Mikalay Kalinin: Authorities Simply Ignore Problems of Romany…
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 – the appeal to the Ministry of Culture concerning an exhibition, devoted to culture and history of the Romany, in October – 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 Kalinin:
-- Mikalay, what is the difference between the situation of the Romany in Belarus and in other countries of the Eastern Europe and CIS?
-- There’s a huge difference. In Belarus the officials pretend that there’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 there’s 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 haven’t 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 don’t 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 doesn’t differ from the situation in the Eastern Europe. In 1950-ie3s, during Stalin’s 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% haven’t 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 role?
-- The International Union of the Romany unites all of them. It hasn’t 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 aren’t 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 desires.
-- Is anything done for the improvement of the situation of the Romany?
-- Belarusian authorities do nothing at all. Romany public organizations don’t 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 don’t receive financial support from the state and can’t 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 mustn’t remain latent. Ignorance won’t solve them – that’s why it is necessary to lead a dialogue with the Romany. Political parties shouldn’t 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, it’d 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.