Equal Romanies deprived of civil rights

Igor Lasic

SAT, 08 JUL 2000

Zagreb, July 3, 2000 - For a month now, the citizens of the broader metropolitan area of the city of Zagreb have been building piles of bulky garbage, burying block after block and street after street, commune after commune under the heaps of broken sofas and refrigerators. Each of these heaps is waiting for days to be carried away to the dump on the opposite bank of the Sava river, while rather bearable intermezzos appear to exist only for the sake of Romanies, who seem to be the last ones who value something that we have decided to discard from our lives. Hundreds of dark-skinned "saprophytes" - who will politely ask you whether you intend to get rid of a worn carpet or broken water tank, in addition to a rickety cupboard - have arrived to Zagreb from all over Croatia. You will look at them and wonder how have Gypsies become thriftier than you, how is it possible that they are those young brothers that will fill your old shoes.

Here, Romanies are not second-class citizens, but are practically deprived of all civil rights. Same as in the United States in the fifties, when the federal laws no longer denied social equality to the "coloured" population, but due to a tacit consensus of the white majority they still couldn't exercise them in everyday life. Romanies are first mentioned on the Croatian soil in the documents of the Dubrovnik Republic in 14th century, which was very unjust to them as far as the laws were concerned. In today's Croatia, no one is inciting anyone against the Romanies and no one denies their "constitutionally guaranteed freedoms" (public attorney Ante Klaric). But, let us see what kind of recognition results from such tolerance: several days ago in a popular talk-show on the Croatian Television, a guest who could be considered a respectable and relevant personality said that the Croats have "already apologised to the Jews for participating in the Holocaust", and justly so.

The topic under discussion was possible Serbian apology to Croats for the last war waged here. It is, however, interesting that in this case no mention has been made of the Croatian Romanies, same as no one mentions them at all in connection with the genocide which the Ustasha regime had committed against the minority peoples in World War II.

In this bloodshed the Serbs were absolutely the greatest victims, but in proportion to their number, the Romanies were practically exterminated. However, only the Jews are always mentioned ("and numerous Croats, opponents of the Pavelic's dictatorship, eg. Pavlek Miskina who was brutally murdered", etc.), but not because Jews are so much loved here, but because it is generally believed in Croatia that it would be wise to be on good terms with the Jews because they are powerful, rich, influential and hair-splitting...And as far as the Serbs are concerned, we are quite clear about them. As for Romanies, who cares, they are neither rich nor hair-splitting nor influential.

There is no law that can make renown guests in TV shows consider the enormity of the Romanies' sufferings here and their hard position in these times. It might sound silly to talk about the sufferings of garbage collectors.

For, the law is not the primary reason for the general opinion, but vice versa. That means that the laws should be written according to the desired civilisational level existing in other parts of the world. Vid Balog and Kasum Cana, as well as a number of other official Romany representatives, can try as hard as they want to explain to the Croatian public that their countrymen are living on the verge of a disaster, that our little brethren are dying before they can wear out a pair of shoes we have bequeathed them because the existing living conditions drastically shorten their lives (the Croatian Romanies mostly die of the so called "social" aliments of the pulmonary and digestive systems). Their arguments are of no use as long as their value is expressed in our garbage.

Recently, the Romanies from the settlement of Strmac Podravski, near Varazdin, were definitely denied permission to clear the dump which they live next to. They were also denied the permission to put up a pre-fabricated house for infirmary, to build water-supply and sewerage network, electricity links and to initiate the elaboration of town plan for this area. Consequently, four hundred people, out of which three fourths are minor children, all of them born in Strmac, live under conditions that can only be smelled, touched and carry an infection. All this was done just in order to make the Romanies from Strmac finally give in to the only offer of the local authorities and civil neighbours: to move "somewhere between Karlovac and Knin". This well-established trend among the Croats and others, seemed inappropriate to the Romanies so that they answered that they couldn't move into other people's houses; how can one please such people!

A few days later, a group of Zagreb skinheads harassed a young Romany girl because of which her relatives beat up the confused skinheads. The Croatian skinheads are usually described as an imported phenomena and their share in all our skirmishes is neglected because it is measured in pro mille.

Also, one thing is overlooked - i.e. the fact that only the iconography has been imported, while they themselves provide contents and motives, just as it is becoming a society submerged up to its ears in its own chauvinism. The skinheads are not an authentic phenomena in these parts, but, nevertheless, everything they do has been established long ago as universal phenomena, which is why their behaviour represents quite an authentic attitude of the society in general. If it were not for the skinheads, such a society in its inevitable transition to a peacetime state, would have no safety valve necessary for venting out its frustration with Romanies and other nations that pollute our atmosphere. And Europe no longer tolerates camps.

Naturally, the mentioned Romanies are not, for example, in Strmac since yesterday, nor in Croatia, for that matter, but have been living on this location, by the Drava river for the last half a century. Their fellow-countrymen from Medjumurje have more luck; there are seventeen rather decent Romany settlements there and no one is forcing their inhabitants to look for a new home "somewhere between Karlovac and Knin". What is even more unbelievable, their children go to school together with the local majority Croat children.

Someone will remark that little Romanies go to school together with the Croat children everywhere. Yes, that is true, except when Romanies are more numerous, e.g. when there are several of them to a class, as in the case of Strmac Podravski. Then, children are simply isolated in a special class ghettos, and for a more inquisitive part of the public a formal explanation is provided that because of their poor knowledge of the Croatian language small Gypsies are not able to follow the classes together with their Croatian peers.

How will the little Romanies learn the Croatian language from each other, that doesn't matter. True, they do not need school for the language they use when collecting garbage. As usual, in relation to the rest of the population minorities are either assimilated, integrated or ghettoised. Although Croatia applies in practice only ghettoisation - albeit impossible to carry through according to the law, very intensive in practice - Romanies are persistently opposing the demographic marginalisation so that, according to the censuses, their number rose from 3,858 in 1981 to 6,695 in 1991, while unofficially today they number 13 thousand. This increase is possible to explain only by their tenacity. A possible irony of an affluent society with "better-quality garbage" could not apply to "garbage collectors", but rather to the society which produces it so successfully.

Original article