First national seminar on Roma inclusion at the local level held in Lithuania in December 2015
Mayors, civil servants, national authorities and NGOs discuss Roma inclusion
The first national seminar on Roma inclusion took place on 17 December 2015 in Lithuania. 23 elected officials, senior civil servants from Lithuanian cities and regions met with government representatives, scholars and NGO representatives in the small village Trakai outside of Vilnius to exchange their experiences, know-how and best practices regarding the inclusion of Roma into mainstream societies. Most of the municipalities were participants of the European Alliance for Roma Inclusion, some of them members of the Lithuanian Congress delegation, and as a special feature, representatives of the Dutch city of Veldhoven, an Alliance participant that has a history of cooperation with Lithuanian members in the past, contributed to the seminar. Similar national seminars have already been organised in France, Spain and Serbia.
Amongst the topics discussed were funding opportunities for projects, especially the necessity for continuous funding that stretches over short projects and ensures continuity of projects and personnel. Especially during and after the economic crisis, this became very hard, and while EU and national funds are available, municipalities often don’t have the capacity to administer these funds.
Another prominent issue was communication with Roma communities, the families and individuals. The role of mediators or Roma NGOs as intermediaries was mentioned as a positive example in this regard. In some municipalities, even dialogue platforms which bring all stakeholders to one table have been established.
At the same time, also the coordination between local, regional and national authorities proves to be hard. The participants criticised that there is a lack of a long-term vision, strategy and commitment of all levels of government, and above all, sincere cooperation, which is why appreciation for the seminar bringing authorities from all levels together was expressed. In order to ensure Roma inclusion stays an important part of the political agenda, the Congress promotes initiatives to encourage Roma representatives to run for offices and to make use of their right to vote.
One of the substantial issues discussed was employment. Several participants described their practices of giving public work as a measure of social inclusion to all kinds of people (not just Roma) who have trouble finding a job. The necessity to support every person and every family individually with a variety of measures and a holistic approach with measures tailored to their needs was voiced.
Regarding housing, an essential human right without which other rights cannot meaningfully be exercised, the present municipalities wished to be given more rights to be able to award social housing.
Concerning education, some municipalities shared their efforts to include children into schools and described the cultural activities offered to children and adults. One of the priorities discussed was how to prevent early dropouts after primary school, a common phenomenon sometimes caused by early marriage. This latter phenomenon is of course not limited to Roma communities, it is a phenomenon occurring in most traditional societies. During the discussion, it was made clear that in clash of collective and individual freedom, the latter always prevails.
Of course, also NGOs had their role at the seminar, since they are important stakeholders of change. Therefore, the last part of the seminar was dedicated to the presentation of NGO projects and how authorities can rely on them, for example how a day care centre in Vilnius can mediate in the field of education and school attendance.
After the seminar, the Congress Secretariat members and the representatives of the Dutch Alliance participant (Veldhoven) visited the Roma Community Centre, one of the partners in organising this seminar, in “Kirtimai”, a settlement near Vilnius. The Roma Community Centre offers educational support to children as well as social activities like music lessons or spare time activities, and seeks to improve the general living conditions of the inhabitants of Kirtimai.
© CoE; representatives from Veldhoven (NL) with Konstantin Stech (Roma Community Centre) and Denis Huber (Congress) in front of the Roma Community Centre