Skinhead violence targeting Roma in Yugoslavia

15 May 1998

Serguei Chabanov

At nine o'clock on Saturday evening, October 18, 1997, a fourteen-year old Romani boy named Dušan Jovanović was beaten to death fifteen metres from his home in the centre of Belgrade. Duško had gone to a corner shop to buy something, when a group of four skinheads stopped him in front of the shop. They started beating him with fists and a section of a drainpipe. When Dušan fell to the ground, the skinheads continued to beat him with the drainpipe and kick him with heavy boots. Several blows to his neck broke his spinal cord. Aleksandar Jovanović, the boy's father, found his son dead fifteen minutes after he left home.

The killing of Dušan Jovanović received wide public attention, culminating in a demonstration of up to 3,000 Roma who marched to the parliament building to protest against tolerance of open racism in Yugoslav society. At the same time, the national press suddenly became filled with facts about skinheads, Roma and the killing, and a number of public figures, from Romani leaders to eminent politicians and university professors, expressed their indignation. It became evident that Duško was only one casualty in an outbreak of violence against Roma. The media subsequently reported a series of skinhead attacks that had taken place over the past year. While some leaders of the skinhead movement in Yugoslavia publicly denied involvement, others gave interviews confirming their intentions to rid Serbia of Gypsies and all coloured people. It came to be acknowledged that Yugoslav Roma, once said to live in „Gypsy heaven", had become the target of violent racism.

Law enforcement institutions reacted swiftly in the Jovanović case. Police investigation identified and detained two 17-year-old suspects, M.Ć. and I.F. Deputy District Attorney of Belgrade Jovan Krstić said in an interview with the ERRC that, „there were other minors around, but only these two were perpetrators of the crime." On March 5, 1998, the court sentenced the two youths to ten years imprisonment for malicious murder under Article 47 paragraph 2(4) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia1. This was the maximum sentence possible for minors.

Roma and skinheads in Serbia

According to the 1991 census there are 138,645 Roma living in Serbia. Roughly half of this number lives in Serbia proper, excluding the provinces of Kosovo and Voivodina. The official statistics for Voivodina state that 24,366 Roma live there, and that there are 44,307 Roma in Kosovo.

In Serbia, excluding the two provinces, Roma constitute only 1.2% of the total population, and the same figure is true for the province of Voivodina. But the share of Roma in the total population is higher in the south of the republic. In the province of Kosovo, Roma constitute 2.2% of the total population. In Serbia excluding the two provinces, the figure is 1.4% for the region of Niš and 4.2% for South Morava (the valley of the Morava river to the south of Niš). According to 1991 census data, in some municipalities around Niš and South Morava such as Surdulica, Bojnik, and Vladi?in Han, Roma comprise as much as one-third of the total population.

There are good reasons to suspect that the official figures underestimate the real number of Roma living in Serbia. As in most countries, the census figures reflect only the number of people who openly declare themselves to be Roma. According to Mr Dragoljub Acković, president of the Romani Congress Party, the real number of Roma in Serbia is four times higher than is reflected in the 1991 census. Dr Aleksandra Mitrović of the Society for the Improvement of Local Rroma Communities, based in Belgrade, estimates the number of Roma in the republic to be approximately 450,000. Mr Trifun Dimić of Matica Romska, a Romani organisation based in Novi Sad, Voivodina, told the Yugoslav weekly newspaper NIN on September 6, 1996, that the real number of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro is 600,000 – 700,000, which would make Roma the third largest ethnic group in Yugoslavia after Serbs and Albanians.

In their Report on the State of the Romany National Minority in Serbia, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia2 also refers to two ethnographic studies. The first, conducted by Alain Reyners3, estimates the number of Roma in the former Yugoslavia to be 900,000. The second, by Dr Tatomir Vukanović and Rade Uhlic4, estimates that the number of Roma in Yugoslavia in 1981 was between 650,000 and 800,000. Approximately 70% of this number lived on the territory of the present Serbia and Montenegro. According to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, most Roma in Serbia live in ghettos - „mahala" - lacking proper infrastructure, and often even running water, electricity, and sewage.

The skinhead movement in Yugoslavia is an established movement with regular meetings, clubs, press, a music scene, its own gurus, and links with the international skinhead movement. The Skinhead International: A World-wide Survey of Neo-Nazi Skinheads, an internet-based racist skinhead „watch-dog" initiative5, describes the neo-nazi skinhead movement in Yugoslavia as „small but energetic." According to Skinhead International, Yugoslavia hosts a branch of US-based „United White Skinheads", which publishes a periodical called Predskazanje (Prediction). Another name that often appeared in the national press is „United Force". According to the Yugoslav daily Blic of December 20, 1997, Dušan Jovanović was killed by members of this group. The Nationalist skinhead music scene in Serbia is acknowledged in British and American skinhead press, and includes several popular bands.

Dragan Stanković from the Belgrade Roma Association estimates the number of skinheads in Serbia at some two thousand, five hundred of these being in Belgrade. Blic of October 20, 1997 provides similar figures. In an interview with Blic, a 21-year old leader of one of the skinhead groups stated that the number of skinheads in Belgrade is between 500 and 1,000.

Serbian skinheads openly embrace Nationalist values. The list of Yugoslav skinhead magazines, apart from Predskazanje, includes Krv i slava (Blood and Glory), and Nationalist. In an interview with the daily Nedeljni telegraf on October 29, 1997, entitled „We Shall Expel the Gypsies, Negroes, Gays and Junkies and Create Great White Serbia", skinheads from Novi Sad state, „We support the killing in Belgrade. A Gypsy is a Gypsy, no matter whether little or big."

Even though the number of racist skinheads in Serbia is probably no more than two thousand, the anti-Roma sentiment and hostility are supported by a much wider part of the Serbian population. According to Dr Aleksandra Mitrović and Mr Gradimir Zajić of the Society for the Improvement of Local Rroma Communities, in Serbia „social prejudices against them [Roma] ... can be noted in the most banal, everyday situations and colloquial speech. […] There is probably no other social group so frequently mentioned in negative connotation6."


According to Dragan Stanković of the Belgrade Roma Association, skinhead attacks on Roma in Belgrade started as early as 1990, but they were ignored by the authorities. He told the ERRC:

The skinheads started to harass and beat Roma in 1990. Most often they assaulted street cleaners working at night. Apart from Roma, nobody paid any attention to what was going on. We notified the authorities regularly, but they did not do anything about it. Since that time we have been constantly afraid of violence.

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia concurs with Dragan Stanković that harassment of Romani street cleaners transpired unacknowledged for several years. Working on the city streets at night, employees of the city garbage service are vulnerable to attack, and skinheads beat Romani employees regularly. Aleksandar Jovanović, father of Dušan Jovanović, told the ERRC:

The skinheads have been here for a long time. It is at least two years now since they started harassing our people and beating our children. I work a night shift at the city waste disposal. Approximately one year ago I had a conflict with skinheads, also at the corner shop right next to where we live. I went to work the night shift, and I saw a gang standing there. On my way back they still were there, approximately fifteen of them. They were quite drunk. As I was passing by, they attacked me and knocked me down. One of them pretended to help me stand up. But I knew he was going to hit me. I pushed him away and ran until I saw a police patrol. They took me in their car and we went looking for the skinheads. I identified some of them, and they were taken to the police station. I don't know what happened to them after that. The police never called me.

An article in the Yugoslav daily Politika, published on October 20, 1997, describes a pattern of attacks on the Romani employees of the Belgrade waste disposal service: in May 1997 skinheads attacked Čevdet Dudaj, Jovan Grudnić, and Zoran Laban. In February 1997, at night, four youngsters beat up Samit Jusufi. Miroslav Banješ was attacked by six skinheads several days earlier. The Yugoslav daily Ekspres expands the list of victims for the year 1997: on April 26, skinheads attacked Agim Goliđi, Hazim Muhameti, and EÄ‘eram Lahaj. In April, around twenty skinheads beat Ekrem Karaminij, who had been hospitalised as a result of the attack. After skinheads beat an unnamed Rom on April 27, the management of the city waste disposal company called on the police to protect street cleaners. Nevertheless, in May three skinheads armed with baseball bats and a knife attacked Ivica Vešković and fractured his left arm. Luntunim Beriša was beaten in July. Later the same month skinheads beat Novica Caku and fractured his arm with his broom. Halid Ćefleši was attacked in mid-August. Miodrag Jovanović, a forty-three-year-old Romani employee of a waste disposal company, told the ERRC that skinheads had beaten him in early October 1997: 

It happened approximately two weeks before the murder of Dušan Jovanović. I was waiting for the bus together with my mother, my wife and a girl from our neighbourhood. There was a big football game that night. A large group of skinheads, over twenty of them, approached us at the bus stop and started commenting on our dark skin. Then they attacked us. They beat me with their fists and kicked me; they hit me several times with a baseball bat on my face and on my back. They kicked the girl who was with us in her ribs with their boots. Then they ran away. They said many bad things about Roma. One of them was, „Why didn't Hitler kill you all?" I had to stay at home for three days after the beating. I did not report it to the police.

Mr Jovanović also told the ERRC about two other attacks on his colleagues: 

A colleague of mine, a Rom named Milenko, told me that one day before I was beaten, he was beaten too, in Dušanovac, where he was working the night shift. Milenko told me that he was buying cigarettes at a kiosk near the bus stop when he saw three skinheads rushing towards him with baseball bats. He started to run. The skinheads caught up with him and beat him with the baseball bats on his body and his head. He was bleeding. Then alarmed people came out of their houses and threatened to call the police, and after that the skinheads ran away.

Another two friends of mine told me that they too had been attacked two days after I was beaten. They were washing the streets at around two in the morning, when a BMW pulled over and five teenage skinheads came out. They started beating the Roma with chains. One of my colleagues was beaten very badly. He was all bloody and his bones were broken. He spent almost a month in a hospital. The police came to see him there, but he was unconscious, so he could not tell them anything. The other Rom stayed in the hospital for five or six days.

Apart from chasing Roma down dark city streets, skinheads come to Romani communities and harass Roma there, or attack homes known to be occupied by Roma. The daily Naša borba, in its February 23, 1998 issue, describes the following events in Kraljevo: in summer 1996 a group of skinheads fired shots in the direction of Romani ghetto Gradićka Kosa. Some of them later marched through the settlement, threatening to beat everyone up and burn down the houses. They decorated several buildings with swastikas and graffiti saying „Death to Roma." According to Naša borba, this and several similar assaults were reported to the police. The latter, however, took no action. In the same settlement, on the night of September 22, 1996, three youngsters broke into the house of a Romani man named Života Mitrović. They attacked the family and broke furniture and belongings. When the skinheads started beating Mr Mitrović's daughter, he shot and wounded two of the attackers with his gun. Naša borba writes that although the case was reported to the police, the investigation did not bring about any results.

Other attacks on women and children have also been reported. In Zemun, a municipality just outside Belgrade, Muslim Romani women reported to the ERRC that on several occasions skinheads have torn the shawls (a part of traditional dress) off their heads and set them on fire. During the ERRC field investigation in Kragujevac in central Serbia, Roma from the large settlement called Licika in the centre of the town stated there have been several cases of verbal abuse of women. Mila Obradović told the ERRC:

In mid-December, I went to take out the garbage from our house. The garbage bins are just a short walk away. It was around 5 pm. Four young men approached me as I was emptying the basket. All of them had short haircuts and were dressed in leather jackets. One started cursing me and calling me a „dirty Gypsy" and other things. He was speaking quite loudly, so everyone in the neighbourhood could hear. There were three witnesses to this, but none of them did or said anything. They didn't even turn their heads to acknowledge what was going on. Seeing that no one reacted, he repeated „dirty Gypsy" and swore even louder. He didn't seem drunk. He was very rude and aggressive. His friends were laughing and didn't try to stop him. I was terrified that they would attack me. He said: „I'd like to kill the entire Gypsy population in this town." Then they went away. I ran home trembling. My husband and a few other men went looking for these men, but they couldn't find them.

In all places visited by the ERRC, Roma reported that skinheads chase and harass their children. In September 1997, in the Mirijevo district of Belgrade, three skinheads pulled a 9-year old boy off a bus. Tanasije Mirijevski, the victim's uncle, told the ERRC, „They swore at him and threatened him. Then one of them set his hair on fire, while the other two held the boy." In Aleksinac, a teenage Rom who did not want his name or initials to be publicised, told the ERRC the following: 

In mid-December [1997], I was walking home in the evening. I noticed two skinheads sitting on a bench drinking beer and looking at me as I was passing by. I sped up. Then one of the skinheads said to another very loudly to make sure that I and other passers-by could hear, „I hate him so much I'd burn him alive." This is a very scary thing to hear since the killing of Dušan. I believe that if there had been no other people around they would have beaten me up for sure.

Racist abuse of children also takes a less direct form: in Kragujevac, Niš, Aleksinac, and Novi Sad, Roma reported racist graffiti about Roma on the walls of schools. According to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, one slogan, „Roma get out of Serbia" was painted on the wall of a building in the centre of Novi Sad and remained there for over a year. Zoran Obradović, a Romani father of three children, told the ERRC, „It is very degrading for our children to go to school with such graffiti on the walls, and it is terrifying for us to think of what the next step of the skinheads will be. I went with my children to school for a month after this graffiti appeared here. I was very afraid after the murder of Dušan Jovanović."

In the past year, attacks have intensified and have been followed by more elaborate and openly racist actions, including harassment in public and threats. For example, skinheads allegedly threatened to poison the surface waters in the Belgrade Romani ghetto Voronješka, situated in a very low place and replete with small creeks and ponds. Mr Stanković of the Belgrade Roma Association reports that after this and similar threats, Romani communities in Belgrade organised a watch to guard the settlements at night. After the killing of Duško Jovanović, skinheads continued to torment the family of the victim: 

Skinheads continued bothering us after they had killed our son. According to our custom, we put candles and flowers in sand at the place of Dušan's death. A couple of days later somebody took away the candles, kicked around the flowers and made a Nazi sign with a palm print over it as a sign that it was skinheads who did it. After that my friends and relatives started keeping watch over the place at night. Ten days after the killing, there were four of us sitting in a car. At about one in the morning, seven skinheads came to the place. One of them spat in the sand where the candles and the flowers were, and another one broke a beer bottle on a drainpipe nearby. We came out of the car and demanded that they clean up the mess they had made, and one of them replied, „I never will. What's the fuss? Its just one stinking Gypsy less." We were going to beat them, but they ran to the park. We knew there were more skinheads there, so we did not follow them. A day later, at around 11 pm, I came with some coffee and tea for the people who were sitting in the car, looking after the place. At that moment one skinhead came to us and told us that there were about thirty of them sitting in the park with chains and knives. Then he went back to the group. I woke up our neighbours to use their telephone and call more people in case the skinheads decided to come here.

October 1997

A series of skinhead attacks on young Roma took place in October 1997. G.M., a 22-year-old musician from Belgrade, told the ERRC that a group of skinheads beat him up on the night of the killing of Dušan Jovanović, only one hundred metres away from the scene of the crime: 

I was walking on a street near Tašmajdan park. It was around 9:30 pm. As I was crossing the street, two skinheads approached me. They said, „Wait a minute, we want to ask you something. Where do you come from?" They did not give me time to answer and pushed me into the bushes in the park. In the bushes more skinheads were waiting. One immediately started beating me with a baseball bat while swearing and insulting my ethnic origins. He knocked me down. As soon as he finished with me, another came, and then another -- they were beating me in turns. This went on for several minutes. Then they left me lying on the ground. In less than a minute I heard that they were coming back. One of them grabbed me to see if I was still alive. I heard another of them yelling at him, „Leave him, look what you have done to him!" Then they ran away.

G.M. had to be treated in the hospital and his head had to be stitched. Despite being encouraged to do so by people who saw him bleeding after the attack, he did not report the incident to the police.

Another beating of Roma took place on the evening of October 27, 1997, when 23-year-old Dragica and 18-year-old Dragan Š., two Romani siblings, were attacked in a tram. Dragica Š. told the ERRC: 

On October 27, we went to visit our uncle to celebrate family slava [Saint's Blessing, the celebration of the family Patron Saint's Day]. To get back home we had to take the bus. We were standing at a bus stop waiting for our bus when another one came, and a group of skinheads got off. It was around nine in the evening. We were standing by a kiosk and I did not see them at first, but Dragan saw them. Later he told me that they went about twenty metres from the bus stop towards the street crossing. Then a tram came to the tram stop, which was on the other side of the bus stop. The skinheads turned back for the tram and saw us. They started pointing at us and saying that we were Gypsies. At this moment Dragan went toward the tram, because he was afraid they would attack us. I followed him. I still did not understand what was the matter. I stepped into the tram. I saw Dragan's face changing as he was looking behind my back. I asked him what the problem was. Then I turned around and saw the skinheads - ten or twelve of them - closing in on us. Dragan went to the front end of the car and they followed him. They started beating Dragan right away. They were punching him, saying things like „You are in Serbia, Gypsy, remember it!" and swearing at us. When I saw that they were beating Dragan, I ran to him and they started beating me too. Dragan leaned on the door of the driver's cabin, screaming „They are beating us, please open the doors!" but the driver would not stop the tram. Dragan tried to protect me and he pulled me behind his back. The skinheads were kicking, punching, and beating us with iron rods and baseball bats, making no difference between my brother and me. We protected ourselves with our arms. There were about fifteen passengers in the car, and they were all just sitting in their seats pretending that nothing was happening, avoiding looking at us. At the next stop, the skinheads jumped out of the car, still yelling, „This is Serbia, you are in Serbia!" Then the doors closed and the tram started moving again. Even when the skinheads left, nobody asked us if we were all right or if we needed help.

Dragica and Dragan found a police patrol and reported the incident. After an unsuccessful search for the perpetrators, they were taken to an emergency ward at a hospital. A medical examination revealed multiple bruises on their faces, heads, arms and bodies. The skin around Dragica's right eye had been broken by a blow and her clothes were soaked with blood. A few days later Dragica identified one of the skinheads in pictures brought by a police officer. According to the victims, soon afterwards four skinheads were detained. Deputy District Attorney of Belgrade Jovan Krstić told the ERRC in January 1998 that the initial police investigation was over. According to Mr Krstić, the four Serbs who were identified as perpetrators are all minors. The case is therefore in the competence of the juvenile crime department. Mr Krstić told the ERRC that the four skinheads had been indicted for the crime of promoting racial hatred under Article 134 paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the offence of light bodily harm with a dangerous weapon under Article 54 paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia.

Dragan Stanković told the ERRC that on October 20, 1997, skinheads beat popcorn salesman Ljubinko Dmitrović in broad daylight in front of the cinema Jadran. The skinheads beat him with baseball bats and were eventually stopped by people standing at the cinema entrance. According to Mr Stanković, the victim suffered injuries to his head, back, and arms, inflicted by baseball bats. The doctor at the hospital reported the case to the police, but the investigation reportedly failed to identify the perpetrators.

The beating of a seven-month pregnant Romani woman named Ljubica Jovanović also took place in the presence of witnesses. On October 15, she was selling roses with her 11-year-old sister Zora on Skadarska street in central Belgrade. Ljubica was in a nearby café with her 17-year-old brother Đorđe when Zora came to tell her that she had been assaulted by three Serbian girls. Ljubica told the ERRC: 

My sister ran up to us and told us about three Serbian girls, 16-17 years old, who had demanded roses from her. It was about ten in the evening. She said the girls were drunk or high on drugs. They acted weirdly and they had a very strange smell on their breath. They were kissing each other. They told her to give them three roses for free. My sister would not do it because we earn our living by selling roses. Then they grabbed her by the throat, took the roses they wanted, and threw the rest of her flowers on the ground.

After my sister had told us this, we went out to talk to these girls. They were still there. We asked them why they had done it. They started swearing and said things like „Hey, Gypsy, do you want to be beaten?" But we did not leave. There was just about to be a fight. In a few moments a tall, bald man in black clothes came. He seemed to know the girls. He told them to leave and then he said to us, „You Gypsies, why were you fighting?" and he swore at us. He slapped my brother on the face. We ran a little distance away, and the man left. All this time there were people passing by and they paid no attention to what was going on.

This, however, was only the beginning. The girls collected the scattered flowers and went to the end of the street to continue their work. Ljubica told the ERRC that suddenly they saw other Roma who were working on the street running toward them screaming, „Run!" 

We saw a big crowd of skinheads, around twenty of them, closing in on us, blocking the street completely. They were waving chains and baseball bats. We ran into a restaurant, looking for the back exit. We got out through the back door on to the parallel street, but skinheads spotted us and started to yell, „There they are!" The tall bald guy was there too. It was he who had brought all the skinheads. We ran but my brother fell. They started kicking him and beating him with baseball bats. I turned back to help my brother, and they started to fight me, swearing at me and screaming „You're dead, Gypsy!"

I was pregnant and weak, and I fell to the ground after several blows. They continued kicking me on my back and head. Then the skinheads ran away. The ambulance and the police arrived. I was so badly beaten up that I could not stand up. I was bleeding down below. They had to splash my face with cold water. I was taken to the emergency room. Afterwards the police came to the hospital, but the nurse did not let them into my ward.

Ljubica spent several days after that at a gynaecological clinic. Neither Ljubica nor her family was contacted by the police, and the ERRC is not aware of any progress in her case. Fortunately, she gave birth without complications.

The presence of witnesses at the scene of the skinhead attack on Roma does not preclude violence. Even the killing of Dušan took place in front of an open 24-hour shop. Two teenage girls allegedly witnessed the murder from across the street. The message of ethnic hatred and violence seems possibly even intended for observers.

The reaction of the law

The police investigated the killing of Dušan Jovanović and the beating of Dragan and Dragica Š. and identified the perpetrators in both cases. Such a thoroughgoing response to racist violence is not the rule, however. Romani victims of skinhead abuse report that when they complain to the police, these respond by doing nothing, or by accusing the victims of provoking the violence.

In the worst case, the police take the side of skinheads. This was the experience of 17-year-old Mr B.M. from Niš, when a skinhead attacked him in early December 1997: 

How do police react to skinheads? I'll tell you. At the beginning of December 1997, late in the evening, I was walking home. Suddenly something hit my head from behind and I fell to the ground face down. The skin on my head was broken, and blood covered my face. When I turned over and looked up, I saw a skinhead, a Serb. He had a shaven head, heavy boots, and military clothes. He hit me with a wine bottle. I stood up, I was really angry and I wanted to fight back. He got scared and I started chasing him. He saw two policemen and he ran behind their backs. One of them put his hand on his gun and started making gestures as if inviting me to attack him. I cooled down immediately. It was obvious that the policemen wanted to beat me too. They did not do anything about the skinhead, they just let him go, but they took me to the police station. While they brought me in, they swore at me. I tried to report the skinhead attack and I asked why they were keeping me at the police station. But every time I'd open my mouth they'd start pushing me around, threatening me. It was clear that I had better keep silent. I started thinking not about the skinhead, but about what kind of trouble was waiting for me in the police station. They put me in a cell and after two hours they just let me go.

The police also reportedly make statements which reveal approval of skinhead violence against Roma. Mr K.D., 42, from Niš, told the ERRC the following: 

In November [1997] I was walking to my relatives at about 11 pm. There was a specially equipped police van standing on the street, and there were approximately ten policemen standing around it. They wanted to find someone. As I was passing by, one of them asked me if I had seen such-and-such a person. I could not help them because I mostly know the nicknames of people around here. They quickly surrounded me, cursing my mother and all that. One of them told me, „Hopefully, skinheads will come here one day and kill you all."

Sometimes the police react by implying that the onus is on Roma to keep away from skinheads. Aleksandar Jovanović, employed at the city waste disposal company, told the ERRC about the following case: 

In September 1997, I was at work, collecting rubbish. About ten skinheads attacked my colleague and me. They smashed a beer bottle on my head. We reported the attack to the police, and six guys were caught right away. While my colleague and I were at the emergency centre, four policemen visited us. We told them what had happened, and they said they couldn't keep an eye on the skinheads all the time. They suggested that we should keep away from the streets where the skinheads chase us. What a stupid idea � how can we stay away from streets if we have to work there?

One could conclude from the advice given to Mr Jovanović that police believe that if Roma do not keep away from skinheads, it is somehow their fault if they are attacked. The following account, told to the ERRC by 26-year-old Mr M.M. from Niš, who went to the police after he was attacked by skinheads, confirms that this kind of logic exists: 

One evening in December 1997, I took my girlfriend to see a film. On our way back, as we were passing by a park, a skinhead who was walking behind us started making loud comments about my girlfriend. I turned and told him to stop, I told him that she was my girlfriend and I didn't like what he was saying. Immediately, about a dozen skinheads jumped out of the park. We didn't have time to run away. They beat me with wooden bats, swearing about my mother and the colour of her skin. They knocked me down and kicked me for some time. They punched my girlfriend as she was screaming for help. It all happened very fast, and they ran away as quickly as they had attacked. We took a taxi to the police station. There we were told that we should not provoke the skinheads and that, since the incident was over, we should go home. The police and skinheads are all connected here. I could not go to work for several days after the beating and I had to stay in bed. My kidneys were damaged and I had blood in my urine.

As a result of such experiences, it is not surprising that Roma avoid contacting the police after being assaulted by skinheads. Both Miodrag Jovanović and G.M. did not complain to the police after skinheads beat them. G.M. told the ERRC: „People who saw me bleeding after the beating advised me to call the police, and so did a man in the hospital. I decided not to though, because they never do anything. They might even accuse me of starting the fight." In several instances, when skinhead abuse has been brought to the attention of the police, these reportedly reacted with indifference. When skinheads attacked pregnant Ljubica Jovanović, for example, the police were called by someone who witnessed the beating. According to Ljubica, the police tried to contact her while she was in an emergency ward, but the nurse did not let them into the ward. After that, howeve r, the police did not contact either Ljubica or her family. Mila Obradović from Kragujevac filed a complaint at the police station after she was verbally abused by a group of skinheads. She told the ERRC, „The day after, an officer came to talk to me. I haven't heard about my case since then."

In addition to inadequate reaction to crimes against Roma, the police are also unlikely to take any measures to prevent further attacks from taking place. Although the harassment of Roma by skinheads started several years ago, the authorities failed to react until such a highly politicised crime as the killing of Dušan Jovanović. And even after this murder, the police have failed to provide protection for Roma. „The police promised to keep an eye on our neighbourhood, but there was no police surveillance, and no policemen were around when skinheads were giving us trouble. They always come after something happens," Aleksandar Jovanović said, when telling the ERRC about the skinhead harassment that took place after his son was killed.

Judicial response, in the rare instances in which racially-motivated crimes reach the court, has been similarly inadequate. Although the two underage skinheads convicted for the murder of Dušan Jovanović received the maximum possible sentence, several others who were also present at the beating were not even indicted.

In the two cases of skinhead violence that were given prominent attention by the media and have reached the courts, the killing of Dušan Jovanović and the beating of Dragan and Dragica Š ., all of the indicted were minors. Despite numerous instances of skinhead abuse of Roma, the Serbian government attempted to marginalise the importance and extent of racially motivated violence, emphasising the fact that the perpetrators were youths contaminated by a foreign subculture. In the opinion of Serbian Minister of Human Rights, Mr Ivan Sedlak, expressed in Naša borba of December 1-2, 1997, „The skinhead movement is not an authentic product of our society but is brought from the West". The minister did not, however, explain why a violent culture had found such fruitful soil in the country. As long as Serbian society is unable to face the racism that brought violence against Roma to life, and to combat ethnic hatred in its own ranks, the ensuing delusions will foster further injustice.


  1. Authorities wishing to prosecute a murder as racially motivated generally apply Article 47 paragraph 4(2) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia and this use of the article is supported by Yugoslav case law. The text of the article itself makes no explicit mention of racial motivation, however.
  2. See:
  3. Etudes Tsiganes, 1/1993, p.13.
  4. Romi - Cigani u Jugoslaviji, Nova Yugoslavija, Vranje, 1983.
  5. See:
  6. Mitroviæ, Aleksandra, and Zajiæ, Gradimir, “Social position of the Roma in Serbia”, in The Roma in Serbia, Belgrade: Centre for Anti-War Action, Institute for Criminological and Sociological Research, 1998, p.53.


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