Roma Self-Governance Body and Development of Roma Communities
“If you want something done do it yourself”- this proverb became in time a rule not only for individuals, but also for the whole communities. With the lapse of time it was apperceived, that some local, not essential or secondary according to the point of view of authorities issues can be more efficient solved on one’s own – by means of a small community that really cares about the solution.
In the civilized world, which develops in accordance with the principles of democracy, it was realized long time ago that it is impossible neither for authorities nor for non-governmental institutions on their own to make the life of people comfortable, that is why the mutual actions turned out to be needed. The logical assumption that people know their problems the best made authorities stimulate the citizen to the self-government and self-help at solving their issues. The local authorities act in this case as a financier, and the work and control themselves are the task of the authorized representatives of the community.
This system turned out to be so efficient that it is now inconceivable to live without it. In Ukraine such innovations have been implemented for not a long time and it has not been easy. It is evident, that it is about the USSR imposed conviction that all the issues should be done by the certain agency for the citizens.
However, the EU/UNDP project “Community Based Approach to Local Development” (CBA), that started in Ukraine in a long 2008, engaged nearly half a million citizen of Ukraine, did good for 900 thousand Ukrainians, made a contribution into improvement of the quality of education, energy saving, health protection and environmental protection. Apart from that, the additional result of the project was rising of the trust level between citizens and local authorities, change of the “soviet” way of thinking of local communities and the grown solidarity of people.
As a matter of fact, speaking of Roma Self-Governance Body we expect the same results.
Talking about the Roma Self-Governance Body, we should first take account of two important factors. Firstly, there is no Self-Governance Body proper at all at the moment. We are just at the beginning of the long way; we are to face lack of understanding and need to think through each step on it again and again. Secondly, there is no alternative for such development way of the Roma communities. The European communities have chosen the self-governance way, the Ukrainian communities are joining in little by little. If we strive for supporting the integration of the Roma people into society, then the both of us, civil activists and all kind of authorities should do our best for Roma to have an opportunity to solve their problems by themselves. Another important issue is to make it clear for the Roma people, how necessary the self-organization is and how much profit the self-governance and cooperation with authorities and non-governmental organizations in this direction can give to the community.
The Roma Self-Governance Body is, first of all, needed for the plain dwellers of camps that will have a chance for attention to their opinion in the decision taking process thanks to the democratic system. The awareness of the fact that something important depends on each person will in time lead to the growing of consciousness of Roma people.
The other advantage of the self-governance is that there is no need to re-invent the wheel. This system was practiced in lots of countries and different population categories for decades. To forecast the expected results it is enough to look at experience of other communities, taking the specific character of Roma into account, of course.
Among the main results of the projects, connected with the implementation of the self-governance, is the essential improvement of the living conditions, the social activization of the dwellers of the territories, where the self-governance has been implemented, cultivating of democratic principles and so on.
In the case of the Roma population the self-governance has also the educational functions. The working principle, according to which all the community dwellers take part in it, allows Roma to learn directly about the rules of the collective work, to get to know about the legal aspects of the activity. The Roma Self-Governance Body will help to use the human resources of the camps and settlements; this is especially important because of the fact that the most Roma people are now unemployed.
Apart from that, the development of the communities can change the relationship between the Roma communities and the local authorities crucially. Now they are far from ideal. The mutual distrust and hostility reigns heir . The situation can be change only in case, when the authorized community representatives of the Roma Self-Governance Body would dialog with authorities equal, partnership conditions, offering the implementation of the mutual projects and not begging for the next benefits or help.
In whole the development of the Roma Self-Governance Body will lead to creating the self-consciousness and self-sufficiency of the Roma community and the local government bodies by free dialoging among the communities’ members, engagement of the social activity, determining the collective seeing of future and implementing the mutual initiatives concerning the community development.
Actually, the idea of the Roma Self-Governance Body is not new at all. The Transcarpathian region council approved the programs concerning the Roma population, which foresee the Roma Self-Governance Body, twice. First such self-organization system was mentioned in program “Roma population” for 2003-2007, approved on September 25, 2002. Namely, one of the tasks of the program was declared as: “Creating of active bodies of the Roma Self-Governance Body in places where Roma people live compactly”. The authors of the program expected activization of activity of the Roma Self-Governance Body and governmental organizations in places where Roma people live compactly” from this step. To make it reality, the regional authorities charged the Nationalities and Migration department of the regional state administration to help in development of the Regulations about the Roma Self-Governance Body and its executive bodies. The district state administrations and municipal executive committees were to create the bodies of the Roma Self-Governance Body in places where Roma people live compactly.
Secondly the regional deputies remembered about the Roma Self-Governance Body when they approved the program “The Roma population of the Transcarpathian” for 2012-2015 on July 13, 2012. However both the tasks and the results expected along with the responsible for work in the new program turned out to be absolutely identical to the prior one. So, we can conclude that there was nothing done for the Roma Self-Governance Body in the period between the two programs (10 years) by the authorities.
With all the confidence, based on our own experience, we can say: the Transcarpathian bodies of local self-governance have never done anything to help the Roma people to self-organize and implement the self-governance.
Though, as opposed to 90ies, the authorities have constantly announced the efforts aimed at integration and improvement of the life of Roma people (the Roma Self-Governance Body as well) for the last 10-15 years, but there is not anything done. The real situation with the attitude of the representatives of the authorities can simply be represented with the fact that the programs about the Roma population are not even written again with taking into account the possible changes that have taken place the years before. The same text is simply copied from the program to the program with insignificant changes. The authors who prepare the programs can, actually, be easily understood. There have been no changes for years, so changing something in the document makes no sense.
In the reality there is a dead solid wall of incomprehension between the Roma population of the Transcarpathian region and the local self- governance bodies. Ignoring all the problems of Roma people led to the fact that the whole national minority ended up in isolation, it was simply excluded from the society and given place on the very bottom of the social ladder.
The main task of the Roma Self-Governance Body is raising the national minority from this bottom. The serious tasks, the implementation of which will help to reach the main goal, that is integration of the Roma people into society, are:
• taking part in the implementation of the social and economical, cultural development of the relevant territory, in different local programs;
• providing the life-safe environment for each person;
• saving and the rational using of natural recourses;
• implementing the well-grounded policy of the Roma community development;
• creating conditions for employment of the dwellers of the Roma settlement and their material and financial independence;
• improving the material and living conditions of the Roma community;
• creating the living conditions in places, where the Roma people live compactly, that would further the physical, cultural, moral and spiritual personality development;
• organizing the health activities for the dwellers of the Roma community;
• broadening of the affordable for the Roma community forms of using the social and cultural, sporting institutions;
• supporting the development of national and ethnic, age, professional, cultural, religious and other groups of people, creating conditions for their activity and peaceful; coexistence, involving into them wide circle of the dwellers of Roma settlement;
• providing efficient defense from the criminal activity, breaches of low, any forms of violence and discrimination.
It should be clear, that the Roma Self-Governance Body is impossible to implement without the initiative from the authorities on all the levels, starting from the central one in Kiev and coming up to the municipal, settlement and village councils in the places, where the Roma communities live compactly. The initiative should be real and not only declared. The absence of the active support of the development of the Roma Self-Governance Body from the side of the local authorities seems to be odd enough. It is logical, that they should be as much as possible interested, that the community has its Roma representatives, elected by the whole camp. That the initiative Roma people could prioritize while solving difficult issues. So the local authorities would get an opportunity to delegate their authority to the representatives of the Roma Self-Governance Body, by simply assigning means from the budget and getting rid of all the other troubles, connected with the realization of the projects. The authorities could then initiate the development of the local communities themselves, because it helps in solving both temporary tasks of the city or village (renovation, beautification, building social infrastructure and so on), and the global ones (democracy development, consolidation of communities, education of the civil leaders).
In cases of other ways of self-organization we can see interest of the authorities in the development of the communities’ self- governance. For example, the creating of the Apartment building co-owners association is financially stimulated. But the things are different when it is about the Roma Self-Governance Body. The local authorities support the Roma Self-Governance Body so long as it is a matter of words, but in reality they never suggest initiatives their help and do not promise stimulus that would further the creation of the self-governance. In our opinion such behavior can be only explained by the prejudice towards the Roma community. That means that the authorities just do not believe that the Roma people are able to self-organize and use their own discretion while deciding what and how to change in their community. It is well known, that certain stereotypes concerning the Roma minority exist, so no wonder that the attitude towards the Roma self-organization is skeptical.
However the authorities should not be guided by believes or disbelieves. Developing communities is a direct duty of the local authorities. Naturally, while avoiding participation in the development of the Roma Self-Governance Body the officials simply neglect their duties.
Meanwhile, the development of the Roma Self-Governance Body offers considerable challenge concerning the integration of the Roma population into society. The current legislation of Ukraine gives ample powers to such bodies of self-organization in all the branches. The active bodies of the Roma Self-Governance Body can really get off ground such a sore subjects for the Roma community as living conditions, education, health protection, and even creating the working positions in places where the Roma people live compactly.
In case if the Roma Self-Governance Body existed, the Roma people could have gained the legal assistance, aid in preparation. There is also a guardianship opportunity for the most vulnerable representatives of the Roma community – invalid people, single aged people or children-orphans.
An important aspect of the developed Roma Self-Governance Body is seeking for, preparing and teaching the active and initiative Roma people. It is well known, that one of the Roma people problems is the weakness and underdevelopment of the elite. Giving an opportunity to be engaged in socially necessary work will certainly awake interest among young and active Roma people, who are apt to such activity, but have no idea how to embody their wishes. In perspective, they might build the new Roma elite that will lead other Roma people.
The authorities for one can stimulate the creation of the Roma Self-Governance Body while leasing communal lands, financing the activity of the bodies, developing the social infrastructure in places where the Roma people live compactly.
For this cooperation the most important thing is dialoging, looking for points of contact that could lessen the level of the mutual distrust and hostility. If that was reached, it would be possible to speak about the beginning of cooperation of the authorities and the Roma community on the new level of the equal rights, as partners. The representatives of the Roma Self-Governance Body can really become a link between the national minority and the authorities.
The significance of the development of the Roma Self-Governance Body is clear for both Roma people and representatives of other national minorities who live nearby. One of the most “popular” reproaches towards Roma people is that they parasitize the society and everything must be done for them. The developed Roma Self-Governance Body will help solving the community issues on their own, without begging authorities for something and expecting the promised things for years. That will also lessen the negative attitude of the prejudged people of other nationalities.
The essential advantage of the Roma Self-Governance Body to local authorities is the fact that the Self-Governance Body consists of the dweller of the Roma camps and settlements. So the people with the same mentality, who know the problematic from within, who understand, which changes people really need.
It is important that the local Self-Governance model foresees that its representatives are chosen by means of the secret voting in which all the adult community representatives take part. As opposed to the obscure baron voting this system will really help to take the opinion of each community representative into account. It will further the responsibility of the chosen representatives of the bodies of the Roma Self-Governance Body. As opposed to the head of the city or village, who does not feel that much responsible for the Roma community, because it does not influence the voting results a lot, while the very candidates for such positions have neglectful attitude towards the Roma people, the Roma Self-Governance Body representative chosen by the Roma community cannot turn their back on the voters.
The weak point that makes the opposers of the Roma Self-Governance Body skeptical is a low educational level of the most Roma people. Of course, such fears are grounded. However, firstly the globalism of the problem is exaggerated. There are some young socially active Roma people with higher education, who are ready to engage. Secondly, the members of the charitable funds with the international experience are ready to help Roma people in working on their Self-Government Body. Of course, we, the members of the Charitable Fund “Progress”, who have been engaged into the Roma issues for a long time, are ready to cooperate with the authorities.
In whole, the significance of creating and development of the Roma Self-Governance Body leaves no doubt. It is an efficient and multifunctional system that proved itself useful long time ago. The development of the local Self-Government Body, when working appropriately, can improve the life of the Roma national minority practically in all living areas: social protection, economical condition, health protection, culture, education or entertainment.
The most important thing is that the self-government system does not mean, that something would be given for free, just as a help. To achieve something the active Roma people should work themselves and establish cooperation with partners. This means, that while doing useful work for their communities they will learn themselves improve their skills and, finally, are going to teach others; so the number of initiative people will grow because of the right example given.
The work of the Roma Self-Governance Body will perfectly show the Roma people that they can live in a different way, based on democracy and equal rights and not only according to archaic Roma customs that has not been changed for decades. The more Roma people will realize it, the faster their integration will proceed. So, the development of the Roma Self-Governance Body will become an efficient tool for the radical change in the Roma national minority in Ukraine.
We want to end our article with the last event: last week the Roma activists from Mukacheve affiled at the mayor’s office for the registration of the first in Ukraine Roma Self-Governance Body. We hope that the local authorities will not put obstacles in the way of this initiative and go towards meeting the view of the Roma people.
Written according to the material of the Charitable Fund “Progress”.
PS: The centers of legal information and advice that provide free legal aid to Roma people working with the support of the “Roma of Ukraine“, International “Renaissance” Foundation. To learn more about the activities of a network of centers, foundations and principles of work visit the website www.legalspace.org under “Legal Empowerment of Roma communities.” The views in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the International “Renaissance” Foundation and other civil, religious and political organizations and individuals.