From December 15–18, 2011, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) organized a regional meeting for more than 50 Roma leaders from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. Held at the Novi Sad Humanitarian Center in Serbia, the event, which also included training on networking techniques, was the third of four meetings to foster collaboration on the protection and strengthening of Roma communities. Previous meetings were held in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Ohrid, Macedonia.
Lee Litzenberger, the deputy chief of the U.S. Mission in Serbia, and Goran Bashich, the deputy ombudsman of Serbia, opened panels on recent challenges to Roma integration in Serbia. Panelists discussed the most common problems ‘legally invisible people’—those without identification documents—face, including the forceful and unannounced destruction of their housing and a lack of access to social benefits, such as welfare and health care. Asparuh Rangelov, the mayor of Kaspichan, Bulgaria, said that participants “exchanged valuable information about Roma problems and it seems the prevailing parts of these are the same in every country.” He added that sharing ideas helps them expand their impact and capitalize on their achievements.
Participants also discussed how to identify cases of discrimination against Roma and how to send those cases to the Office of the Ombudsman. Following up on previous discussions, Temenushka Todorova, ABA ROLI program director, presented a plan to create a pilot Facebook network for Roma leaders in the Balkan region. Participants agreed to set up the cross-border network, a public website and a working group to share information and best practices, in hope that these will increase opportunities for mutual cooperation on specific cases.
During the sessions, trainers discussed best practices for creating cross-border networks and engaged in activities to enhance practical networking skills. Discussions also highlighted how to build people’s capacity to work together to achieve a common goal, with particular emphasis on ensuring the success of the new Roma network.
The Novi Sad Humanitarian Center—an ABA ROLI partner that provides pro bono legal services and other social support to Roma communities—hosted the December meeting. The fourth regional meeting, which will further discuss the challenges faced by Roma communities in the Balkans, as well as strategies for their integration, will take place in Romania in the summer.
To learn more about our Roma rights-related work, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].