149365 4/10/2008 13:31 08THESSALONIKI32 Consulate Thessaloniki UNCLASSIFIED 08STATE129991 VZCZCXRO8674 PP RUEHBW RUEHIK RUEHPOD DE RUEHIK #0032 1011331 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 101331Z APR 08 FM AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0333 INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS PRIORITY 0238 RUEHBM/AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST PRIORITY 0011 RUEHUP/AMEMBASSY BUDAPEST PRIORITY 0005 RUEHBW/AMEMBASSY BELGRADE PRIORITY 0010 RUEHPOD/AMEMBASSY PODGORICA PRIORITY 0001 RUEHSQ/AMEMBASSY SKOPJE PRIORITY 0022 RUEHSF/AMEMBASSY SOFIA PRIORITY 0014 RUEHTI/AMEMBASSY TIRANA PRIORITY 0016 RUEHIK/AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI 0367 UNCLAS THESSALONIKI 000032
DEPT FOR EUR/SE; DRL/AE FOR DAN NADEL
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, GR SUBJECT: INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY EVENT AT CONGEN THESSALONIKI
REF: STATE 129991
1. SUMMARY: On April 8 the U.S. Consulate General in Thessaloniki hosted an event to celebrate International Roma Day (Reftel). The event included a round table discussion, the showing of a short film on Roma culture and a photography exhibit. Attendees included local government representatives, members of various Roma communities in northern Greece and local NGOs. Roma speakers criticized inadequate GoG support, while a government representative urged more cooperation from the Roma community. An academic specialist acknowledged government efforts but advocated more "positive discrimination" policies. Participation was enthusiastic and the event received positive coverage by the local media. END SUMMARY.
2. The U.S. Consulate General in Thessaloniki marked International Roma Day with an afternoon event at the Consulate General. The event opened with a roundtable discussion of Roma issues with contributions by University of Macedonia Assistant Professor of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies Dr. Constantinos Tsitselikis, the President of the Federation of Macedonian Roma Mr. Panayiotis Sampanis and the Secretary General of the Cultural Association of Roma Women in Thessaloniki, Mrs. Katerina Bebe. Dr. Tsitselikis provided an overview of the Roma community vis-`-vis the wider society, human rights and political initiatives. In particular, he advocated the implementation of comprehensive "positive discrimination" policies, as opposed to the "patchy" approach adopted so far. Mr. Sampanis highlighted the issues that his community faces, such as high unemployment, lack of education and unacceptable living conditions, including no running water for the last two years. He also blamed recent Greek governments for the provision of ill-conceived solutions to Roma problems such as the granting of housing loans and subsidizing of families with school-children, in an unaffordable and unhelpful way. Mrs. Bebe spoke of her association's initiatives, including its successful record in increasing school attendance (around 50%) by Roma children, adult training, family planning and medical check-ups. She thus emphasized the role that the community itself can play in resolving long-standing problems.
3. The Vice-prefect for Environment, Agricultural Development and Street Trading in Thessaloniki Mr. Giorgos Tsamaslis defended the Prefecture's work, and pledged to continue the government's support. He noted that Roma had created some of their own problems and asked for more effective co-operation from the Roma community. The discussion among members of the audience and speakers was occasionally quite spirited, and revealed differences of opinion among the Roma community on the degree of responsibility born by the community and the role of the state authorities. The discussion was followed by the showing of a short film on Roma culture, provided and produced by the local NGO "Oikokoinonia (Homesociety.)" Lastly, there was a photo exhibit on the Roma community in Thessaloniki that was organized by the Roma Women Association. A short reception with traditional Roma food concluded the afternoon.
4. COMMENT: The event successfully brought together various actors involved in Roma issues in northern Greece. Roma associations from different areas with no tradition of co-operation (and of both Christian and Muslim backgrounds) came together and the communication was generally smooth, friendly and productive. The only disappointment of the afternoon was the relatively poor attendance on the part of educators, a group that post hopes to engage more effectively in the future. The somewhat tense and inconclusive exchange between the vice-prefect and Roma representatives underscored the need for more dialogue. Both participants and the local media commented very positively afterwards and asked that post continue its efforts in this area. END COMMENT