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BTR TV April 7, 2011

Ambassador Speaks to BTR for Roma Day

Ambassador Reeker Speaks to BTR TV for Roma Day (pc: Embassy photo)

Ambassador Reeker Speaks to BTR TV for Roma Day (pc: Embassy photo)

Ambassador Philip T. Reeker
BTR TV Interview

April 7, 2011

BTR TV:  What is the Ambassador's position on the status of the Roma community in Macedonia in terms of issues and challenges ahead, the implementation of the 2005-2015 Roma Inclusion Decade being implemented, and the activities of Roma political parties and leaders?

Ambassador Reeker:   April 8th - International Roma Day - is a day to focus attention on the experiences and history of Roma, some 12 million all around the world. This community has a long and rich history in Macedonia and has made significant contributions to its character and culture. However, Roma continue to face many obstacles, discrimination in Macedonia and throughout Europe. They face obstacles in education, employment, housing, and in levels of healthcare.  The Decade of Roma Inclusion, now in its sixth year, works to address the problems the Roma face, it works to coordinate governments, NGOs, political parties, media  and civil society to work together to improve the welfare of the Roma people, in Macedonia, throughout Europe, and around the world.


BTR TV: What are the priorities for bilateral cooperation between the Embassy and Macedonia with an accent on Roma community projects?

Ambassador Reeker:  Last April, Secretary Clinton said, "Protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma everywhere has long been a personal commitment for me, and under the Obama Administration it is a priority of the United States." The United States Government, through the Embassy here in Skopje, is committed to protecting the human rights of Roma as well as other groups, and demonstrates this commitment through many activities. I think it’s important to remember that the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which gives Macedonia a framework for moving forward as a multicultural and multiethnic society has contributed to more equitable representation for all non-majority communities and benefited all minority groups of Macedonia, including Roma.  Non-majority communities are better represented in education and employment as a result of the OFA. Still, there is much to do in terms of access to quality education is a major barrier to equal rights for the Roma community. For that reason, the U.S. Embassy has sponsored programs to address the fact that Roma children have historically had one of the lowest attendance rates at school and as we all know education is the key to more success, to better quality of life, to greater prosperity.

The U.S. Mission here has invested a great deal in the Roma community here in Macedonia.   Just in the last three years, through our Democracy Commission program, we have given $ 80,000 in grants to organizations supporting Roma projects. These projects did the following:
- helped raise the awareness of the Roma people of the importance of their votes (during the elections in 2009), and if you have another election here in Macedonia the Roma community should make sure that its voice is heard, as individuals and as a community;
- helped improve the education situation and ecologic awareness of Roma students and young people in the western region,
- increased the active participation of young Roma from Shuto Orizari in planning and implementation of activities of youth related issues,
- assisted in the development of  leadership capacity of Roma youth,
- established a positive model of the social role of the Roma in their broader community, based on minority equality and participation, etc.

In addition to these, the Embassy also provided $350,000 in other grants to promote broader inter-ethnic tolerance throughout the country.

These are all important activities and we are very proud that the United States has been able to play a role in trying to address some of these challenges for the Roma community.


BTR TV: What is the Ambassador’s position on the situation with Roma media in Macedonia and their role in democratic processes?

Ambassador Reeker: Freedom of speech is a vital part of any democracy, and that has to be blind to ethnicity, religion or color. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our U.S. values, it is enshrined in our Constitution.  The role of a strong and independent media is also absolutely critical to the success of a healthy civil society.  We have encouraged journalists to take their role seriously, not to delegate or deferred their responsibility in a democracy, regardless of ethnicity of individual journalist or the target audience of a particular media. That is a responsibility that journalists have, officials; governments have a responsibility to ensure the freedom of media and to protect the rights of a free press. By encouraging leadership and scholarship in the Roma community, we would love to see more Roma involved in areas like independent media and journalism. We have sent a Romani student to study on a Fulbright Program, she is studying international relations at the University of Oregon and when she is done with that program she will come back and be part of her community and contribute to leadership and to more opportunities for others in the community. We also supported through a special grant last year donations to young Roma children who are still refugees from the Kosovo crisis who are living here in Macedonia and through a $23.000 grant we were able to provide educational equipment and things for the students going back to school last fall, some 455 refugee children. So, those are positive things and I was very pleased to see your media from the Roma community, as well as the broader media from around Macedonia covering those initiatives and those events.        

BTR TV: Mr. Ambassador, I would like to express my gratitude to the American people for your excessive help for the Roma community in Macedonia and for the first grant that BTR television received in 1995 from your Embassy when you were here as PAO. Our first transmitter was obtained through your help. Thank you again for this interview, it will enrich our day on April 8. 

Ambassador Reeker: Thank you, Zoran. It is a pleasure for me and the US Embassy, and I would like to congratulate April 8th, the International Roma Day, to all the members of the Roma community in Macedonia.