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08.04.2009 19:33
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Official Says Roma Discriminated Against on Daily Basis (interview)

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Head of the Government Office for Nationalities Stanko Baluh.
File photo.

Ljubljana, 8 April (STA) - Head of the Government Office for Nationalities Stanko Baluh has told STA on the occasion of International Roma Day that the Roma in Slovenia continue to struggle with basic questions of day-to-day survival and discrimination from the majority.

Asked to highlight what he views the most burning issue related to the Roma, Baluh said that there was too much talk about Roma issues, about how society will "socialise" the Roma. On the other hand there is little readiness to acknowledge a Roma person as a neighbour, Baluh added.

He pointed out that the Roma were "still among the least wanted neighbours, even though people have no actual bad experiences with them".

According to Baluh, the media can play a crucial role in bringing about change. Instead of reinforcing stereotypes about the Roma, the media should raise awareness about their distress, relations with neighbours, their wishes. "It would quickly become clear that we are not that different."

He is still convinced that significant progress has been made in this respect in recent years. As examples, he highlighted a special Roma programme broadcast by the national radio and the awarding of a local radio frequency to the Roma community in NE Slovenia.

Touching to issues that still need tackling, Baluh highlighted the housing situation, education, employment, health, and discrimination, which he said came in many forms. In a bid to address the situation, the office is drafting a special national programme which will deal with these very issues.

"All relevant ministries have been included in the drafting of the programme, as has the Roma community and the local communities where the Roma live. It will probably be adopted before the second half of the year," Baluh announced.

Asked about progress in these areas in recent years, the official pointed among other things to the adoption of an umbrella act on the Roma community in 2007, which fully meets the requirements of the Constitution.

He also mentioned a number of initiatives dealing with education, such as the Roma Academic Club, health and the legal protection of the Roma.

Police officers have received special training for work in multi-ethnic communities, which includes a 40-hour Romany language course.

"We believe that the state is providing a number of opportunities...and is taking care of this minority properly. However, there will be no results before there is a shift in the broader social attitude towards this part of the population."

Baluh said that relations between the Roma and the majority population were very complex and were guided by deep-rooted stereotypes, which are passed on from generation to generation.

"Throughout history, the Roma were always the 'other', which the majority population needed (and still needs) to confirm its own identity," Baluh explained. He added that small steps dedicated to building trust are the only way to change things.

This requires an effort on the part of the media and a political debate that includes contributions by experts, Baluh said.

08.04.2009 19:33

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