Blogbox | #IWouldChange

Laws alone are not enough

By - 19.02.2022

The reality of minorities in Kosovo is different from the laws.

A few years ago I bought a flower from a young girl who, before leaving, thanked me with a hug. This made my friend uncomfortable. She criticized me for hugging someone she took to be Roma. This expression of blatant prejudice from someone I did not expect it from made me realize just how deep the discrimination against minority communities is in Kosovo.

On Kosovo’s 14th birthday the country finds itself with many problems that make our lives difficult. However, these problems are felt more harshly by people from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.

Though in legal terms these minority communities are protected and have equal rights, at times this de jure equality overshadows the de facto discrimination these people face every day. Saying that the Constitution of Kosovo is in line with international conventions on human rights and praising the existing legal framework is not enough. All it takes is to go out on the street and visit the neighborhoods where minority communities live, to talk to them and then you’ll understand that praising laws is empty.

Between everyday life and the law

The Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities face difficulties that prevent them from living with dignity.

Almost every day we hear expressions with ethnic slurs like “don’t act like a maxhup” or “the maxhup is coming.” When I hear such expressions I react, but people dismiss me, saying “ah, but I don’t mean the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities, I mean this or that,” or that “this is an expression that is stuck in my head.” In addition to hearing excuses and justifications, I also see a tendency to consider these expressions as unchangeable. This is the first change we need to make. As a start, we must always react against such derogatory and humiliating words and refuse to use them.

Another challenge is poverty. A few years ago, in an article by K2.0, Kosovo Police said that out of 351 beggars they identified, most of them were children from the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities. We constantly hear cases of children from these communities being forced to drop out of school so that they can work and provide for their families or how they cannot afford school expenses.

Related to the problem of poverty are issues related to poor living conditions. The daily challenges, although they have been made public to some extent, continue to be ignored and not addressed. In the “Lagja 29” neighborhood in Fushë Kosova, a neighborhood largely inhabited by people from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, there is no drinking water and there are a number of other problems that are constantly overlooked.

If we want to create a society with genuine democratic values, we must first create an environment where all citizens of the Republic of Kosovo are treated with dignity.

If we want to create a society with genuine democratic values, which is one of our most important goals, we must first create an environment where all citizens of the Republic of Kosovo are treated with dignity and equally –– free from discrimination.

This goal can be achieved first through the commitment to change ourselves and then through the commitment of institutions. It is also critical that Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities are actively involved in policymaking alongside non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights. 

The participation of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities in social, political, economic and cultural life as equal citizens is a fundamental factor in creating a society that is inclusive.

This participation should be real and not just symbolic. The promotion of the values of equality, peace and diversity should be ever present in various trainings, forums or open discussions in different institutions, especially in schools. In these forums, concepts about equality and non-discrimination should be explored and examined, so that society becomes aware and behaviors shift.

Of course, this can also be achieved through social media and media in general. I believe that media and social networks would have a large impact and would bring results in raising public awareness about the importance of protecting equal rights. So to challenge injustices we need more than empty words.

Feature Image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.