The Municipality of Odzaci and its President Latinka Vasiljkovic were named winners of the “Most Roma Friendly Mayor“ launched within the ‘Joint Initiative to Empower Roma Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey’ presented at the European Parliament as part of the EU Roma Week.
The jury considered “the outstanding commitment and dedication to the improvement of living situation of Roma in the municipality, which led to the development of an institutional framework and a local Action Plan for Roma inclusion.”
The Municipality has also achieved concrete results in the field of housing, i.e. through the project “Support for adequate and sustainable housing of Roma in the Municipality of Odzaci – For each Rom to have a home” co-financed by the EU, Serbian Government and the Municipality of Odzaci, which foresees the construction of new housing units and missing infrastructure.
The results are visible in the area of employment, health and education as well as nurtured dialogue and increased trust of the community in municipal authorities, the statement reads.
“In addition, the municipality has set up the Office for Roma Inclusion and a coordinator, as well as three pedagogical assistants. Personal engagement of the President and encouragement she gave to Roma families in need was especially noted during the summer of 2017 when the Roma settlement in Bogojevo was hit by a fierce storm. Greater disaster was, however, avoided thanks to quick reaction of the municipality and the immediate assistance provided to Roma families,” reads the statement.
Apart from Odzaci, awards were presented to mayors and municipal presidents of Tirana (Albania), Bijeljine (BiH), Kosovo polje (Kosovo), Stip (FYROM), Tivat (Montenegro), and Canik and Sisli (Turkey).
The ‘Joint Initiative to Empower Roma Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey’ aims at setting up a supporting facilitating structure for (pro) Roma civil society to help it take an active role in policy and decision-making processes at the national and local level.
It addresses the generally weak position of civil society organisations (CSOs) that are either engaged in promoting Roma integration or act as voices of communities but often times lack the capacity to make their case effectively and act as reliable partners of public authorities and other stakeholders.
The regional campaign “Most Roma Friendly Mayor” was launched within the Regional Coalition of the JIERCSWBT organisations on 8 November 2017. Each partner country had developed a local action plan specifying the information of grassroots CSOs and actors, in order to reach out to their municipalities and invite mayors to apply for the competition.
The action covered all project countries, including Kosovo* and Serbia.
The contest caught the attention of 49 municipalities, while mobilising 41 grassroots organisations. The campaign is a step toward strengthening the dialogue between municipalities and Roma communities and making best practice examples visible. The selection of the ´most Roma-friendly mayor´ can help the communities to make their vision a reality and help the Roma community come together and engage in a dialogue on an equal level.
During the contest, organisations have invited municipalities to share positive examples of Roma Integration. Moreover, the competition, and especially the selection criteria, emphasized the project philosophy of empowerment, mobilization and equal dialogue between local authorities and Roma communities.
Seven independent juries have been established in respective countries, assessing the applications and comparing facts with the reality. Most of the juries had to make difficult decisions due to serious competition and examples of best practices claimed by municipalities. However, each jury selected one mayor for the title of the most Roma friendly mayor, apart from Turkey where the jury could not decide between two applicants and decided to bring forward two winners.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.