Roma face ethnic cleansing in Slovenia

Slovenia has prided itself on being the “civilized” ex-Yugoslav republic, which avoided the explosions of hatred and “ethnic cleansing” which have plagued the rest. Critics have argued that it was easy for the Slovenes to affect moral superiority, being largely ethnically homogeneous. Now these Slovo-skeptics are, alas, being decisively vindicated. From the New York Times, Nov. 26:

In Slovenia, Villagers Block Gypsies’ Return to Their Homes

LJUBLJANA — A group of Gypsies who had been forced to flee their homes in central Slovenia a month ago by local villagers tried to return late Saturday afternoon but were forced to turn back.

The group, an extended family of 31 people, tried to return to Ambrus, a village 30 miles southeast of Ljubljana, after four weeks in a refugee center. But about 1,000 villagers and other residents of the area assembled, blocked roads leading to the village and then battled riot police officers. Officials then persuaded the family, the Strojans, to turn back.

The standoff prolonged a crisis that has dominated politics here for a month and has prompted criticism of Slovenia from the Council of Europe, the Continent’s human rights monitor, and from independent rights groups. Despite assertions by the Council of Europe and Slovenia’s human rights ombudsman that the family is entitled to return to their homes, the government has been unwilling to force the issue.

The family, who are Slovene citizens, agreed to leave Ambrus on Oct. 28, after a mob surrounded their homes. Local residents had demanded their removal after a fight between a man from Ambrus and a Slovene who was living with the Strojans, after which the villager fell unconscious. He remains in a coma, and the man with whom he fought is in detention.

The government said it was justified in moving the family to the refugee center, saying that it had acted to protect the Strojans. But human rights groups contend that ministers sanctioned the mob’s ouster of members of a minority group from their homes.

The government had promised to resettle the group, but a plan to move them to a suburb of Ljubljana, the capital, foundered when residents there protested.

The fighting Saturday began after the family left an army barrack that had been their home since their expulsion from the village. Residents from Ambrus heard the group was coming and barricaded the roads. The police were called, and three people were injured in the scuffle that followed, witnesses said.

The family waited in a roadside parking area during the confrontation and were then persuaded by government mediators to return to the barrack.

Milan Zver, education minister and president of a government commission set up for the protection of the Gypsies, also known as Roma, said after the confrontation Saturday that he was disappointed that the Strojans had acted on their own to try to return home, without first consulting the authorities, Reuters reported.

On Friday, Zoran Jankovic, the mayor of Ljubljana, withdrew an offer to find the Strojans homes in Sostro, a suburb of the capital, after inhabitants there staged two days of protests.

The Slovene news agency STA quoted Mr. Jankovic as saying, “We found a good location, took care of security, asked the nearest neighbors and agreed to take the proposal to the borough council, but then somebody got ahead of themselves and informed the locals.”

Prime Minister Janez Jansa has tried to mediate the dispute between the family and residents of Ambrus, which is within his parliamentary constituency. He talked with the Strojans on Saturday, persuading them to return to the army barrack. He denied that they had a right to return to the land, which they own, saying that they had not secured the proper permission from housing authorities to build their homes.

The prime minister’s office said Sunday that the Strojans had conceded that they could not return.

The UK’s Guardian noted this charming tidbit, Nov. 27:

Wielding clubs, guns and chainsaws, several hundred villagers converged on the cottage in a clearing in the beech forest with a simple demand. “Zig raus [Gyppos out],” they called in German, deliberately echoing Nazi racist chants. “Bomb the Gypsies.”


A Slovene filmmaker, Fillip Robar Dorin, present at the scene, said it reminded him of the Kristallnacht pogroms of 1938 when the Nazis rampaged against the Jews of Germany and Austria. “We would have torched the place, but we were too late. The police got there before us,” bragged one Ambrus villager.

Nor is this sort of thing confined to the ex-Yugoslavia.

If the expulsion of the Strojans, living in Ambrus for decades and owners of the place they were living in for 12 years, was a trauma for the family, it was also an increasingly routine example of the epidemic of forced evictions of Roma settlements across the European Union, particularly in central and eastern Europe where the Roma are concentrated.

Last week in the Czech town of Vsetin police descended on a crumbling block of flats, put more than 100 Roma on lorries and dumped them in Portacabins up to 50 miles away. The mayor, Jiri Cunek, then sent in the bulldozers. “Cleaning an ulcer,” he announced to local applause.

Last month in the eastern Romanian town of Tulcea, police evicted 110 Roma from where they had lived for seven years, their previous accommodation having burned down. The European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, Hungary, says the forced evictions are not restricted to eastern Europe. It is also dealing with incidents in Britain, France, Spain and Italy.

The scandal in Ambrus occurred not in the poorest parts of Europe where such persecution is more common, but in Slovenia, the wealthiest, westernmost, and most successful of the eight new central European members. In January, Slovenia will adopt the euro.

“The case of the Strojans in Slovenia is part of a pan-European pattern at the moment,” said Claude Cahn, the centre’s programmes director. “It’s really a crisis this year. This raw destruction of neighbourhoods is quite new.”

As well as frequent forced evictions across the towns and villages of eastern Europe, Mr Cahn points to major slum clearance and urban regeneration schemes currently planned in the capital cities of southern Europe. Istanbul, Sofia in Bulgaria, and Bucharest in Romania all have ambitious reconstruction projects under way. “These can have dreadful effects, entailing the large-scale destruction of Roma housing.”

In a recent study the Dzeno Association, a Prague-based Roma lobby group, noted: “The growing trend of forced evictions of Roma in Europe is becoming a human rights crisis.”

The evictions underline the plight of Europe’s 8 million Roma as the continent’s most downtrodden minority. Subject to entrenched harassment, discrimination, and ghettoisation, the Roma are liberty’s losers in the transformation wrought by recent free elections and free markets.

Last month Bulgaria’s minister of health proposed compulsory abortions and criminalisation for pregnant under-18s from “minority groups”, a categorisation that would affect most Roma girls. In Hungary, a mob beat a 44-year-old Roma man to death after he ran over an 11-year-old girl. A Budapest newspaper told its readers to drive off if they run over a Roma child.

See our last posts on the Roma and the Balkans.

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