You cannot fail to notice him at NGO gatherings; he is active, always smiling, kind, articulate and persistent. A true role-model not only for the RE population, but generally for the whole generation of young aspiring people with goals, who are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve them.
Nardy Ahmetović, a young 21-year-old from Niksic, born in the Italian city of Maddaloni, is the coordinator of the Center for Affirmation of Roma-Egyptian Population and a Red Cross volunteer activist since he was 15. He dreams of opening a museum of Roma history and culture one day and to tell the story of a nation that has endured many things for centuries but has never, ever waged war.
In the break between the many commitments he has made these days as a Red Cross activist during coronavirus pandemic – which has brought the whole world to a stop, but which has at the same time engaged staff and volunteers of the key services in a society; Nardy found some time to commemorate April 8 – International Roma Day, by answering several questions about his community, it`s position in Montenegrin society, the problems it is facing, but also to answer those questions about his dreams, including the one about the Museum of Roma History and Culture.
The interview is part of project Civil society in action promoting and protecting Roma and Egyptian rights in Montenegro. The project is funded by EU and implement Help with the Roma youth organization Walk with us Phiren Amenca.
We will be starting with the impact of the coronavirus on the RE community because, among other reasons, the entire RE settlement on Konik in Podgorica has been quarantined after a member of the RE community tested positive for COVID-19.
Help: This year’s International Roma Day is welcomed under significantly different circumstances – during the coronavirus pandemic that has not omitted the Roma community. How much does this situation complicate the social conditions in which the RE community lives?
Ahmetović: International Roma Day is not forgotten by us Roma people, because it is a day that means a lot to us, it is a confirmation of our existence and identity. On the other hand, the pandemic showed yet another form of discrimination against us. For example, it was evident in all portals and media that have written about the case in Vrela Ribnicka, – the comments on these articles made by the majority population are proof of this. You know that RE community is most often without permanent employment, they usually do a day’s work or sell on flea market, collect secondary raw materials, and also have little or no social benefits at all. Therefore, it is very difficult for all citizens of the RE community, and all Roma settlements are at risk.
The RE population has largely faced poverty and poor lifestyles for decades. I am not saying that the Government of Montenegro is the only one responsible for this, we are also responsible for what has been happening to us during past years. This is because no one will fight for you unless you take the steps towards a better future, first for yourself personally, then for the future of your children, and then for the future of your people – for all of us… Young people still marry without being materially secured, they do not finish elementary schools – let alone high school, or should we say that few of them do finish. In doing so, I wonder: what is the quality of the knowledge they receive? For some, the only thing that matters are the number of the enrolled students in the following year. However, I cannot fully answer this question, we should all think about this, first RE population ourselves, and then others from many public institutions should think about it as well.
Help: How do you assess the treatment of the Roma community by the state in the context of this pandemic?
Ahmetović: As you know yourself, civic initiative UPRA (Civic Initiative of the United Roma and Egyptians), of which I am a member also, has not yet received a response, despite initiatives and letters sent to the Government of Montenegro. I hope that the answer will follow as soon as possible, because the increase of the infected is predicted in the coming days. And on this occasion also, I urge them to consider what we have sent to them. As an activist and volunteer who has been volunteering and working with the community for 5 years, I am very disappointed. I know that the Government does not have enough different capacities to care for everyone in the same way, but everyone deserves an answer, if not even recommendation, so that we can all find a model to help vulnerable groups.
Help: You have been a Red Cross activist yourself these days – why?
Ahmetović: Look, I grew up in a single-parent family, so I really felt what it means to have or not to have enough. Because of this, the Red Cross was many times like a “second home” to me, and their volunteers have been my family. It is in my nature and I like to help people who do not have enough, I love when I see a smile on a human face because of support or a kind word, I also like hanging out with volunteers, and CKCG has also given me various trainings.
Helping is something I have been doing since I was little, from the age of 7 and a half, when I first arrived from Italy and did not know how to write my name. The visit to the Red Cross was due to an appointed examination at dentist for Roma who do not have regulated documents, and at that time I did not have the documents, nor did I know the official language. Former Secretary Mido D. was a real hero to me, he presented me with my first ball, which I thank him for today. That’s where I fell in love with the red uniform. I have been attached to them ever since and after I graduated from elementary school, at the age of 15, I decided to apply to the Red Cross Volunteer Youth Club.
From 2015 until today, I have been a volunteer and I have had the great honor to learn from senior volunteers like Dragan Nikolic, I like to say that he is my mentor.
We have been visiting day care centers for the elderly together before this pandemic started, and we were implementing the „Healthy aging (Zdravo starenje) “program with them. Also, I have to mention a very important person for me, my mentor Marijana Blečić, who volunteers to help me with all my writing tasks and gives me instructions for everything I need without asking for compensation.
I met her at an important meeting, on a seminar held every two years with the Council and the Government of Montenegro, she helped me write the first project on which we were mentored by her. After the project has been completed, we are still connected and our relationship is stronger than ever. Marijana is helping us selflessly, she even donated the complete equipment to the NGO CARAEP office (Center for Affirmation of the Roma-Egyptian Population), and in this situation she had an understanding for our population and donated over 40 liters of shampoo, just as much soap, and a number of face masks. I wish there were programs that provided this kind of support which I have from Marijana.
A lot of work is being done about it, but there are still not enough well educated Roma people
Help: How do you assess the general situation in which the RE population is now – whether anything has been achieved – and what has, in improving the position of your community in Montenegro, and what yet remains to be done?
Ahmetović: It is very difficult to answer to this question, there is a lot of work being done when it comes to education, housing… but it is not enough – since we do not have even 25 Roma in college, 25 young people who have attained higher education … There about 2000 high school students, and the quality of knowledge of Roma high school students is very poor. Why am I saying this? Because I work with young people, and I see that most of them do not know how to write their names even now, let alone continue high school smoothly.
The Government of Montenegro has signed a document that will promote better inclusion and preservation of the Roma identity, I hope and I am sincerely optimistic that NGOs and the Roma Council will do their best to offer quality guidance with the Government and other relevant institutions to be equal partners in order to improve the position of Roma.
Also, when it comes to promoting and preserving Roma culture, there is very little work on the subject; housing is a big problem for almost everyone, because almost all refugees have been granted housing, but what about the domicile Roma people, who are mostly living in worse conditions in Montenegro – they have been completely forgotten.
Help: You are a young man, you belong to a new educated generation – how many of your people are ready and able to follow your path?
Ahmetović: I sincerely hope that the younger generation will have more young educated and activist-minded Roma than is the case with my generation, in which there are very few of us. My opportunities during regular schooling were rare, I almost didn’t have them, but I didn’t lose hope.
I am currently in high school and I am paying part-time exams for myself, because I had started my education in elementary school late, due to lack of knowledge of language and the lack of documents. I tell all young people that the only way out and our main weapon is the education and the will to succeed. I grew up without parents, I have two sisters who are also graduating from high school, and I have struggled a lot in my life, but I do not regret anything, because if I had not tried, you would not be doing an interview with me today.
Help: What is your goal in life, how do you see your future?
Ahmetović: My goal in life is to be a good man first, good and humane. Then I’ll choose a college, I haven’t decided yet, though I want to be a social worker or an educator, so whatever happens…
Help: I also know that you dream of opening a museum of Roma history and culture one day…
Ahmetović: And I hope it will come true one day… I’m optimistic. I dream to make this question open – for a museum of Roma culture, because a nation without culture is not a nation at all! I direct all my work and activism in this direction, to bring the rich traditional Roma culture closer to the majority population… so that something remains after us, so that children and the new generation may know more about their identities. So that new generation doesn’t look like mine, which does not know where they came from as a people or when did the Roma first come to Montenegro. You see, in the sixteenth century, for the first time the Roma came/were noticed, they were slaves all their lives, they were divided into several groups… there is a lot to talk about and read, but unfortunately we have many illiterates and those who are still calling themselves “gypsies”. That word which has the worst meaning a person can think of, comes from the Latin word… for people who do bad things, they are told – not to be Gypsy. It is unfortunate that most people do not know what that one world means. We are a nation that has endured anything and everything for centuries, but the Roma have never waged war!
A people who loves to travel, loves music and craftsmanship… a peaceful people.