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Serbia, Slovenia: Relationship with the Roma People

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Serbia, Slovenia, Development, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, Education, Ethnicity & Race, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Human Rights, International Relations, Politics, Protest, Refugees, Youth

“I ja sam Rom!” (“I'm Roma, too!”) – by Nune [1]

In her B92 blog, Jelica Greganovic reports [2] on the latest racism case against the Roma [3] that occurred in Slovenia (SRP):

[…] We shouldn’t be only ashamed. We should be scared, too. I am already terrified. Slovenians were working during anti-fascism and anti-Semitism days. Someone stole a power aggregator from a family of Slovenian Roma [4] today. They were moved to the center for foreigners. Recently, someone stole the rights from them, why would they need power. I watch [similar] news coming for the second week in a row and I am getting petrified. If you could do that to the Roma people today, you would be able to do the same to the blue-eyed individuals, those smarter persons, anyone. They say it isn’t racism, they were protected by the state. […] If somebody hasn’t heard about it, here is the story.

Near a small village of Ambrus, Gypsy people built an estate without a license, though the area is privately owned by a famous Slovenian Roma family – Strojan. Ambrus residents say they were bullied, threatened and robbed by the Gypsies. They also state that the Gypsies were polluting the only source of drinking water. It came to a fight. The media said that a Slovenian man was hit by a Gypsy with a piece of wood and that the Slovenian ended up in a coma. Later on, it turned out he had been hit by another Slovenian. The local media didn’t fix the mistake; they didn’t report about a Slovenian hitting another Slovenian, instead they wrote about a person living on the Roma estate hitting a Slovenian. The villagers made a move and attacked their neighbors. Roma people escaped to the forest with children, babies and a pregnant woman. They stayed there for five days. After that, the Gypsies tried to come back, but the thrilled villagers together with the people from the nearby communities formed a committee to welcome the neighbors as the state didn’t make a move during the past years, saying they have to take law in their hands. They also took guns, shotguns, bats and different hard objects. The night was falling and the villagers arranged camp fires just to make better atmosphere; nice scene. The cavalry comes in at the last moment as it usually happens; around five hundred villagers on the one side, three hundred members of the Special Forces on the other side and thirty Roma people in the middle. As the representatives of the state said, the Gypsies decided to be guarded by policemen that night. The following morning they were moved to the foreigners centre situated at the other end of the county in Postojna [5]. That’s how citizens of Slovenia voluntarily ended up in a centre for aliens. It was their will to survive. The state would provide them with a new living space but they wouldn’t be able to come back to their estate. It was promised to happy villagers. Everybody will be happy. Law is equal for everyone, just we are not all too equal before the law. […] Members of the municipalities to which the Gypsies may be relocated are worried. It isn’t that they don’t have tolerance, but if only they could populate some other neighborhood, not their own one. Slovenian ombudsman […] complained to Europe. The state asked him to apologize to everyone. I don’t need his apology, thank you. [Big polemics is unwinding here]. Words tolerance and intolerance are used up […].

Nobody asks why the villagers didn’t try to lynch the government reps, not the Roma community and where is the president who worries about Kosovo [6] and Darfur [7] conflicts while his own citizens live in the woods. Is the father of the nation just a step-father for some. […]

Nune Popovic answers:

Your reporting shows dimension of a problem with the possible consequences in the whole region; if that behavior is tolerated in the EU country, do we have the right to wonder why some similar cruelty occurs in some state in West Balkans. I am fascinated with carelessness of Slovenian government, the public and the online commentators; because there aren’t so many interested people to solve the problem. My campaign proposal didn’t get the reaction, but there is hope. A man form Ljubljana contacted me. He found a link to my site at B92 blog and he said he might [finance] printing of t-shirts with the inscription: “I am Roma, too!” But, as time goes by, I think there are better chances to have you reporting about some new crisis than to have something done. I would like to be mistaken, of course.

Later on, on his blog, Queeria gets [8] lots of personal testimonies describing encounters with the Roma population:

[…] I remember one sad story from a refugee camp. The boy was barely ten years old when he arrived there. They killed both his mother and father in Kosovo. When they asked him about nationality, because Gypsies are divided into a few subgroups, he said: I don't have either father or mother. I worked with him for a year. He was closed and he wouldn’t let anyone reach out to him. He was mad all the time with the other kids and he wouldn’t socialize. He was weak at school. We talked much, in the beginning more me than him, then started talking more and more. Then I found out. Nationality does not matter to him if others killed everybody and if he doesn’t have any living soul on earth and if he, as he says, is back and black! He didn’t like other children because they were hurting him and they were wearing better shoes. There was some footwear humanitarian aid once. The teacher carefully selected which shoes she would give to whom. She gave him pair of shoes that left after the selection process. They were few sizes bigger, and the winter was horrible. He used to put papers into the shoes so they wouldn’t fall off. Other children made fun of him. Yes, he wasn’t a hardworking student. I have never seen him study. But, why would he study when the teacher would encourage him with the words: And you, N., you probably know nothing this time again, ha? That was the approach of an educator towards a kid who had just arrived from a massacre place. The others killed everyone this kid ever had. The kid left alone in this world. That’s how the teacher put the whole generation on to the healthy feat as he thought the Gypsies are given the leftovers because they aren’t used to anything better. Few years later, he found a job in one Serbian foundry. The toughest job there was. He wanted to leave the refugee camp, to forget everything, to get behind him the evil of the past. But he had to get back. People from the city wouldn’t lease a flat to him. They told him they wouldn’t accept Gypsies because they make walls dirty.

Nune Popovic:

Dear Boban, I am glad you are joining the Gypsy community. You have probably heard Gypsies were almost lynched at Ambrus in Slovenia. That’s why Nune production suggested the action: “I am Roma, too!” I am glad the idea is spreading around. […]


My best elementary school friend – Tairovski Sefedin, Sefke! He was great drawer! I will always remember when he portrayed shop window of some imaginary store filled with vivid balls. His father was a shoe cleaner. Yes, with a big C. Always fantastically clean-shaven, combed hair, in a […] white shirt with wrenched sleeves so he wouldn’t smirch himself while working. The whole Belgrade knew him, he worked in front of the 20th October cinema. He was a very polite and pleasant man. He was a sir. I was honored to have his son as a best friend.

Olga Medenica:

I was a first-year architecture student then and had to take some urbanism subject. We studied different forms of urban structures. My group ended up with a task to make a research assignment at the outskirts of the city. We went somewhere behind Zeleznik [9] where a small labor area mixed with rural population and a newly-built Roma area. […] Part of our homework was to go out to the “field”, knock on a door and ask questions. […] Two of us went there, did our knocking to make notes; saw many things depicting poverty of the Gypsy population. The houses were made of thin wood panels and foil. I don’t recall any “movie famous Gypsy style” with golden teeth and colorful dresses. If they could decorate their life like that, it would be easier on us as the dearth would be less transparent. We entered one home. There was a young couple with a 6-year-old kid. They were some kind of administrative workers. Home looks usual with couch, TV set and carpet. It was small but clean and tidy. It smelled like moisture though. As I approached towards the sofa I felt the ground was somehow soft. […] They treated us with a cup of coffee. We took a seat. They stayed up. I don’t remember their story exactly. They told us, the last similar neighborhood where they lived was a bit better. Some people built something else there, that was the reason why they had to move. They hope to get a flat. We left them sad and ashamed. I felt as if I were a thief. Why? Because it appeared to me those people thought our appearance there was a good sign; because architecture students were writing notes it must mean their thing is moving somewhere. And we just did our homework.


I have a positive experiences with the Roma people. I was feeling bad once during the trip back from Vienna in a bus. […] My fellow traveler, a Roma woman, took care of me as if she was my mother. Our bus broke at midnight and we all had to wait it to be repaired. It was cold that night and the heating broke too. She covered me with her coat, made wafer for me of her only shirt and persistently gave me her [drink]. Even when I refused she insisted – “Sister, you need fluid more than me at the moment […].” When another vehicle came, she ran to occupy seats in front so the drive would be less turbulent for me, [a really big heart she had]!