Numerous racially motivated attacks against Roma in Croatia
15 August 2001
Serious racist attacks against Roma in Croatia have taken place in the early months of 2001. In the most recent, on the morning of May 4, 2001, a group of four skinheads attacked Ms Mirsada Šarić, a 16-year-old Romani girl, as she was selling calendars in front of the Zagreb cathedral, according to the weekend edition of the Zagreb newspaper Republika of May 5-6. The group surrounded Ms Šarić and began pushing her; one of the skinheads slapped her across the face and then one of the group slashed her across the stomach with a knife. An ambulance was called and took the girl to a hospital where she was treated for a surface wound and released the same day. As of May 9, according to a statement by Mr Šime Lučin, the Minister of Internal Affairs, quoted in Večernji list, the perpetrators had still not been apprehended.
In an incident of mob violence, a group of around thirty non-Romani villagers armed with bludgeons and axes attacked five Romani men at a weekend resort in northeastern Croatia on April 30, 2001, as reported by the Zagreb daily Jutarnji list of May 2, 2001. According to the article, the attack took place around 5:30 PM as a group of five Roma — 40-year-old Mr Duško Mitrović, his 18-year-old son Mr Dejan Mitrović, 26-year-old Mr Senad Ignac, and 28-year-old Mr Željko Mitrović from the village of Valpovo, together with 23-year-old Mr Danijel Balog from the village of Belišće — arrived at the Bakanga resort near Torjanci, northeastern Croatia to fish in the Drava River. As Mr Dejan Mitrović and Mr Ignac went to collect wood, they met a group of approximately thirty non-Roma, who at first verbally abused them, saying that “they have no business there,” and that they “would cut their Gypsy heads off.” They then physically attacked the two Romani men, who managed to escape and join the rest of their group, already fishing. The non-Romani group then approached the five Roma and swore at them, saying that “all Gypsies should be killed.” The non-Roma attacked the Romani men, severely beat them with bludgeons and oars, and then threw them into the river. Mr Ignac was seriously injured in the attack and began to drown. In order to help him, Mr Duško Mitrović begged the attackers to allow him take his boat; the attackers told him he could do so, but when he approached the boat they threw pieces of wood at him, and insulted him. Mr Mitrović managed to get the boat, and all of the Roma boarded it. Mr Ignac was also dragged into the boat. As they had no way out, they rowed towards an area that was mined. They did not strike a mine, but did get stuck in the mud. Mr Ignac fainted several times while in the boat. After more than half an hour, as the men waited for the mob to disperse, three police officers arrived at the scene. They took Mr Željko Mitrović to the police station, while the other Roma were taken to a local hospital. Jutarnji list also reported that the Osijek police had pressed charges against nine non-Roma, but had also charged the five Romani men with disturbing the peace. According to the Roma, non-Roma have attacked them on previous occasions in the same town. There was no new information on this case as of August 24, 2001.
Another incident of racist violence against Roma took place on April 21, 2001, at a railway station in Zagreb. According to the Zagreb daily Jutarnji list of April 24, Mr Zdravko Djuran, a 17-year-old Romani boy from Valpovo, northeastern Croatia, was waiting for a train to take him home at the train station in Zagreb at around 11 PM on April 21, when he was approached by a group of young men, some of whom were reportedly skinheads. They attacked Mr Djuran and beat him with their fists as well as with beer bottles for about fifteen minutes, after which he managed to escape and call the police. He was taken to hospital, where it was established that he had wounds on the head and shoulders that required stitches, as well as damaged front teeth. Mr Djuran was kept in hospital until April 25. Immediately after the incident, the police apprehended a group of seven young men who fit the victim’s description of his attackers, and took them to a police station, where they confessed to the attack. Police subsequently released them, however. Two days later, two members of the group, both minors and sons of Croatian army generals, changed their testimony and claimed that their presence near the group of skinheads arrested was coincidental and that they were not members of the group. The Zagreb Police released a press statement on April 24, 2001, supporting the change in testimony of the two young men. The press statement provoked criticism from the Ministry of Interior, which doubted the truthfulness of the latter testimony, as reported by Jutarnji list of April 25. On April 25, during official proceedings, Mr Djuran was able to identify two of his attackers, including one of those who had changed his testimony, wrote the Zagreb daily Vjesnik on April 26, quoting that day’s press statement of the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry also said that the police would be pressing criminal charges against the attackers under Article 331 of the Croatian Penal Code for violence in a public place, a crime which warrants a sentence of three months to three years imprisonment. However, the ERRC was unaware of any concrete action taken against the suspects as of August 24, 2001.
Two other racist attacks against Roma were reported in late March 2001. In the first incident, according to the Split-based daily newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija of March 25, 2001, a group of four skinheads attacked a nine-year-old Romani boy in Split, on the evening of March 23. The skinheads reportedly threw the boy to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. The boy was saved by a group of passers-by, one of whom took the boy to his parents, while other members of the public managed to catch one of the attackers. The police were called immediately, but one single officer arrived a full hour after the call for help, and he reportedly merely checked the alleged attacker’s personal documents and then let him go.
In the same week, in Zagreb, the local daily newspaper Večernji list reported on March 20, on an incident that took place at the Zagreb discotheque “The Best”, on March 18. According to the report, a group of about twenty skinheads beat three Romani boys, 13-year-old Kristijan Alikić, 14-year-old Senad Alikić, and 14-year-old Alen Kafrić. The boys were quoted as saying that, while in the disco on the evening mentioned, friends had warned them that a group of skinheads was waiting for them outside. The boys reportedly informed the security guards and asked them to call the police, which the guards did not do. The boys were among the last to leave the club, fearing the skinheads outside. As they left, the skinheads reportedly ordered them to kneel and then kicked them in their backs and about their heads. The skinheads then ordered the boys to run, threatening to kill them if they caught them; as the boys attempted to run away, the skinheads caught Alen Kafrić and beat him severely. According to Večernji list, the security guard on duty on March 18 claimed that he did call the police as requested and, moreover, that there was no incident at all outside the disco that night. The local press in Croatia has also reported on a number of other recent skinhead attacks against non-European immigrants.
In an earlier incident of skinhead violence, the legal representative of the victim has informed the ERRC that on January 24, 2001, five young men stopped an eighteen-year-old Romani man, Mr Ševko Šečić, outside the “Cool” café in Zagreb. The men swore at Mr Šečić and said that they would kill all “Gypsies”. Mr Šečić ran and the skinheads chased him, but he managed to escape. With the assistance of the ERRC, Ms Lovorka Kušan, a Croatian attorney, filed a complaint against the five men with the County Prosecutor’s Office on May 2, 2001, but as of August 25, 2001, there had been no progress in the case.
(Jutarnji list, Republika, Slobod-na Dalmacija, Večernji list, Vjesnik)