Saturday, May 9, 2009



The Nis City Assembly decided to name a street after the legendary Roma singer, Saban Bajramovic, despite protests by residents.

At a council meeting where the naming was discussed, just 2 councillors from the 'Nis Region' party, objected, and South Boulevard will now be called 'Saban Bajramovic Boulevard', because, as the councilors said, Bajramovic was a world famous musician, a legend of Roma music, and a respectable citizen of Nis.

"All the people of Nis should be proud that this street was named after Saban and that's the least Saban deserves from his city and his neighbours," said former Serbian prime minister Zoran Zivkovic. Zivkovic, a Bajramovic fan, was one of the sponsors of one of the last albums made by the late singer.

But some residents in the renamed street bitterly oppose the assembly’s decision, and announced that they would block roads in Nis in protest.

Later however, they said they would register themselves at other addresses in neighbouring streets so that the "Saban Bajramovic Boulevard will have no residents at all".

"We wanted to organise protests and blockades, but eventually we opted for civil disobedience. We will change our registered addresses to those of our family and neighbours', so that the boulevard will have no registered residents at all," said one of the locals, Zoran Lukovic, who, together with several hundred neighbours, signed a petition against the name change.

"That man did not deserve to have a street named after him," says a woman living in the street, adding that not a single Roma lives in the street and that it would be better if a street in a Roma settlement were named after Bajramovic.

Citizens of the controversial street first claimed that the reason for their protest was the high cost of changing personal documents, but the local authorities then decided to cover those expenses. They deny that their protest is racist in nature.

But supporters of the assembly’s decision and human rights group say the residents are simply racist. . [The residents'] demand that Bajramovic, as a Roma, be 'rewarded' with the name of the street or building in a neighbourhood 'where his people live" was, said a spokeperson for the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, "thinly-disguised and malicious".

Members of the assembly who voted in favour of the change emphasised that "Nis has never been racist of chauvinistic". The president of the local assembly, Mile Ilic said Nis is a modern European city "full of tolerance. It has a correct attitude towards all deserving citizens."

"I appeal to citizens who were against the change of the street's name, for understanding, because time, history and culture will prove we have made the right decision," said Ilic.

Osman Balic, coordinator of the League for the Decade of Roma, an NGO, welcomed the assembly's politically courageous decision. "The assembly's decision is good news," says Balic.

Bajramovic's wife, Milica, said she was proud of the decision because her husband deserved it.

Saban Bajramovic was born in Nis in 1936. As a 19-year old he deserted from the army to be with his girlfriend, but was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison at the infamous prison on Goli Otok island.

Bajramovic claimed that he started his musical career in his cell at Goli Otok. He composed over 650 songs, among them the Roma anthem Djelem Djelem in 1964.

He died on 8 June 2008 from a heart attack, shortly after Minister Rasim Ljajic promised him a national pension as a deserving artist from Serbia.

(reporting by Z. Kosanovic)

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