Sixteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, most citizens in Central and Eastern Europe have seen steady political and economic gains. However, the Roma—among the region’s largest minority—remain politically marginalized.
While international efforts focus on improving Roma living conditions, the issue of political participation has not been adequately addressed. It is, after all, the sole means by which Roma themselves can address their long-term community needs in such critical areas as housing, education, employment and healthcare.
For the past two years, NDI has helped Roma to increase their political participation. In Bulgaria, Macedonia and Slovakia, NDI is training new Roma leaders on public opinion research, issue advocacy, incorporation into mainstream political parties and outreach to Roma communities.
In April 2006 NDI convened its second Roma Regional Leadership Academy in Bucharest, Romania. The academy brought together emerging Roma leaders from Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. Academy participants reviewed how to developing strategic relationships with mainstream political parties; assess draft legislation with a view toward its impact on Roma communities; compare governmental National Action Plans for Roma throughout the region; and monitor the implementation of those plans.
Increasing political participation promises tangible benefits not just for Roma communities – who comprise nearly 10 percent of the population in some areas — but for the entire region. Continued political isolation of fast-growing Roma populations could threaten political stability in countries that are struggling to join the European Union. The full political enfranchisement of Roma — as voters, advocates, and elected officials — is vital to completing the region’s transition to democracy and ensuring political stability.
(Photo courtesy of the Milan Simecka Foundation)
Published on March 21, 2006