“Stand up and vote!” or how the Roma community learned more about electoral rights
What are free and fair elections? What are the voting procedures? Who can run for office? More than 11,000 women, men, young people, elderly, all of them representatives of the Roma community in the Republic of Moldova, received answers to these questions.
The information campaign was carried out for more than half a year by several non-governmental organizations, thanks to the support of the UNDP Moldova project "Strengthening democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections”, with the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the British Embassy in Chisinau through the Good Governance Fund and the Dutch Embassy through the Matra Program.
Aliona Serban is a young Roma woman, of 26 years, who has never voted before. She actively listened at the information meeting held in Otaci and became interested to express her vote. "We need to change things in the country, especially for the Roma community, because we do not have decent jobs, a source of income, the situation is not good at all. I want to vote, so as Roma people enjoy better living conditions,” said the young woman who also participated in a simulation exercise of the election day.
All 35 information meetings and 25 simulations of the election day were conducted by the Union of Young Roma of the Republic of Moldova "Tarna Rom", with the support of UNDP Moldova. The events took place in a familiar ambience and tone of discussion.
Aliona was one of the 6,350 Roma women and girls who participated in the electoral information and education activities. Marin Alla, the president of the Roma Youth Union of Moldova "Tarna Rom", says that these meetings have triggered a long-awaited change in attitude of the Roma community: "Roma women realized that their vote is important, and they can and should compete with men. For example, women in Otaci said they should be represented nationally or locally by a woman and have nominated Raisa Preida, a local entrepreneur. Here is how we are breaking the chain. When you talk to people face to face, miracles happen.”
Raisa Preida is the name of the woman according to her ID, but she is known by her fellows as Meca. Meca is 64, she is a widow, has three sons and a daughter, and about 15 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. She has lived in Otaci all her life, owns a farm and other some small businesses in the town. After her husband died, she has taken over the family business in agriculture. Now she would like to do more for her community. Meca admits that she has been thinking about running for office, but she has never dared to learn about next steps and formal procedure. However, after seeing her fellows interested in electoral issues and, above all, was touched by the trust of the community, she is considering being the one to bring the change in the town of Otaci.
"I would like Otaci to inspire dignity for its inhabitants. I would like to create jobs. I do not want young people to stay in the street and use drugs. I want everyone in the town to have a decent living. I want women to be promoted and hired. I want poor families of Roma or other ethnicities in the city to have the opportunity to grow up their children in better conditions,” says Raisa Preida.
Raise seems also concerned with the exclusion of the Roma: "We, the Roma people, are being discriminated. But this thing must be stopped. We are citizens of this country and we have the same rights. I will promote diversity. I will encourage people to contribute for the development of the country."
The information about the electoral process, so as the simulation of the vote, was a novelty for young Roma people as well. "The Election Day simulation exercise allows people to understand what is going on from the entrance to the polling station to the exit. Young persons found out which documents are necessary to vote, how many ballots you receive, how to correctly apply the stamp," said Marin Alla, the organizer of the campaign.
Alexei Serban is a judge of the Roma community in Soroca, an informal title obtained as reward for his experience and deep knowledge of the Roma traditions, as well as the legislation of the Republic of Moldova. Alexei notes that the simulation exercise of the election day was interesting and useful: "I enjoyed this exercise and I wish God helped you to conduct similar events. People should vote following their own choice, we do not force anyone, we do not oblige, that's their decision, and this should come from the bottom of their hearts. We have to vote and nominate someone from our community to run for office, to represent Soroca city.”
The electoral information and education campaign involved more than meetings. Teams of volunteers were established in each city or village, out of the members of the community, who walked from door to door to talk about electoral processes and the responsibility of voting. One of the messages used by volunteers was "Stand up and vote”. So, the Roma community managed to mobilize themselves to become active citizens and involved in the electoral process.
Steliana Imanverdieva is a community mediator in the city of Soroca. And, for more than half a year, she volunteered for the Soroca electoral information and education campaign. One of the issues she has tackled with people was the missing home visas or change of residence. "We went from door to door and explained what documents are needed to vote. There are many Roma people who do not have a home visa and they should fix this issue before to vote,” says Steliana.
Robert Cerari, president of the Bare-Rom Association, regrets that "until today, we have few Roma going to vote. And not because they do not want to vote, but they do not know how to do it. That's the problem, as I've mentioned many times. We need to guide the Roma community on voting procedure. I ask everyone who has the voting age to go and vote with the heart, not for 200 lei or 100 MDL. There are nine people in my family who already have the voting age and they will go to vote."
Robert Cerari would also like to run for office in a near future, so that Roma people have a representative to defend their citizens’ rights. "The Roma in the Republic of Moldova are also citizens, with the same rights and obligations. But they are put aside. And this is not normal,” says the President of the Bare-Rom Association.
The results of the information campaign mean start of shifts in people's attitudes towards elections and their electoral rights. "Before starting this campaign, Roma people treated the subject of politics and elections as unnecessary. Now, as a result of the activities they participated in, the members of the community found out what politics is and why elections and each and everyone’s vote are important,” concludes Marin Alla, president of the Roma Youth Union of Moldova “Tarna Rom".