Another two weeks have passed since my last blog. Right after writing about the feeling that my research was stuck, it got back on track again. So, in the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to expand my research geographically. This turned out to be a great experience, because it proved both the positive and negative side of something else I wanted to tell you.
In Slovenia local communities have much influence. The Slovenian government of course provides the general laws, but the implementation of these laws depends on local government: it is a situation of self-governing.
The situation for Roma in other countries differs from the situation in Slovenia. One Roma man who had been in several European countries claimed that Hungary was the best. When I asked him why the situation is so different in Slovenia, he told me that it eventually comes down on politics. The situation especially depends on the local municipality, which in practice means the mayor. The local politics are decided by the (political) side the mayor is on. However, it also depends on the local Slovenian people. In the end, the mayor depends on them for votes, so if local people dislike the Roma population in their village, the mayor won’t do anything to help the Roma.
In dealing with Roma issues, then, there is no general approach. Every municipality deals with these problematics in its own ways. It was interesting to see how this resulted in the current situation in Ribnica and Trebnje. In Ribnica I visited three Roma settlements. None of these had access to water and electricity, and I even think these settlements weresome of the worst I have seen in the past three months (and I have seen many). Prior to my trips to Ribnica I had been told that the Roma living there were dangerous and even violent. I indeed encountered some frustrated people, but in the end some said they really appreciated that I had come to their remote settlements without fear. Most of all they appreciated my sincere interest in their stories.
A week later I went to Trebnje. This is the positive example of the influence local mayors have. In Trebnje the mayor has the opinion that there should be attention for the Roma in Trebnje, cause you won’t resolve problems by ignoring them. The settlement of Hudeje is the example of what can be changed when the local government invests in Roma settlements. In the past six years a process of legalization of the settlement was started, and they got access to water, electricity and sanitation. Furthermore, it was the first and only settlement I have seen that had asfalt roads. Also, the Roma councillor whom I meeted there, said that they would bring flowers alongside the roads, ‘so that it will look like a nice village’.
Hudeje is a so-called example of ‘good practice’. The Roma in this settlement chose to ‘open up’ their village to visitors (secretaries, students, etcetera). The next day the official website of Hudeje (www.hudeje26.si) mentioned that I had come to visit them. Just a few days later a professor who prepared the contacts for me in Trebnje sent me an e-mail that he had spoken with the Roma councillor I had met a couple of days earlier and that he was very thankful for having had the opportunity to speak to me.
Sometimes I feel guilty for walking away from Roma settlements without having had the opportunity to actually change something for the better. But appearantly the appreciation is already there. However, in the end, the person that is most thankful for all the opportunities to meet with these people is me. They have taught me a lot, and I am thankful for their openness, kindness and trust.