By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic
The Roma community composes the largest minority community in the Balkans, and — according to a recent analysis by the Centre for International Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution — their situation “in the region remains particularly problematic, and the states appear to have few intentions or incentives to change this”.
In response, Skender Veliu, who leads the Roma Union Amaro-Drom in Albania, said minorities there have formed a group that represents Greeks, Macedonians, Serbs, Montenegrins and Bosnians, and discuss their specific problems.
“We have discussed the situation and the treatment of the minorities in Albania, and a ‘constitution’ document within the constitution has been build up with the rights of the minorities in Albania as compared to the rest of the countries in the region,” Veliu told SETimes.
He explained that the main demands address language, identity and culture. The group that worked on that document was led by university professor Kimet Fetahu, a member of the Macedonian minority in Albania, who also organised round tables with representatives of the various minorities.
The document has been sent to the country’s institutions and international bodies.
“We have raised our voice, asking for improvements [in] the social and economic situation of the Roma people, their education, health, infrastructure, sheltering, employment, which have become part of the national strategy for the improvement of the living conditions for the Roma,” Veliu said.
Milan Antonijevic, director of the Belgrade-based NGO YUCOM, says the Roma comprise the largest ethnic minority in Serbia, followed by Albanians, Bosnians, Hungarians and others.
The state “doesn’t know how to make an atmosphere where it could be normal to come out and [declare] nationality because it was proved that the apparatus of force and repression of the state is still so strong, so, people declared themselves different from what they would do otherwise,” he told SETimes.
Alma Masic, director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Sarajevo, noted that “only 3% of the Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina have a permanent job. The biggest source of income for this ethnic minority is self-employment in the sector of collection of recyclable materials and recycling of waste,” she told SETimes.
The situation is different in Kosovo where the Serb community became a minority after 1999.
“My life is not like it was before. We, Serbs, are anxiously waiting to see what will be the status of Kosovo. I don’t like to be called a minority and I don’t want to accept that,” Kosovo Serb Milica Markovic told SETimes.
Bekim Blakaj, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre’s Kosovo office, blames parallel Serb institutions.
“The rest of the minorities are considerably integrated in the Kosovo society, [yet] in a way they are more discriminated against than the Serb minority. The Serb language is an official language in the entire territory of Kosovo, but this is not the case with the Roma, Turkish or Bosnian language,” he told SETimes.
In Serbia’s Presevo Valley, Albanians are a minority. “If you want to get something, [as a minority], you have to ask for it. No one will give you anything without asking,” Economist Abdulla Ahmedi said.
He told SETimes that the most pressing problems are non-recognition of Kosovo University diplomas, problems with recognition of diplomas from Albania and Macedonia, as well as high rates of youth unemployment and their migration to Asia.
YUCOM’s Antonijevic acknowledges that Serbia has yet to find a mechanism to recognise university diplomas from Kosovo. “Albanians must have some rights because they graduated at University of Kosovo and want to work in Serbia and that should be encouraged,” he said.
Ferenc Toth is a member of Vojvodina’s Hungarian minority. “I do not feel like a second-class citizen, even though, there are many who are trying, on a daily basis, to convince me that I am,” he told SETimes.
Maria Schoenthaler, a member of the German minority in Vojvodina, told SETimes that the solution lies in EU membership so that “who someone is and what someone is … at some point, would be Europeans.”