Youth and minorities join forces in fighting discrimination in Croatia
The role that young people can play in fighting discrimination against minorities was the focus of a discussion organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Croatian Debate Society at the Europe House in Zagreb on 2 December 2013. The event brought together a delegation of Roma young people from Međimurje County with young activists representing other groups that face discrimination, including lesbians and gays.
Participants in the discussion emphasized the importance of employment and vocational training for young people, particularly Roma and other minorities and vulnerable groups. “At 43 percent, the jobless rate among Croatian young is double the Europe average,” said Vitalie Vremis, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Croatia. “Rates among Roma youth are even higher, and an estimated 82 percent of Roma women are unemployed.”
Whereas young people are often at the forefront of social change, joblessness can provoke less progressive trends towards hostility and intolerance. “The younger generation shows a higher degree of intolerance compared to the older generation,” observed OSF Advisor Tin Gazivoda, citing research from 2010 by GONG, a leading Croatian non-governmental organization. However, “the situation here is not black or white,” he continued, encouraging young people to realize their potential and make a united stand against discrimination.
Among the young activists participating were Darko Balog, a UNDP community worker from Međimurje County; Patrik Lazić, from the KORAK drama group from Pula; Siniša Musić, from the Roma youth organization ROM from Zagreb; Marina Milković, from Zagreb Pride, which supports the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people; and Enis Salihi, a Croatian Debate Society participant in "The Path of Equality" project.
The event conveyed the message of non-discrimination and anti-violence in a number of different formats. A documentary called The Path of Equality recounted the Croatian Debate Society’s caravan-style visits to ten Croatian cities (Zagreb, Čakovec, Sisak, Kutina, Beli Manastir, Slavonski Brod, Rijeka, Pula, Motovun and Vodnjan) in the summer of 2013 to promote activities celebrating the values of inclusion and diversity. The OSF-funded initiative aimed to increase the participation of young people, particularly Roma, in civic life.
Children from a primary school in Kuršanec, near Čakovec, performed a play based on The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein. The school has a large number of Roma children, and the performers are participants in a theater group organized by UNDP in an effort to break down barriers between Roma and non-Roma communities which are located in close proximity but seldom interact. The play was directed by Zijah Sokolović, an actor and director who serves as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador for Tolerance and Non-Violence.
The drama group is just one element of larger UNDP program funded by OSF which aims to combat the social exclusion of Roma in Međimurje County. One component of the project is designed to expand the employment of Roma. Other project activities include facilitating public hearings, conducting seminars for teachers on integrated classrooms, organizing cultural activities with Roma youth such as photography, and other actions aimed at encouraging the understanding and acceptance of diversity.