Controversial monument in Mukacheve reveals problems of local Roma community.
Interview with community activists.
27 September, 2015 | 14:52
by - EMPR -
On 3 September a bronze monument to a Romani person with a broom was installed in Mukacheve, Zakapattia region.
Produced at initiative of Zakarpattia regional state administration deputy Andriy Baloha the monument got ambiguous reaction and was met with sharp criticism by activists of the Roma community and human rights defenders. EMPR talks to Romani activists of Mukacheve on how they see the monument and on some daunting issues the local Roma community faces.
We meet the activists of Roma community in Mukacheve office of "Rozvytok" Charity Fund, a human rights organization that is running a series of projects to empower Romani people. Activists introduce themselves and reflect on their attitude towards the newly installed monument.
Natalia Kozyr: I am Projects Coordinator at "Rozvytok" Charity Fund: we are a human rights organization, we protect the rights of Roma, provide primary and secondary legal aid.
Renata Balog: I work at "Rozvytok" Charity Fund as a lawyer in the heart of the [Roma - edit.] camp in Mukacheve. I am Roma myself.
Georgina Pfeifer: I am a social worker, I also protect Roma rights. I go to various [state - edit.] institutions…
Natalia Kozyr: …accompanying and helping [Roma - edit.].
Dezyderiy Kondi: I am Head of "Amen Roma" organization. We work as human rights defenders.
EMPR: What is your attitude towards the newly installed monument to a Romani person?
Renata Balog: I am Roma myself, I think that with this monument the local authorities have humiliated us. For example, my mother always wanted to go and study but it did not happen. But nevertheless my mother is not cleaning the streets, she is not a cleaner but works as a crane operator. She always wanted that we study, I am a lawyer. There many Roma who want to study. They’ve humiliated [Roma – edit.] with this monument, as if besides sweeping the streets Roma were not good at anything. Many children have started studying and want to achieve something. If it had been put to mark a tradition, it is not. Roma have always been famous as musicians. I think the monument needs to be changed or at least [they need to – edit.] saw off the broom and put something traditional.
Andriy Gorvat joins our conversation. He says: I am Head of the "Roma Union of Mukacheve" organization. I am an official Roma translator, I protect Roma in courts and law enforcement agencies. The monument that they installed in Mukacheve at the turn to the Roma settlement on Trudova street, they’ve installed the monument of a street cleaner. They put a bearded man in a hat and we do not know who he is. They’ve simply installed it and said that it’s to the Roma, to acknowledge what Roma are doing, they in the city are very grateful for what they’re doing. But we know that it is not true. It came as humiliation to our Roma and we are indignant because we did not think that people would have made it – put a street cleaner on entry to the Roma settlement, so that when Roma exit the camp they see what to expect, what their future is. […] They should have at least written the name of the person they refer to [with the monument – edit.]. […] Should that be a particular person, we would have gone there and celebrated it together with them. […] But we are against it, we do not know who this person is and why they put it there. It has got no name. It’s a Roma. It can be me, a human rights defender, it can be our lawyer, it can be the head of a civil society organization, it can be anyone. We are against it, and we are asking the people who made it to dismantle it because that’s a shame. All our Roma, citizens from the camp who understand what it is about they know that it is a shame to us. They could have put there a musician not a homeless person with a broom in his hands. […] It is a shame to us.
Dezyderiy Kondi: If they wanted to install something, there is the community here, is there not? […] There are people who would have decided and would have known.
EMPR: So, no one asked you?
Dezyderiy Kondi: No, no one. And what comes as a result is as if he [the ideator of the monument – edit.] were the center of the universe. […] If the organizers would have gathered the people and said: so, shall we agree? does it suit us? […] You know what I am also thinking, it may more likely be ahead of the elections. […] What is also remarkable is that our deputy knew that and no one said nothing, it came out of the blue. Gorvat was right, they could have put there a violinist or a blacksmith…
Andriy Gorvat: It would have been culture, not discrimination.
Dezyderiy Kondi: As if no people were here, only one deputy, and authorities are not asking us about anything.
EMPR: Has there been a contact between you and authorities after the monument was installed?
Dezyderiy Kondi: No, there has not.
Andriy Gorvat: No one asked us. We, people who are not indifferent to it sat down and said: it is a shame to us. We started a flash mob, we were making photos with brooms. The entire Mukacheve region is also waiting for us, we shall go there and make a photo. Roma living in Berehove, Uzhgorod, Mukacheve, in the Mukacheve district are all indignant. We were saying: we are not against if they install that street cleaner but let them name him, who is he? If it is an honourable man, let Zoltan Landel, the city mayor, award him the certificate – we thank you for what you have done. […] Otherwise he tars everyone - head of the civil society organization, human rights defenders, businessmen, private entrepreneurs with the same brush, and all have become street cleaners. We are against it.
Photos of the flashmob that the Roma community started in response to the monument installed. Source: "Rozvytok" Charity Fund. Quotes translation by EMPR
Renata Balog: it’s been over two years that we do not have water supply in the camp, city authorities have cut it off. Mukacheve camp is the largest [Roma – edit.] settlement, they cannot find money to supply water, but there is money for a monument that has completely inflicted shame on us.
Dezyderiy Kondi: there was a time when me, Gorvat and the Rom Baro [community head – edit.] we went to the mayor and told him that we need water. ‘You know, there is no money’.
Andriy Gorvat: There is no money. Where do thousands of hryvnias or dollars come from for this sculpture then? It is made of bronze.
EMPR: Is it from the city budget?
Andriy Gorvat: No, we don’t know where this money was taken from. I have no idea who gave such a big amount of money to install the monument for us. But we do know that this money was given for the elections. Because the people who opened this monument were saying: you see how good this man is, Baloha Andriy, you need to respect him because he is putting a monument for you. […] There is no water in the camp for two years. [Water needs to be supplied to – edit.] the tap from underground pipes, while we got flexible pipes running along our fences. Three flexible pipes are running in the Roma settlement, water is supplied three times a day from these three flexible pipes. The elderly, children go there and wait until water starts dribbling. We got 11 thousand of population in our Roma [settlement in Mukacheve – edit.], 4 thousand out of these 11 are children. […] Hepatitis or tuberculosis may well start […] as there is no water.
Renata Balog: Water is supplied at the very least in summer, in winter these pipes freeze and there’s no water at all.
Georgina Pfeifer: There are different versions as to this monument. They did not make it right, without asking the community, they should have gathered the community and asked for [its – edit.] opinion. There are not only the street cleaners, there are different people – lawyers, there are many different professions.
Renata Balog: Apart from lawyers many Roma are teachers at schools, many work at the railway as welders or as I mentioned my mother is a crane operator and has been working for 35 years on the railway. I remember that our grandmother did not want to let our mother study. They were told that otherwise they are going to be fired […]. Still my mother went and finished her studies. There are many people who want to study. Many of our people are businessmen not street cleaners.
Photos of the flashmob that the Roma community started in response to the monument installed. Source: "Rozvytok" Charity Fund. Quotes translation by EMPR
Natalia Kozyr: The problem emerged because people started thinking that we are against the occupation of the street cleaner. There appeared many negative comments that we humiliate the occupation of the street cleaner, ‘what’s bad in the occupation of the street cleaner?’, ‘any occupation is to be respected’. We treat any profession with big respect. But have you seen anywhere a monument to a Moldovan plasterer, to a Georgian selling mandarins or to an Uzbek selling cantaloupes? These are the stereotypes that are deep in the heads of people, besides that the heads of our local people are full of prejudice, we have the largest [Roma – edit.] camp in Ukraine, with this monument authorities have worsened the situation. They put the monument exactly to the Roma-street cleaner and it was presented that way. This is what caused the general indignation. The tone of voice of the comments that our posts keep getting in the Internet demonstrate that the society, common people predominantly do not understand what discrimination is. They do not understand what stereotypes are. They do not understand that through associations that stem from their convictions that have been planted - like the Georgian and mandarins, discrimination starts. […] We are going to demand that this monument is dismantled.
EMPR: Is Roma community facing discrimination? What is it? Could you please quote some examples from your activities.
Renata Balog: There is […] work-related discrimination. Romani are not very eagerly hired for civil service, they are hired but rarely. It is also discriminative. School. If we want to send a kid to school, it was hard to have our kids enlisted even to a Hungarian school, we had a conflict with the school director…
EMPR: Do children of Roma community study in separate schools?
Natalia Kozyr: Yes, our schools are segregated.
Renata Balog: It is [the school] no.14 and this one, lessons are taught in Hungarian. As we live in Zakarpattia we have various schools, in various languages. As the Roma population in Mukacheve speaks Hungarian we have a specialized school no.14 where studies are in Hungarian, and school no.3 where studies are in Hungarian as well.
EMPR: Is Ukrainian studied at schools?
Renata Balog: It is, there are separate classes where it is studied as a foreign language. There are conflicts as they do not want to enroll particularly Roma children [in school – edit.]. While the reason for that they cannot name directly.
EMPR: Do you mean this specialized school or an ordinary one?
Renata Balog: An ordinary school. It is discrimination but such discrimination is unfortunately very hard to prove. Very hard, despite there is an article and everything.
Georgina Pfeifer: I had a case when I went to a kindergarten with a girl and her mother. They promised me to take a child every month and they did not take the kid because she is Romani.
EMPR: What did they say?
Georgina Pfeifer: They said: you have to wait, there are no vacant places. We were waiting and as a result they gave us no permission to this kindergarten. While there was one to the kindergarten no.7, another one, and the girl was enrolled. She attends that kindergarten.
EMPR: So are you saying that it was not because there were no vacant places…
Georgina Pfeifer: Yes, because it was a Roma child.
Renata Balog: We understood it when we wanted to enroll a Roma girl in kindergarten and she was not accepted while another white-skin non-Roma girl was enrolled and to the same group. And they made it clear that no, we do not want to enroll her.
Natalia Kozyr: Discrimination is everywhere here. If we take a Roma school it is considered to be a national minority school, it is a Hungarian language school. It cannot even be accussed of being segregated. It is located on the territory of the [Roma – edit.] camp. […] It leads to the situation when children who attend the Roma school go back to the camp after school, they see no opportunities and alternative ways of development outside their camp where the are ‘conserved’. There are many people who have never left the camp. And once again they study in Hungarian, they have several lessons of Ukrainian. But by the time they graduate from school they speak no or very poor Ukrainian. What future lies further? On the one hand it is good that our Roma are Hungarian speakers, they maintain knowledge of their own language. But they live in Ukraine, they need to socialize somehow. Outside the kindergarten and school they need to communicate with people. Where can they enter to study? He will not enter anywhere. He cannot be hired to work as he speaks Hungarian. He cannot even communicate outside the camp, well we got a lot of Hungarian speakers here and it is a bit easier. But they do not get out further than their communities. It is an unbelievable wall of obstacles [when it comes to – edit.] decreasing the level of social distance between Ukrainians and other nationalities that live in our city and all across Zakarpattia.
Iryna Lysnychka joins the conversation. She says: I am lawyer of the Mukacheve human rights center. We provide legal aid to Roma. […] Indirect discrimination of Roma is noted in the Law of Ukraine on registration of civil state acts. Article 13 of the Law says that when a child turns 16 state registration is made after the passport of the citizen of Ukraine is submitted. […] To Roma it is a discriminative norm as they got no birth certificates. […] When we address the migration service we are also denied issuing a passport as according to the procedure to get the passport a person must lodge the birth certificate.
EMPR: How do you practically resolve this situation?
Iryna Lysnychka: It is very difficult. We lodge claims to establish the legal fact. But we’ve had numerous cases when the court establishes the legal fact and RAGS [state administrative body registering births, marriages, deaths – edit.] deny the registration. That’s why we turn to the administrative court where according to the administrative court proceeding actions of RAGS are considered illegal and the court binds it to register the birth fact. There were cases when […] even after that RAGS refused doing this. […]
EMPR: What is the percentage of people from Roma community who have got their passports?
Iryna Lysnychka: I would say 60% do have them, 40% do not.
Natalia Kozyr: Out of the 11 thousand [of the Mukacheve Roma camp – edit.]. We have 128 Roma settlements in Zakarpattia. They are large and small, some include up to 500 persons, some several thousand. There are four thousand in Perechyn. Ours [Mukacheve one – edit.] is the biggest in Ukraine.
EMPR: Would you like to add anything about discrimination?
Andriy Gorvat: I’ve recently came across discrimination when we were lodging the documents to register self-organization [body – edit.]. We were denied. […] We collected 400 or 600 signatures for registration. […] Each street wanted to become independent. We did not want to go begging: give us water, give us electricity […]. We wanted to live on our own. But they won’t let us. […] ‘The Gypsy wants to be somebody, let him be nobody”…
EMPR: What do you mean by saying that the streets wanted to become independent?
Andriy Gorvat: There is such a law “On Bodies of Self-Organization of Citizens”. Roma […] there are 14 streets that do not want to be in such a condition as they are now: without water, without electricity, without gas, with nothing. Roma wanted to choose themselves their own leader of the street. […] If anything happens this street committee [takes over the problem – edit.]. [...] When we lodged these documents I faced discrimination. They [city authorities – edit.] did not want to hand it over to Roma and do not want it now. They do not want that Roma do it, because Roma are street cleaners according to this monument. This is what discrimination is. […] They addressed the Prosecutor’s Office, police, they sued us in court. They thought the signatures that we collected are false. Neither of this was true. In such a way they were dragging on time. They thought it would pass and Roma would forget about it, but we do not. And that is discrimination because they do not let us develop and rise, we are always at the bottom because we are Roma.
EMPR: What is the current status of your application?
Andriy Gorvat: We do not know anything. We are waiting and waiting. I know that the case was closed, the investigation into the [allegedly – edit.] falsified signatures had been started. We brought the people who had signed the documents to the law enforcement agencies, they gave their explanations - that it was not true and we did not promise anything to them. We were also asked to renew these documents for registration. We are waiting, but nothing is happening.
Dezyderiy Kondi: They are purposefully dragging it on.
Andriy Gorvat: For four years Roma live in a slough. […] We got no land. […] We have no place to put even a toilet. We live in a small settlement. When four years pass and we enter the fifth year and elections approach, then they start liking Roma. They come to the camp, [bring – edit.] some gravel. […] Because we are poor and these imposters, these mafia men […] make people, Roma vote those whom they want not whom Roma want. […] He […] gives the money in a suitcase, he hides these money and gives UAH 500-600 to Roma for sausages and vodka […], go and vote him. This is what discrimination is. We live as if in a Hitler’s ghetto. […]
Natalia Kozyr: We have a formal city council programme “Roma population of Mukacheve 2012-2015”. Nothing was done over the time that this programme has been on. It ended in August. We wrote a letter asking to set up a working group out of the representatives of Roma organizations. Because if anything is done or created not a single Roma person is invited. Representatives of the city council, our lawyers and lawyers of the city council need to be there. […] Our city mayor responded that it is not timely, it is not needed. Only the city council has exclusive right to initiate and set up the city programmes. But earlier in January we set up a city target programme on provision of free primary legal aid to residents of Mukacheve. We initiated it. I wrote this entire programme from A to Z. It was adopted and the budget was granted. We managed to agree. But now we start facing serious problems. Competition is protracted, so are other things. We are stuck and cannot break through it for a half of the year. […] I promised our mayor that I will be sending him an information inquiry every week. I do send them. Every week I receive the answers that over the week no events within the programme were held. […] There is the programme, it’s been approved, certain budget for it has been allocated, but when you start asking particularly about each paragraph […] they have nowhere to hide – nothing was done. That’s why we would like to establish a Roma city programme where first of all Roma will take part in developing the programme, so that the programme would target their development as they see it, development of self-organizing, schools, kindergartens, provision of urban services and utilities in the camp. […]
EMPR: Apart from free primary and secondary legal aid available if I am correct to not only Roma what other projects, initiatives is the Fund implementing for Roma?
Natalia Kozyr: Lots of, our web site has full information on everything that we do. [Natalia then gives a few examples – edit.] We work at schools with girls on preserving reproductive health, early parturition. We are to run four projects now: one on introducing amendments to the legislation […], second one would be advocacy project on self-organizing of Roma population, sustainable development of Roma community, they are all synchronized among themselves […] It is very difficult now, almost nothing can be done. We are waiting for elections that are to happen in a month. […] It does not work this way anymore: they throw a kilogram of gravel and everyone keeps quiet. No one will keep quiet, they have not fully realized that.
EMPR: Does anyone from the Roma community plan to run for a local deputy?
Andriy Gorvat: I do. Oleksandr Balog is running.
Natalia Kozyr: Oleksandr Balog is the starosta [leader – edit.] of the Mukacheve Roma camp.
EMPR: Does anyone want to add anything?
Andriy Gorvat: We ask the people who […] put the monument to the street cleaner to dismantle it or rework it into a musician. We also ask that our authorities cooperate with our civic organizations. If they want anything, ask us to come. […] We all work to make the life of Roma easier in these uneasy times.
Natalia Kozyr: We have a small group of Roma women who want to learn to read, who want to read fairy tales to their children in the evening themselves. When they claim it to authorities they look at them as if they were from another planet. […] They are 10 people. [To resolve this problem – edit.] one needs to assign the teacher of Ukrainian language and teach them. They will go further and further. Given that an illiterate mother has an illiterate child. It is not because she is lazy or stupid, she has never read and she is never going to learn to read books to her child. It’s a vicious circle of poverty that is impossible to break. Instead the monument is installed.