Roma community – the most discriminated against minority in Ukraine


The Council of Europe’s annual report talks of pressure being placed on Roma people by law enforcement officers and the local authorities, as well as the negative stereotype created by the press. A project being run by the Roma Women’s Fund “Chirikili” with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is aimed at changing the attitude of the State and society to Roma people.

Valentina Zolotarenko is a typical member of the middle class. Both she and her husband have well-paid jobs and live in a prestigious area of the capital. Their children are at secondary school. The only thing that is different is that she is a Roma. She is proud of this and can tell lots of interesting things about the history of the Roma, their life in modern Ukraine.

However in the last few days she and her Ukrainian woman friend ended up in an unpleasant situation.

“We had visited an exhibition of Maria Prymachenko’s work, walked around the Kyiv Lavra and decided to go to Khreschatyk St, to one of the “Argo” network shops. We tried to go into the “Orsei” shop but were stopped by the security guard who told us to leave, saying that he had orders not to allow Gypsies into the shop.

In the shop network “Argo” which includes “Orsei” the incident was explained as follows: “I don’t know whether there was such an instruction however these people are constantly stealing customers’ wallets – you see it on the security cameras”.

Extremely difficult to break down stereotypes

Valentina Zolotarenko believes that the stereotype against the Roma was at play. They are presented as card-players, thieves or drug-dealers.

The Head of the NED Project Serhiy Reshetov comments that it is very hard to overcome stereotypes, but it is possible. You need to carry out information and educational work with representatives of the authorities, the law enforcement bodies, the public and the media, and this is what their project is focused on.

“Civic organizations should be involved in this, carry out training seminars not only with Roma communities, teach them how to defend their rights, and also draw the media in to help. If these three strong forces – the authorities, civic organizations and the press – unite, I think that this powerful alliance can move the problem on from where it is now”.

President of the “Chirikli” Fund Zemfira Kondur believes that American and European experience at breaking down negative stereotypes about the Roman, the possibility of providing accurate information to the Ukrainian public and those in power about the Roma will reduce anti-Roma sentiments. She says that otherwise all the words about Ukraine’s European choice and democratic development will remain mere words.

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