Interview: Fana Delija

Centre for Roma Initiatives MNE Coordinator

Fana Delija lives in Nikšić and has been coordinator of the Centre for Roma Initiatives since 2004. She received the Anna Lindh prize in 2012 for a special contribution to female participation in leadership. She is the founder and member of the first Roma women’s craft cooperative, “Rukatnice”. For the past ten years, she has been working on her own education in the area of women’s activism, work in the NGO sector, the English language, and computers. The motive for her work is a commitment against discrimination in the family and in society and an active contribution to ameliorating the position of Roma women and children in Montenegro.

Have you ever felt marginalized or discriminated against as a member of a national minority?
As a member of the egyptian national minority, as a child in elementary school, I was discriminated against by children from the majority populations (I sat alone on the last bench, they always called me ‘gypsy’, no one was friends with me…), while the teaching staff never paid attention nor reprimanded those children.

What, in your opinion, are the biggest problems facing national minorities in Montenegro?
The Roma and Egyptian minorities are among the poorest and most endangered minorities in Montenegro, taking into account housing, education, healthcare, access to food, work, culture, and political life, in which they are above all met with the problem of discrimination and disrespect of basic human rights, on the part of majority populations and other minorities in Montenegro. 
According to CEDEM research done in June 2011, looking at the perceptions of citizens about the discrimination of minority nationalities and marginalized social groups, more than 50% of citizens believe that Roma are the most discriminated against. Research found that Roma are very discriminated against in the areas of education, employment, access to healthcare, treatment in judicial proceedings, and general access to justice. The position of women from the Roma and Egyptian community is especially difficult, since they are doubly discriminated against – as women instead the community and as members of the Roma minority in broader society. An especially large problem is presented by the phenomenon of early marriages of Roma girls and the total lack of reacion on the part of state institutions to act based on the law and prevent this.
The expressly bad educational system of Roma and Egyptians is one of the most important causes of the lack of integration in society, which widens the socio-economic and cultural gap between this population and the rest of the citizenry. The level of illiteracy is characteristically high, as is the bad structure of qualifications, and the problem of getting Roma and Egyptian children involved in the education system. According to facts from 2009, illiteracy among male Roma youth between 15-24 years old is 33%, while the percentage for females in the same age group is 52%. Only 13% of Roma and Egyptian children finish pre-school, while 35% of boys and 60% of girls ages 15 and older have never attended school.

How frequent is ethnically-motivated violence and does the police ensure adequate protection?
Ethnic violence towards Roma and Egyptians is present, but we lack evidence or reported cases to the Centre of Roma Initiatives. This is most often due to the lack of being informed, or fear of the victims of violence. 
In my opinion, the relationship between individual police officers towards the Roma population is discriminatory and patronizing, since individual officers sometimes call the ‘gypsies’ while doing their rounds, mistreat them for whatever small offence, and assume they are guilty of anything that happens in town.
Also, when cases of violence in the family or arranged marriages are reported to the police, you often hear statements such as “well those are your gypsy affairs” or the like, for which reason I believe that police officers are not sensitized enough to the issue, though there are some positive examples.

How do you assess the relationship between media and minority rights, specifically Roma?
The attitude of the media towards Roma and Egyptian minorities we  see as partly adequate. When it is a question of the Roma the media are not sensitized enough. Without regard to the events which are related by the media, media companies generally rely on stereotypes about Roma. Segments about them are most often accompanied by scenes from Roma communities with images of women walking with several children around them and babies in their arms, dirty, begging, or portrayed as searching through dumpsters.
From this, we consider that media companies in large part spread negative prejudice about this national minority. It’s rare that a media company shows a positive example of Roma or Egyptians, and there are no programs dedicated to them, to stories or reports about sucessful Roma persons, nor episodes which discuss the possibility of overcoming marginalization and exclusion and achieving integration.

Where does Montenegro find itself in relation to other countries in the region in the area of minority rights, specifically to do with the Roma?
The legal framework in Montenegro for the advancement of the Roma and Egyptian population is relatively good and in line with international standards, but adequate implementation of it is lacking. In the highest legal act in Montenegro, the Constitution, Roma and Egyptian (RE) populations are the only national minority which is not expressly named, and in the Law about minority rights and freedoms of 2006, rules which guaranteed minorities a place in Parliament were deemed unconstitutional. In this way Roma and Egyptian minorities were practically left without the right to vote. Montenegro adopted two important documents which influence the RE population: the Action Plan in relation to the Roma Decade from 2005-2010, and the Strategy fo advaning the position of RE populations in the 2008-2012 period. However, these two documents, like the majority of laws, exist only on paper, without adequate application. The lack of adequate legal ruling which deal with the problems of women of the RE population, as well as the disrespect towards the laws and documents which seek to improve the position of all women in Montenegro, additionally worsens the situation of RE women.


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