*Disclaimer: The information and views set out in this page are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Council of Europe and/or the European Commission. Neither the Council of Europe, the European Commission nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.
Prilep is the fourth largest city in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, located in the southern part of the country. Based on data provided by the municipality, at present the population of Prilep numbers approximately 73,925 people, out of whom 4,500 are Roma. The majority of Roma living in Prilep are Muslim.
Prilep is an industrial production centre of high quality tobacco and cigarettes, metal processing, electronics, wood, textiles, food and white marble. The Roma community lives mostly in the neighbourhood of Trizla, which has poor infrastructure (lack of a sewage system and street lights, non-asphalted streets). Some of the Roma population is employed in local industry, but a great number of Roma in Prilep are unemployed and rely for their incomes on support sent by relatives working in western European countries.
The Municipality of Prilep has a good record of work over the years on issues towards Roma inclusion. It has implemented a number of projects for improving the infrastructure of the neighbourhood, as well as renovating the local elementary school. Prilep is the only municipality in the country with an established Department for Roma Issues. Five Roma are employed within this department, all of them trained through the ROMED1 Programme. There are two Roma elected in the local council of the municipality, as well as a number of Roma employed in various programmes.
The Community Action Group (CAG) in Prilep was established in November 2013 and consists of 15 members. Initially, the CAG was organised around older informal leaders of the Roma community. They got involved in the group due to their interest in building a mosque in the Roma neighbourhood. At a later stage, young Roma from the community joined the CAG, bringing new perspectives and experience into the group. Some of them worked in the Roma information centres of the municipalities, whilst others had experience in the NGO sector or were students. Locally-elected Roma municipal councillors are also involved in meetings and discussions of the CAG.
The participation of women in the CAG has been minimal throughout the ROMED2 Programme, due to the cultural and religious specificities of the Roma community in Prilep.
At the beginning of its activity, the main priority of the CAG was the construction of a mosque in the Roma neighbourhood. However, once the group started discussions with the representatives of local authorities, many other important priorities around this initial leading priority were identified. In order to build the mosque, it was desirable to have a comprehensive cadastral and reconstruction plan of the whole Roma neighbourhood. The Joint Action Plan developed by the CAG included as long-term priorities both issues – the building of the mosque and improvement of the infrastructure of the entire neighbourhood. The plan was adopted through a decision of the local council in August 2014. The effective interaction with the local administration, as well as the participation of the young Roma interest group in the CAG, shaped two more priorities - the development of a local education strategy and the creation of opportunities for the professional development of young Roma after completing secondary school.
The CAG has very good relationships and visibility within the Roma community. The CAG also enjoys enormous respect from the Roma community, an indicator of this demonstrated with the building of the mosque in the Roma neighbourhood. The CAG received an initial contribution of 30,000 EUR from the municipality and the Ministry of Transport, but subsequently mobilised the Roma families in Prilep and their relatives working in western Europe and succeeded in raising 300,000 EUR towards its construction.
The age differences in the group and their diverse interests are the reasons for the wide range of issues submitted to institutions. In the course of the ROMED2 process, the Mayor requested having legal representation of the CAG in order to be able to sign agreements with them. To interact more effectively with the local government, the CAG created two organisations. The first one was organised by the older informal Roma leaders around the completion of the construction of the mosque. The second one, “Roma Perspective”, is a civic association of young representatives of the Roma community and their focus is more on the education and political representation of the Roma community.