Seeing Sutka from a different perspective

By • on August 10, 2012

When you head for the first time towards the municipality of Suto Orizari, you expect a welcome from the main characters of the documentary “Sutka book of records”. This particularly popular movie from 2005 has catalyzed the creation of various stereotypes about Suto Orizari and, in its unique way, has shaped the identity of the greatest Roma municipality in the world. During our stay in Skopje, we, journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, have taken this opportunity to visit Sutka. We did not expect to meet champions from a completely new category: the champions in the fight against stereotypes. This is our story about Sutka, about Sutka from a different perspective.

The municipality of Suto Orizari, widely known as Sutka, is the first Romani municipality in the world. This municipality, which exists for 16 years now, is ruled entirely by Romani mayors. The first one of them was Nezdet Mustafa, nowadays a minister without a department, and the national coordinator for the implementation of the Roma Decade project.

According to the latest population census, there are 21,000 Roma citizens in Sutka. However, due to the various difficulties with their papers, the estimates about their number in this municipality go way beyond the official figures.

Bezet Sejdi, who is a consultant for the municipality, points out that there are about 35000 citizens in Sutka. Most of them have Romani origins but there are also Albanians, Bosniaks, Turks and Macedonians.

We have noticed something unique about Sutka: more than 70 pecent of its population lives on social assistance amounting to 30 euros per month. Most people earn extra money at the local bazaar that stretches throughout the municipality. The bazaar in Sutka is the main shopping spot for city dwellers during weekends.

In the evening, when all the counters are removed, the bazaar becomes the hot spot for Sutka’s youth. “Here, where we stand, is the centre of Sutka. By day, this is a bazaar, while by  night it becomes a place where Roma people socialize. This is where Romani youths come to hang out”, says Amed, a worker at the bazaar.

Amed graduated from the local high school for Imams (Muslim priests), then studied at the University for Theology in Cairo and spent a whole year living in Mecca. Despite his unquenchable desire to learn, he did not have enough funds to continue his studies. Nowadays he earns money by selling perfumes at the bazaar. He is well aware of the fact that education is essential in life and he does his best to earn money for his children.

The education in Sutka consists of two elementary schools where children study in Romani language for four years and later on in Macedonian. A consultant named Sejdi points out that the schools work beyond their limits because there are between 32 and 35 students in every classroom while the schools, which are supposed to have around 900 students, have about 2 000 students.

The first high school in Sutka is under construction. Besides their formal education, the young people in Sutka have the opportunity to diversify their knowledge in the Educational centre “New beginning” opened in 2007. This educational centre has become increasingly active and the number of children in the centre is surging.

Mursena Kadrijeva, a student at the Philological Faculty, does her internship in this educational centre as an English teacher. She says that children in this educational centre have the opportunity to learn foreign languages, play music instruments and attend IT courses. Mursena hopes that she will have the opportunity to work with children in the future.

One of the young Roma who serves as an example of a well aware and active young man is Imer Saliu. We have met him in front of one of the clubs while he was drawing a graffiti. Imer says that graffitis are just one of the activities he does to live his youth to the fullest.

“It is interesting for me to see how people react to the things I do and how much they love it”, says Imer, who is in his third year of high school. Although he has been interested in graffitis since 7th grade, he stresses out that he is not a professional artist and that he draws graffitis because he loves it. Despite this interest, he wants to become a lawyer like his father and wants to try to help his people.

One year ago, the “Fashion” club opened in Sutka, a place where young Roma can have fun without facing discrimination or negative stereotypes. Imer, the young Romani artist whom we met in front of the club, and Senad, one of the waiters, praised the club and the parties organized there. Thanks to them, we decided to spend a Saturday night in “Fashion”, and did not regret this decision.

Besides the numerous misconceptions about Roma, there is the popular one saying that Roma people are the most cheerful of all. The crowded club, urban environment, MTV music and happy, welcoming people proved the last stereotype to be truthful. The fun at “Fashion” is guaranteed.

A manifestation organized by “Darhia” association gave us another chance to see the team spirit and the creativity of young people. Many children from Sutka have become an integral part of the project “Roma as mentors”. They are children attending elementary school from grades 5th to 8th, and they were the highlight of the day with their highly demanding performance. Their mentor, Ljative Sifovska, who is also a member of the organization “Ambrela”, was proud of the children who presented a traditional wedding onstage and reminded the audience of their culture, tradition and clothes. Although some children were new to the stage, their performance in the wedding part and dances were met with enthusiasm by the audience that danced and sang with them.

This visit to Sutka make us eager to return. The 16 year old municipality has an open atmosphere, except for a few private houses whose architecture reminds one of castles.

If you sometime decide to visit Sutka, you should go there for either the Bazaar or the local atmosphere. If you go to Sutka to truly experience it without prejudices, you will be welcomed as a special guest. Just like every other place in the world, Sutka is also made of people but these people will be happy to share their life stories with you.