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News 08 Apr 14

Serbia Marks International Roma Day

While Serbia marked International Roma Day with exhibitions, meetings and debates, community leaders said the positition of the community remained desperate.

Nemanja Cabric

Serbia marked International Roma Day on April 8 with debates about the poor social and economic position of the Roma community and exhibitions about their culture.

The marginalised position of the Roma was the topic of a conference held at the media center in Belgrade where a report noted the progress made in improving their living standards, with suggestions about what more could be done.

Vitomir Mihajlovic, president of the National Council of the Roma Minority, said the position of the community remained dire.

Many of the 750 or so Roma settlements in Serbia have little or not hygene, he said.

“Some 20 per cent have no water supply, 40 per cent have no sewage system while 10 percent have no electricity,” Mihajlovic told Serbia's public broadcaster, RTS, on April 8.

Mihajlovic told the conference that the government had to take better care of the Roma population if they were ever to exit the cycle of poverty.

He said the Roma needed their own representatives in the government, and ministries needed to cooperate to solve the problems affecting the community.

He also said that the action plans predicted in a 2009 government strategy were largely not being implemented due to the lack of funds.

State ombudsman Sasa Jankovic told the conference that Serbia took some initial steps towards the better integration of Roma in 2009, when it adopted the strategy, “but we have bragged about these few steps as if we had run across a whole field.

“This is a good time to put pressure on the new government and announce that the ombudsman will control practical implementation of the goals that have been set,” Jankovic said.

A conference dealing with the position of women in the Roma community was organized in parliament by the Council for Equality of the Serbian Government and the Roma Womens Network.

This noted that Roma women remain largely unemployed in Serbia, and that the level of their health protection is low, which is a consequence of their poor economic situation.

After meeting representatives of the Roma community, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic stated that the position of the Roma community in Serbia needed improving and that the state should make it possible for them to realize their rights and preserve their identity.

The head of the OSCE mission to Serbia, Peter Burkhart, said further inclusion of the Roma into public and social-economic life required further investment.

Burkhart said Serbia had to select priorities that would advance the accessibility of housing, health services, employment and education to the members of the Roma community.

An exhibition, “Forgotten Holocaust”, meanwhile opened at the Roma Art Gallery in Belgrade, dealing with the sufferings of the Roma in the Second World War, when hundreds of thousands of them were killed by Nazi occupation forces and their local allies in Serbia.

Another exhibition opened at Youth Cultural Centre of Belgrade, DOB, presenting the most famous Roma in the World.

The decision to mark International Roma Day on April 8 was made in London in 1971 at the first Global congress of Roma.

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