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Assessment for Roma in Yugoslavia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2000
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Roma in Yugoslavia, 31 December 2000, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
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.
Yugoslavia Facts
Area:    88,361 sq. km.
Capital:    Belgrade
Total Population:    10,526,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The situation of the Roma in Yugoslavia will continue to deteriorate as long as the targeting of Roma in Kosovo is allowed to continue. The rise of right-wing skinhead groups in the rest of Yugoslavia only makes a bad situation worse. With the removal of Milosevic form power it is too early to tell if the new government will improve the civil rights of the group, and work towards improving their economic outlook. It is unlikely that the Roma will vary from their historical aversion to protesting their situation. The Roma are not organized, and have shown no signs of wanting to work together. The Roma in Yugoslavia, like others throughout Europe seem to choose to leave the country and look for a better situation rather than stay and try to improve their lot in the country they currently reside in. The fact that many Roma deny that they are a part of the group, preferring to claim that they are Egyptian indicates that this is likely to remain the status quo.

Analytic Summary

The Roma originated in India over a thousand years ago, and have since that time migrated across the world. Large numbers came to the countries of Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia (TRADITN = 1), and while many have left in search of better economic opportunities (MIGRANT = 3), many have remained. Due to the Yugoslav government's relatively favorable policies towards the Roma historically, there is a large population in what remains of the country. The Roma are spread throughout Yugoslavia (GROUPCON = 0), and are not highly organized (COHESX = 9). The Roma in Yugoslavia tend to speak both their own language and Serbian (LANG = 2). Compared to the Serbs and Montenegrins, the Roma also have different cultural traits (CUSTOM = 1). It is the physical characteristics that most easily identify the Roma, as they are very different from the dominant community (RACE = 3). It is this easily identification that has led to the group being targeted for discrimination by both the government and the society at large.

The break-up if Yugoslavia was particularly hard on the Roma community. The group is under extreme demographic stress (DEMSTR00 = 9) due to their high birth rates and deteriorating health conditions. The Yugoslav civil war and conflict in Kosovo has caused large numbers of Roma to leave the region. Some of this migration is a result of the Roma being displaced due to incoming refugees from other areas of the former Yugoslavia. While the Roma do not face any political discrimination at the state level, they are excluded from the political process socially (POLDIS00 = 3). Local governments have condoned or even participated in harassment and intimidation. Although there are 2 Roma political parties in Yugoslavia, they are very weak and unorganized. In fact, many Roma are not even aware that the parties exist. The Roma have, thus far, failed to gain elected offices proportional to their numbers. Economically and culturally, they are also discriminated against through social practice and prejudice (ECODIS00 = 3). There are reports of discrimination in the areas of employment, social services and education. The Roma do not have their own schools and are not recognized as a constituent people of Yugoslavia. The embargo against Yugoslavia has had an impact on the Roma in that programs that are designed to improve their situation have been the first to be cut due to the economic restrictions. As a result of their low economic status, the Roma have resorted to theft to survive. This creates a vicious cycle in that the stereotype of the Roma in reinforced, and the discrimination increases, making a bad economic situation worse. Recently, there have been reports of Roma being arrested by authorities for suspect reasons, and then they have been subjected to police brutality once they are incarcerated. While there have been reports of communal conflict between the Roma and Serbs, usually in the form of racist attacks, the greater concern is in Kosovo. Once the ethnic Albanians regained control of the region they began to attack the minority groups found within. The Roma have been targeted for attacks, and some have claimed a campaign of ethnic cleansing has begun in the region by the Kosovars.

As mentioned there are two political parties that advocate greater rights for the Roma (The Romani Congress Party and The Romani Democratic Party). Additionally there are two organizations to perform a similar function (The Association of Romani in the Federation and The Union of Roma Associations in Serbia). The Roma also rely on international organizations and watchdog groups to lobby the Yugoslav government, and raise international awareness. The Europe Roma Rights Centre, Oaza and The Romani Congress are examples of such groups. The United Nations also has been monitoring the plight of Rome refugees in the country, and has pressured the government to make improvements. The Roma have only a few demands in Yugoslavia. They are not recognized as an official group in the country and are therefore denied certain rights, therefore they are calling for equal civil rights compared to the other minorities in the country, such as the Hungarians. While there was attempts in the 1980's to institute schools taught in the Roma language, the funding for such programs has been eliminated. Finally, due to the situation in Kosovo, and less severely in the rest of Yugoslavia, the Roma are demanding greater protection from these groups.

The Roma have never been involved in any militant activity against the state (REB00 = 0). They are too small and unorganized to undertake such activities. They also have not been active in protesting their situation through more conventional means. This is partly due to the authoritarian government that did not tolerate such acts, and the subsequent civil war. Mild verbal opposition began shortly after the break-up of the country (PROT90X= 1), which led to the creation of the political parties (PROT98 = 2), but there has been no activity reported since that time (PROT00 = 0).


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

US. State Department Reports on Human rights in Yugoslavia for 1991, 1993 and 1994.

Lexis/Nexis: All news files 1990-2000.

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