At a ceremony marking International Roma Day on Friday, representatives of the Roma community in Croatia spoke of a difficult position of the Roma in the country and urged the government to take the necessary steps to improve it.

"I expect of our new government to take a step forward in working together with the Roma community," the representative of the Roma minority in the Croatian Parliament, Veljko Kajtazi, told the ceremony in the Mimara Museum.

"We have the laws and institutions looking after the wellbeing of ethnic minorities, especially the Roma, and there are also national strategies and strategic documents in place, but there is a lack of political will to turn the plans into a reality," he added.

Kajtazi cited social exclusion, discrimination, housing and unemployment as the main problems faced by the Roma in Croatia.

Parliament Speaker Zeljko Reiner said that the progress made in society's attitude towards the Roma minority was partly due to initiatives launched by the Roma themselves. He agreed the problems faced by the Roma community in Croatia were significant, but noted that problems such as high unemployment, low living standards and poverty were affecting society as a whole.

Reiner said that the Roma minority had lived together with the Croatian majority for centuries, "in good and bad times". He said that the Constitutional Law on Human and Minority Rights guarantees full protection of the rights of ethnic minorities in the country, stressing the need for mutual respect, tolerance, dialogue and cooperation. "Those are the standards we set ourselves and we will not go below them."

Reiner said that small groups of pro-Nazi hooligans could not be stopped from shouting racist abuse at members of ethnic minorities, but such views and behaviour must be stopped from becoming prevalent and escalating into physical violence against "the others and those who are different."

The Kali Sara annual award of the Roma Association was presented to Zagreb University Rector Damir Boras as "a proven friend of the Roma community in Croatia."

International Roma Day was declared in 1990 in honour of the first World Roma Congress held on 8 April 1971 in London.

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