Being aware of the fact that Roma and Egyptians as a marginalized social group face numerous problems in terms of discrimination, social exclusion and generational poverty, we must make special efforts to improve their quality of life and provide them with a more secure future – said Aleksa Bečić, President of Montenegrin Parliament today at the opening of the exhibition of photographs by young Roma and Egyptians “Human Rights through the Lens of Young Roma and Egyptians”.
“In this age of great challenges, caused by the coronavirus pandemic and complex economic circumstances, it is necessary more than ever to pay attention to the protection of human rights and freedoms, because we can talk about the future and true progress only in that way. “Our unreserved commitment to the European path, guided by common values, is the best confirmation of our sincere intention to improve the human rights of all citizens on a daily basis, regardless of their differences,” Bečić said.
While speaking about today’s installation in the Parliament, President Bečić stated that special attention was paid to the promotion and protection of human rights of Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, in order to emphasize the importance of their full inclusion and equality in Montenegrin society.
Without them, or any other community, which together represent the cultural diversity and riches of Montenegro, it is impossible to talk about true reconciliation and lasting peace, the President of the Parliament concluded.
The head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro, Oana Cristina Popa, said that the most important message on the occasion of Human Rights Day was for everyone to unite efforts in the fight for equality, justice and human dignity.
“The European Union remains the biggest supporter of the promotion and protection of human rights, especially of vulnerable groups such as Roma and Egyptians and LGBTQ. “Despite significant EU support and efforts of institutions and civil society, these two groups, according to the latest research, are still at the bottom of the social ladder and are facing marginalization in Montenegrin society” Popa said.
Ambassador Popa stated that the EU continues to cooperate with civil society and other relevant actors in advocating for the protection and respect of human rights, whether civil, political, social, economic or cultural rights.
As a part of this project, for which the EU has provided 150,000 euros, more than 250 young Roma were supported to participate in a range of social and cultural activities in their communities. In addition, 15 young Roma who successfully completed the school year, underwent training for peer educators and enhanced their knowledge of human rights as well as photography, Ambassador Popa said.
One of them is the author of several photos, a young Roma activist Jasmina Beriša, who is also a golden advisor to the Ombudsman.
“Ever since I was 10, I have been involved in activism, from when I had first participated in human rights workshops. If someone had asked me before what the human rights, discrimination and dignity were, I would not have been able to answer that question. That workshop was a great driving force for me. Why is that so? I have learned something new; I have learned what discrimination is, I have learned that I used to be a victim of discrimination and that I discriminated against someone, more precisely that I endangered someone’s human rights and that someone endangered my human rights. “
On the International Human Rights Day, this excellent student of the Elementary School “Božidar Vuković Podgoričanin” who is going after „Luča”, has stated that the situation in practice is not great.
„If we were to go to any store now, we would see a child in front of the door of the store begging, if we were to take a walk down the street I am sure you would see at least one mother with a child in her arms who is hungry and thus trying to earn something. If we were to go to any apartment building, I am sure that most of the young residents of that building would not have the opportunity to get a job. We can also go to any Roma settlement, and that settlement would be in complete chaos, smoke would be everywhere, the environment would be completely polluted, and so the question presents itself just how can we protect ourselves from the corona virus pandemic. I need to tell you something else as well: one day, on my way to school, I met a seven-year-old child who was in very poor physical condition, with torn clothes, all dirty, but despite all that that child respected what the state has asked and wore a mask. He has fulfilled his obligation, but the question is whether the state does the same, whether it fulfills its obligations and whether it treats all its citizens responsibly?“ Jasmina Beriša wondered.
Famous Montenegrin photographer Dejan Kalezić, mentor of Roma and Egyptian teenage authors of photographs and selector of 28 works that the exhibition consists of, has said that his work on this project represents a pleasure for him, because nine young people have shown their feelings, desires and the way they see human rights through their photographs.
“I congratulate you the International Human Rights Day with the wish that we celebrate every next one in such a beautiful way as today’s exhibition, and that we have as few reasons as possible to point out human rights violations,” said Kalezić.
The regional coordinator of Help, Klaus Mock, said that this organization has decided to take the opportunity on Human Rights Day to reaffirm the protection of Roma human rights, although the International Roma Day is April 8, and thanked the Parliament for accepting the initiative and for organizing this event.
„Since there is still a wide gap in living standards between Roma and Egyptian communities compared to the majority population, I trust that the Montenegrin parliament will do its part to help significantly improve the general situation of Roma in MNE by asking the Montenegrin authorities to intervene on behalf of these communities.“ said Mock.
Equal opportunities for all citizens and involvement in civil and political life are key to democracy. For that reason, according to the regional coordinator, we in Help support several Roma organizations that will become driving factors of their own rights through the project “Civil society in action promoting and protecting Roma and Egyptian rights in Montenegro” funded by the EU.
„I am proud to be able to say that, during its 25 years of work in the Balkans and more than 20 years in Montenegro, Help has always addressed the hardships of the Roma and Egyptian communities and will remain to be on their side.“
Elvis Beriša, executive director of the NGO “Walk with us – Phiren Amenca” has said that the young and educated Roma men and women are the greatest protectors of not only Roma human rights, but of human rights of all communities in Montenegro.
“The exhibition that we have the opportunity to see here today, was organized in an innovative way, which is also characteristic of youth activism. We hope that in the future it will become praxis for young people, as in this case it was through their lenses, to have the opportunity to show how they see human rights, instead of looking at the Roma community and their rights from the perspective of the majority,” Beriša pointed out.
As he said, he was glad that they have gathered today in this great house, where the destiny of all peoples in Montenegro, and thus the Roma, is being shaped, and that he has had the opportunity to point out the needs of the Roma community.
“The doors of this house should be open in order for the voice of the people to be heard. But we should remind ourselves because we were all witnesses of that, that the voice of the most endangered people in Montenegro and Europe has never before been heard in this house in the way on which all other nationalities have the opportunity for it. We cannot say that we are a democratic country, if in 21st century we still have laws that openly discriminate against one nation, which makes it impossible for their voice to be heard in the greatest house of a country, such as the Parliament. Therefore, from this place I am sending a strong message to all decision-makers to keep in mind that the Roma community also wants to enjoy the right to vote and to be elected.” said Beriša.
Today on Human Rights Day, the organization “Walk with us – Phiren Amenca” was awarded the international Roma Youth Project Award for the best youth project in Europe – for the project “Young for Youth”.
The President of the Parliament of Montenegro, Aleksa Bečić, presented the camera award to the Muhamed Ahmetaj, one of the authors who according to Dejan Kalazić showed the greatest creativity and has demonstrated hard work, although the exhibition did not have a competitive character.
After the Parliament, we will display this valuable exhibit in several other Montenegrin cities.
The exhibition is part of the program “Civil society in action promoting and protecting Roma and Egyptian rights in Montenegro ” which is implemented by Help in cooperation with the partner Roma youth organization “Walk with us – Phiren Amenca”, with financial support of the European Union and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
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