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Monday, March 22, 2010

And the Macedonian winner is…. Dr. Zoran Aleksov from Stip!

Housing for socially vulnerable Roma and free language courses – these are just some of the initiatives taken by the city of Stip in North-Eastern Macedonia, headed by Mayor Dr. Zoran Aleksov. The Macedonian selection committee of the “Most Roma-Friendly Mayor” competition in this country was sure about it: Mr Aleksov is “The father of our town!”

The Most Roma-Friendly Mayor Competition

In the framework of the international campaign “Typical Roma?”, Roma youth organisation RROMA from Kratovo in North-Eastern Macedonia organised a competition to select the most Roma-friendly Mayor in Macedonia. After some discussions, the National Team of RROMA decided that it would be the best to hold the competition in the region where the organisation is most active, which means the north-eastern region of the Republic of Macedonia.
We sent out an application to the twelve nominated municipalities in the region. These municipalities had to answer a number of questions concerning their Roma community, starting with a description of their community, information about the interethnic relations, participation and dialogue, the Roma strategy of the municipality, employment, education and a why their mayor should be selected as the “Most Roma-Friendly Mayor”.

Out of twelve municipalities, six (Kratovo, Kriva Palanka, Sveti Nikole, Veles, Stip and Vinica) sent in an application. After the deadline had passed, the selection committee held a meeting to decide who would be the winner. The selection committee consisted of three committee members for minorities’ issues, one committee member from the local self-government for council affairs, one representative from Spolu International Foundation and one member of the National Team of the `Typical Roma?`- campaign in Macedonia.

After studying all the applications, the committee chose the Mayor of Stip as the winner of the competition. Dr. Zoran Aleksov, Mayor of Stip, scored 34 points out of 36. Right after Stip came the Mayor of Vinica, who had 31 points. The Mayor of Kriva Palanka scored 24 points, the Mayor of Kratovo 16 points, the Mayor of Veles 14 points, and the Mayor of Sveti Nikole 7 points.

Why the Mayor of Stip?

During the call for the applications, the National Team of RROMA held several meetings with the Mayors to hear their personal opinions about the “Typical Roma?” campaign. One of the mayors we visited was Dr. Zoran Aleksov, Mayor of Stip. We were really surprised about the mayor’s approach and the way he approached solving the problems in his municipality, as well as his approach to the inclusion of Roma in his municipality. According to Mr. Aleksov, “The Roma are one segment of the mosaic of our municipality”. Answering RROMA youth coordinator Mustafa Jakupov’s question, “What are the main problems that the Roma from Stip are facing?”, Dr. Aleksov answered: “The housing situation and the educationial level”.

According to Mr. Aleksov, the Municipality of Stip is undertaking action to ease the precarious housing situation for Roma in his city. “The Municipality of Stip is preparing 40 buildings were socially vulnerable families will live. These buildings are especially meant for those people, whose houses are not urbanized. For that aim, our Municipality has already received one million Macedonian Denars from the Roma Decade programme (roughly 150.000 Euro) and from the budget of the Municipality of Stip another 250.000 Denars will be added to this housing plan”.

Also in the area of education, the Municipality of Stip is taking steps. “When we are talking about education, my main concern is school abstinence, children not going to school. In order to change this situation, the municipality started a project in collaboration with the schools for after-school education of the youth. In this project, we organise language-courses for free. Around 3000 candidates applied, 200 of them are Roma. Still, I am not satisfied with the number of Roma, since I was expecting that more Roma would apply”, says Dr. Aleksov.

Nationality is not the decisive factor

Mr. Aleksov has an interesting perspective on the interethnic life in his town. In our municipality, the interethnic relations are relaxed and I don’t see or divide people according to their nationality. I see people mainly as either well-situated or less fortunate, and those who less fortunate need our help”. According to Dr. Aleksov, the Roma should not be abused for political causes. “They need a chance to find their place in society. Their nationality is not the cause of the problem.” How is Dr. Aleksov planning to solve the problems which he mentioned? “During my mandate, we need to start brain storming, and during the next two or three mandates, we need to start solving the issues, since the problems are not here since yesterday.”
From this meeting, we concluded that the Mayor did not prepare himself in any special way, nor did he arrange specific actions just to please us as an NGO or as Roma. To us, it was obvious that this man has a long-term vision on how to solve the problems in his municipality. Therefore, he deserves the title “Father of the Town” and “Most Roma-Friendly Mayor 2010” of the North-Eastern region of the Republic of Macedonia.

We wish him all the best and luck for the realization of his plans and we wish more authorities like him.