From Necessity to Virtue

By • on August 31, 2012

The Association of Roma Students in Novi Sad was founded 12 years ago. Initially a group of several enthusiastic young Roma gathered around Radio Novi Sad, the students wanted to alleviate the hurdles to education in Serbia. They have subsequently grown into a large organization whose numerous social projects transcend the notions of student and of Roma.

The association currently employs five persons, two professional associates and several dozens of volunteers. Apart from the ongoing program helping around thirty Roma students with their enrollment into medical and dental colleges, the association is also active in the implementation of the equal opportunities program for high school students.

“Our aim is to adapt the high school environment to the needs of various students, and to make classes engaging by fostering multiculturalism instead of imposing it, all this by getting to know the students who enroll in these schools. “We are also active in the Roma employment project as one of the organizations who intiated the unionization of collectors of secondary raw materials. The Community Development Project is also interesting. It empowers the citizens living in Roma settlements to do something for themselves, to develop a self-help culture and take some actions”, says the president of the association, Nenad Vladisavljev.

Today there are affirmative measures in Serbia helping Roma enter universities: students get enrolled under facilitated conditions with tuition and related expenses covered by public funds. Vladisavljev also announced that the association would establish branches in Niš and Kragujevac.

“The status of young Serbain Roma is quite complicated because the Roma population is only partly integrated”, says Ivan Radenković, the coordinator of the organization’s equal opportunities project.

“Nowadays, being a Roma high school student is very interesting. For example, there is a settlement called Bangladesh that only got electricity last year, after 50 years of existance. There is only one person employed full-time in the entire settlement. On the other hand, you can also see integrated Roma populations where children attend school regularly and enter colleges. But it is interesting that members of both of these populations follow a similar logic inherent in the capitalist system, which can be defined as I have more money than you and therefore I can trample over you. This system of domination is projected onto the poorest layers of society”, says Radenković.

According to him, the Roma problem lies mostly in their symbolic status that evokes mostly negative connotations among the majority, who associates them with poverty and similar issues.

You can hear people who are victims of this very simple nationalist ideology saying that the Roma are a privileged group that chooses to present itself as poorer. In reality, a comparison is impossible since the situation of the Roma should not be used as a reference term”, he explains.