It’s been nine days since I arrived in Ljubljana. Meanwhile, I can say I have adapted to the ‘Slovenian routine of the day’.
After the weekend I started meeting with my research assistants – three students of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnic Studies at Ljubljana University. These three girls are all totally different, but each is willing to help in their own way. I have “selected” them on the basis of their affinity with doing research, their contacts within the communities I will visit these coming months, and their knowledge of the English language. I will visit Grosuplje, Kocevje and Novo Mesto (south/southeast Slovenia) each with a different assistant, depending on the contacts they have.
Also, I have met with two professors. One, also an anthropologist, has done some research among Roma in the past. He has provided me with some information about the general problems concerning the access to water for Roma: Roma are often settled on parcels that are labeled ‘not suitable for building’. While these parcels of land are not worth much, the municipalities often let them be. However, these municipalities cannot provide the basic infrastructure (roads, electricity, water and sewage systems), because building this infrastructure on parcels that are ‘not suitable for building’ would be illegal. However, when Roma want to live on parcels that are labeled ‘suitable for building’, they are often not able to, because these parcels are worth much and they often lack the money to buy it.
Municipalities, nowadays, want to solve these problems, because they are not proud of these occurring within their regions, but this is much easier said than done. They cannot easily break the cycle mentioned above. It is even more problematic, because Roma communities would need to be resettled, but it is hard to find a proper place to move them to, and of course Roma often do not want to move from the lands they have lived on for several years.
Last friday I met with another person, who is a professor in geography. He provided a totally different perspective of Roma communities. This professor has lots of experience in doing research in Roma communities in Dolenjska, southeast Slovenia. His goal is the legalization of Roma settlements. He talks much about the structure of these settlements, which is very typical. Whereas Slovenian houses are often build alongside the main road in a village, Roma houses are often much more close to each other. Often, people think that these settlements are chaotic, but they are built according to the living style of Roma. ‘Closeness’ is a key term: when a family builds a house somewhere, their sons and daughters will also build a house nearby to live close to their family.
This professor, furthermore, could also tell me some specifics about the different communities in Novo Mesto, and he knew the communities of Grosuplje and Kocevje. He has prepared some contacts for me with people in Novo Mesto whose work is related to Roma-issues (such as the primary school, a member of the commune, and the local police). This visit, thus, was very helpful too.
I have not been to the Roma communities themselves yet, and probably will not this week too.
Multiple times I have heard that I should get contacts via contacts via contacts. And, for now, that works out well.
The first week was a good start. Let’s see what comes next…