Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 08:28 GMT

Assessment for Roma in Croatia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Roma in Croatia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Croatia Facts
Area:    56,538 sq. km.
Capital:    Zagreb
Total Population:    4,872,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is a low risk of rebellion by the Roma in Croatia. The Roma have exhibited no history of rebellion, remain internally fragmented, and face no repression by the state. Nevertheless, protest has been persistent and looks set to continue with discrimination against the Roma increasing over the past 15 years. Within the past couple of years, there have been a number of reports of official discrimination and anti-Roma activities on the part of ethnic Croatians. These activities include inadequate investigations of Roma complaints by the local police and public demonstrations protesting the presence of Roma in some cities. Therefore, the potential for continued Roma verbal opposition is high. While anti-Romani stereotypes are durable in Croatian society, the prospects for improvement in the position of Croatian Roma is not completely bleak. Due to the pro-Western orientation adopted by the country after President Tudjman's death (1999), Croatia is currently very much interested in (at least giving the appearance of) improving its human rights record and the position of its minorities. Since 1999, there have been a series of policy initiatives designed to improve the position of the Roma but, as of 2003, implementation had not yet begun. Many Roma remain without identity cards or citizenship.

Analytic Summary

The Roma originated in India, but have since migrated throughout the world. They have been in the Balkan region for hundreds, and possibly a thousand, years (TRADITN = 1). They migrate throughout Croatia and elsewhere searching for the best opportunities to practice their culture without reprisal and pursue their economic endeavors (MIGRANT = 3). The Roma are found in all areas of Croatia (REGIONAL = 0), which contributes to their lower levels of organization and group cohesion (COHESX9 = 3). While there are 120,000 Roma officially registered in Croatia, advocacy groups estimate that there are 250,000 to 300,000 because many Roma simply don't bother to register. Also, there are a considerable number of Roma refugees in Croatia from the ethnic conflict in Bosnia. However, there are no reliable estimates of the numbers of these refugees due to their fluctuating numbers and the difficulties involved in counting them. The Croatian Roma speak a variety of languages (LANG = 2). Which language a Roma speaks depends on how long they have been in the country and where they were prior to arriving. The Roma have a different culture than the Croatians (CUSTOM = 1), but not all Roma practice the same religion (BELIEF = 2). The Roma are most easily distinguished from other ethnic groups by their different physical appearance (RACE = 3), and this easy identification has led to discrimination.

The Roma reached the area which became the former Yugoslavia by the 10th century. Throughout their history in that region, they remained, for the most part, outside of the various mainstream political, cultural, and social systems – whether feudal, socialist or capitalist. Throughout this period, the Roma suffered from varying levels of persecution and racial discrimination, including genocide by the Nazis during World War II. The Nazi puppet state in Croatia, led by the nationalist Ustase, collaborated in the extermination of over 700,000 Serbs, Jews and Roma during this period.

The former Yugoslavia had one of the largest Roma populations in Eastern Europe, with an estimated 850,000 people in 1981. Under Yugoslav rule, the Roma, in theory, had a status equal to that of other national minorities. In practice, this status was not recognized by the republics. Starting in 1983, however, some classes in the first four grades of primary school were taught in Romani, a primary language of the Roma.

Compared to the rest of Croatian society, the Roma currently face severe demographic disadvantages due to their relatively high birth rates (DMBIRT01-03 = 1) and lower health and living standards (DMSICK01-03 = 2). Politically, the group is excluded from Croatian society (POLDIS03 = 4). Since Croatia declared its independence in 1991, the level of discrimination against the Roma has increased within the context of Croatia's war of independence and economically painful reforms. The Roma are not recognized as a national minority in the country's constitution. A vast number are also denied citizenship and identity cards, particularly those that arrived during the various Balkan wars during the 1990s, effectively making them second class citizens by denying basic rights, including the right to attend school, the right to employment, the right to run a business and even the right to buy an apartment. The Roma are also often denied entry to many restaurants and shops due to discriminatory owners, and police do not adequately investigate complaints of such exclusionary practices. Those few that are able to gain governmental employment are required to sign loyalty oaths. Those who are able to attend school are unable to learn any other language other than Croatian (CULP0301-03 = 3), which helps explain why many perform very poorly in school.. Economically, the Roma are formally excluded (ECDIS03 = 4) using the same structures through which they are excluded politically and culturally. Not being able to receive citizenship cards, they cannot gain employment or open a business, effectively forcing them to live on the edges of the Croatian economy. While there have been no formal instances of government repression, the treatment of the group by the police is suspect. The group also faces attacks by Croatian citizens. While none of these attacks have led to any reported fatalities, there have been beatings of Roma, including children, at the hands of skinheads and other racist groups (INTERCON01-03 = 1).

For a group that is as spread out as the Roma, numerous organizations exist in Croatia with the goal of improving the conditions faced by the Roma. Groups such as the Romani Women's Association, Unija Roma Hrvastke, Klub Romani Hrvastke, and the Romani Party of Croatia all lobby the government to improve the treatment of the group in Croatia. All groups eschew the use of violence (GOJPA01-03 = 2). Advocacy is also done on the Roma's behalf by the European Roma Rights Centre, which monitors and reports on the treatment of the Roma by the Croatian people and government. The most recent addition to these organization is the Board of Romany Unions of Croatia (or Council of Croatian Roma Associations) (VRUH), which is an umbrella organization now representing 28 Roma associations; it formed in 2001. VRUH seeks to protect the Roma ethnic and cultural heritage and promote Roma human rights.

Due to their poor treatment in Croatia, the Roma have numerous grievances. Their key demand is that they be treated as equal citizens (POLGR401-03 = 1). Without this right, it is not possible for the rest of their demands to be met. These secondary demands include the right of Romani children to go to school and better economic opportunities (the right to be employed or to open a business) (ECOGR301-03, ECOGR401-03 = 1). If the Roma are granted equal status, they would also qualify for government programs such as housing benefits. Finally, the Romani hope that granting them equal status would usher in a decrease in discrimination and an end to the racially motivated attacks against them (CULGR501-03 = 2). The ethnic intolerance of Roma by the Croats is additionally complicated by political factors of the war in the former Yugoslavia. Thus, Roma in Eastern Slavonia have called attention to the fact that their situation has considerably worsened upon the reintegration of this area in Croatia. Also, some of the Roma in Eastern Slavonia fought on the side of the Serbs during the civil war. Therefore, the Croatian attitude against the Roma in this area may reflect mixed feelings that combine anti-Serbian with anti-Romani sentiment.

While there has never been any reports of militant activity by the Roma (REB00-03 = 0), since Croatian independence there has been a steady campaign of verbal opposition (PROT90X = 1) that has continued through today (PROT00 = 1, PROT01 = 0, PROT02-03 = 1). As with other Roma throughout Europe, the Croatian Roma appear to exhibit a trend of moving from an area when the conditions they face become intolerable instead of staying and demanding change.. At the same time, without the protections that come with citizenship, the Roma in Croatia also face the possibility of expulsion from the country if their protests become too confrontational.


Crowe, David M. A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

Human Rights Watch World Report: Croatia 2001-2003.

Lexis/Nexis: All news files 1990-2003.

U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, section on Croatia for 1993, 1994, 2001-2003.

Search Refworld