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Serbia: Gypsies’ Houses Torn Down in Belgrade

This July, Belgrade will be the host of the 25th World University Games. Participants will stay in the newly-built University Village. There used to be some 350 Gypsy houses near that place, the majority of which were built illegally 30 years ago. Following an order of the City Department of Inspections, about 50 houses were torn down on April 3. A few dozen children, women, old and sick Gypsies spent the night without shelter.

Gypsies protested and asked city council for other lodging in Belgrade. Instead, the authorities offered them to be moved in temporary containers to Boljevci, a small settlement about 20 kilometers from the center of Belgrade.

But residents of Boljevci protested as well. They didn’t want to give shelter to Gypsies: they threatened that they would set fire to them and their containers.

Because of this, many NGOs, which supported the Gypsies, talked about racism.

Mayor of Belgrade Dragan Đilas said that city authorities would act the same way in the future because everyone who builds house illegally on the city's public land could expect to get a new flat. According to him, these objects have been representing problem since last year because they have been making functioning and development of the city difficult. Mayor also said that these Gypsies would be moved to places from which they had come from to Belgrade. Somewhat later he said that Belgrade’s authorities could only help children and women with forced resettlement, while men would have to find their own way to move.

National television aired a statement by Srdjan Sain, president of the Gypsies’ party:

We are not against sports, but we are against someone using sports for personal interests, tearing down someone else's houses.

He added that they would not allow the ethnic distance between Gypsies and others to be increased.

According to the Mondo, on Sunday, April 5, representatives of UNHCR in Serbia handed mattresses and blankets to Gypsies from New Belgrade. John Jang, UNHCR’s chief of the Service for Protection of Refugees, said to journalists that the organization has provided about 100 mattresses and blankets for Gypsies who would have to sleep somewhere until an agreement on some permanent solution has been reached with city representatives. Jang said that UNHCR did not expect that Gypsies’ houses would be torn down and that not enough help would be provided, especially because there had been good collaboration with representatives of Belgrade before.

Dorit Nisom, chief of the World Health Organization in Serbia, said that she had been very proud of Serbia because of good attitudes toward Gypsies in the past, but she added that tearing down Gypsies’ houses had a negative effect on the image of the country that presided over the Decade of Gypsies and is organizing the University Games.

Several days later, a group of neo-Nazis attacked Gypsies in New Belgrade.

Dusan Maljkovic wrote about that:

The evening before last night, on the night of April 6-7, at 2:30 am, a group neo-Nazis attacked Gypsies’ settlement located near the shopping mall and market in New Belgrade.

According to eyewitnesses, 20-30 attackers arrived there in two pickup trucks. They were armed with knives and metal bars. Shouting, “We will move you,” they attacked a group of children, women and men who sat on the ground. Several children were injured and one man suffered a serious injury as he was hit with a bottle. Several older people fainted due to fear and panic. Neo-Nazis ran away as some 50 men from the nearby shacks organized to defend the settlement. Five or six policemen who were on duty in the settlement did not react. They said that they had no permission to get involved.

Journalists who had been reporting from the Gypsies’ settlements for the past few days, didn’t report on this incident […].

On her own blog, Jasmina Tesanovic republished an open letter that 43 NGOs sent to the president of the Republic of Serbia, prime minister, vice president of Serbia’s government and the mayor of Belgrade. Here is an excerpt from this letter:

[…] Open or hidden racism toward Gypsies has never been punished up to now. At the same time, from 2000 up to now, forced moving out and tearing down have always been carried out with the help of the police.

Having in mind that Serbia is signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees the right of housing, including the right for alternative housing in the case of forced resettlement, all 47 families have to be provided with housing without delay. Citizens who will eventually be forced to move out must be taken care of in advance. […]

[…] Signatories of the letter ask the highest-ranked state officials to condemn all statements that violate the basic right to freedom of settlement for the Gypsies. That right is guaranteed by Article 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. […]

[…] At the same time, the latest announcements by Belgrade’s authorities that it will take care of only women and children, while men would have to find their own way to move, represents a violation of European standards of respect for private and family life and home, which are guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and is confirmed in practice by the European Court for Human Rights. […]

1 comment

  • mw

    Thank you very much for this article! Global Voices Online is really remarkable. I first came upon your article in the Chinese version. When I was in China 10 years ago and earlier, I heard and saw the news from the former Yugoslavia very much. It almost felt like it was happening at home. I am from Vienna, which is not that far, if you are looking from China.

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