Ambassador’s Remarks to International Roma Day Roundtable, April 8, 2017
Thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, Ministers, officials, diplomatic colleagues, and dear friends from Kosovo’s Roma community, it is an honor to join you in marking International Roma Day. I can’t think of a better way than with red flowers.
I just heard from Mr. Pacaku that there are one million citizens of Roma descent in the United States of America, which is terrific. That is a point of pride for us because Roma culture and traditions are an integral part of both our societies, and Roma equality, social welfare, and prosperity are vital for a multi-ethnic Kosovo’s prosperous future, just as is it is for America’s. But unfortunately we haven’t always recognized that. My country and Kosovo both have histories of discrimination and segregation. It is therefore vital that we work together to overcome racism, including anti-Roma stigmas that still challenge the Romani people’s full inclusion in society. We are all too familiar with the daily challenges Roma experience to overcome this bigotry, the consequences of which are still felt today.
The Kosovo Government has already led many helpful efforts to improve daily life for Romani people, and I hope you will use these opportunities provided by legal protections to create a better future through constructive participation in institutions. We all believe that access to a quality education and equal employment opportunities are universal rights of all communities. Therefore, we are pleased the Ministry of Education introduced a 12 percent quota that enables Roma and other non-majority communities to enroll at all public universities using entrance exams translated into their native languages, including Romani.
Further enforcement of this mechanism will enable additional registration of students from non-majority communities at both the Bachelor and tertiary levels. This is important for ensuring Romani families can see a prosperous future for themselves and their children in Kosovo instead of having to pursue their dreams abroad.
I am also encouraged by the recent adoption of the first-ever report on the implementation of the Law on Civil Service’s 10 percent employment quota, which was introduced by the Parliamentary Committee for Rights and Interests of Communities. The findings demonstrate that much more needs to be done to ensure Roma and other minorities are employed, as the law demands. However, the Committee’s effort is encouraging because it shows Roma and others have legal pathways to seek solutions to problems that deserve an institutional response.
Inclusion needs to become an every-day reality in Kosovo, not just an aspiration. In this spirit, I would like to welcome the adoption of the 2017-2021 Government Strategy for Inclusion of Roma and Ashkali communities. This strategy has been reviewed by civil society and international experts and provides much needed assistance to Roma and Ashkalis, as well as Egyptians. Ensuring equal opportunity and success cannot be done by the government alone, but this strategy provides a vehicle through which the constructive participation of civil society can occur. And it allows your community’s concerns to be heard. With authentic Roma voices, the strategy can succeed.
I would also like to congratulate members of Roma civil society for successful achievements through the President’s Communities Consultative Council. This includes the election of the Council’s first Romani President, Gazmend Salijević. During this past year, Council members from all non-majority communities have been able to coordinate directly with USAID’s Advancing Kosovo Together, Engagement for Equity, AGRO, Empower Private Sector, and National Democratic Institute Parliamentary Support programs. I am confident these on-going discussions will produce lasting economic and social gains.
Our Embassy is proud to continue to offer assistance to all Kosovo communities. I would like to congratulate the Roma Road NGO, which received a grant from our Public Affairs Section to hold workshops in Plemetina and Prilužje that specifically target women and children. Through USAID assistance, the Roma community is also involved in the Week of Women, the Women Leadership Academy, the New Media School, and legislative support to the 6+ Caucus, which includes committee support programs and consultations from NDI on municipal election planning and policy development processes.
Efforts to develop a more equal and prosperous future are already under way, but of course more needs to be done. I look forward to one day soon when Kosovo Roma will not only be able to receive quality health care, education, employment and social services, but they can be the providers of those services as well. To do so, requires all of us to strengthen our resolve against ingrained bias or baseless prejudice.
Respected Roma community members, please continue to work together with the Kosovo government, in Parliamentary Committees, in the President’s Cabinet and through of course the Prime Minister’s Communities office to shape your future. The United States will remain your steadfast partner.
Thank you all very much!