I open congress of the inter-regional Union public organizations of Russia «Romane prala»

On 1 July 2003, the 1st Open Congress of the Interregional Union of Roma Voluntary Organisations in Russia – called “Romane Prala” – took place in Liubertsy, near Moscow. This Union is headed by G. N. Tsvetkov, and has more than twenty Roma voluntary organisations among its members. Delegates at the Congress discussed problems currently faced by Roma in Russia: schooling, employment, poor legal knowledge. Over the course of the discussions it was decided that a letter should be sent from the delegates of the Congress to President V. V. Putin, the text of which is printed below.

In recent years, enormous changes have taken place in all aspects of the life of our society, above all from an industrial and social point of view, and these changes have shifted the balance that existed for many years in the economy and the structure of our country. This inevitably impacted on the position of all strata of our society.
The Roma population of the Russian Federation for centuries occupied a specific niche in the economic life of Russia, namely: handicrafts, the rearing of animals, small-scale wholesaling and private trade, and so on. Since the balance of power changed during this period of restructuring, Roma have been forced out of many of their traditional fields of activity. Sadly, a large proportion of the Roma population has proven not to be prepared for this situation, and has been unable to compete within the market economy, and there are specific reasons for this:
1)Traditionally low level of education;
2)Preference for specific areas of the economy, linked to the traditional structure of Roma ethnic groups;
3)Economic discrimination from administrative bodies, particularly in the regions;
4)Lack of legal knowledge;
The main problem – that of employment – has reached worrying proportions. The lack of a state programme for Roma and the discrimination by the authorities have had the effect of prompting a whole stratum of the population of Russia to turn to criminality, thus taking away their future. Problems in the social sphere result in criminal activity, which turns the surrounding population against those involved, and exacerbates hostility between ethnic groups. The level of education is falling yet further, particularly in the least well-off families and in the provinces. The number of young people unable to read or write (!) has dramatically increased. Legal illiteracy leads to severe violations of human rights against Roma, about which we have documental evidence. Unfortunately, the press presents Roma problems from a one-sided and biased point of view, publishing predominantly criminal information, which creates a distorted view of the group, while their urgent problems are not raised and racial hostility is kindled yet further.
At the same time, in other countries, we can see examples where such problems have been solved in a positive way. Thanks to the activities of the International Roma Union and Roma organisations in European countries, state programmes for Roma are currently underway, and in several countries (France, Hungary, etc.) universities now have Romology departments, which help to draw up the programmes with the involvement of specialists.
In Russia, the need to establish programmes at a national level for the integration of Roma into Russian society arose long ago. The Union of Roma voluntary organisations “Romane Prala” includes 15 Roma groups whose representatives are calling for the creation of a programme of this kind, which would involve:
1)The economy – economic integration of Roma into the Russian economy;
2)The establishing of legal centres;
3)In accordance with article 21 of the Law on Culture in the Russian Federation, specifically regarding the right to national and cultural autonomy – cultural development, including educational programmes, above all those aiming to preserve and develop the national language and the elimination of illiteracy;
4)In accordance with that same law – the development of Roma media: the creation of a Roma newspaper, radio programmes and other media, which have existed for a long time in countries in Western and, most notably, in Eastern Europe;
5)The social sphere – assistance to the least well-off families and those with large numbers of children.
For the creation of such a programme, the following are required:

1)The involvement of specialists on Roma issues, culturologists and ethnopsychologists, who could take account of the specific features of the traditional structure and the ethnopsychological type of the Roma, who have, until recent times, largely lived a semi-nomadic way of life
2)The involvement of Roma public figures who are respected among the Roma population;

There must be Roma representatives within the legislative bodies of the Russian Federation, whereas at present this group is not represented.

In connection with the above information, the delegates at the Congress of the Union of Roma Organisations are sending this letter to the President of the Russian Federation with the request that:

1)a programme be set up, with the support of the government, for the integration of Roma into Russian society;
2)a referendum be held on the programme, assisted by the Roma voluntary organisations;
3)Roma voluntary organisations be given their legitimate representatives in the legislative bodies, on a democratic basis.

Union of Roma Voluntary Organisations in the Russian Federation
“Romane Prala”
Proletarsky Prospect, 43, bld. 2, app. 124, Moscow, Russian Federation
Tel. +7 (095) 321-98-04
e-mail: georgy@romaunion.ru
Website: www.romaunion.ru , www.romale.ru

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