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"We don't need anything but freedom" PDF Print E-mail
– Report on the visit to the village of Jabuka –

I have a dream…

I have a dream…
That one day on the red hills of Georgia
The sons and daughters of former slaves
And the sons and daughters of former slave owners
Will be able to sit down together
At the table of brotherhood and sisterhood.
I have a dream…
That my four little children will one day
Live in a nation where they will not be judged
By the colour of their skin
But by the content of their character.

(Martin Luther King, 1929-1968, USA, fighter against racial segregation, Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1964)

Activists of the non-governmental organisations Praxis, YUCOM [Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights], Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Network of Roma Women of the Banat Region, Civil Rights Defenders, Reconstruction Women’s Fund and Women in Black, the artists Rena Rädle and Vladan Jeremić and the independent human right activist Rastko Pocesta visited the village of Jabuka near Pančevo on 30 July 2010, village in which the Roma population lives in conditions of total isolation from the beginning of June this year, when racially based attacks on Roma people began.

Indeed, “protest walks” began on 10 June, after the murder of D.S. (17), a boy of Serbian nationality, committed by his peer, a boy of Roma nationality B.J.. They turned into violence and spreading of racial hatred against Roma people, that lasted unhindered for two days. State organs, the municipality and police reacted on the third day only. After such an experience of total insecurity, the fear of new violence and distrust of the Roma inhabitants of Jabuka are completely justified and understandable.

The fact that, despite soothing statements by state organs, the situation has not changed is frightening. Those that are supposed to protect the Roma population do not recognise its fear and deny the existence of any danger. However, speaking with Roma families, we found out the following:

“At night we’re frightened the most”

Roma families still live in fear of new attacks, in conditions of restricted freedom of movement, nearly in conditions of house arrest, and left to themselves. Offensive words such as “Fuck your Gipsy mother” and calls to public lynching are being shouted at them when they pass, and graffiti such as “Kill the Gipsy” appear from time to time on the streets of Jabuka and on internet website, causing a justified fear of new violence. The feeling of fear is such that the newly-appeared situation is, in the words of one of our interlocutors, “worse than war”. Since 10 June, young Roma people have not had a social life, they do not go our in discotheques and women hesitate to go out for bread.

Nights are still a source of great fear: “we sit together, we go to sleep only after 2 a.m., together we keep fear away. Now we’re together only us, Roma people…” Extreme insecurity and stress led two women with whom we spoke to take downers every day.

The mother of the boy who committed the murder says: “I have mine, but she, the woman, doesn’t have hers. I don’t have anything to ask her, but she has things to ask me, the poor woman.” The parents of the boy who committed the murder still today do not sleep in the village, they properly reported two phone threats to the police, but the authors were not found.

“When they hear that we’re from Jabuka, nobody gives us jobs”

A particular discrimination is being committed in the sphere of work rights. People are losing jobs and cannot find new ones, losing the capacity to feed their families. The young father of six underage children says that he does not dare to go out of Jabuka to look for a job, because he is afraid of leaving his family without protection.

“…if he goes in September to primary school, well, I’ll have to sleep in front of that school…”

The parents with whom we spoke testified that they are afraid to send their children to make-up exams, and as 1st of September is approaching, this fear is getting bigger and bigger. Such a situation can only aggravate the otherwise catastrophic situation of the Roma population in the education system. According to the 2009 data, 80% of the Roma population is functionally illiterate (i.e. inability to read or write), 13% of them finish primary school, 7% secondary school, and only 0,1% to 0,3% have higher education. Roma women are, among discriminated women, in the most difficult situation.

… “worse than war” – continuation of war through different means

Other graffiti in the village, such as “Tadić, you have a plot next to Đinđić's one” and “Legija – Serbian sons” testifies to the continuum of violence and to the fact that the last violence in the row is only a consequence of this violence against different people that has been taking place in the last twenty years. In a climate of hatred, fear, and distrust, repression by society is bigger than state repression. The situation in Jabuka is a consequence of the widening of the culture of denial and repudiation of facts. Those who commit violence are not blamed – rather, the victims of violence, as well as those who have denounced and publicly disclosed it, are blamed for violence. A woman who went to the park for drinking water has been attacked because she spoke to the media: “How did you come for water whereas you tell that you’re endangered...”

“I guarantee you on my life that Roma people aren’t endangered…they eat salami and don’t go to work…”

Instead of pointing to the discrimination to which the Roma population is exposed to, even on the part of the representative of the local government Jovan Lazarevski, member of the Council of the Local Community, we heard that Women in Black and other non-governmental organisations “are roaming the village and destroying excellent neighbourly relations”. Precisely because of such a stance we remind the representatives of institutions that the situation on the field shows the opposite – that for more than 45 days, and despite an atmosphere of insecurity and fear, none of the representatives of state institutions spoke with the Roma families of Jabuka. In the words of the people with whom we spoke, any kind relations among the population of Jabuka do not exist anymore, Roma people live in total isolation, so that it is at least impudent if nothing else to accuse civil society for the destruction of good neighbourly relations.

“It’s because of children, this will last a hundred years…so I should sell this and go away from here”

In the same time, all the people with whom we spoke think about selling their house and moving out of Jabuka. Women told us the following: “I worked for what I have, for some it’s a grave for me it’s paradise, but now I have to sell everything…”

The celebration of Saint Ilija will take place on August 2 in the village but Roma people were advised by the representatives of the militia to stay in their houses, and “not to provoke,” but we’re asking ourselves how. By their mere existence only? A mother with whom we spoke lives behind a 3-metre-high gate, and in the two next days, until this celebration, she will give all her savings to buy to the family of her son – for which she considers that they “deserve” a higher security than her, who is already old – a 5-metre-high gate, in order to secure them before the coming “celebration.”

The fight for minority human rights depends on the majority group, and we are this majority group, so that it is our responsibility to prevent such things. As civil society activists, we do not only denounce discrimination, we also fight against its denial, we take up concrete actions and create space for testifying about experiences of fear of those that do not have the possibility of being heard.

The report was written, on the basis of notes from the meeting of all those who were in jabuka, by Goran Lazin, Miloš Urošević, Nataša Lambić and Staša Zajović for Women in Black.

In Belgrade, 30 July 2010.

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