Pressure on independent Romani voices in Serbia
11 July 2000
A debate on the political participation of Roma, organised by the non-governmental organisation People's Parliament (Narodni parlament) and scheduled for March 25, 2000, in the Romani settlement of Leskovac, in southeastern Serbia, was almost cancelled, as the owner of the facility wanted to withdraw his agreement on the use of his premises. The Belgrade news agency Beta reported on March 25 that the facility owner was under strong pressure from local supporters of the Socialist Party of Serbia, the party of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević. The owner was threatened with police and state security intervention if he hosted the debate, according to the president of the People's Parliament, Mr Bratislav Stamenković. Mr Stamenković also accused the governing party of interfering with communication between local Roma and any non-governmental organisation or opposition political party. According to the Kragujevac Roma Informative Centre, on the previous day, the Leskovac police warned local Roma not to participate in the event. In the end, the debate was held, before a small number of participants, and with the participation of the Roma Informative Centre and the Romani non-governmental organisation Romska kuća - Romano Kher from Bela Palanka.
On the other hand, the governing political party has publicly supported some Romani leaders in an attempt to show that all Roma are among their sympathisers. The Belgrade daily Blic reported on March 16 that Ms Gorica Gajević, the General Secretary of the Socialist Party of Serbia, held a meeting with "Roma from all over Serbia" on March 15. The statement also said that the Roma "gave full support to the politics of Slobodan Milošević and the Socialist Party." On the same day, the Belgrade-based Roma Congress Party (Romska kongresna partija) dismissed these claims, stressing that their organisation does not support the political party in question, and threatened to sue Ms Gajević on the grounds of the Yugoslav Law on Information for making untrue statements on behalf of "all Roma". Another Romani activist, Mr Dušan Grujić, member of the Educational Committee of the Union of Roma Associations in Serbia (Savez društava Roma Srbije), accused the Socialist Party of Serbia of manipulating Roma by taking advantage of illiteracy and lack of education among Roma, and buying their votes "with cooking oil and flour," according to an interview given to Blic on April 10, 2000.
(Beta, Blic, Roma Congress Party, Roma Information Centre)