The conference aimed to gather the project’s beneficiaries as well as local contacts, and present the project results to a wider audience. The presenters spoke about the achievements of the project and wider impacts, as well as ways to make these results sustainable.
Some of the main achievements and results of the initiative include the establishment of the Office for Minority Issues in Bijelina (BiH), the creation of a Platform for Social Dialogue and Cooperation in Tetovo (FYROM), trainings on monitoring and the implementation of a Roma and Ashkhali action plan in Ferizaj/Urosevac and Prizren (Kosovo), and the publication of a Handbook on Minority Institutions in Schleswig-Holstein and educational info-sheets on selected topics.
Office for Minority Issues in Bijelina
“The City of Bijelina is a step ahead compared to other municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina in terms of dealing with minority issues”, said the newly appointed Head of Office for Minority Issues in Bijelina Mr. Ljubiša Stanišić.
There are two larger minority groups in Bijelina: the Slovak and Roma communities. “While Slovaks are well integrated, Roma face many problems,” said Mr. Stanišić. Therefore, most of the activities of the Office deals with the Roma issues. Within the two months since its establishment, the Office has already managed to raise considerable funds from international donors and address the majority of the requests made to it, with new initiatives coming from the members of the Roma communities. Some of the crucial issues include housing and education. In addition, the Office has attracted wide public attention, from media as well as from other minority groups or organizations. “Only last week we had four different TV stations visiting us locally and talking about our work. It has become a popular matter. Before if someone was afraid to voice their concerns as a minority group member, now they are contacting us or the Head of Office directly and are willing to cooperate”, reported Mr. Dragan Jokovič, Head of the NGO Otaharin, one of the lead partners in Bijelina. “However, more political power is needed, more support and partnership from outside as well as inside the municipality. It can have a multiplication effect and set an example for other municipalities”.
For the partners in Bijelina this project was of great importance. Establishing a network of partners in the region as well as in Germany is of great importance for local actors “the project helped us to look at the issues from outside of the Balkan perspective and be part of greater Europe”, said Mr. Jokovič.
Platform for Social Dialogue and Cooperation in Tetovo
Another body established as part of the project is a Platform for Social Dialogue and Cooperation in Tetovo (FYROM). The Platform is led by the NGO SONCE, project partner in Tetovo.
There are six minority groups coexisting in Tetovo: Serbian, Greek, Turkish, Macedonian, Roma, and Albanian. “It is not money that is needed, but commitment of partners, and political will”, explained Mr. Nezir Huseini, Director of the NGO Sonce. With this platform the minority representatives are able to communicate their concerns and to find joint solutions, to categorize them and identify priorities, in order to best fit the capacities of the municipality. The Platform also plays a lobbying role, to ensure that when a municipality budget is drafted in October, these needs are incorporated in the planning. The Platform is a good example of how these minority groups can coexist and communicate together if given a structured space for dialogue and opportunity.
The project helped the local actors to strengthen good cooperation with the municipality, as well as establish networks regionally and internationally, but most importantly to connect not only Roma actors, but also other minority groups within the same Platform.
“In some areas we can ensure the sustainability of the results, but we need support from international partners in order to motivate the local actors, to see other examples from abroad, to train and develop”, said Mr. Huseini. “Everyone wants their problems solved first, however most of the times all groups face very similar issues. It is important to listen to them and explain. We will not prioritize any minority group, but rather prioritize the most pressing problems”.
Over the last two years the project covered eight municipalities in four countries, with the involvement of local government representatives as well as representatives of over 15 different organizations from six different countries. Over 120 people directly participated in the event.
The expressed interest from the Western Balkans and the project results have shown that despite the political and social differences between the regions, sharing good practices can become an inspiration and can lead to positive changes.
Throughout the project, the team developed a handbook on “Minority Institutions in Schleswig-Holstein: Transfer of Models to the Western Balkans”. The handbook is a compilation of the most relevant aspects of minority protection mechanisms in Schleswig-Holstein.
Starting with the prominent Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations, the Handbook outlines some of the key institutions in Schleswig-Holstein supporting minority communities and promoting minority rights. “We feel proud that we could be an inspiration and a good example of knowledge transfer”, said Ms. Linda Pieper (Schleswig-Holstein State Chancellery) who was actively involved in the project throughout the two years together with team members from the GIZ, FUEN and the ECMI.
About the Project Minorities in Western Balkans