[artinfo] Antiziganism and Class Racism in Europe

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Sat Aug 29 16:03:25 CEST 2009

Antiziganism and Class Racism in Europe

text by Vladan Jeremic and Rena Rädle

Biro Beograd
Omladinskih brigada Blok 70
11070 Novi Beograd
		Phone: +381 63 385 073
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		Contact: Office at Biro Beograd
		<mailto:birobeograd at gmail.com>birobeograd at gmail.com


Antiziganism and Class Racism in Europe by Vladan 
Jeremic and Rena Rädle, April 2009

The Roma have a long history of migrations that 
repeatedly brought repression to their people 
over the centuries. European countries began 
introducing laws against migrating peoples (i.e. 
nomads, travelers) in the mid-Fifteenth century 
(1). Migrants were perceived as an unsettling 
factor, even as a threatening and invading group, 
one that jeopardized the safety of the majority 
population. Without a registered identity, many 
Roma remain completely isolated as citizens in 
the societies on whose territories they live. 
Being constantly relocated and repopulated, many 
have been migrants over the centuries; even 
within the boundaries of the countries whose 
citizenship they hold. Apart from accusations, 
disappointments and misunderstandings in their 
relations with the majority population, we are 
still facing deep discrimination of Roma, which 
doesn't have its roots only in ethnic and 
cultural racism or anti-Roma sentiment. Poverty 
and nomadism are threatening factors for all of 
those who live in social systems based on the 
system of ownership, accumulation of goods and 
territorialism. Western policies have tried for 
centuries to include the poor in the system of 
social protection, or to get rid of them: to 
banish or eliminate them. Roma are, for the most 
part, an ethnic class characterized by extreme 
poverty that can present an obstacle to national 
or European integrations. It appears that the 
relation between Roma and non-Roma is, first and 
foremost, defined by the borderline between 
wealth and extreme poverty.

The situation of Roma in EU member countries is 
precarious and in countries populated to a 
greater extent by Roma, such as Romania, Hungary, 
Bulgaria and in the former Yugoslav republics 
(especially in Macedonia and Serbia) - the 
situation is alarming. The situation in which 
most European Roma find themselves is similar to 
that of a holocaust. One of the basic problems 
facing a Roma man or a woman is the issue of 
belonging to a marginalized social class that is 
exposed to drastic pauperization, in addition to 
the problem of the national identity itself - the 
fact of being Roma.

Various forms of ethnic and class racism against 
Roma are appearing throughout Europe. In May 2008 
in Naples, Italian Prime Minister Silvio 
Berlusconi's Government implemented a state of 
emergency regarding nomad settlements and 
communities on the territory of several regions 
in order to legitimize fingerprinting of the Roma 
population. This law is very reminiscent of 
anti-Roma laws dating from the Middle Ages, and 
of the darkest periods of European history in the 
20th century.

The general situation of migrants in Italy is 
difficult and the violent activities undertaken 
by the fascist right targeting Roma have reached 
a peak in the burning of entire settlements, the 
destruction of property, and the forceful 
evictions of Roma communities to locations 
outside certain metropolitan areas in Italy. The 
most drastic examples of this kind happened in 
Livorno, Roma, Napoli and Milano between 2006 and 
today (2).

Similarly in Finland, a settlement built by Roma 
emigrating from Romania to Helsinki in search of 
a better future was also destroyed. During our 
visit to Helsinki in March 2009, we took part in 
conversations (3) that were part of the 
exhibition about the history and culture of Roma: 
Watch out Gypsies: The History of a 
Misunderstanding (4), in the Helsinki City 
Museum. This visit further convinced us that 
impoverished Roma are being actively prevented in 
their attempts to migrate. Strict EU laws prevent 
Roma from living or working in alternative ways 
and thus are not seen as 'fitting in' with the EU 

The most harrowing images, however, come from 
Hungary, where an actual hunt on Roma communities 
has been on-going since the end of 2008. The 
killing of Roma families by neo-Nazi groups is an 
example of the worst racist hunt on people in the 
middle of Europe (5).

Whether living in EU or non-EU countries, a deep 
and an unexamined hatred for Roma peoples is 
widespread across Europe. It is symptomatic that 
direct violence against Roma is most intense in 
places where a great gap exists between those 
profiting from neoliberal reforms and local 
population on the verge of poverty.

Under the Bridge Belgrade

While traveling through Belgrade, driving along 
the E-75 international highway and crossing the 
Gazela bridge that connects central Belgrade with 
New Belgrade, we came across the poverty-stricken 
Roma settlement in the area of Staro Sajmi”te. 
The first time we met people living under the 
bridge Gazela was during a gathering of artists 
and activists working on the project Under the 
Bridge Belgrade, which was organized in 
cooperation with our colleague Alexander Nikoliç 
in December 2004. Under the Bridge Belgrade is a 
complex research project about the municipal area 
of Belgrade, and one of the actions organized as 
a result was the aforementioned gathering under 
the Gazela bridge. This gathering turned into a 
great happening that lasted eight hours, during 
which the settlement's residents, both Roma and 
other refugees, invited all those present to 
ignite a fire and stay with them at the 

One of the project's participants, David Rych, 
wrote a piece about our gathering under the 
Gazela bridge and stated that: 'The 'artist like 
Mother Teresa' can only be a misconception, 
unless the quest for relevant support will 
necessarily lead to approved models of inclusive 
community work, something that would require time 
and commitment with regard to every single case. 
There are a number of issues that have been 
clearly addressed by representatives of the Roma 
community mentioned above. An additional 
objective of entering unfamiliar hardship for the 
sake of cultural work could be to translate these 
transitions into a more comprehensible image of 
the 'real.' Clearly, we'll have to acknowledge 
the incompatibility of reality lived by 
individuals and groups on opposite synapses of 
our societies, nations or other categories of 
distinction and dissolve the reality of 'the 
Other' as one more component of a mutually shared 
entity and investigate and visualize the 
mechanisms of exclusion the dominate system 
applies with regard to marginalized positions 
only. Some of the visitors might have been 
introduced to a local situation in order to 
initiate contributions to that very common 
reality. A few others might continue similar work 
in different locations. And, of course, some 
might never come back. Not there, not elsewhere 
where the most 'subaltern' live. Sometimes the 
frontier is your doorstepŠ' (6).

During the following few years, several artists 
continued their activism with the community under 
the Gazela bridge, in the form of either reports 
or artistic interventions (7). Vienna artists are 
currently publishing a tourist guide for the 
Gazela settlement. (8).

Belgrade authorities have been trying to evict 
the inhabitants of Gazela and several other Roma 
settlements for a while now. 
Deportation/relocation is not triggered by the 
community's miserable living conditions or the 
settlements' poor condition, but by planned 
infrastructure works and the current 
reconstruction of the Gazela Bridge. In 2005, 
Belgrade City Hall proposed an idea to relocate 
Roma living in the Gazela settlements and move 
them to the 'Dr. Ivan Ribar' neighborhood in New 
Belgrade, which triggered protests by the locals. 
Although their protest represents open hostility 
toward Roma, New Belgrade residents claimed that 
the issue was not racism, but fear of filth and 
decrease of real estate prices: 'We have nothing 
against Roma, but we fear that their customs and 
culture will not fit in the city environment - 
said one of the residents - There will be 
problems with hygiene. How will anyone of us sell 
their apartment if there is such a settlement 
right next to us?' (9).

A similar protest happened in September 2008, 
when the residents of the Belgrade suburban 
neighborhood of Ovca tried to block initial work 
on a new Roma settlement there. 'We have nothing 
against Roma, we would react the same way if some 
other ethnic minority were to inhabit Ovca. The 
problem is the fact that the relocation of 130 
Roma families would significantly alter the 
national structure of this population. This will 
have a catastrophic effect on our tradition and 
way of life' explained one of the Organization 
Committee members who a member of the Romanian 
ethnic minority (10).

New Belgrade's Belville

Belville is the name of a new residential complex 
in New Belgrade, built by Blok 67 Associates Ltd. 
This company was founded by Delta Real Estate 
(part of the Delta Holding Company owned by 
Miroslav Miskovic, Serbia's richest tycoon) and 
Hypo-Alpe Adria Bank (11). Their aim is to build 
business offices and apartments for athletes 
taking part in the Summer Universiade in June 
2009 in Belgrade. After the Universiade, the 
apartments will be handed to new and predefined 

On April 3, 2009, in a sudden action with 
mechanical-diggers, forty houses were demolished 
in a Roma settlement that had begun taking shape 
during the last five years in a location near 
Belville. The decision to demolish the Roma 
houses was made by Belgrade's Secretariat for 
Inspections. City Mayor, Dragan Djilas, said on 
this issue that: 'Whoever is illegally occupying 
a part of city land in places planned for 
infrastructure facilities cannot stay there. It 
has nothing to do with the fact that the people 
in question are Roma or some other ethnicity. A 
few hundred people cannot stop the development of 
Belgrade, and two million people living in 
Belgrade certainly won't be hostages to anyone. 
This practice shall continue to be implemented by 
the City Authority in the future. Simply - there 
are no other solutions' (12).

The police assisted in the demolition of the 
settlement by securing the diggers, without 
giving residents the time to rescue their 
belongings. Several inhabitants had to be 
practically drawn out of the ruins at the very 
moment when one digger was clearing the area. As 
we were close by, we joined our neighbors from 
the very beginning of this action in Block 67. As 
an act of protest to the home demolitions, Jurija 
Gagarina Street was blocked around noon that day. 
The settlement's inhabitants then organized 
another protest in front of Belgrade City Hall. 
No one addressed the displaced Roma residents 
from Block 67 who gathered in front of the 
Belgrade City Hall that evening. The protest 
continued the following day.

Following protests by the public, several NGOs 
also started to raise their voices. Pushed by 
UNHCR, the WHO and the Ministry of Human and 
Minority Rights, the Belgrade city authorities 
tried to settle down the issue. The 'solution' 
was to set up residential containers in the 
suburban neighborhood Boljevci that very night. 
The bureaucratic apparatus that was set in motion 
to 'solve' this issue in the field soon proved to 
be non-functional. We learned that a Roma teenage 
boy had been killed several years ago in 
Boljevci. So there is a logical question: why was 
it decided that the containers should be placed 
in this very village? Boljevci residents blocked 
roads demanding that residential containers for 
Roma be removed: 'If you don't remove them, we 
will burn down both the containers and those 
trying to move in them', one person from Boljevci 
said. The protests by Boljevci residents had 
violent moments: attempts were made to burn down 
residential containers and thus prevent Roma from 
moving into these temporary facilities. The 
incident resembled an open racist revolt. Mayor 
Djilas said: 'I can understand the fear of people 
from Boljevci, because they were to have as 
neighbors people who, in part, do not even have 
personal ID cards. It is not known who they are', 
adding that 'all those who do not have a 
residence in Belgrade must go back to the places 
they came from. It is legally right, it is the 
basis for everything, and there will be no 
negotiations with the OEBS, UNHCR, or NGOs on 
this issue.' (13).

So, as far as Djilas was concerned, the Roma 
issue was 'solved' by placing a three Roma 
mothers with children into containers in 
Mirijevo, near the old Roma settlement. The 
majority of the people still have no alternative 

Although Serbia is currently presiding over the 
'Roma Decade' in 2009, city authorities didn't 
have a plan for alternative housing at the moment 
the houses were demolished. It took three 
protests and pressure from international 
organizations to stop the media lynch against 
Roma and to try to find a solution for 
alternative housing. Our documentary 'Belleville' 
was filmed during the ten days when these events 
happened in which we took part directly as active 
participants fighting for the rights of our 
neighbors. This documentary premiered in the 
Cultural Centre of Serbia in Paris where it was 
included at the last moment in our exhibition 
previously called 'Psychogeographic Research'. On 
27th of May 2009, the film was shown at the 
settlement in Blok 67.

European Slums

UN-Habitat's Global Report (14) distinguishes six 
different 'cities' with specified class actors 
and economic functions: there is the luxury city, 
the gentrified city with advanced services, the 
suburban city of direct production, the city of 
unskilled workers, and finally the city of 
permanently unemployed 'underclass' or 'ghetto 
poor' with income based on marginal or illegal 
activity and direct street-level exploitation.

This last city is the informal city or city of 
illegality, which comprises the slums of large 
megacities such as Lagos in Nigeria or Sao Paolo 
in Brazil. The informal sector has its base 
there; services are reduced and unstable, and 
residents do not have a legal status and are not 
part of the legal system. Harassment by 
authorities is commonplace. The poorest Roma 
settlements in Serbia and throughout Europe can 
be qualified as slum cities typically associated 
with the global South. The UN-Habitat's Global 
Report on human settlements from 2003 defines 
slums as settlements with poor access to drinking 
water, sanitation and other infrastructure; with 
poor housing quality, overcrowdedness and by the 
uncertain residential status of its inhabitants. 
These characteristics provided by UN-Habitat can 
be applied to more than a hundred Roma 
settlements in Belgrade.

The composition of the population and its status 
in Belgrade's slums is divergent. There are cases 
of Roma who have managed to secure registered 
residences in Belgrade or who are indigenous. 
There are also the Roma refugees from Kosovo who 
may represent between 20- 40% of the population 
in a given settlement in Belgrade. A number of 
inhabitants are economic migrants from southern 
Serbia, from places where no economic existence 
is possible. A large number of inhabitants are 
Roma asylum seekers from Western European 
countries and the EU, who were deported back into 
Serbia by the Readmission Agreement. A number of 
inhabitants in these settlements are not of Roma 
descent, just the poorest of the poor, refugees 
or the socially excluded. A great number of those 
living in these settlements are children and 
youth. Some estimates put the number of Roma in 
Serbia at 600,000, although the 2002 census only 
registered 102,193 people as Roma. The number and 
condition of Roma children and youth can be best 
understood from the following data: 'According to 
the UNICEF report on the condition of Roma 
children in the Republic of Serbia (2006), almost 
70% of Roma children are poor and over 60% of 
Roma households with children live below poverty 
line. Children are the most imperiled, living 
outside of cities in households with several 
children. Over 4/5 of indigent Roma children live 
in families in which adult members do not have 
basic education.' (15).

If we consider the existing data on urban poverty 
and the dynamics of 'slumization', we can better 
analyze the demolitions that occurred in the 
Belgrade neighborhood of Blok 67. Complex 
relations between local authorities and local 
residents become even more complex in the 
proximity of the Flea Market. The market is a 
source of income and survival for people who 
gather and resell recycled goods. Local and flea 
market authorities have developed a string of 
rules, networks and complex arrangements with the 
locals / users of the market from whom they 
generate a certain amount of profit.

In his publication 'Planet of Slums' (16), Mike 
Davis says that national and local political 
machines acquiesce in informal settlement as long 
as they can control the political complexion of 
the slums and extract direct financial benefit 
from them. These almost feudal relations of 
dependence on local police or important players 
in certain political parties and non-governmental 
organizations are deeply rooted and disloyalty 
may cause the destruction of the slum itself.

The current stratification of European societies 
which is particularly evident in the countries of 
the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia 
may cause social unrest in which Roma might play 
an important role as a trans-national ethnic 
group. Non-controlled Roma migration to countries 
of Western Europe is not desirable, even though 
the borders are open.

It is not surprising that there is a strategy to 
'solve the Roma issue' in these countries. The 
'Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015' gathers 
together the countries of Central and South 
Eastern Europe, international and 
non-governmental organizations (like the World 
Bank, the Open Society Institute, United Nations 
Development Program, the Council of Europe, 
Council of Europe Development Bank (17)) and Roma 
civic associations. The objective is to improve 
the status of Roma and 'close unacceptable gaps 
between Roma and the rest of society.' In 
addition to areas of major concern (housing, 
education, employment, and health), special 
attention is given to the elimination of 
discrimination, the reduction of poverty and the 
improvement of the position of Roma women. 
Including representatives of Roma communities in 
all processes is the basic principle.

The policy of the International Monetary Fund 
(IMF) to lend money to countries which meet the 
requirement to privatize territory, real estate 
and resources, as a result brought devastation to 
local economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America 
in the 80's, as well as elimination of the middle 
class and 'slumization' of entire regions. The 
'Decade of Roma Inclusion' is intended to lead to 
the nominal equality of Roma communities in the 
countries participating in the Decade, in order 
to legitimize their deportation from EU countries 
back into to their 'native countries'. At the 
same time, the elite that carried out the 
inclusion by controlling financial and other aid 
is being supported. This is counterproductive to 
the development of Roma communities as 
self-organized political subjects.

(1) Robert Jütte, Poverty and Deviance in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, 1994

(2) Security a la Italiana: Fingerprinting, 
Extreme Violence and Harassment of Roma in Italy, 
2008, Report, European Roma Rights Centre and 


(3) Source:

(4) Source:

(5) Source:

(6). David Rych, “Under the Bridge - A derivé to 
a topos of social relevance or... 'a visit to the 
zoo'?' pages 34-37, Under the Bridge Beograd, 
Bureau for Culture and Communication, Novi Sad, 

(7) Tanja Ostojic, Open Studio of New Belgrade Chronicle, 2007;

Source: <http://tanjaostojic.blogspot.com/>tanjaostojic.blogspot.com/

(8) Lorenz Aggermann, Eduard Freudmann, Can 
Gülcü, Beograd Gazela-Reiseführer in eine 
Elendssiedlung., Drava Verlag, Klagenfurt, 2008

(9) Vecernje novosti, July 11, 2005, Source: 

(10) Source: 

(11) Source: <http://www.belville.rs/kosmomi.jsp>www.belville.rs/kosmomi.jsp

(12) Borba, April3, 2009; Source: 

(13) YUCOM, Regards from Saban Bajramovic, Pescanik;


(14) The challenge of slums- Global report on 
human settlements 2003, UN Habitat;


(15) Government of Serbia, Strategy for the 
Improvement of Roma Status in the Republic of 
Serbia', “Official Gazette of the Republic of 
Serbia', No. 55/05, 71/05- Correction, 101/07 and 
65/08), Belgrade, April 9, 2009;


(16) Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso, London 2007;

Shorter version of the essay at: 

(17) Source: 

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