Skinhead attacks against Romani youth in Serbia
11 July 2000
In Belgrade, on May 10, 2000, a thirteen-year-old Romani schoolgirl named Gordana Jovanović was reportedly attacked by a group of her fellow students from Milan Rakić elementary school in the Bežanijska Kosa district, as well as by several skinheads. According to the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), a Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation, the girl was on her way home from school at 6:30 PM, when the group stopped her. She tried to run away but they knocked her down and started to kick her. One of them punched her in the face and broke her glasses. Another of the attackers had a knife, and he cut her on the chest. The attackers allegedly smeared her blood over her face and body, telling her "your Gypsy blood will pour out of you". One of the attackers took off Gordana's trousers and cut her with the knife on her thighs. They threatened to stab her and also to inject her with a syringe they claimed was full of a narcotic drug. After about an hour the attackers left. According to Gordana, none of the passers-by stopped until finally one man helped her get up and carried her to her home, at around 8:15 PM. The following day the girl was treated at the local hospital where doctors documented seventeen cuts on her chest and legs, and said that she was in shock.
On May 11, the day after the attack, Gordana's father went to speak to the principal of the school and the latter reported the incident to the police. Gordana was interrogated in the local police station, from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM on May 14. Despite medical evidence that the girl was traumatised by the violent incident, the police questioned her without the presence of a child psychologist, in contravention of Article 231, paragraph 4 of the Yugoslav Code on Criminal Procedure. Part of the interrogation was also conducted without the presence of Gordana's parents, despite their objections. The police threatened the girl that they would arrest her parents because "she was lying." Under pressure and threats, the girl confessed that she had cut herself, which she denied immediately after leaving the police station. An HLC researcher present at the Jovanović home when Gordana was brought home by two policemen in civilian clothes after the questioning witnessed that when the girl said that she did not in fact cut herself, one policemen shouted at her, and another one held a kitchen knife while talking with the family. In response to a press release issued by the HLC on May 13, a criminal investigation was initiated by the public prosecutor. In May, the case was heard by a court for minors, and the prosecutor heard the testimonies of Gordana and one of the accused. The main hearing took place on June 21. Two of Gordana's Romani schoolmates who were called upon as witnesses appeared to be nervous and intimidated, and denied knowledge of any racist threats or attacks at the school. According to her parents, following the attack, Gordana suffered from sleep disorders, regularly consulted a psychologist, and took sedative medication.
School authorities reportedly failed to ensure safety for Romani schoolchildren. According to Gordana's testimony to the HLC, a few hours before the May 10 attack, she and her Romani friend Vailja Džemalović had been approached by the same group who later attacked her, who told her that they were going to rape her and "cut her to pieces". She complained to her math teacher, who, she reported, took no action. A Romani boy who was allegedly slapped in the school yard on the same day reported the incident to the principal, but he took no action. Romani children at the school reportedly had been threatened and insulted before the incidents of May 10 and had complained to the principal and to other school authorities, but they did not take adequate steps to protect the children.
In another incident, on April 8, 2000, in Niš, Serbia, a group of skinheads attacked a fifteen-year-old Romani high school student named Dragiša Ajdarević. On that day, at around 9:30 PM, as he later told the HLC, Dragiša and a Serbian friend went to the local supermarket. They met a group of fifteen skinheads who started shouting "Gypsies" and running after them. The group caught Dragiša, but his companion ran away, saying that he was not Romani. The skinheads punched Dragiša in the head and stomach, pushed him to the ground, and kicked him. A skinhead girl attempted to hit him on the head with a bottle but missed. While they were beating Dragiša, the skinheads insulted his Romani origins and told him he had no right to live in Serbia.
In the meantime, Dragiša's non-Romani friend had informed Dragiša's family of the attack. Dragiša's parents, sister and aunt immediately went to help him, and found him half-naked and covered in blood, with the skinheads still kicking him. Dragiša's father, Mr Nebojša Ajdarević (41), told the on April 28: "As I approached them, one of the skinheads came towards me saying that Serbia was not a country for Gypsies, and he attacked me with a bottle, joined by several others. The rest of the group was beating my family. I hit one of the skinheads on the head with a stone. In the end, the skinheads ran away. I asked the staff of the shop in front of which the incident took place why they had not called the police. They replied that this was none of their business and that they would not testify. I called the police myself when I came home." Dragiša obtained a medical certificate documenting his injuries, which included abrasions on his face and arms, and contusions on his temples.
At 5:00 AM the next morning, two policemen arrested Mr Nebojša Ajdarević and took him to the local police station, where they held him for approximately four hours. The police also detained two members of the skinhead group, and when one of them told Mr Ajdarević that Roma should leave the country, the police reportedly laughed. Dragiša's Serbian friend refused to testify. The process ended on April 18 when the two skinheads were found guilty and fined 600 dinars (approximately 15 euro) each. The skinhead group continued to gather in front of the same supermarket, according to Mr Ajdarević, who filed a complaint to the trade inspectorate. As of April 28 he had not received any response. The HLC filed a criminal complaint on May 25 for incitement to racial hatred, under Article 134, paragraph 2, of the Penal Code of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (in relation to Article 22 of the Penal Code). As of June 26 there was no response from the public prosecutor.
(Humanitarian Law Centre)