MINELRES: Fwd: Belarus: Authorities Simply Ignore Problems of Romany...

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Thu Feb 10 19:47:50 2005

Original sender: Roma Network <romale@zahav.net.il>

Mikalay Kalinin: Authorities Simply Ignore Problems of RomanyÖ
2004 was characterized by active actions of representatives of Romany
national minority in Belarus with the aim to improve the situation of
the people in the cultural, educational field and employment. In August
the Romany society filed to the Ministry of Education the request to
establish a Romany school in Minsk, in September Ė the appeal to the
Ministry of Culture concerning an exhibition, devoted to culture and
history of the Romany, in October Ė to the Ministry of Work with the
request to elaborate a program for liquidation of unemployment among
representatives of this people. The first two appeals remain unanswered,
the answer to the third was that the "emphasis of this problem has no
sufficient grounds". 
A correspondent of "Right to Freedom" bulletin took an interview from
the well-known defender of the rights of the Romany, lawyer Mikalay
- Mikalay, what is the difference between the situation of the Romany in
Belarus and in other countries of the Eastern Europe and CIS?
- Thereís a huge difference. In Belarus the officials pretend that
thereís no such people (there are 70 000 of us) and that the Romany have
no problems. In Belarus the authorities simply ignore these problems. 
Almost in all countries of Eastern Europe the organs of state power have
the structural units for solution of Romany problems. At present the
state program on the Romany in Zakarpattya region is working in the
Ukraine. Even in Russia the state committee on rights of the Romany has
worked since 2003. 

- May be, the officials donít know about these problems?

- It is very difficult not to notice it. The Romany are discriminated
all over Europe. This problem exists even in Germany, Norway and the UK.
The Romany are persecuted. Their human rights are often violated. In
addition, they are discriminated because of their nationality. The
countries that border on Belarus openly confess it and try to do
something. I have filed letters to the Committee of Religious and
National Affairs, but received answers to none of them. 

- May be, the problem lies in the work of separate state organs?

- No, I donít think so. I am sure that the authorities, ministries and
departments have the complete information about the situation of the
Romany in Belarus. The question is why they do nothing to improve the
situation. At present thereís no program for integration of national
minorities, though Belarus has ratified all international conventions on
protection of the rights of national minorities. 

- What are the relations of the Romany with the representatives of the
title nation? Are there any threats?

- Belarusians are very peaceful and tolerant. The Romany have lived side
by side with them for many centuries and there havenít been any open
conflicts. We respect Belarusians, their language and culture. At
present the situation of Belarusian culture and language reminds of the
situation of the Romany culture. Belarusians have difficulties with
education in mother-tongue, whereas the Romany donít have such
possibility at all. 

- What is your vision of the situation of the Romany?

- The situation of the Romany in the Republic of Belarus doesnít differ
from the situation in the Eastern Europe. In 1950-ie3s, during Stalinís
rule the Romany were forcible settled in special blocks, real ghettos.
Naturally, aborigines treated them as rivals in work. Belarusian Romany
have the same problems as the Romany of all countries of the Eastern
Europe: poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. According to some
information, about 95-98% of the Romany in Belarus are unemployed, more
than 90% havenít finished secondary schools. The problem of poverty is a
daily issue in the regions. 

- Are there any international unions of the Romany and what is their

- The International Union of the Romany unites all of them. It hasnít
been active for several years already. Such organizations as the Council
of Europe, the European Commission and the OSCE are the most active ones
in solving the problems the Romany have. The Rom Livia Yaroka has been
recently elected to the European Parliament. Now she actively defends
Romany interests. Strangely enough, but British and Swedish
liberal-democrats, social-democrats of the Eastern Europe and the
ecological movements did much good to the Romany. 

- Are there Romany organizations in Belarus?

- At present such organizations really exist, but arenít publicly or
politically active, because they are controlled by the authorities and
only a few of their members are highly educated. It is a great problem
for the leaders of these organizations to simply formulate their public
position on concrete issues. The leaders only declare themselves Romany
barons despite of the fact that none of them really possess this title.
Doubtlessly, it contributes to the negative attitude to the Romany. The
Romany organizations only worsen the life of the Romany with their
inaction. Their work on Holocaust Foundation also leaves much to be

- Is anything done for the improvement of the situation of the Romany?

- Belarusian authorities do nothing at all. Romany public organizations
donít show any initiative either. Some work is done by human rights
organizations. In principle, there exists the informational vacuum with
the approval of the local authorities. 

- Explain, please.

- All initiatives, aimed at the investigation and solution of the Romany
problems face with severe counteraction of the authorities. The absence
of the statistic data about the illiteracy and unemployment of the
Romany pretty well characterizes the general attitude of the authorities
to the Romany. 

- How can one help it?

- At present we provide qualified juridical aid to the Romany free of
charge. We want from possessors of the power to abide by the laws and
the Constitution that provides the equality of all citizens irrespective
to their race, gender or nationality. We try to open the eyes of
Belarusian and international public to the real situation of the Romany
with the assistance of mass media. It is necessary to tell Belarusians
the truth about the Romany. We have many complaints concerning
violations of the working legislation. Often employers groundlessly fire
or refuse to employ the Romany. This summer I was in one of Homel
suburbs, where Romany live. Their children have no birth certificates.
The families with many children donít receive financial support from the
state and canít use medical services, because they have no registration. 

- Is there any way out of the present situation?

- The Romany need the attitude of the state authorities. Their problems
mustnít remain latent. Ignorance wonít solve them Ė thatís why it is
necessary to lead a dialogue with the Romany. Political parties
shouldnít also forget that one of the main principles of democratic
society is the principle of tolerance to national minorities. Though the
human rights activists of the country are in a very difficult situation,
itíd be also great if they give more attention to work with the Romany.
However, despite the pressurization of the authorities, we still must
struggle for human rights.