The Roma are a traditional national minority in Slovenia

The members of the Roma minority are a national minority which is undergoing the slow and painful process of obtaining a legal status similar to that of the recognised Italian and Hungarian national minorities. For this reason, their local integration as well as the planning and managing of the places where they live are all the more important. Unfortunately, it seems that in recent years the spatial planners have all too often treated the Roma issue merely as a social and security one, while too little has been done to connect spatial planning and management with the preservation of the Roma identity, their cultural and economic development, and finally the building of the Roma as a traditional national minority in Slovenia.

The Roma are both a rural and an urban population. They have been slow to settle permanently, partly because of the attitude of Slovene local communities and authorities, which have been preventing them from finding permanent settlement.

Their attempts to find permanent residence have been marked by prosecutions, deportations and violence.

Unfortunately, even today many of the Roma’s attempts to cohabitate with the Slovene majority have been thwarted by the negative reactions of the local residents. But despite all the misfortune, people have not been able to chase them away. They have persisted and stayed. Gradually, Roma settlements began to emerge. Some are a century old, others a few decades. How many so-called Roma settlements are there in Slovenia? We do not have an exact number. Some say 103, others mention 105, others again 107.

General map of the Roma and Sinti population in Slovenia. Map by: Geodetic Institute of Slovenia

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The map is from the Topical Atlas of the Roma Population in Slovenia, created within the project RAISING SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CAPITAL IN AREAS POPULATED BY MEMBERS OF THE ROMA COMMUNITY. It was partially financed by the EU’s European Social Fund and the Operational Programme for Human Resources Development for the Period 2007-2013 at the Ministry of Education and Sport.

Roma integration meets with differing reactions. Sometimes people say that creating Roma settlements basically means creating ghettoes. The danger is real. The good intentions of local authorities to legalise and improve the existing Roma settlement can be seen in many local communities. But the municipal spatial plans do not allow for expansion. Moreover, certain initiatives advocate greenbelts around the settlements. If this principle is implemented in the process of regulating Roma planning issues, in a decade or so we will be facing the problem of overpopulation in the Roma settlements, the problem of Roma slums.

Not many municipal administrations have visionary perspectives – how it is possible to transform the philosophy of disability often associated with the Roma question into a philosophy of progress for the entire municipal community.

It is the state’s duty to legalise Roma settlements, to give them a place on the map and set up the basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, sewage, rubbish collection, multi-purpose spaces. The settlements should also be named. But from that point on, the development of the settlements and its residents depends on the residents themselves.

At this point we should mention another characteristic of the Roma population in Slovenia. The Roma (with very few exceptions) own no land (fields, meadows, forests) from which to earn a living. For this reason, increased human capital is vital for a better social status and standard of living. Only adequate human capital, enabling the development of social capital, can prevent the Roma settlements from becoming ghettoes. It gives the Roma a chance to move out of the Roma environment or to use the income to improve their living conditions.

Human capital refers to education, knowledge and individual competence. The easiest way to measure the increase of human capital would be to measure the increased education level of the Roma community. I myself once said that the situation will change substantially when at least 50 Roma graduate from Slovene universities. I am deliberately stressing ”from Slovene universities”. In addition to gaining knowledge, over the years spent in university one also makes many friends and acquaintances and joins social networks, which are vital for establishing one’s position in society.

Social capital refers to the inclusion of individuals (in this case the members of the Roma community) in social connections and networks within Roma settlements and also to their inclusion in social events in a wider context. Social capital must also be looked at from a different viewpoint – as the willingness of the members of the majority to establish connections with the members of the Roma community.

General illustration of the size of the Roma population in Slovene municipalities. Map created by: Geodetic Institute of Slovenia

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The map is from the Topical Atlas of the Roma Population in Slovenia, created within the project RAISING SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CAPITAL IN AREAS POPULATED BY MEMBERS OF THE ROMA COMMUNITY. It was partially financed by the EU’s European Social Fund and the Operational Programme for Human Resources Development for the Period 2007-2013 at the Ministry of Education and Sport.

Entry into the world of knowledge begins with preschool education. In recent years, it has emerged that the method of educating Roma children in primary school was bad. The children were (even violently) forced to attend school. Not long ago, they would be washed and have their clothes changed because they were untidy and dirty. Not being appropriately prepared for school, they were often mocked, insulted and abused. The result of this policy was that Roma children left school very quickly and never came back.

How did we tackle the evaluation of the above ideas within the project Raising social and cultural capital in areas populated by members of the Roma community? The main idea was to make the Roma settlement the starting point of the project activities. We built what we called Roma educational incubators (REI) inside the settlements. The REI can be a place and also the programme being carried out there. If there is no suitable location, the project is implemented in the homes of Roma families. With the establishment of the REI, the Roma were offered a space where they can improve their educational level, gaining knowledge and competences. As a consequence of learning assistance, the Roma children have improved their performance in school. The tutors (members of the Roma community) are given a sufficient amount of responsibility, which strengthens their self-confidence. All these elements contribute to a higher level of human capital.

By inviting members of the majority, for example tutors, kindergarten teachers, members of football schools, into the Roma settlements, we have put in place new ways of creating social capital. Synchronous actions in all Roma communities in Slovenia and tolerant cooperation between the members of the Roma community and the members of the majority help raise awareness that the Roma are a traditional national minority.

Further: Until now, the Pušča settlement in Prekmurje was the only one to have its own name. One of our project aims was to try and officially name other Roma settlements. We have chosen the Trebnje municipality, where the Roma live in a settlement called Hudeje. It was named after the near-by settlement with a Slovene majority. The motto of the project was: Hudeje today, Vejar tomorrow. With a lot of support from the municipality, the idea came to life on 8 April 2014. Vejar is only the second settlement with a Roma majority in Slovenia to have its own name, and the first one in the region of Dolenjska.

 

Translated by: Nina Maslovarić.

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