Orav: Education is crucial for further progress

By • on August 14, 2012

In an interview with Mr. Aivo Orav, the Head of the EU Delegation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), we tackled issues regarding the country’s Roma population and the implementation of the EU-supported Roma Decade project. We have also talked about the general problems that Roma people face on daily basis.

Tocak: Macedonia has been a chairman of the Roma Decade project since July 2011. What factors have contributed to the successful implementation of this project?

Orav: I find that Macedonia’s position as the chairman of this project is of utmost importance and that great efforts and responsibilities lie ahead ofMacedonia due to the specificity of its Roma population. Although money might not be the most important thing in the world, you cannot achieve much without it. Therefore, financial support is essential for the functionality of the Roma Decade project.

Tocak: What do you think about the implementation of this project so far? What segments have seen the greatest improvements?

Orav: We have seen a lot of improvements in the education sector. The number of Roma students in universities is soaring, and there are more scholarships available for Roma high school students. There is a significant number of information centres that allow each member of Roma community to become better informed about his or her education, healthcare, documentation.

Tocak: Those are the positive sides, but are there any less positive stories or drawbacks?

Orav: Well, there is a huge problem with the immense unemployment rate of Roma people inMacedonia, especially with women. Also, another problem is the unsustainable functionality of these information centres due to a lack of essential financial assets. Therefore, it is up to the government and the society at large to engage in solving this issue.


Tocak: Furthermore, there is a problem with minors who beg for money in the streets.

Orav: I have been living inSkopje for 7 years now and I am witnessing on daily basis the increase in the number of streetchildren begging for money. Unfortunately, the number of these children is large for relatively small country such asMacedonia. Last year, when we tackled the issue for the first time, we suggested that integrating the children into the school system would be the best solution for taking them off the streets, an initiative that is now a part of Roma Decade project. Education is a solution, because if children do not attend classes, they have nowhere to stay but in the streets. The integration of Roma children into society is of crucial importance for both the community and country’s further steps toward EU.

Tocak: Do you think that implementation process is taking too long?

Orav:  Strategies that are complex and important are never easily implemented and the Roma Decade is one of them. All the issues addressed by this project are necessary for our society, although many do not find that Roma related problems are urgent. This is why they are not properly addressed. The raising of the the awareness level, through minorities and majorities, is the next big step in solving the problems of the Roma population. EU plays the largest part in this respect, besides providing financial support and monitoring.

Tocak: How does the earlier experience of other EU countries help, actually to what extent can it contribute to the faster implementation of the Roma Decade and to the general improvement of Roma status in non-EU countries?

Orav: There are large Roma communities in many EU countries and, although all communities  differ, previous experiences can be of use. These experiences can be helpfuI in the EU-supported implementation of Roma Decade.

Tocak: What do you think about the humiliation of numerous Roma people who cannot cross the Macedonian border only because of their looks?

Orav: Some EU member countries have seen a greater demand for asylum from Macedonian Roma after the implementation of the visa-free regime in 2009, but those demands were not supported by concrete arguments and made these countries tightened their controls. The good thing is that the number of asylum seekers plummeted between 2010 and 2011, although there are still many cases of unresolved asylum demands. People have to know that it is necessary to have a strong reason to seek asylum and to move to any of the EU countries. This is also part of raising awareness, and, in my opinion, one of the basic aspects for the enhancement of our lives.

This article originally appeared on Tocak, a news and information portal about and for the Roma communities of the Balkans operated by Transitions and by four other partner organizations in Bosnia, Serbia and Macedonia.