I write because of who I am

Yulian Kondur

The Roma and Ukraine

Being a member of minority group often means being on margins of a society where the dominating discourse does not consider you and your people as a part of the social fabric. I belong to the Roma people that nowadays got scattered across the world, but mainly reside in Europe and have many problems in common in all regions – e.g. severe deprivation from basic services such as health, education, employment, and minimum provision of means to afford a decent level of life. These challenges are in quite a few regards a result of institutionalized discrimination.

I am from Ukraine. Ukrainian Roma suffer severely from the lack of crucial identification documents that grant their citizenship and rights. Due to the absence of such documents, which the government fails to issue, Roma people are left almost no opportunity to claim and exercise their rights as citizens, which causes their disconnection with the government. All these challenges have multiplied in the light of the current armed conflict in Ukraine, which has forced Roma from Donetsk and Lugansk regions to flee their homes: according to the data of local NGOs, around 10,000 Roma had to seek a refuge in other parts of Ukraine or other countries. One may only imagine, how difficult it is to find a safe shelter without any documents and means. So the situation makes Roma even more vulnerable compared to other IDPs (internally displaced persons) and refugees.

Roots of intolerance

Roma people are accused of living in exclusive communities. However, the root cause for such exclusiveness is not paid attention to. Roma people live as they do as a result of discrimination and violent practices exercised against them for centuries. The fear of being subjected to violence is entrenched in the minds of Roma and that makes it difficult for them to overcome the boundaries drawn by systematic discrimination and exclusion to reach new horizons. The exclusive way of living of the Roma has helped them to strive discrimination and preserve their values, traditions and history. However, it has inflicted more disadvantages than advantages – Roma people have ended up being more excluded from society and consequently often denied public services.

What to do?

I am a strong supporter of human rights, and see the power of conventional methods for shedding light on acute issues: fact-finding and reporting activities. Based on these and human rights norms one can push the government to abide their obligations under the international human rights law. However, taking into account the fact that these methods require substantial time and resources, there should be a constant cooperation between grassroot-level organisations and governments in practical issues that would help people immediately. And of course, no one can help someone who does not want to help himself. So it is very important that the Roma themselves would be active to stand up firmly for their rights and work on improving their future. I feel a firm commitment to writing about Roma issues in this blog.

Securing Roma rights is a challenge for Europe, particularly today when issues of discrimination are especially acute and troubling. As a final note I would like to refer to the words of a prominent scholar and expert on minority rights, Gaetano Pentassuglia: “In times of economic crises and strong anxieties over national and sub-national identities, being able to tackle Roma’s poor living conditions and appalling marginalization while respecting their distinctive way of life is bound to prove one of the most challenging tests: not only for individual countries, but also for Europe’s chances to survive as a meaningful transnational project.”

Edited by Mariann Rikka

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