Thursday, June 17, 2010


Threats Against Roma Continue in Serbian Village

Bojana Barlovac

16 June 2010 For the past five days groups of non-Roma residents in the village of Jabuka, north of Belgrade, have been threatening and verbally abusing the local Roma population.

The unrest began after 17-year-old Dejan S. was allegedly murdered by a Roma teenager last week over threats related to stolen sneakers which were made on the social networking Web site Facebook.

The man suspected of stabbing Dejan S. with a knife, also 17, is being held in police custody.

Every night since the incident several hundred non-Roma villagers have gathered for what they call peaceful protests in the areas were Roma residents live. The authorities and Roma villagers have described the demonstrations as racist and threatening, and there have been reports that protesters were throwing stones at the houses of Roma villagers.

The village, home to some 7,000 people, is located next to the town of Pancevo. It is currently under police protection and five persons suspected of spreading racial, religious and ethnic hate have been arrested.

Pancevo police Chief Zvezdav Radojkovic said that police were in front of every Roma household offering protection as the number of villagers gathering for the protests is increasing.

"We now have a situation where the incident [the murder] is being forgotten and the protesters are now trying solve local communal problems," he noted.

Radojkovic went on to explain what the police was doing in order to resolve the problem: "We are trying to talk to these people and to tell them that police are here not only to investigate, but also to stop further incidents from occurring.”

Serbia authorities and NGOs have strongly condemned the situation in Jabuka and called on those involved to stop their protests.

Petar Antic, deputy minister for Human and Minority Rights, told Balkan Insight that the ministry has shown its support to the Roma.

"Events calling for violence against any community cannot be tolerated since they represent an incitement of racial and religious hatred and intolerance," Antic said.

He went on to say it would take some time for the situation to calm down and for Roma residents to feel safe.

The Association of Roma Youth in Serbia said today that it was frightened by the events in Jabuka and warned that an entire group of people cannot be blamed for crimes committed by individuals.

"With deep compassion for the tragic loss, the Association of Roma Youth in Serbia invites young residents of the village of Jabuka to break the vicious circle of violence and be reminded that an entire people cannot bear responsibility for individual crimes," a statement from the group read.

Meanwhile, the NGO Belgrade Centre for Human Rights said in a statement that the state authorities must not allow the villagers of Jabuka to become hostages of the anger of their fellow citizens.

"It is necessary to allow Roma people to continue leading normal lives in the village of Jabuka and to effectively prosecute persons responsible for the attacks.

"This incident also points to the need for greater engagement on the part of the state in order to create an environment of mutual respect and understanding between different ethnic groups," the statement continued.

When asked how such cases should be prevented in future, Deputy Minister Antic said that raising levels of tolerance among youth is the main task.

"The ministry is working with the mayor of Pancevo on implementing programmes in primary and secondary schools that encourage the peaceful resolution of conflicts," Antic told Balkan Insight.

According to the 2002 census in Serbia, there are about 110,000 Roma in the country, but experts estimate that the actual number is between 400,000 and 700,000.

In 2002 Serbia adopted a law that recognised the status of national minorities in the country. This improved the position of the Roma institutionally and formally, but in reality the situation on the ground has not improved significantly.

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