New €1m Roma integration project in Vilnius will challenge negative perceptions

Vilnius Roma settlement
DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

Lithuania’s Deputy Mayor Gintautas Paluckas said he believed Vilnius municipality’s previous administration was responsible for the Roma’s current lack of integration.

He feels they were excluded from the development of the previous administration’s integration project, and that it stuck to outdated perceptions concerning the ‘traditional Roma way of living’.

“The previous integration project lacked two main components,” Paluckas told The Lithuania Tribune. “The Roma community was not heavily involved in its development, and no funds [for integration] were allocated.”

“The former integration project planned to build a new Roma ‘town’ [in Kirtimai] at the limits of Vilnius city, meaning the Roma would be forced to move there,” he said.

“It also relied heavily on the so-called traditional Roma way of living – keeping horses, arranging cultural events and things like that, but it could not succeed because there is no longer such thing as a ‘traditional’ Roma way of living.”

The deputy mayor said the current administration’s integration project will attempt to change Lithuanian society’s perception of its Roma community by placing emphasis on assisting those without criminal records.

“In the first place, we will help Roma people without a criminal record,” Paluckas said. “It is not a secret that our society is quite xenophobic and stereotypes concerning the Roma people are also widespread.

“People are afraid of Roma moving into their neighbourhoods, and we really have to put significant effort into overcoming that.

“Many believe that all Roma deal drugs, steal and have no professional skills whatsoever – sure, some of them do trade drugs, but that is of course not everyone.”

In addition to rehousing, the project will include rehabilitating drug users, and integrating Roma children into Vilnius schools. According to the 2011 census, there are around 2,100 Roma living in Lithuania. In Vilnius, there are an estimated 400 Roma living in the Kirtimai settlement.

Regarding its financing from Vilnius municipality’s budget, Paluckas explained that the cost of the integration programme “will require €1.2 million to €1.5 million” funding between 2016 – 2019.

“Multiple financial resources will be employed to run the programme,” he explained. “Some measures will be financed through budgets of the institutions responsible for the particular pieces of this programme, with an additional €900,000 allocated on top of that.

“Overall it is expected that the three-year integration programme will require €1.2 million to €1.5 million,” Paluckas said.

“We will be able to provide the necessary social and integration services throughout the whole city.”

Despite varying perceptions regarding the Roma community amongst Vilnius municipality councillors, Paluckas revealed that the integration project was approved by a unanimous vote on April 13.

“The most important thing is that we managed to overcome all differences in political views and the programme was unanimously voted on by the city council,” he said. “[However], it required almost eight months effort to achieve it.”

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