Roma History: The Baro Porrajmos- The Romani Holocaust
German occupation forces in Serbia targeted Roma as well; 40- 60,000 Roma lived there. Executions began in October of 1941, usually by firing squad. A concentration camp for Jews and Roma was established in Zemun (now a district of Belgrade), staffed by Ustaša from neighboring Croatia. At least 12,000 Serbian Roma died in the Baro Porrajmos.
Roma in Post-WWII Eastern Europe
“Roma had work then. They got credit. They had better salaries. And at the end of the month, we could afford to buy sugar and oil.”
- Isak Avdo, Prizren, Kosovo
Positive quotas were set for Roma entering university and seeking government jobs. Perhaps the greatest impact these regulations had were exposing the majority ethnic group’s children to Roma children in classrooms; before, none had any interaction with Roma, and this exposure ensured that stereotypes would not simply be taken at face value. Racism directed at Roma is less easy to accept when it affects your playmates. Education and quotas created higher living standards for Roma in Eastern Europe, and socialized medicine extended the average Roma lifespan.
Roma in Kosovo
"In Tito’s time I had a job, and after that I even got a pension."
- Azem Beriša, Kosovo Polje/ Fushë Kosovë, Kosovo
"Tito gave us all our rights. The right to everything."
- Rexhep “Redjo” Skenderi, Plemetina, Kosovo
Roma benefited from Yugoslav policies; many others did not. Educational policies were not taken seriously by local officials; Roma still had the highest infant mortality rates in Yugoslavia. A 1978 study noted that only 100 Roma were currently attending universities in Yugoslavia. Generational racism would not be rooted out in a half century; after Yugoslavia’s dissolution Roma found their rights removed, and became the victims of the conflicts that few paid attention to.
Kosovar Roma continued to practice ethnic mimicry. They were aided- and sometimes even coerced- by the authorities. Non-Roma last names were assigned to Roma families by municipal officials, often in an attempt to bolster the population of their own ethnic group. Yugoslav census takers noted that many who claimed to be Turkish, Albanian or Serbian appeared as though they were Roma.
Pioneers: Serb and Roma children, Gracanica, circa 1970s
"Our children weren’t in school; the teachers didn’t want them there. But every once in awhile Belgrade decided that Roma children should be educated, and the police would arrest a set of Roma parents because their children weren’t enrolled. Dad would get his butt kicked; all the Roma parents would rush their children to school. Soon the campaign would end; our children would stop attending, because the teachers didn’t want them there and they didn’t want to be there either. But soon another campaign would begin."
-Roma woman, aged 68, Gracanica, Kosovo - 2003
The estimated Kosovar Roma population stood at 100,000 in 1971. The declared figure in the 1971 census was under 15,000. In the 1981 Kosovo census- the last census not boycotted by Albanians- only 34,126 declared themselves Roma. The real number may have been five times that. Albanian clerics pressured Muslim Roma to register as Albanians in both Macedonia and Kosovo.
The rising social and economic status of Yugoslav Roma began to end after Tito’s death in 1980. The process accelerated when the country ended in 1991. Yugoslav Roma were regarded by the Yugoslav constitution, not as a nation, but as a protected ethnic minority; not so in Yugoslavia’s successor states, which often do not recognize Roma within their borders at all. They are denied citizenship and what it bestows- the right to residence, state health care, social assistance and education. Croatia is rectifying this with new laws. Roma children have been excluded from Croat schools by both the government and ignorant parents; in September 2002, in Drzimurac- Stelac, Croat parents ejected Roma pupils from the school, insisting that only academically-gifted Roma be allowed in school with their children (Reported in B92, Sept. 10, 2002).
Exceptions to these exclusionary rules are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro; these states recognize Roma as official state minorities with all rights to citizenship. Montenegro even became a preferred place of flight for Roma fleeing the Kosovo conflict in 1998. Montenegro set up refugee camps for Roma refugees; other states only sought to deny them entry on frivolous administrative grounds.
Roma were not the specific targets of ethnic attacks during the Yugoslav civil wars until the NATO campaign ended in Kosovo in June of 1999. In Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, they still found themselves expelled. Roma settlements in the combat areas of both countries were destroyed during the 1991-1995 wars.
Who We Were, Who We Are: Kosovo Roma Oral Histories
©Bobby Anderson 2003-2009. All rights reserved.
This project was made possible by the generous financial support of the Open Society Institute Roma Culture Initiative.
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Who We Were, Who We Are: Kosovo Roma Oral Histories © Bobby Anderson 2003-2009
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