Mr. Valery Novoselsky is Executive Editor of Roma Virtual Network (RVN) with expertise in Editorial activity on on-line platform which actively facilitates the cooperation and exchange of information within Roma organisations and individuals, between Roma and non-Roma organisations and individuals and also between Roma NGOs and official institutions. Vice-president, Commissioner for culture and informing World Roma Organization Rromanipen . This activity is connected with the variety of Roma-related political, cultural, economic and social issues on national and international levels.He lives in Isreal. email: valery_novoselsky@yahoo.com


 
 

Roma youth and prospects for community development: Aspirations and the way forward

- Valery NOVOSELSKY
 

In 2015, the situation of European Roma communities continues to be critical. Roma remain one of the most disadvantaged minority groups in Europe. The highest rates of unemployment and the lowest levels of education, widespread poverty and social exclusion characterise the large part of Roma living in the European Union.


In Europe, major efforts have been made to force the Roma to go away from the economically advanced and dynamic parts of Europe and stay in the East. In the cases where that has proved impossible, certain actions of public authorities has contributed to the further worsening of the situation of the Romani migrants or to the neglect of their plight. There is a need for the re-invigoration of the European project and its visions, so that it would ensure that European integration is enjoyed by all parts and levels of the society, and ethnic origin is no longer regarded as a factor in any of its provisions.


Current situation of Roma youth
 

Roma youth represents a demographic of growing importance, as they make up a considerable proportion of the school-age population and the future workforce of many European States. In the European Union (EU), 35.7 per cent of Roma are under the age of 15, compared to 15.7 per cent among the general population, while the average age of Roma is 25, compared with 40 across the EU.


Nevertheless, exclusionary mechanisms based on stigmatization in education and employment stop young Roma from developing their potential and capacity. A survey conducted in 2012 in 12 European states showed that less than half of young Roma aged 17-23 completed lower secondary education in some of these countries, and less than one per cent of Roma obtained university education across the survey region.


Furthermore, the greatest difference in employment levels between Roma and non-Roma was in the 15-24 age category: only 15 per cent of Roma of this age are employed. At the same time, Roma and Sinti youth who manage to successfully obtain an education often feel forced to deny their identity and rarely return to their communities to work.


Marginalization and discrimination lead to low levels of public and political participation among Roma. As noted in the 2013 OSCE Status Report on the Implementation of the Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti , “mainstream parties are still relatively reluctant to put forth Roma candidates, despite a significant increase in the pool of potential Roma candidates”.


This reluctance is often connected to negative perceptions about Roma. Roma women participate in public and political life to an even lesser degree; the OSCE Status Reports (2008 & 2013) says, “Roma and Sinti women are still under-represented and are far from enjoying equal participation in public and political life”. This is often linked to the fact that “Roma women […] suffer multiple forms of discrimination by virtue of their ethnicity, gender, and place within Roma communities.” In addition, Roma youth also has “limited access to political participation and [are absent] from relevant decision making bodies and processes.”


Migration as a factor in today’s Roma reality
 

Very often, ignorance manages to prevail at the local levels surrounding the legal requirements arising from the commitments of states in the European Union and/or Council of Europe. The fact that the Romani people is the largest minority in Europe and yet it is the only ethnic minority that is still affected by all barriers that an ethnic minority could face, provides some explanation of the question why the Roma often times decide to undertake actions seeking for better havens for themselves, their offspring, and their cultural legacies. Even though there has been major media coverage warning about the flood of Roma after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU family, a 2002 study has showed that the Bulgarian Roma were less likely to migrate than their Bulgarian and Turkish counterparts.


Beginning in the 1990 and continuing to the present day, several thousands of Roma have gone to the United Kingdom originally as persons seeking and often receiving refugees status, and now, as persons exercising their EU rights of free movement. However, Romani arrivals in Britain have ignited a number of racist press conferences and explicitly discriminatory measures by the government. Anti-Romani media emerged again in 2006 and 2007 before and after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU. As a matter of fact, including the much larger native Traveler and Gypsy community, the Roma, Gypsies and Travelers would make up 0.40 % of the total population in the UK. Also, in the countries of major recent immigration destinations for the majority of the Roma, namely Austria, Germany, and Italy, the representation of the Roma populations as a whole is miniscule and take up 0.3 %, 0.12 % and 0.23 % of the general population of these countries respectively.
Roma youth as agents for change and OSCE support in this process


Discrimination and exclusion still characterize the lives of most Roma today, reflected in racist violence, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and high infant mortality. International Roma Day, April 8, International Day of Commemoration of Roma Genocide, 2 August, and International Day of Roma Language, 5 November, are the opportunities to celebrate the unique culture of Europe’s largest ethnic minority, and to take stock of the challenges, both old and new, they face on a daily basis.


Among the international organizations the OSCE was the first in 1990 to recognize the particular problems of Roma in the context of the proliferation of racial and ethnic hatred, xenophobia, and discrimination. Some of these issues are still deeply entrenched in some OSCE participating States. While the situation is improving overall, new challenges, such as the crisis in and around Ukraine, have presented new problems for local Roma communities.


Among international organizations connected to Roma cause, the OSCE recognizes that Roma and Sinti youth have a potential to change the future course of their society and in 2013 foreign ministers from the OSCE’s 57 participating States confirmed that Roma youth need to be provided with more opportunities to act as agents of change in their communities.


Roma youth was given a platform to raise their voices on the issues that concern them at a conference in Belgrade organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in December 2014. It gathered 40 youth Roma activists from across the region to discuss how to mobilize and empower their communities, and stimulate their participation in politics and decision-making processes.
The conclusions of the conference were put forward as recommendations to OSCE participating States for empowering Roma and Sinti youth participation at the local level, for promoting the inclusion of their communities, and to help further develop ODIHR’s work with Roma and Sinti youth issues.


Building a strong Roma youth movement as a guarantee of integration


The specific objective of today‘s youth Roma activists is to facilitate and enable Roma youth alliances within and outside Roma communities, through existing and new structures, to mobilize Roma youth, make their voice heard and stake their position in their communities and in European society at large.


The expected outcomes relevant to this objective will be:
-Roma young people participate as equals in society and in development, monitoring and evaluation of all programmes related to them;
- Co-operation and networking with non Roma youth structures, organisations, institutions and population in general is stronger;
- Mechanisms are developed and capacity of local Roma youth structures is strengthened in order to ensure their sustainability and promote cooperation and networking;
- Positive role models at the local level are promoted in order to change existing stereotypes about Roma people in society, thus the Roma youth movement promotes the Roma identity;
- Cooperation with existing youth structures is ensured and new structures are created, whenever needed, so young Roma can be and have the space to be active citizens, especially at the grassroots level.


Education is a key to success
 

The Roma young people also suffer from the community’s prejudices and stereotypes. The main way of stepping out from the vicious cycle and to have positive representation within the society is education. Many Roma organisations are working in the sphere of formal education, but there is also a need to increase activities with Roma youth in the field of non-formal education.


- “We must not close our eyes to the real problems Roma are facing in many European countries. Extreme poverty, social exclusion, a lack of regular employment and low educational attainment are facts. By fighting against the phenomena of Roma exclusion, we also fight against the root causes of the violence and stereotypes Roma suffer from... Roma are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the EU, but too often they are Europe’s forgotten citizens... They face persistent discrimination and far-reaching social exclusion.” - Vladimir Spidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.


-“To remove obstacles for a group as disadvantaged as the Roma are, we need more than just non-discrimination. These people have been so excluded – by majority societies as well as by their own traditions - that they are simply not starting from the same point like most other citizens. We need more than just treating the Roma “like everyone else”, although even that is often very far from being the case.” - Mr José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission.


Conclusion
 

Young Roma need to be seen by European states as a demographic of growing importance. They make up a considerable proportion of population and, thus, are a significant part of the future workforce. Nevertheless, discriminatory measures in education and employment prevent many young Roma from fully realizing their potential.


The specific objective of today‘s youth Roma activists is to facilitate and enable Roma youth alliances within and outside Roma communities, through existing and new structures, to mobilize Roma youth, make their voice heard and stake their position in their communities and in European society at large.


References
 

Stronger Roma youth movement / Areas of action / Roma Youth Action Plan / Home - Roma Youth Action Plan. Link: http://enter.coe.int/roma/Roma-Youth-Action-Plan/Areas-of-action/Stronger-Roma-youth-movement
Roma Migration From the Youth Perspective | Aleksandar Marinov - Academia.edu. Link: https://www.academia.edu/8900918/Roma_Migration_From_the_Youth_Perspective
The Position of Roma Youth in Central and South Eastern Europe: Results from the Regional Roma Survey 2011 | Ermira Kamberi - Academia.edu.
Link: https://www.academia.edu/16446119/The_Position_of_Roma_Youth_in_Central_ and_South_Eastern_Europe_Result s_from_the_Regional_Roma_Survey_2011
Roma youth as agents for change, new challenges in Ukraine | OSCE. Link: http://www.osce.org/odihr/150141.
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© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Spring 2016)