Speech by Ambassador Jean-Hubert Lebet at the Multicultural Festival organized by NGO "Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians"

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Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian’s cultures represent a joint wealth of the Kosovo society. The culture of these communities has contributed to the diversity of cultures in Kosovo and co-existed alongside the other cultures for centuries, in difficult periods and in the times of prosperity.

Embassy of Switzerland in Pristina
Embassy of Switzerland in Pristina ©Voice of RAE

Dear Mr. Kurti,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian’s cultures represents a joint wealth of the Kosovo society. The culture of these communities has contributed to the diversity of cultures in Kosovo and co-existed alongside the other cultures for centuries, in difficult periods and in the times of prosperity. It is a pleasure to attend an event such as the Multicultural Festival and celebrate this diversity.

However, I wouldn’t be myself if I was silent on the prevailing discrimination and marginalization of these communities. The preamble of the Swiss constitution enumerates the principles to be followed while governing my country. One of the most important one is the following: “the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members”.

Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians are the three Kosovar communities being the most marginalized in the society of today. They live in high poverty and often face discrimination. I must emphasize that this is the case not only in Kosovo, but in other countries in the region as well. As a result of poor living conditions, the life expectancy gap between Roma and non-Roma communities is quite high. In Europe, a Roma dies 5 to 20 years earlier than a non-Roma[1].

We all do support social inclusion of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians. However,   there is a need for systemic approach by the government and society to make the change that will last. Fighting discrimination needs permanent and steady efforts coordinated in many sectors. Sustainable successes will appear on the long run.

Kosovo recently had elections. The results showed that people have voted for change. I am glad to see the leader of the party who won the most votes in the last elections, Mr. Kurti being here today. Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo also need to see the change, a change which will make them feel being equal citizens of the Republic of Kosovo. The needs for change are manifold, but to mention just a few:

1)    High unemployment is a plague affecting all Kosovo. However, unemployment among Kosovo Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians is way higher. Kosovo committed through the Law on Civil Service for the employment quota for non-majority communities but the implementation of this rule is weak. We trust the future government to take prompt action on that matter.   

2)    In the long term, education remains the best instrument to insure integration and equal opportunities for these communities. This should start very early, for example with afterschool centers (like the ones supported by Switzerland) allowing children achieving better results in the school but also in preventing their dropout. The time has come for the institutionalization of these centers, to which the Government committed. We trust the future Government to assure a proper integration process of the afterschool centers into the education system and mitigate possible obstacles.  

3)    In the same context, we still see children begging in the streets instead of being on the school desks together with other children. These is not acceptable. This needs coordinated action at many levels, like supporting families to take care of their children, home shelters welcoming them during the day and also, if necessary, enforcement interventions by qualified civil servants..

4)    Mistaken practices should be abolished like social scheme supporting poor families as long as they have children under the age of 5. In the absence of other social assistance measure, this support leads families to make more children to benefit from this subsidies which only increases poverty of these families. We trust the new government will adopt other measures offering real support aiming to alleviate poverty of these disadvantaged people.

Finally, in your presence Mr. Kurti, I cannot refrain addressing the issue of the Dialogue with Serbia.

History has given enough evidences that rushing for an agreement or moving borders do not create sustainable peace. I understand that discussions within your coalition will acknowledge this reality and I would like to compliment you for that.

To address the everyday needs of all citizens from all the communities in the Republic of Kosovo, it is crucial to demonstrate a strong willingness and action towards the normalization of the relationship with Serbia.

We wish to see the reform processes that were pledged during the election campaigns with a goal to create better conditions for all its citizens. Let’s not forget, the needs are higher for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians and the quality of an inclusive government consists in leaving no one behind.

I wish you all a good discussion and thank you for your attention.