Socialist Worker

Standing up to Roma oppression in Serbia

Socialists in Belgrade are building a united campaign to defend Roma settlements, writes Matija Medenica

Issue No. 2165

In downtown Belgrade, the Roma community’s settlements are under attack.

There are far right groups that organise attacks on the Roma – in the settlements and in the street.

The thugs charge into the settlements, beating up men, women and children. They throw Molotov cocktails at houses.

But it is not just thugs that attack the Roma here. It is also the state.

In the past there have been Roma communities on the border of Belgrade’s suburbs. City authorities tried to move them.

Then in June the authorities tried to move a settlement from downtown to outside the city.

The latest eviction attempt was in East Belgrade.

Barbed wire was put up all around the settlement on the site of the University Olympic games.

After the competition is over, it will be private apartments and corporate offices.

Next to this site is a huge Roma settlement, one of the biggest in Serbia.

The residents were given 15 days notice to leave so that the contractors could build a road through it, which will encircle the site.

But the next day bulldozers came and wrecked half of the site with no warning.

They tore down houses with people’s belongings inside – people had no time to collect their possessions. It was really horrific.

Another part of the site was destroyed a month later and barbed wire fencing was put up around what remained of the camp.

Only one part of the camp had an exit. People living in other parts didn’t have access to water or medical supplies.

There was a serious clampdown, with a huge police presence, private security firms and mobs surrounding the camp.

There are over 250 families in the camp, most of them with five or more members.

We went to talk to the Roma every day. They were very frightened.

The state had promised food and shelter, but nothing came.

The conditions in the camp were horrific but they had nowhere to go.

We have created a united campaign, made up of the radical left, NGOs and other forces in civil society.

We held a protest in solidarity at the site. While this was a success, we also want to form a more lasting campaign in support of Roma community and against racism in general.

The demonstration was highly repressed by police and a group of us were attacked by fascists as we left the demonstration.

They were protected by the police and allowed to run away.

The words and actions of the state normalise the politics of the far right.

In 2001 the Serbian prime minister signed an agreement for the repatriation of refugees with Germany and other countries.

Two thirds of the refugees were Roma.

Most of the Roma population started moving to the north and Belgrade over the past ten years.

When people arrived at the airport, the state had done nothing to secure housing or transport.

These are some of the most impoverished people and suffer the most discrimination.

And at the same time they open up sources of profit for huge capital involved in building projects and private property.

We’re at a crucial point. We have a financial crisis as big as the one in the 1930s.

We have to recognise that in Italy and Hungary the rise of the far right is very real, and it especially targets Roma. We don’t want to let that happen in Serbia.

It is easy to terrorise a community that you first ghettoise.

The vast majority of Roma work as street cleaners – 95 percent of cleaners are Roma.

On construction sites, the Roma workers are in the lower skilled and lower paid sections.

Roma are useful to the city because they do “dirty jobs”.

People say that there shouldn’t be slums in Belgrade – without asking why the slums are there.

In urban areas they are segregated by default. Only a very small number of Roma children go to school and just 400 out of 60,000 students at Belgrade university are Roma.

There is a cycle. Low education levels lead to poorly paid jobs. Then the children must work, not study, if the family is to survive.

The next demonstration has to be larger. In Marx21 we want to build a long lasting campaign.

There is a different path we can take, a radical one, to work with Roma and stand up against racism and oppression.

Matija Medenica is a member of Marx21 in Serbia

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Article information

Tue 18 Aug 2009, 17:47 BST
Issue No. 2165
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