International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Unacceptable Racial Hatred Towards Roma in the 21st Century Serbia

As the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed, Serbia is still grappling with the issue of racial discrimination and hate speech towards a notable portion of its population.

This segment of the population primarily comprises Roma individuals, whose position in society is a result of social exclusion, entrenched stereotypes, and institutional neglect, warns A 11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights on the 21st of March, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

As long as there is widespread tolerance for hatred towards others, no state strategy, legal provision, or affirmative action can effectively combat the essence of racial discrimination.

A considerable number of Roma people in Serbia reside in over 700 informal settlements, lacking basic conditions for a dignified life and surviving on financial social assistance that fails to cover even the minimal consumer basket.

Fieldwork conducted in different Roma settlements reveals that Roma individuals face systematic, direct, and indirect discrimination based on their race – with instances reported where emergency services have ignored calls from residents in these areas.

They are the ones most directly affected by the application of harmful legislation such as, the Social Card Law, which initially unjustly withheld financial social assistance from them for engaging in seasonal work.

They are subject to extensive discrimination in the labor market, making them one of the most affected groups, and even when they meet formal requirements and qualifications, they struggle to find employment and secure better-paid jobs. Roma individuals are predominantly pushed into the realm of informal employment, which is significantly less represented among other citizens.

Derogatory terms for Roma individuals are even used within institutions, in public settings, and by elected representatives to label inappropriate conduct. Unfortunately, Roma individuals still face numerous stereotypes that persist and contribute to the perpetuation of racism.

One of the most pressing issues in Serbia concerning Roma communities is the widespread violence they experience. The recent case of police officers conducting a raid on an informal Roma settlement in Vuka Vrčevića Street, assaulting individuals, lining up children, causing property damage, and expressing racist sentiments indicate that racism is ingrained within the services meant to safeguard the public. The A 11 Initiative has filed a criminal complaint against unidentified police officers in this case and will inform the public of the outcome.

The A11 Initiative reminds all media, especially institutions, that in a state where equal rights and justice are guaranteed to all by the constitution, racism is not tolerated. Transforming deep-rooted beliefs and discriminatory behaviors takes time, but that should not be used as a justification for decision-makers, security services, and others funded by Serbian taxpayers to neglect the rights of a significant national minority in our country.

In Belgrade, 21 March 2024