Roma in Multiethnic Communities in Serbia


September 24, 2002

Nis, Yugoslavia







The Project on Ethnic Relations (PER), in cooperation with the Yugoslav Federal Ministry for Ethnic and National Communities, the City of Nis, YuRom Centar, and other Romani organizations from Serbia, organized a roundtable discussion in Nis, Yugoslavia on September 24, 2002.  The objective of the discussion was two fold – 1) to explore ways in which to improve the situation of the Roma in Serbia through greater Romani participation in local self-government and; 2) to assess methods for implementation of the new Serbian Law on Local Self-Government and the Yugoslav Federal Law on Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities.


The tragic experience and legacy of interethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia highlights the vast difficulties underscoring the achievement of peaceful and harmonious coexistence. Yet, in the view of PER, there could not have been a more opportune time to hold this discussion.  Serbia today is entering a new, more democratic era. Having undergone considerable change since October 2000, the country has a landmark opportunity to break with its history of ethnic animosity and catch up with its neighbors in the process of greater democratization.


The Nis roundtable marked the most recent of PER’s efforts to address the problems of the Romani community within Serbia and Yugoslavia. The predecessor to the Nis meeting, held in Belgrade in February 2001, gathered for the first time all major Romani leaders and Serbian and Yugoslav authorities to discuss the Roma’s political status and the government’s strategy for the future. It allowed the Romani leadership to express its views and to evaluate the national minority law that was, at the time, under preparation.  The participants urged the government to give the Roma the status of national minority and to mention the Romani community in the legislation. 


In contrast, the Nis roundtable focused on the cooperation and participation of the Roma in addressing and solving their problems at the municipal level. In the view of PER, this was a critical moment for the Roma of Yugoslavia to discuss these issues as major reforms were underway. Both the recently adopted laws on national communities, including legislation to advance minority rights and local self-government as well as efforts to build up governmental programs for Roma created a unique situation in which to find solutions to the longstanding problems of the Roma.


The discussion, part of a series of meetings on multiethnic local governance that PER is conducting in Central and South Eastern Europe, was funded through a special grant by the Ford Foundation (USA). Participating were representatives of the Romani community in Serbia; officials from the Yugoslav government; Serbian local and republican authorities; representatives of the Government of Hungary’s Office for National and Ethnic Minorities; the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); the Council of Europe; the U.S. Embassy in FRY; and various Yugoslav and international non governmental and academic organizations. Among those present was a Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia.


This report begins with an overview of the challenges facing the Roma within multiethnic societies, underscoring the way in which local government can serve as a powerful tool to both protect minority rights and to promote peaceful coexistence. The proceedings of the roundtable are summarized under the headings of its main themes: state policy toward the Roma in Yugoslavia and Serbia; current Roma-related issues; examples of fruitful cooperation between the Roma and local authorities; and experiences from neighboring countries.


Aleksandar Vidojevic of the PER office in Belgrade and Andrzej Mirga, chair of the PER Romani Advisory Council and co-chair of the Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies of the Council of Europe prepared the report of the meeting which was edited by the PER staff.  PER would like to give special thanks to the City of Nis, to YuRom Centar and its president, Osman Balic for cooperation on the project.  PER takes full responsibility for the report, which has not been reviewed by the participants.


Allen H. Kassof, President

Livia B. Plaks, Executive Director

Princeton, New Jersey

March 2003




From left to right: Allen Kassof, Osman Balic, Zarko Korac, Rasim Ljajic, Livia Plaks, Goran Ciric. 

From left to right: Dejan Markovic, Miroslav Jovanovic, Dragoljub Ackovic, Dijana Hasanagic.






The Central and Eastern European (CEE) region continues to undergo significant transformation, both socially and economically. States today face not only the daunting tasks of democratization and economic development, but also the challenge of greater European integration through NATO and EU enlargement. The decentralization of state powers and administration has played a pivotal role in this regard; countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary concluded decentralization in the early 1990s – whereas others, like Serbia, have only begun to undertake this process more recently.


The introduction of local government and enhancement of local democracy poses a particular challenge to authorities within multiethnic communities and municipalities. The tragic experience of the ethnic wars and regional violence of the last decade underscores many of the difficulties in achieving peaceful and harmonious ethnic coexistence. Representative democracy at the local level, however, may play a powerful role in reversing this trend, by giving a greater voice to minorities. 


Frequently among the most disadvantaged in society, the Romani community has only recently taken a more active role in politics; since the beginning of the 1990s, the Roma have begun to increase ethnic and political mobilization efforts within the CEE region. Their claims to be regarded as a legitimate minority and political entity have been acknowledged and supported by both the international community as well as national governments.


The past decade has witnessed the emergence of an extensive body of literature devoted to the Roma, detailing both their situation and the problems they face within Europe. Indeed, a number of recommendations advanced by international organizations have helped shape government policies toward the Romani community. What these recommendations systematically fail to mention however, is the critical link between Romani advancement and their involvement in local self-government and/or cooperative relationships with local authorities. Indeed, if government efforts to improve the situation of the Roma are to be achieved, changes at the local level must be considered.


Advocacy efforts undertaken by Romani leaders have until now been principally targeted toward international institutions and national governments. Roma active at the local level have been largely involved in small-scale projects carried out by the Romani and non-Romani civil sector. While dealing with the Roma has become a subject of rancorous political debate at the federal and republican levels of government, this has interestingly not been the case at the local level. On the contrary, Romani leaders have been particularly effective in exerting pressure upon local authorities to address problems of concern to their communities.


Yet it is clear that strategies to improve minority rights must be targeted at all levels of government, since programs designed at the federal and/or republican level must be implemented locally. It is therefore critical not only that legal measures and institutions be put in place in order to implement these policies, but that local authorities have the means by which to translate these policies into practice.


In focusing on the case of the Roma in Serbia, the principal aims of the roundtable were to address not only issues of general concern to the Romani population, but to provide specific recommendations to:




Local Self-Government


According to Article 4 of the Council of Europe’s European Charter of Local Self-Government, powers divested to local authorities throughout the region should be “full and exclusive”; they may not be “undermined or limited by another, central or regional, authority except as provided for by the law.” Local authorities maintain independent legal status, act in their own name, manage spending and establish their own operational structures; they are accountable to the local population and elected democratically to serve their interests. Local self-governments are responsible for tasks delegated to them by the state on a subsidiary basis, such as managing primary and secondary education, planning and building, public transportation, municipal housing, heath service, etc.  Local authorities act primarily as servants not of the state, but rather the local public.


A recent example demonstrates the sheer extent of local autonomy. Several years ago, local authorities from the town of Usti nad Labem, in the Czech Republic, erected a wall separating Roma from non-Roma dwellers. Despite widespread condemnation of this act among central authorities and critics abroad, local authorities upheld the decision on legal grounds; in essence, there was nothing the central government could do to change the situation. While a compromise solution was eventually reached, the crisis nevertheless demonstrates the unique powers of local self-government.


Policymakers seeking to implement integration policies may encounter certain obstacles, including a lack of will on the part of authorities, a shortage of resources, as well as conflicts arising from majority-Romani relations. With a growing number of persons living below the poverty line in many regions and localities, local authorities helping the Roma may in fact face a backlash due to differences between the Roma and non-Roma with regard to state support and subsidies for the implementation of Romani programs. The implementation of these programs could prove particularly contentious as local authorities choose between principles of non-discrimination versus positive or affirmative policies.


Observers have witnessed a disturbing trend in local politics – the tendency among policymakers to delegate Romani issues to the local civil sector (Romani and non-Romani) as opposed to local administration.  Absent the visible involvement of state and local administration, the civil sector frequently takes on many different roles, acting as a service provider, advocacy agent, and caretaker. Moreover, where no such civil agent exists, Romani issues are simply neglected.


The role of civil society in addressing and dealing with Romani issues is viewed in an increasingly ambiguous light. Indeed, some Romani activists criticize the efforts of this sector as part of a “Gypsy industry.” State and local authorities have voiced their own criticism, particularly with regard to the work of Romani organizations and leadership. While some Romani activists fault the civil sector for misuse of resources, namely, failing to reach the Romani community, state and local officials point to the lack of transparency and accountability among the Romani civil sector.


Such criticisms underscore the need for a clearer demarcation of the specific tasks and obligations of state and local administrations versus those of the civil sector. When such boundaries are blurred, those who stand to gain the most from these services are put at increased risk. For this reason, it is critical that representatives of the Romani community assume a greater role in the political process within their communities; by increasing their presence within elected bodies (municipal councils, local self-governments) and administration, the Roma can begin to take a more active role in shaping policies affecting their community.



Roundtable Proceedings


Opening the discussion, PER’s Executive Director welcomed the Yugoslav effort to address issues of importance to the Roma and stressed that the active participation of the Roma in all levels of government would be critical in determining the success of any such initiatives. Many such programs failed in the past, she warned, because Romani communities themselves had not been actively involved as partners.  She encouraged authorities to work with Romani communities on all levels, particularly the local level.


State policy toward the Roma in Yugoslavia and Serbia


            According to the Minister of Ethnic and National Communities of the Federal government, the central government is committed to addressing the concerns of the Roma. As the most vulnerable segment of society, he posited, the Roma’s status within Yugoslav society is one of a number of criteria used to measure the level of inter-ethnic tolerance as well as the success of the republican government’s minority policy. During Milosevic’s rule, he maintained, the Romani community was treated instrumentally; attention was paid to them only within the context of upcoming elections. The present government, in contrast, has taken a wholly different approach, he argued, by explicitly admitting the existence of the Romani issue and the need for its resolution. While government progress thus far may be judged as insufficient, nevertheless, it must be considered a step in the right direction, he said. The Romani problem, he contended, is one of enormous complexity and can therefore not be solved overnight.


According to a participant, officials at the federal, republican, and local levels of government are currently attempting to deal with Romani issues in the following areas:


Legislation. Officials are developing legislation designed to improve the legal standing and protection of Romani rights within the state and society. Such legislation will likely include not only legal recognition of the Roma as an ethnic minority within Serbia, but also provisions of affirmative action toward that community. The minority rights of the Roma, he added, have already been promulgated in the Federal Law on Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities. In addition, the Law on Local Self-Government, he argued, enables greater minority participation in local authorities and administration. This law in particular would pave the way for greater inclusion of the Roma within local decision-making bodies.


Encouraging participation in social and political life. The encouragement of Romani participation in institutions of local self-government and democratic processes is critical, said the official. The Bujanovac case provides a useful lesson in this regard. By abstaining from the last local elections in Bujanovac, the Roma effectively forfeited an opportunity to increase their representation in the local government and municipal council. He stressed that institutions must work with Romani organizations to encourage their citizens to participate in the political process.


Interethnic relations. Officials must work to foster a social and political environment that promotes a better understanding of the problems faced by the Romani community within Serbian society. According to several studies, the Roma are now considered among the “most acceptable” minorities in Serbian society, with the level of negative perception toward the Roma at a comparatively low level. While the Roma are still not largely accepted by the general public, unlike other minorities, they are not perceived as a danger to Serbian society.


Social, economic and cultural problems. The most pressing of these problems is related to Romani housing conditions and the dislocation of “illegal” Romani settlements in Belgrade such as Stari Aerodrom, Tosin Bunar, Zahumska, and Gazela.  Considerable reluctance exists on the part of some local politicians with regard to resolving these issues, he said. The central government and political parties must both provide support and exert pressure on local politicians to overcome this reluctance. The international community, he noted, is also interested in the resolution of the housing problem of Roma in Belgrade.


According to a Serbian official, there have been some positive developments to report in the area of Romani culture. Several radio stations in the Romani language have been established in Serbia, and a Romani program can now be heard on national radio – Radio Belgrade. In addition, the government plans, he said, to increase the number of Romani children in schools. Approximately 78 percent of the Roma never complete elementary school while only 0.4 percent receive higher education. The authorities will encourage all minority communities, including the Roma, he said, to become active participants in the educational system reform process and the formulation of curricula and textbooks related to their specific ethnic community. Moreover, he added, the government has formed a team of experts to formulate a national strategy related to the Romani community.


The government approach to minorities, said this official, has been based on the principle of full respect for human and minority rights. These rights were endangered in Serbia during the last ten years, he said.  The Roma have been systematically neglected and no Serbian party has ever dealt in a serious way with their problems.  As a result, this official argued, the Romani community has largely abstained from the political and democratic processes. He urged the Roma to end this trend and to take a more active role in political life.


A local official from the Nis municipality asserted that the following were all prerequisites for a successful minority policy: legislation, strategy, budget, political will on the part of decision-makers and active participation of the Romani community.  Throughout the history of Nis, he argued, the city has served as a model of peaceful coexistence among many ethnic communities – including the Roma, who have taken an active part in local self-government for many years. Among the municipality’s most notable legislative achievements was its adoption of the Program of Social Recovery of the Roma Population.


A Romani participant and member of the Nis municipal council added that one of the most essential criteria of a flourishing democracy is the minority’s participation in power. He said that for the Romani community, the valid criterion of democracy was the level of Romani participation in all levels of power. He defined three goals for the roundtable: to promote the rights of the Roma as citizens; to define and detect Romani problems at the local level; and to formulate concrete methods for the resolution of these problems.


The problems of the Roma in Serbia and Yugoslavia need to be urgently addressed, he said. One method may be through effective implementation of the Federal Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities, the Serbian Law on Local Self-Government, and through international standards.  While the Federal government has been working to establish a strategy to address Romani problems, he argued, what will be most crucial is its implementation.  In that vein, he reminded Romani leaders of their unique civil responsibility in ensuring successful implementation.


The speaker also expressed his disapproval as to the concept of the “integration of Roma” as the most appropriate way to address the community’s problems. In particular, he objected to the use of the word “integration” in that the Roma have lived in the region for centuries and consider themselves natives like all other ethnic communities in the country. Instead of ‘integration,’ he advanced the need for ‘emancipation’ of the Roma within Serbia, mainly through greater investments in education, as a necessary precursor for their increased participation in society.  While the majority population and the international community should support the Romani emancipation process, he argued, the primary responsibility rests with the Roma themselves.


The speaker commended the organizers of the roundtable for directing attention toward the importance of involvement at the local level – where he believed many of the Roma’s problems could be most effectively addressed. Moreover, he suggested that the Serbian Government pay closer attention to its strategies related to the local level, especially the role of local authorities in policy implementation. 



Current Roma-related problems


For many Romani participants, the official recognition of the Roma as a national minority (in the recently adopted Federal Law on Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities) represents a major breakthrough, specifically in establishing conditions for better protection of the rights and interests of the their community. New provisions enabling minorities to form national councils have inspired hope among the Roma. In addition, some participants expressed particular optimism at the Law on Local Self-government’s establishment of “Councils for Interethnic Relations” among ethnically mixed municipalities. Some Romani leaders worried, however, that they might actually be prevented from forming such ‘councils’ due to existing census data that provides an unreliable measurement of the size of the Romani minority. The legislation stipulates that in order to form such councils, the minority community must account for more than 5 percent of the municipal population (or more than 10 percent if all ethnic communities are counted collectively). Roma have not reached that percentage anywhere, said Romani representatives, and this could put them at a disadvantage.


In the view of some Romani activists, establishing institutions to deal with Romani issues will improve the Roma’s present situation as well as their overall position in society.  Yet this is not enough. The Roma must also increase their representation in municipal bodies, they argued. The reality in this regard is grim, they noted, as there are still large Romani communities living in ghettos who remain under-represented in local institutions or bodies. Moreover, any positive gains to be acquired by the Roma from the Law on Local Self-Government will be on hold at least until after the 2004 elections, when the law is scheduled to be implemented.


Several participants raised the issue of adequate or proportional representation of the Roma in elected bodies and state administration. Romani participants in particular were of the opinion that they should have at least two or three representatives in the Serbian Parliament and much stronger representation at the level of local self-government.


A Serbian expert on interethnic relations counseled Romani leadership to pay closer attention to legislation at the republican level since the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a state will soon cease to exist. In this participant’s view, citizens are likely to see problems arise from the fact that certain laws have been adopted at the federal level while others have been adopted at the republican level–a problem which could be further exacerbated once those laws are implemented. He argued that financial issues would be central in this regard and suggested greater allocation of budgetary resources to the local and municipal levels. He agreed that the Roma should have greater political representation in the republican parliament.


Several Romani participants expressed their displeasure with the current state of education and employment policy, suggesting that the government should formulate policies and adopt specific measures to benefit the Romani community. As loyal citizens of Serbia, they argued, the Roma deserve a speedy resolution of their problems.


Most Romani participants recognized the need for fostering greater Roma-to-Roma and Roma-to-non-Roma dialogue. The mentalities of both communities must be changed, they posited, building upon a shared tradition of tolerance and coexistence. The Roma-to-Roma dialogue in particular should work to formulate better Romani political objectives. Moreover, efforts must be undertaken by Romani leaders to better organize their communities.


Addressing the broader question of capacity, another Serbian expert from Novi Sad cautioned that Yugoslavia’s status as the poorest country in Europe in terms of per capita income would not necessarily influence the resolution of Romani issues. He advised participants to target donors with a particular interest in Roma-related projects, including Romani emancipation.


Addressing the contentious issue of “illegal” Romani settlements in Belgrade, Romani participants decried the recent actions of Serbian authorities in attempting to expel the Roma from settlements in Stari Aerodorom, Zahumska, and Tosin Bunar. In the view of these participants, Belgrade authorities did not show a sufficient level of understanding in dealing with this issue. They argued that the Roma have consistently suffered discrimination with regard to urban planning and the building of infrastructure. Moreover, they are always last to get new roads, water, and electricity in their settlements.


One Serbian official acknowledged that inadequate laws were the main obstacles to resolution of the problems of Romani “illegal” settlements. Laws governing estates and urban planning, designed in 1995, need to be urgently amended, he said. The official acknowledged that attitudes on the part of local authorities toward the Roma represent yet another obstacle. Local authorities frequently mistrust the Roma, he suggested, and to a large extent are reluctant to deal with their problems. He urged Romani NGOs to take on the necessary task of educating local authorities about the Romani community and its needs. The participant reiterated that it would behoove the Roma to better organize themselves and to elect representatives to fight for their interests.  Further, the official suggested the following concrete steps, which would, in his opinion, accelerate the resolution of many Romani problems:



Examples of effective cooperation between the Roma and local authorities


Despite offering minor criticisms of the Law on Local Self-government, most Romani participants acknowledged the benefits the law could provide for their communities.  They cautioned however that the receipt of such benefits will likely depend on the good will of local authorities. One Romani participant pointed to the policy of authorities in Nis as a positive example of such leadership. As a gesture of both good will and political inclusiveness, the municipality of Nis elected to disregard the fact that local Roma did not meet the 5 percent census threshold required by law when deciding to grant them recognition as a multiethnic entity. Moreover, local authorities’ unique interpretation of the Serbian Law of Local Self-Government has paved the way for better resolution of Romani problems. This has been the case particularly with regard to the protection of the individual and collective rights of national minorities, the public use of language, and representation in the media, he said. The municipality of Nis has in fact developed a strategic and long-term program for the socioeconomic recovery of the Romani community. Supported by the municipality, Romani NGOs, as well as a variety of other institutions, the program receives its funding from the Municipality of Nis as a budgetary line item.           


Another encouraging example of cooperation between the Roma and local authorities was offered by a participant from the municipality of Leskovac, home to one of the largest Romani communities in the region. According to the representative, Leskovac serves as a model of interethnic cooperation, as the Roma have traditionally played an active role in local self-government.  Recently, the city decided to include two Romani representatives on the Executive Committee of the Municipal Council of Leskovac, he said.  The results, he argued, have been astounding. Working in tandem with international organizations, relief agencies, and NGOs, the municipality has succeeded in making measurable improvements in the living conditions of Roma, including the removal of illegal dunghills in the surroundings of Roma settlements.  Cooperation has also extended to the cultural arena, where programs in the Romani language can now be heard on both local radio and television. Local authorities, he added, have assigned a portion of their budget to implementing cultural, social and recreational projects for the Romani community.  Constant communication between local officials and representatives of the Romani community has worked to alleviate most tensions arising from relations between the Roma and the municipality.


Highlighting his own municipality’s tradition of Romani participation in local government, a local official from Vranje, home to some 8000 Roma, noted that the Roma of Vranje have a longstanding tradition of involvement in local government. The Romani presence on the municipal council, he argued, has helped to enhance the communal infrastructure as well as the housing conditions of Romani settlements. Moreover, unlike the vast majority of Romani communities in the region, many Roma in Vranje regularly finish high school. Addressing the representative from Nis, the official expressed his willingness to facilitate the expanded transmission of private Romani TV into Vranje, thereby allowing Roma from Vranje to view Romani programming from Nis.


Finally, the representative of the Permanent Conference of Cities and Municipalities of Serbia stressed that she was encouraged by the discussion and that her organization would make every effort to support all sensible initiatives directed at the resolution of concerns unique to the Romani community.


Experiences from neighboring countries and closing remarks


The purpose of this segment of the agenda was for representatives from other Eastern- and Central-Eastern European countries to share best practices in state and local policy relating to the Roma. In that vein, several participants representing Hungary and Bulgaria delivered brief presentations. The Hungarian representative pointed to the institution of elected self-government as a system which has greatly enhanced the position of the Roma in Hungary. Elected self-government, he said, has allowed the Roma to better communicate their needs to both local and state authorities. Moreover, these authorities are obliged by law to consult with Romani elected self-governments when discussing issues related to their welfare.


The representative from Bulgaria offered an example from the municipality of Lom, one of the nation’s least developed, and home to a population that is more than 35 percent Romani, the highest concentration in Europe. In order to help combat the problems of vast unemployment and poverty, he said, the government has adopted the Framework Program of Integration of Roma in Society, a program which has allowed municipal authorities in Lom to create an advisory commission to the local Lom municipal assembly consisting of Romani representatives, local MPs, and different institutions in the town. The commission’s action plan was later adopted by the local assembly and funded in part by a special budgetary line item for resolution of Romani problems. In addition to these efforts, he added, representatives from the Romani community, experts, and local authorities have also produced special programs and worked to amass substantial material resources. In fact, local authorities are now aiming even further in working to obtain a loan from the Development Bank of the Council of Europe in order to finance concrete projects for the Romani community.


Echoing a theme touched upon by many at the roundtable, the representative from the Council of Europe underscored the need for greater Romani participation in local self-government. The Council of Europe’s policy, she stressed, is to facilitate this process by both encouraging state and local authorities to be more receptive to the needs of the Roma, and by helping to create the conditions for the inclusion of Roma within structures of local self-government. She counseled authorities also to pay closer attention to issues of gender equality, ensuring that Romani women be provided with the necessary conditions to increase their participation in different institutions. The representative also called for a change in the mentality of the majority population, including authorities, in order to increase tolerance toward minorities. She emphasized that the resolution of the Romani housing problem was the most urgent one facing the Serbian government today. She also stated that the Council of Europe stands ready to assist in various projects related to the Romani community.


The representative of the Federal Ministry of Ethnic and National Communities thanked PER for organizing the roundtable, adding that it was instructive to hear from all parties involved and particularly to learn from the experiences shared by neighboring countries. She expressed her optimism that the national councils and new institutions envisioned by the law would help protect both minority rights and their identity overall. As an institution working on behalf of collective rights, the national councils, she argued, would enable national minorities to be represented in official governmental structures. She emphasized that it would be a long road ahead to achieve more significant results and that much sensitivity would be required. 


Closing the roundtable, PER’s Executive Director noted that since the Roma had participated in developing democracy in Serbia, they should therefore benefit from it. The Roma should play an active role in democratic processes and their participation should be encouraged by greater cooperation at the local and republican levels. International institutions such as the World Bank, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the European Commission, she added, support specific programs fostering such cooperation. Authorities should avail themselves of these possibilities.


This participant concluded by listing other conditions for effective resolution of Romani issues, including the good will and commitments of central and local authorities. Financial commitments in particular will be pivotal, she noted, as will the role of both Romani and majority-operated media. Finally, she highlighted the need for establishing more Romani local authority structures in order to spur greater participation of the Roma in public life. She further expressed her hope that at least one of the benefits of the roundtable will be the establishment of a network of municipalities to exchange information including best practices in dealing with Romani issues.







Participants of PER’s Nis roundtable reached the following conclusions:


Awareness of both cultural diversity and tolerance should be the twin pillars of public policy in multiethnic communities. There is a need for greater understanding of Romani problems among local authorities.


Education is among the most significant issues of concern within the Romani community. Romani leadership must find effective ways to bridge the education gap that exists in relation to the majority. This will likely require permanent and coordinated action among Romani organizations and activists, authorities and the Serbian society in general.


While many Romani leaders advocate the “emancipation” of Serbian Roma, the precise definition of this concept remains unclear. Authorities invite the Romani leadership to provide a definition of their objectives and expectations of the government.


State authorities should continue to:



The Roma should be educated as to how to better protect their rights. Local Romani organizations should be given an orientation of domestic and international law designed to protect human rights and promote local self-government.


The capacity of Romani organizations must be strengthened in the areas of: local self-government, protection of human and minority rights, management, democracy-building, human resources management, and lobbying.


Municipal budgets should contain line items dedicated to promoting the welfare of the Romani community.


Public awareness against Romani discrimination should be raised within the majority population.


In order to take advantage of greater opportunities for political representation, the Romani community must take steps to better organize their citizens.  The secretary of the Permanent Conference of the Cities of Serbia has proposed the formation in 2003 of a network of Romani leaders and municipal authorities.  PER has pledged to assist in establishing and working with this network.

List of Participants


Romani Participants:


Dragoljub Ackovic, President, Roma Congress Party

Radovan Askovic, President, Cultural Information Center, Pirot

Aleksandar Bakic, Roma Cultural Center, Leskovac

Osman Balic, President, YuRom Centar; Vice-President, Executive Board, Municipality of Nis

Stevan Beljic, Municipal Association of Roma, Sabac

Salim Demirovic, OSCE Civic Center, Bujanovac

Osman Ibrahimi, Member, Municipal Assembly, Presevo; Democratic Union of Roma

Miroslav Jovanovic, President, Committee for Protection of Human Rights of Roma in FRY

Tane Kurtic, President, League of Romani Societies of Serbia

Dejan Markovic, Member, Rakovica Municipal Council, City of Belgrade

Slobodan Mitrovic, League of Romani Friendship, Krusevac

Dragan Music, Secretary, Fair of Cultural Achievements of Roma of Serbia

Petar Nikolic, Editor, Romani programs, TV Novi Sad

Ferhat Saiti, Co-Chairman, Democratic Union of Roma; Radio Nisava

Zavadin Salijevic, President, Roma Association “Sait Balic”, Nis

Ratko Silistarevic, Association Rom-Vranje; Member, Municipal Council, Vranje

Djura Simic, President, League of Roma of Yugoslavia

Slavica Vasic, Romani Women Center “Bibija”, Belgrade


Local, Republican, and Federal Officials


Goran Ciric, Mayor of Nis; President, Permanent Conference of Cities of Serbia

Branislav Cvetkovic, President, Municipal Assembly, Niska Banja

Dijana Hasanagic, Secretary, Committee for International Cooperation, City Council of Belgrade; Secretary, Permanent Conference of Cities of Serbia

Agnes Odri Kartag, Deputy Minister for Ethnic and National Communities of FRY

Zarko Korac, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia

Rasim Ljajic, Minister for Ethnic and National Communities of FRY

Aleksandar Manojlovic, President, Municipal Council, Pirot

Meho Omerovic, Chairman, Committee on Interethnic Relations, Parliament of Serbia

Radoslav Pavkovic, President, Municipal Assembly, Aleksinac

Sinisa Stamenkovic, President, Municipal Assembly, Gadzin Han

Dragoljub Zivkovic, Mayor of Leskovac


Non Governmental and Academic Organizations from Yugoslavia


Dusan Janjic, Member, Project on Ethnic Relations Council for Ethnic Accord; Director, Forum for Ethnic Relations, Belgrade

Vladimir Macura, Director, Town Planning Institute of Belgrade

Aleksandar Vidojevic, Representative in Serbia and Montenegro, Project on Ethnic Relations


International Participants


Lee Brown, Second Secretary, Political Section, Embassy of the USA in FRY

Alex Grigor’ev, Program Officer, Project on Ethnic Relations (USA)

Jelena Jokanovic, Coordinator for Ethnic Minorities, Mission in FRY, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

Allen Kassof, President, Project on Ethnic Relations (USA)

Judith Kiers, Adviser, Catholic Organization for Relief and Development, Novi Sad (Netherlands)

Nikolai Kirilov, Expert, Community Council, Lom, Bulgaria

Maria Arpadne Kovacs, Head, Roma Department, Office for National and Ethnic Minorities, Government of Hungary

Andrzej Mirga, Chairman, Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Council; Co-Chair, Council of Europe Specialist Group on Roma/Gypsies (Poland)

Stephan Muller, Minorities Officer, Mission in FRY, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

Livia Plaks, Executive Director, Project on Ethnic Relations (USA)

Eleni Tsetsekou, Migration and Roma/Gypsies Division, Council of Europe