Speech of the Executive Director of NGO VoRAE Mr.Isak Skenderi

Skopje, North Macedonia

Daar ladies and gentlemen,

 Education is the key to success!

 This has been our moto in a number of awareness raising campaigns we run in the last few years in Kosovo. This, combined with application of proven models of intervention in pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education, we aimed at raising awareness among Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians about the importance of education and affecting policy change at institutional levels to decrease the level of drop-out among Roma and increase the quality of education the Roma receive.

And how much have we been successful, what has worked and what not?

 Today we heard that progress has been reached at Western Balkan and European Levels, but the ultimate goal is still far and is to desire.

Nonetheless, programs in increasing the participation in education and closing the gap in educational outcomes between Roma and non-Roma showed more success than other fields, like employment, housing and/or health.

Is it because the measures designed in the field of education were more implementable?

Since 2005 and the first initiative of European Countries to close the gap and improve the socio-economic status of Roma in Europe, these measures have evolved.

 In education for example, those related to, among others:

Eliminating any school segregation; Putting an end to any inappropriate placement of Roma pupils in special schools; Reducing early school leaving; Increasing the access to early childhood education and care; Encouraging greater parental involvement and improving teacher training and other.

In Kosovo specifically, we started harvesting the results of our work over night. The participation of Roma in all levels of education started to increase significantly but yet again, far from a desirable situation.

I ask myself a question sometimes, do we, the Roma community, believe in education to be the key to success?

One of my colleagues, who is working very hard to reach this goal has been recently having a second thought whether or not to allow his daughter to continue secondary education.

When I spoke with him about that he said: But Isak, there is no work, no perspective, no future.

And this is unfortunately our reality that even though we invested so much in education, the problem remains, the gap in socio-economic inclusion continues to be great. The access to employment for the Roma remains a huge challenge.

European Commission in one of their statements said that: The complexity and interdependence of the problems calls for sustainable responses which tackle all aspects of Roma deprivation through an integrated approach. Low educational attainment, segregation in housing and other areas, and poor health outcomes, labor market barriers need to be addressed simultaneously.

It is absolutely not enough to continue and produce more qualified unemployed Roma.

And in order to address the challenge, in employment among other, in proper way with adequate measures, we need to have in mind also the historical element. The element which unfortunately brought to the situation that majority of people in our countries continue to see us as second hand citizens.

Roma, being oppressed over centuries, continuously discriminated because of who we are and treated as second hand citizens, which culminated with in 1935, when Adolf Hitler issued a supplementary decree classifying Gypsies as ‘enemies of the race-based state’ and open door to Holocaust against Roma and continued discrimination, unequal treatment and etc.

And so, lack of results in employment may be related to the fact that the measures in employment failed to take into proper account this discrimination element, which is related to the denial element. Denial of discrimination against Roma. Let us not forget that it took Germany and other countries more than 35 years to recognize the systemic eradication and cleansing of Roma during WWII.

The elements of discrimination and its denial I can see in my country as well. And often, in a situation of limited options, one chooses the easiest. For example, a lot is being invested in self-employment and entrepreneurship, as one of, according to the EU analysis and reports, ‘the effective measures to ensure equal treatment of Roma in access to labor market, according to these measures package’.

But look, not everybody can become an entrepreneur and that is a fact. If one Roma business grows and shows success, we cannot expect that many more will. But despite that, we continue to invest in the same.

Some years ago, in one agricultural area in one of our countries, cucumber was a demanding product and reached a high price. Next year, led by that enthusiasm, all farmers planted cucumbers…they faced big losses.

Ideally, gap in socio-economic outcomes can be closed and better employment of Roma will be reached with equal treatment of Roma in labor market. Roma should be considered for jobs they have adequate qualifications for (and be selected for their set of qualifications and set of skills instead of who they are) and be paid the same money for the same jobs as everybody else.

And this may be achieved with effective application of rule of law and efficient institutions.

We, we shall invest in legal literacy, know our rights and combat them before the competent institutions.

Besides continuous application of affirmative market and employment measures, this is a missing link that will, if applied, contribute to the visible change in the life of Roma people.

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