences from abroad show it might be better to have a reserved seat in Parliament because Roma parties don't even get enough votes at parliamentary elections to get seats in the Parliament and Roma members of other parties are mainly outvoted in their suggestions. So double standards would actually enable basic political rights of Roma. But one member sitting in the round hall of Slovene Parliament still won't be able to make drastic political or social changes for his people all by himself. He will nevertheless have to play the game of bargaining and political trade-off. Consequently, the Roma member in Slovene Parliament, if their wish does come true eventually, will still be just a symbolic gesture of equality among unequal.


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