ROMA OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Documentation of the Bosnian Section of the Society for Threatened Peoples

November 1999

For human rights. World-wide.

Society for Threatened Peoples Section for Bosnia and Herzegovina

Trampina 4/IV, 71000 Sarajevo Tel.: 00387 71 213 707; Tel/fax: 00387 71 213 709 e-mail: gfbv_sa@bih.net.ba

Publisher: Society for Threatened Peoples - Section for Bosnia and Herzegovina Editor in Chief: Fadila Memisevic, prof. Editorial board: Fadila Memisevic, prof., Head of the Office for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belma Delic, Senior Assistant Translation into English: Sanja Memisevic, prof. Printed by: Society for Threatened Peoples - Section for Bosnia and Herzegovina

TABLE OF CONTENT

ROMA OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Roma belong to an ethnic minority group without a mother country. Some analysis of Roma minority group in Bosnia and Herzegovina indicate that this group, when compared to other minority ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the biggest one. The exact number of Roma is not known. There are different sources about the number of Roma but the differences between these figures are sometimes drastic. For example, according to official statistic data from consensus, there were 9.000 Roma living in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991. According to data from Roma organizations, 80.000 members of this ethnic group were living in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991. More subtle thinking would soon lead to a conclusion that the latter source might be more reliable than the one of the official statistics or that, after all, the real picture on the number of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina is somewhere between official and unofficial data. The main reason for such discrepancy lies is in the fact that during the population census, Roma declared themselves as Yugoslavs, Muslims or Others. The explanation can be found in the overachieving ability of the Roma to adjust to the community in which they live, to accept its customs, religion and language and even to accept national identification. During the war, but also afterwards and even today, many Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina, pending on their place of living, declare themselves as members of Bosniak (Muslim) population. Before the war, Roma in B&H lived just like other Roma in Yugoslavia with their minority rights respected. They describe the period of Tito's rule as the "Golden Age" for Roma. However, with the outbreak of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation with Roma has significantly deteriorated. The war has pushed them in the margin of social interest.

Back To Top

Suffering of Roma in B&H during the war 1992-1995

Before the war Roma mostly lived in the territory which is now called Republika Srpska. During the aggression, they too, just like the Bosniaks, were exposed to expulsions, deportations, killings, torturing. Our research has shown that Roma were detained in the concentration camps together with the others. The worst situation was for Roma from Prijedor and surrounding villages (Kozarac, Hambarine, Tukovi, Rizvanovici), then for Roma from Vlasenica, Rogatica, Srebrenica. In Srebrenica, the massacre against 70 Romani people was committed before the town fell. Statement of B.O from Srebrenica: "I am from Srebrenica. In 1995 in Srebrenica, massacre against 70 Romani people, among whom was my brother-in-law Mustafa Beharic, was committed. At the same time in the village of Skelani - 10 km away from Srebrenica, 50 Roma were killed. Among them were my two nephews Beharic Mujo and Beharic Haso. In Skelani village, Arkan troops also killed my four relatives Mehici. Simultaneously, massacres were committed in Roma settlements Bjelovac (Bratunac) and Drinjaca (14 km from Zvornik). Roma from Potocari were especially exposed to suffering, and that is where my son and my brother were killed." More than 300 Roma were detained in the camp in Miljkovci, near Doboj. Among detained Roma was the family of A.E from Modrica: father, mother and eight children. Below is the part of the A.E's statement: "In this camp - which was one big warehouse - around 700 people out of which 300 Roma were detained. My eldest daughter H., who at that time was 13, was constantly raped in front of our eyes. After each rape my wife had to prepare and serve coffee to chetniks. I had to throw killed people in the river Bosnia. I threw them like clogs, I was not allowed to look or to ask any questions. One day I counted 120 killed people that I had to throw in the river and was waiting for my turn to be killed...." - August 1992. The statement of A.E is filed in the documentation of the Bosnian section of the Society for Threatened Peoples under the number 86/94. Romani people were the first victims of Arkan troops in Bijeljina. On 3 April 1992 Zehidin Hasimovic was killed. Three Arkan soldiers shot him in the vicinity of the police station, in Jozef Konkal street, nearby Roma settlement - Sljkunkara. He had a wife and five children. This statement is in the documentation of the Bosnian section of the Society for Threatened Peoples under the number 199/95. Near Zvornik, from the village of Skocica, all Romani people were expelled. Children were separated from their mothers. Five children age 5 to 15 were taken away from Aganovic family. Family Ribic with their eight children had the same destiny. Speculations are that the children are in Sabac and Krusevac where they live under different names. Minors, Aganovic Izeta (14) and Aganovic Safeta (16), were taken to the above mentioned towns and were forced to marry. They were given Serb names. Two years after they have been taken away and with the assistance of the International Red Cross, their parents managed to get them back. Roma in Bijeljina were victims of Arkan forces - so called "triplets". Melkic couple was slaughtered in their own house. Milkic family was one of the wealthiest in Bijeljina. In the house of Hamid Ribic, in May 1992, chetniks slaughtered six Roma families: Aganovic Mehmed, Nuhanovic Arif, Ribic Ismet, Ribic Biber, Ferhatovic Bisera, Bajric Dzemila. The statement is in the documentation of the Bosnian section of the Society for Threatened Peoples under the number 206/95. Roma who were living on the territory which is now called Federation defended their country together with the B&H Army. Within the B&H Army a brigade consisting of Romani men was formed and it was called "The Sooty Brigade". However, the ability to adapt to social environment in the situation of the war chaos, led Roma to join armies of the majority population in the places where they lived. This resulted in their internal conflicts and further displacements. The village of Jasenje, in Bijeljina Municipality, can serve as the best example of this. Around 500 Roma lived in this village before the war. Affiliation to the opposing warrant armies during the war resulted in complete division among Romani population of the village. In other words, the fact that the village was on the territory under the authority of Serb majority population, led a large number of Romani population in the village to join Serb military forces at the beginning of the war. When later on, the village became part of the Federation B&H, the families who supported "the Serb side" moved out and they still have the status of displaced persons. They are refusing to return to their original homes fearing possible harassment because of their participation in the Serb military forces during the war. On the other hand, the war by its nature had a very strong influence on a large-scale displacements of Romani. They were expelled or had to flee in order to save their lives. As a result of combination of different factors, the situation with this ethnic minority today can be described as alarming. For instance, before the war, larger number of Roma lived in the territory which is now called Republika Srpska than in the territory of Federation. Now, there are only about 100 of them living in the whole Serb entity. From the part of Federation territory which, during the war, was controlled by HVO and today by HDZ party, also recorded were large-scale movements of Romani population (especially from the towns of Jajce, Mostar West, Livno and Tomislavgrad). Destinations of their war-caused movements are various. In principle we can talk about two directions: one that goes abroad, primarily to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, and the second one that leads to different areas in Federation B&H. Still, it has to be emphasised that the majority arrived in Tuzla-Podrinje Canton. Large concentration of Romani in this Canton can be explained with their inability to return to their original homes in Bijeljina, Ugljevik, Zvornik, Brcko, but also with their need to be physically close to their homes and as soon as conditions are created to be able to return to their homes in safety.

Back To Top

Harassment and discrimination of Romani people

From August 1997 till August 1999, Bosnian Section of the Society for Threatened Peoples collected various examples of mistreatments and even harassment of Roma especially in Tuzla, Middle Bosnia and Zenica-Doboj Cantons. Military tax payment was yet another problem for those who left B&H during the war. Roma returnees were faced with great problems and especially in 1997. Precondition for issuance of identification documents was payment of the military tax, which varied from 4,000 to 8,000 DEM, pending on the municipality. This problem was solved in cooperation with Federal Ministry of Refugees which gave an order to all municipalities to terminate local laws on military tax payment. Harassment and discrimination of Roma is much more expressed in Republika Srpska than in Federation B&H. Extremely high percentage of Roma from Republika Srpska claim to be exposed to insults and other ways of intimidation from their neighbours because of their nationality. In order to protect themselves from expulsions and harassment, few Roma who remained in Republika Srpska had to change their names into Serbian names. That was the case with Roma from Bijeljina, Ugljevik, Zvornik, Brcko and Bosanska Gradiska. In Banja Luka, 3 km away from the town's centre, stood Roma settlement called "Happy Hill". During the war almost all inhabitants of this settlement were expelled, only ten Roma remained. Only one Romani man returned to Banja Luka. He is a Roma poet, Semso Avdic, who published a book of poetry called "Roma from Birth till Death". He had a beautiful big house in the centre of the town. As a returnee, Semso lives in the basement of his own house while a Serb family lives in the house rooms. Roma have very unenviable social and economic position because 70% of them cannot provide for their basic physical existence without social security, while 90% of them do not have the right to free health protection. Very small number of Roma has a job or a stable income source. Majority of Romani children do not go to school. It is important to emphasise that displaced Roma want to go back to their original homes. However, only few of them can actually move into their houses. Example of Bijeljina: Before the war in Bijeljina lived between 6,000 and 7,000 Roma who were very rich and lived in big houses. Today, those who returned live in huts, garages and in tents while their houses are occupied by Serb citizens or different administrative bodies of Republika Srpska. The return of Roma on the territory of Federation is not developing with satisfactory dynamics either. When territories controlled by Croat authorities are in question, it can be said that this return is still at its beginning. On the other hand, the return of Roma on the territories controlled by Bosniak authorities is not prevented but is faced with various difficulties.

Back To Top

Specific examples

Kakanj - Varda

Extreme example of the above statement is Roma settlement Varda situated in the centre of Kakanj. Out of 600 inhabitants in this settlement, 250 are children. Not a single child goes to a school. The reason for this, as stated by the parents, is incapability to provide books, clothes and shoes for their children. In discussion with the leader of this Roma community, Idriz Pasaga, we learned that Roma children from this settlement are being harassed by other children because of their shabby clothes, shoes and filthiness. What made a strong impression on us during our visit to this settlement is the fact that these Romani people live in a real ghetto. Even though their settlement is in the vicinity of the town's stadium they do not have sewage system or running water. 600 of them have only one tap which is being used for cooking and laundry. To get running water they have to walk about 1 kilometre. The settlement has only one toilette. Houses are dilapidating. Only 20 Roma from this community have steady jobs and safe source of income. The others feed themselves searching containers looking for some food remnants. Many among those Roma returned from Germany. Their houses are almost completely destroyed. In the vicinity of this settlement is a town's dump, potential danger for spreading of diseases. During our discussion, Idriz Pasaga, the leader of the community, complained about the lack of hygienic items - soap and detergent. We saw a lot of sick people, four of whom are physically handicapped. Not being covered by the health insurance they have to pay for the medications for which they do not have money. 56 Roma from this community were members of the B&H Army, 26 of them got killed and 10 are war invalids. Now they are left to themselves. We were strongly impressed by the fact that these Roma are in fact ashamed of the poverty in which they live and feel that this, along with their Romani background, is the reason for their harassment and rejection by the community. This visit was organised with a representatives of the German SFOR troops, or to be more precise, with their organisation "Lachen Helfen". With their assistance we provided Roma population from Varda with clothes, shoes, children's footwear (which was priority), food (especially baby food), blankets. Because of cold and severe winters they would need firewood but also building materials to repair houses. German SFOR division promised to provide wheelchairs for handicapped members of this community.

Banovici - settlement "Happy Hill"

Municipality of Banovici (just like the other municipalities in the Federation: Zavidovici, Kalesija, Zivinice,Maglaj) introduced war tax for all male citizens who were outside Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war. This tax implied the payment of 300 DEM each month for the period from the beginning of the war 01.07.1992 till 31.12.1995. This tax was especially big problem for Romani men. They were in the first wave of forced return from Germany or Switzerland. In order to register in their original places of living, they had to have new IDs issued, which they could not get as long as they did not pay the "war tax" in the amount of 12.000 DEM. The proof for this is a written request sent by the Municipality of Banovici to Mustafic Fahrudin in which he was requested to pay the above stated amount for the war tax in order to be granted permission to further regulate his rights. Looking for an explanation we went to Banovici but in the Town's Hall we did not find anybody who was competent to clarify this request. In discussion with Romani population of the "Happy Hill" settlement, situated outside of Banovici, we learned that they are returnees from Germany (around 50 of them) and that they cannot exercise any rights unless they pay the war tax. What we saw in this settlement was shocking. "Settlement" in fact are remnants of the previous settlement, couple of destroyed houses which are now inhabited by Roma. Before the war around 200 Roma lived in this settlement. During the war, as a result of the war activities, all of them left the settlement and were displaced all over the world. The biggest number of them lived in Berlin. We considered this "tax" to be human rights violation and demanded official position on this from the Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons. We received their reply which at the same time was the order stating that introduction of the "war tax" is illegal and that all those who continue to request the war tax to be paid in the future will be prosecuted. Thanks to the German humanitarian organisation "Help", some 50 houses in this settlement were repaired and the situation with Romani population now is much better than before.

Sarajevo - Crni Vrh - Gorica

Before the war, autochthonous Roma population of approximately 3.000 people lived in the Municipality Centre. These Roma people primarily inhabited Crni Vrh, at the location Gorica, where 70% of them lived. The others lived in the locations of Lovcenska, Sip, Kosevsko brdo, Bjelave. Living in the vicinity of military buildings and in dilapidated houses, this group had to leave these locations during the war and to move into abandoned and devastated business buildings in Ciglane, Marindvor and Kosevsko brdo. During the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina large number of Roma population joined and actively participated in the B&H Army units. According to the evidence of the Association of the War Disabled Persons of the Municipality Centre, 36 Roma joined the Army, 2 got killed and 8 are war invalids with more than 50% disability. Since the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not recognise their constitutionality, these Roma do not have their representative in the Government, regardless of the fact that they make almost 50% of the total population of the municipality. During the war, certain number of these people, mostly women and children due to poor living conditions and with the assistance of humanitarian organizations left the municipality and went to Italy, Germany, Holland and to other countries (smaller number of them). With the signing of Dayton Peace Accord they were among the first to start returning to their city, their municipality and to the locations from which they moved out. Romani people from the Municipality Centre can be described as citizens with permanent place of residence, who went to school and most of whom have completed secondary education - vocational schools (men) , while most women completed an elementary school. In this regard, they were employed as skilled and highly skilled workers in the town's companies, or as municipal workers in companies such as RAD, PARK or were involved in trading business on the city market. A certain number of them were active in the catering business. In view of the above it could be concluded that Roma population in this municipality was not in a socially dependant position. Their social problems before the war were inadequate housing space and along with that bad living conditions. They lived in a non-urban conditions without running water, access roads, in decayed barracks without electricity. Only small number of them managed to build solid urban houses. Furthermore, only few of them solved their housing problem through organizations in which they were employed. Roma population in this municipality was completely assimilated and adjusted to the city life, having, at the same time, retained their national identity. Not being understood and accepted by the society they decided to withdraw to Crni Vrh location, where from they were assimilated into the city environment. For more than 200 years Roma are present at this location while in this municipality they live for 350 years. In that context Romani people have the status of legitimate citizens of the municipality and legitimate are their requests to be given the right to return, the same right which is granted to all other citizens of the city. The problem arises from the fact that City Department of Urban Planning foresees building of a sport and recreational centre at this location. Romani people have nothing against this plan, but they demand that at the same time a solution be found for incorporation of their settlement into this plan. Through Bosnian Section of the Society for Threatened People as well as through Roma organizations in the world it would be possible to collect financial means for construction of this settlement which would be adjacent to the urban zone. With their competence and previous working experience Roma could provide services such as: maintenance of the Centre, catering, servicing of the equipment, gardening and some special cultural programs. Romani people are requesting that in the case their demands cannot be fulfilled, another location in the municipality Centre is to be identified for their community which would provide them conditions for living, for their cultural and folk customs, for their full affirmation as autochthonous ethnic group and where they would be able to work in the fields for which they are qualified. Having in mind the number of this population, Romani people could request special provisions to be made for them in the education system (language and text books), which they do not request, but in any case they should be able to express their culture, customs and organisation which in fact is the wealth for the city with a reputation of multicultural environment. Today there are no Roma in the active forces of the B&H Army, they are not present in the public life. Being extremely jeopardised, Romani people today, are socially the most vulnerable group of people; without housing, employment or possibility to express their culture and way of living. It should be again pointed out that Sarajevo's Roma are not nomads, that they are educated people, capable to enrich the way of life in the city with their work and their culture. Veselica - The Ball of Roma and Roma beauty contest, Djurdjevdan - St. George's day and other similar celebrations are cultural events of this multicultural environment and Roma should be given a chance to express their culture and tradition. Society is obliged to pay attention in order to socially provide for this ethnic group and include them, in adequate way, into all activities of urban living. It is inadmissible that this group remains in the margins of society and continues to be permanent and insoluble social problem. According to data on professional profile, collected through informal questionnaires, the following are the jobs for which members of this group are qualified: Auto-mechanic - 8 Locksmith - 6 Electro- mechanics - 11 Caterer - 12 Trader (artisan) - 22 Hospital attendant - 8 Musician - 3 Besides the above listed jobs, Romani people diligently worked as gardeners, cleaning staff, kitchen staff, as musicians amateurs and handicraftsmen. All this tells us that this group has conditions to organise their own community, that they are capable to support themselves with their work and while preserving their integral ethnic identity and culture also create conditions for life immanent to city environment. In the view of the above, we suggest that a suitable solution be found, so that this group of people is given permission to build their settlement at Crni Vrh location, with all housing and cultural components, or alternatively, to offer them some other adequate location in the municipality Centre. Financial support can be obtained from donations or from certificates. Having in mind that more than 40 members of the community have certificates, we can talk about credit, which implies building of small businesses and new employment opportunities. Eviction from flats is yet another prevailing issue for these people. We demand that these population be protected and their problems solved in a legal way.

Srnica Donja

Biggest number of expelled Roma from Modrica lives in this village, situated around 30 km away from Gradacac. Most of them live in abandoned Serb houses or wooden huts. There are around 200 Romani families currently living in this village. Only those who spent the entire war in Bosnia are receiving humanitarian assistance from which they all live. Roma returning from Germany and Switzerland are also coming to live in this village. They are not entitled to receive any kind of humanitarian assistance. They live from their savings. Not a single Roma from Srnica Donja is employed.

Tuzla

Largest number of Roma settlements is in the territory of Tuzla municipality. Total number of Roma in this area is over 5,000. Large number of Roma returnees, who before the war lived in the places on the territory of Republika Srpska, are also living here. More careful analysis would show that motif for such decision originates in the fact that they cannot return to their original homes but also in their need to physically be close to their homes and in that way prepared for quick return. Mostar In the east part of Mostar called South Camp, lies Roma settlement Karaserbes. In this settlement around 200 Roma live in shabby barracks and containers. These Roma lived here throughout the war. Out of 200 only 10 of them have permanent job as municipal service workers and in the tobacco factory. Out of 110 children only 45 are attending the school. These Roma hosted 150 other Roma, refugees from Kosovo. Their children do not go to school. In Vrapcici - suburb of Mostar - there are around 100 Roma from Kosovo. They live in destroyed Serb houses.

Zivinice

There are around 2,000 Roma living in this area. Most jeopardised is Roma settlement "New railway" where 200 Roma live under very difficult conditions - dilapidated houses, jobless, not receiving humanitarian aid. About 120 school-age children do not go to school. The same difficult situation is in the settlement "Rasadine"- Gornje Zivinice where 1,000 Romani people live. Houses are dilapidating, without running water and without road to the village except for the mountain track.

Kalesija (the village of Lipovice)

In the village of Lipovice approximately 150 Romani people live. Those are so-called "white" Roma who live in very difficult conditions. The biggest problem of this community is lack of a road which would connect them with other villages as well as with Kalesija town. This village is located at the boarder with Republika Srpska and during the war was heavily damaged. Part of this municipality are Roma settlements "Staro Selo" and "Memici" where from all people fled to Germany during the war. The Senate of the Berlin city promised to rebuilt their houses but that promise has not yet been realised.

Bijeljina

Before the war 7,000 Roma lived in Bijeljina. Roma settlement in Bijeljina was one of the most elite settlements in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Every Roma family had at least one member working abroad, mostly in Germany. These Romani people invested all their earnings in building of big houses in which military, police and ministerial offices are accommodated today. Thus, in the house of Ismet Husic, Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons and Institute for Textbook Publishing of Republika Srpska are placed. State security is in the house of Hamdija Husic, Military Court and Prosecutors Office in the house of Hajdar Bajric, Second Corps of Republika Srpska in the house of Rifet Hasimovic and Pedagogic Institute in the house of Azem Omerovic. After massacre on 6 April 1992, when prominent Roma representatives were killed, all other Roma were expelled. Today they are returning to their town but not to their houses. Around 200 of their families live in tents and huts, without any humanitarian aid or social security. Two buses full of Romani people are daily coming from Berlin. They are issued with residence permit provided that they give up social security. According to Pasaga Beganovic, president of the Association of Roma from Republika Srpska, Roma returnees live like mouse; doing nothing but watch and listen when they will be expelled and thinking of the best place to hide. In Bijeljina's Roma settlement called Dasnice, Serb authorities destroyed 40 dilapidated Roma houses, but Roma people returned and on the charred remnants of their houses using nylon and woods, they built "temporary accommodation". People from Bijljina now call this part of the town "Wild West". Roma children do not go to school because their parents are afraid that they will not be accepted by the community.

Back To Top

Roma organizations

On the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romani people formed their organizations which are active in the local communities. The most famous Roma organisations are:

Sai Roma - Kiseljak - Tuzla municipality President: Saban Mujic This organisation represents interests of around 500 Roma from the village of Kiseljak. Their aim is helping Roma with education of their children, building Roma settlements and preserving Roma culture and tradition. Every year, this association is organising The Ball of Roma - Roma beauty contest.

Dobri Romi - Tuzla President: Hasan Suljic This organisation is dealing with suffering of Roma in the Second World War as well as in the last war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Braca Romi - Sarajevo President: Alija Abazi This organisation was founded during the war 1994 with the aim to help Romani people survive. Today, this organisation is taking care of Roma returnees and building of new settlements. Braca Romi is also assisting Roma from Kosovo who were expelled by the Albanians.

Association of Roma - Zivinice President: Muhamed Beganovic This association is helping Roma returnees as well as all those who are left without their houses.

Association of Roma - Zenica President: Salko Hasanovic This association is putting a lot oft efforts to print primer and first elementary reader in Roma language in order that Romani children learn read and write in their mother tongue.

Association of Roma from Republika Srpska - Bijeljina President: Pasaga Beganovic This association is assisting expelled Roma to return to Republika Srpska. Having in mind that Roma from Bijeljina were many in number (7,000 in total) and wealthiest of all, this organisation is encouraging all those who wish to return to their home town to do so, regardless of the fact that upon return they will not be able to live in their own houses and on their property. This association is also collecting testimonies on suffering of Roma in Republika Srpska.

Association of Roma returnees President: Jusic Nedzad This association is taking care of Roma returnees.

Association of Roma - Banja Luka President: Semso Avdic The seat of this association is in Sanski Most and its members are expelled Roma from Banja Luka. First small steps to return to Banja Luka have been made. Semso Avdic had all the will and courage to get over the difficulties and to return to live in the basement of his own house.

Association of citizens "Braca Romi"- Mostar President: Hilmi Bahtiri This is humanitarian organisation helping Roma deal with their everyday problems. Besides these organizations with many Roma members, there are also some small associations in Kalesija, Zvornik, Tesanj, Bihac and Mostar East. Interesting is that not a single association of Roma exists on the territory of the so-called Herzeg-Bosnia.

The Union of Roma from Bosnia and Herzegovina On 14 September 1997, Bosnian section of the Society for Threatened Peoples organised a joint meeting of all Roma organizations. On that meeting, The Union of Roma from Bosnia and Herzegovina was formed. The Union is a non-governmental and non-party organisation active in political and cultural fields and open to all Roma organisations. In the filed of politics, the Union is advocating recognition of Roma as a minority group and giving them rights guaranteed to minorities. In the filed of culture they advocate for preserving of Roma tradition and culture. The Union of Roma is striving for all Roma to return to their houses, but at the same time is raising their voice against deportations of Roma from West European countries such as Germany and Switzerland. Sad is the fact that Bosnian Roma in Germany were the first ones to be deported from that country. Their houses are either destroyed or occupied, so that they are returning to live in ruins. The Union of Roma from Bosnia and Herzegovina is working under the umbrella of Bosnian section of the Society for Threatened Peoples, which is the coordinator of Roma organizations in the country and abroad. Till 14 September 1999, the president of Roma Union was Saban Mujic, president of Sai Roma. On the regular session held on 14 September 1999, new executive board was elected. New president of the Union is Mehmed Suljic, engineer in the soda factory in Lukavac while Eng. Alaga Suljic is elected as the secretary. The election of the new president and secretary raised an optimism and hope that the Union is now well established and set on the firm footing. Suljic brothers are well educated, diligent and they serve as an example to all Romani people. They have formed financial commission which controls financial management of every Roma organisation and have assembled smaller Roma organizations.

Back To Top

Roma from Kosovo in Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are currently between 2,000 and 3,000 Roma from Kosovo. They arrived in three big influxes. In the first influx, between June and November 1998, a lot of Romani people from Kosovo arrived together with Albanians. Out of 15,000 Albanians, 800 were Roma. Majority were originally from Orahovica, Vucitrn, Pec, Decani and Prizren. At that time they were escaping from Serbian terror and expulsions. Second influx of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina happened during NATO air- strikes on Kosovo. That is when 50,000 Albanians among whom 2,000 were Roma arrived to Bosnia and Herzegovina. These Roma, just like Albanians, were victims of mass deportations, killings, detentions, robberies. Bosnian Section of the Society for Threatened Peoples interviewed many of these people. Out of 1,000 statements given by the Albanians, around 300 were statements given by Roma from Kosovo. Dynamic of systematic expulsions was well-known. Romani people were first interrogated, had to give in all money and other valuable things, then they were forced by the Serbian police to say that they were afraid of NATO strikes and, in the end, they were expelled.

Pristina (settlement Velanija) In Pristina's settlement Velanija, Arkan forces committed massacre against Albanian and Romani people. That happened at the beginning of April 1999. Our witness (Roma) saw when Albanian and Roma houses were set on fire. On April 3, 1999 all Albanian shops were burned and destroyed. Our witness recognised members of Arkan's paramilitary forces: they all had shaved heads, were corpulent , armed with "scorpions" (automatic machine-gun), and were driving black Jeeps and black limousines with dark windows. Arkan's soldiers, according to our witness N., started breaking into Albanian houses on 27 March 1999. They were searching for money, gold and other things of value after which they would expel people. Besides Arkan's soldiers, other paramilitary units wearing camouflage uniforms and masks, were also active in the area. Interviewee N. is 28 years old, married with two small children. In 1991/1992 he was drafted by JNA. He completed military service in 1995/1996 in Subotica. At the beginning of April 1999, together with 150 other Roma, he was forced to get on the train, which as they were told was to go to Belgrade. In Belgrade they were met by journalists and TV reporters and had to tell them what they were previously told, i.e. that they came to Belgrade because they fear NATO intervention. After they had given these statements they had to continue further with their journey. Then they came to Nis. TV crew from Belgrade television followed them all the way and forced them to give statements about their escape from terrorists from Kosovo and NATO strikes. In Mladenovac, two more carriages full of Roma were connected to the train. In Nis, all Roma were released from the train and had to continue on foot towards Montenegro. From Montenegro they were transported by buses via Republika Srpska to Sarajevo. Srbian policemen took and destroyed all their documents. The youngest person interviewed by us was secondary school pupil from Pristina born in 1982. He stated that his father, three elder brothers, uncles and all other male relatives were taken away by Arkan forces. They lived in the part of Pristina inhabited by Albanians. His mother and sisters have also been taken away by Serb forces in camouflage uniforms. N.N managed to escape but was caught by Arkan forces as he was trying to leave the town. He was taken to the railway station where he was forced to climb the train prepared for Roma. Together with other Roma he had to travel to Belgrade and from there to Nis.

Pec (settlement Novo Selo) Roma woman N.N arrived in Sarajevo on 15 April. She is 36 years old, married and has four children. She is originally from Pec, or to be more precise, from Roma settlement Novo Selo. She came in Sarajevo with her four-year old daughter . Arkan forces imprisoned her 34-year-old husband and her three sons aged 16,13 and 8. Arkan forces also destroyed this Roma village. This witness saw how her uncle and his son got killed. Together with other women she escaped into the woods where she stayed ten days. She saw many killed people. She worries much about her family. In Sarajevo she sleeps at the railway station where all those without friends and relatives have to stay. Third influx of Romani people into the Bosnia and Herzegovina occurred after the cessation of NATO strikes. Return of Albanian population to Kosovo meant new expulsions for Roma people. Unfortunately, these expulsions are still going on.

Prizren On 6 June 1999, 23 Roma from Prizren, 15 children and 8 adults, arrived in Sarajevo. They stated that they were expelled from Prizren by Serbs. One person was wounded in arm and leg. They found refuge in the neighbouring village of Klina but the Albanians found them there and expelled them further. They fear revenge and do not want to go back. Another Roma family from Prizren was expelled on 15 May 1999 - husband, wife and four children. They left on the bus for Belgrade. In a phone conversation with them we learned that they were mistreated and beaten by Albanians. On 21 May 1999, father of this family went to Djakovica to visit his sister. He had to go on foot. On the road he was captured by Albanians who took him as a prisoner. He spent nine days in the prison where he was tortured and forced to confess that he was a spy. He was released from prison half-alive. According to his words, Albanians broke into their house at night and expelled them.They do not want to return to Kosovo.

Pristina (village Crkvene Vodice) Romani woman from Kosovo, N.N who spent the entire war in the village of Crkvene Vodice, in the vicinity of Prisitna, arrived in Sarajevo by the end of June 1999. That village had 150 Roma houses - all of them are now destroyed. Albanians from Drenica formed a paramilitary unit which expelled these Roma. Her brother was threatened with a gun and ordered to leave the village. She claims that Roma are being expelled by Serbs from Belgrade and Nis. Media reports are that around 6,000 Serbs have returned to Kosovo. Our witness claims that those are not Serbs but Roma and that they are used as live shield between Serbs and Albanians. At the moment there are between 6,000 and 7,000 Roma in Kosovo Polje. They live in the primary school near the post-office and have no food. Our witness claims that Albanians raped few Romani women from the village of Subotici near Pristina. Urosevac I.M, 45 years old, trader by profession, lives in Sarajevo together with his family of five members as of April 1999. His wife is terminally ill with lung cancer and is in a hospital. He escaped in front of chetnik's knife. After the NATO strikes, his sister R.H returned to Urosevac to their family house. However, Albanian extremists broke into her house, two days after she had returned, raped her, wounded her and robbed the house. R.H sought help from KFOR soldiers who provided first aid and after that transported her to the hospital in Skopje. This girl is now facing some serious psychological problems and has lost 40 kg of weight. S.B, who was born in Skopje and grew up in Urosevac is an Albanian who does not speak Albanian language. He went to Serbian schools. He was expelled along with other Albanians at the beginning of April 1999. After NATO stopped with air strikes, in July 1999, he returned to Urosevac. However, he immediately became the victim of Albanian nationalists because he did not speak Albanian language. Two words uttered in Serbian language were enough for him to be badly beaten. He asked help from KFOR and in the end got back to Bosnia. Roma from Kosovo who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina live in collective centres in Rakovica (Sarajevo), Bosanski Petrovac, Srednje, Zenica, Tuzla and in Roma settlement in Mostar. The problem with Roma who escaped to Bosnia and Herzegovina is that they do not have possibility to seek asylum (since the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not stipulate such possibility). These Roma have only temporary status as refugees. Their children are not attending any schools while adult Roma, eventhough some of them are educated, cannot work since there is no job for majority of Bosnians as well. Roma from Kosovo fear revenge of Kosovo Albanians even in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Section of the Society for Threatened Peoples in May 1999, assisted Roma from Kosovo to form Union of Roma from Kosovo. Their centre is in Sarajevo and the president is Imer Hasani. The majority of Roma live in tents in the collective centres in Rakovica (Sarajevo) and in Bosanski Petrovac. Those are the largest collective centres. Since their return to Kosovo is still uncertain, new centre in Breza is being built for these people. All Romani people are not receiving any humanitarian assistance.

Back To Top

Semso Avdic: Roma From Birth Till Death

The Castle of My Father

Stop you winds,
Stop you hurricanes, Stop destroying
The castle of my father!

To him
Days by the fire
Were given,
And wide open spaces
From here To the God.

That is not the castle
Made of bleak rocks
Or mighty fortress
High up to the skies
But poor tent
Standing by the river
When father is travelling
To be closer to the God.

For destiny makes
A Gypsy wonder
And follow his star
All his life
Hence, do not destroy his home
By the road
To him
The tent
Is more than a palace worth.

Calm down
you winds, tornadoes,
for he is walking
along the path of his ancestors
from Ganges till today
he is led by a hope
and none will ever
stop him.

The Scent of Banja Luka

In dream I left you
My Banja Luka,
But awake I shall
Come back to you.
Even in a tent I'm
Happier to be
In you, than in
Paris, Rome
Where my soul is suffering.

I dream with my eyes open
Your streets,
My empty soul
Is longing for them
Oh Vrbas,
Wash souls of evil men
Tears of a Gypsy are
All your drops.

In dream I walk
Towards the bloody threshold,
Primeval sadness
Tears my breast apart
Happy I would be
To see the grave of
My father and mother
And to caress my
Neighbours with
All my heart.

I dream of that
Six long years.
Fires by the tents,
Sounds of a song
I dream of that
And feel
The scent of my
Dear Banja Luka.

Short is Gypsies' life

Destiny of a Gypsy Without brightness, With a lot of happiness And small things Which bring life And make it happy Free fields are Life for him.

While sitting by the tents
By the fire they ask
Who read somebody's palms
Who saw somebody's happiness
Who and how much gold
Has brought
And who knows
What tomorrow brings.

Many left their bones,
In this rich and sad country
Their sons remained
Wishing to revenge
Or to have the
Same destiny
As their dearest.

May be that is so,
And that is how it
Should be!
That is the life of Gypsies
Spontaneous, turbulent,
Full of surprises,
Sentimental and
Brief!

Last Hope

Oh, Gypsy, blood brother!
Pilgrim of the noble soul
There, where our tents
Are standing
From times immortal
Squashed is the soul
Of a Gypsy.

Nurtured on nature's breasts:
Through scornful looks
Of bloody eyes, our
Indifference and honesty
Was seen
through the window
of the Gypsy's soul. To us, who love everyone
In Balkan, why do they
Want happiness to destroy?!

Tents Full of Cries and Hungry Bellies

Who could be so richly poor
And poorly rich like Gypsy?
To us, the Faith,
As if she knew,
Rich heart and soul gave.

For centuries the stars
Are guiding us to new days
New and still unknown to you
They are long-ago-healed wounds
Of our wondering
And isolation.

And who else drinks red wine
Like us, by the fire and violins?
Only we on this planet, the tent can fill
With cries and hungry bellies
Short is the life of Gypsy,
And fast it flies.

Eyes Full of Tears

The longer the life,
The bigger the suffering
There is no bigger sufferer
But me.
In my soul I suffer
With my life I pay
Infidelity of a woman

Tent became my castle of stone
And I shall die of her beauty
My children other man
Call father
What to do with my life.

Pot-house became my home
For life I no longer care
My hair grey of sorrow
In loneliness shall I grow old?

Oh Gypsy's life, sorrow mine,
Out of spite I want to live
That my eyes are full of tears
The faith of Gypsy I blame.

My Feeble Threshold

When tear fills my eyes
My feeble threshold I dream
In Vrbas, clear water
I swim like in the old days

They can divide whatever they want.
I go back to my threshold
Banja Luka, my mother,
I shall never give you
To anyone.
You are my open wound
One day
I shall come back to you

There is no happiness
In foreign lands
Every day is a new wound

In foreign lands
The graves of my neighbours lie,
They did not live long enough
To return to their town
All foreign castles and wealth
Are poorer than our
Feeble threshold.

Slaves of Their Own Freedom

If you throw a stone
Into lake,
Concentric circles shall
Start to spread
The same happens
When a
Gypsy woman delivers,
Children perturb her imagination.

Roads lead them
Across the world
For long wondering
Dark eyes cry
Even when they gave them
Castles with swimming pools in front
Homesickness buried deep
In their souls
Is killing them.

When they close their eyes
They long for far-away places
Their oath is tent, sky, grass
Gypsies are slaves of their
Own freedom.
And in each of them
A dreamer sleeps.

Back To Top