Zagreb - A better education for Roma children, integration and preservation of the Roma culture were key messages of a ceremony marking World Roma Day, held at Zagreb's Croatian National Theatre on Monday evening, with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović attending.
"There is no reason why Roma children and youth should not be included in the education system from kindergarten to university," Grabar-Kitarović said, pointing to the need to improve the status of the Roma community in Croatia.
The event marking World Roma Day was organised by the Croatian Roma association "Kali Sara" and Roma minority MP Veljko Kajtazi. Among the guests were Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of Roma from a number of European countries and Canada.
President: Roma, send your children to school
President Grabar-Kitarović called on Roma to send their children regularly to school, noting that the state had to make sure every Roma child had textbooks and other necessary equipment so that they could complete their secondary education and enroll in a faculty if they wished.
"That is the best way to integrate Roma children and youth in our society. That first step facilitates the employment and full integration of Roma in the Croatian society," said the president.
She also underlined the importance of preserving the Roma language and culture.
Kajtazi: Education of Roma children a priority
Addressing the event, Kajtazi, too, underlined the education of Roma children as a priority.
"We are doing our best for the Roma community to get education, but there are still obstacles and Roma children are often sent to three-year secondary schools. That is not our future, our future is four-year secondary education - regular high schools and technical occupations for Roma children," he said.
Speaking of positive changes over recent years, Kajtazi mentioned the legalisation of 1,200 houses, improved infrastructure in some Roma settlements, the introduction of water supply infrastructure and the construction of playgrounds.
For those improvements, the annual awards of the Kali Sara Roma association were presented to the mayor of the eastern community of Belišće, Dinko Burić, and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić.
World Roma Day is marked on April 8 to commemorate the day when in 1971 the first world Roma congress was held in London.
Kajtazi said that that was one of the most important events in the history of Roma, marking a turnaround in how Roma were perceived in Europe and the rest of the world.