Roma continue to flee Baranja region of Croatia
07 December 1999
Of the 10,000 Roma living in the Baranja area of Croatia before the war in former Yugoslavia, less than 2500 are left, reported the Croatian weekly Feral Tribune on August 30, 1999. Baranja is situated on the eastern Croatian border with Yugoslavia. At the beginning of the war in 1991, Serbs seized control of the region from the Croatian authorities. During the war, thousands of Croats fled the area escaping Serbian persecution. In 1996, the United Nations Transitional Administration for eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) became administrator of the area. The exodus of Roma from the region began in 1997, when authority was given back to the Croatian administration. Following the handing over of administrative authority, returning Croats began violently attacking local Roma. Ethnic Croats claim that Roma are "traitors" for staying in Baranja with the local Serbs during Serb rule, and allegedly looting the property of those who fled the region (see Roma Rights, Summer 1998 and 1/99).
In the Feral Tribune article, Mr Miroslav Bogdan, a 28-year-old Romani man from the Baranja village of Torjanci, described an incident which occurred on an unspecified date, in which an ethnic Croatian police officer physically attacked him and threatened him at gun point: "Not long ago I crossed the Drava River by ferry to the town of Belišće. In the evening when I was returning on the ferry I almost got killed. I was sitting with my nephew Boro, and his small son. Then Mr Marko Katić, a policeman from Petrovo Selo in Baranja, came up to us and started cursing Boro's Gypsy mother and said that Boro had killed Markić's father. He hit Boro in the face. Boro was silent and did not resist. I was also silent. Only the little one cried and repeated ‘Don’t hurt my daddy’. Katić did not listen, but went on hitting him, and we did not dare do anything. He was in uniform and had a gun in his belt. Then the ferry stopped and Boro ran away. The policeman began following me. He caught me and started beating me. The worst part was when he took out his gun and removed the safety. He put it against my head and asked, 'Do you want me to kill you now?' I said 'Kill me, man, if I have done you any wrong,' and he just cursed my Gypsy mother and God. In the end he said he would not kill me but that next time I would not get away. I filed a complaint against Officer Katić, but nothing happened to him."
A further incident of violence by ethnic Croats against Roma was reported in the pages of the Feral Tribune by a Romani man from the Baranja village of Vardarci named Mr Nikola Mihajlović. He stated that he and two other Romani men were abused by police officers when they were caught fishing in a pond where fishing was banned: "First they handcuffed us, told us to lie down on the grass and then they started to kick us. They hit us at random with whatever they could get hold of." According to the article, there were also several incidents in which bombs were thrown at houses of Roma in Vardarci and although the incidents were reported to the police, the perpetrators were never found. Roma from the region also tell of other instances in which ethnic Croats refused to serve them in local shops, verbally abused them, and threatened them with weapons.