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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Roma in Serbia

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Serbia Facts
Area:    88,361 sq. km.
Capital:    Belgrade
Total Population:    10,526,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The situation of the Roma in Serbia will continue to deteriorate as long as the targeting of Roma in Kosovo is allowed to continue. The rise of right-wing skinhead groups in the rest of Serbia only makes a bad situation worse.. It is unlikely that the Roma will vary from their historical aversion to protesting their situation. The Roma are not very organized, but the establishment of the political party, The Union of Romanies of Serbia (URS), has thousands in membership and is a hopeful sign for the future. The Roma in Serbia, like others throughout Europe seem to choose to leave the country and look for a better situation rather than stay and try to improve their lot in the country they currently reside in. The fact that many Roma deny that they are a part of the group, preferring to claim that they are Egyptian indicates that this is likely to remain the status quo.


Analytic Summary

The Roma originated in India more than a thousand years ago, and have since that time migrated across the world. Large numbers came to the countries of Eastern Europe, including the area that is now Serbia. While many have left in search of better economic opportunities, many have remained. Due to the former Yugoslav government's relatively favorable policies towards the Roma historically, there is a large population in what remains of the country. The Roma are spread throughout Serbia (GROUPCON = 0) and are not highly organized. The Roma in Serbia predominantly speak Romani while some have picked up the dominant Serbian language. In addition, another branch of Roma, the Ashkali, speak predominantly Albanian (LANG = 1). Compared to the Serbs, the Roma also have different cultural traits (CUSTOM = 1). It is the physical characteristics that most easily identify the Roma, as they are very different from the dominant community (RACE = 1). It is this easily identification that has led to the group being targeted for discrimination by both the government and the society at large.

The break-up of Yugoslavia was particularly hard on the Roma community. The group is under extreme demographic stress due to their high birth rates and deteriorating health conditions. The Yugoslav civil war and conflict in Kosovo has caused large numbers of Roma to leave the region. Some of this migration is a result of the Roma being displaced due to incoming refugees from other areas of the former Yugoslavia. While the Roma do not face any policy-based political discrimination from Belgrade, they are excluded from the political process socially (POLDIS04-06 = 3). Local governments have condoned or even participated in harassment and intimidation. Although there are multiple Roma political parties in Serbia, they are very weak and unorganized. In fact, many Roma are not even aware that the parties exist. The Roma have, thus far, failed to gain elected offices proportional to their numbers. Economically and culturally, they are also discriminated against through social practice and prejudice (ECDIS04-06 = 3). Although Serbia law recognizes the Roma as a national minority and explicitly prohibits discrimination against them, there are reports of discrimination in the areas of employment, social services and education. Many Roma do not speak Serbian and are therefore unable to attend school or know about social services that are provided. There has been limited effort to help the Roma better integrate into society.

While there have been reports of communal conflict between the Roma and Serbs, usually in the form of racist attacks, the greater concern is in Kosovo. Once the ethnic Albanians regained control of the region they began to attack the minority groups found within. The Roma have been targeted for attacks, and some have claimed a campaign of ethnic cleansing has begun in the region by the Kosovars. In March 2004, riots broke out once more between the ethnic Albanians and minority groups. Although aimed at the Serbs, the Roma were also targeted and in the end, 4,000 Serbs, Roma and Ashkali were left homeless (CCGROUPSEV204 = 5).

As mentioned there are multiple political parties that advocate greater rights for the Roma, including The Romani Congress Party and The Romani Democratic Party. The Roma also rely on international organizations and watchdog groups to lobby the Serbian government, and raise international awareness. The European Roma Rights Centre, Oaza and The Romani Congress are examples of such groups. The United Nations also has been monitoring the plight of Rome refugees in the country, and has pressured the government to make improvements. The Roma have only a few demands in Serbia. The Roma continue to be marginalized in society and therefore they are calling for equal civil rights compared to the other minorities in the country, such as the Hungarians. While there were attempts in the 1980s to institute schools taught in the Roma language, the funding for such programs has been eliminated. In 2004, joint efforts between the UNHCR and the International Red Cross implemented programs again regarding health education and head-start programs from Roma children. The OSCE also initiated a 4-week training program for Romani teachers and the development of a curriculum for Romani youth (STAMATSUP04 = 1; NSAMATSUP04 = 1). Finally, due to the situation in Kosovo, and less severely in the rest of Serbia, the Roma are demanding greater protection from other ethnic groups.

Of particular concern is the treatment of the thousands of internally displaced Roma refugees that flooded Serbia after the 1999 Kosovo conflict. These IDPs are particularly singled out for discrimination and violence and live in the worst situations even compared to the "assimilated" Roma. The Roma refugees are often located in settlements with little access to water, health services and education.

The Roma have never been involved in any militant activity against the state (REB04-06 = 0). They are too small and unorganized to undertake such activities. They have however, been active in protesting their situation through more conventional means. Small-scale protests have been organized against the threat of losing their church and plots of land and the closure of the sole Romani-language radio station (PROT04-06 = 3).

In 2005, an agreement between the UNMIK and the German government allowed for the repatriation of minority refugees. In total there are 34,500 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians the German government would like to transport. Due to a lack of funding and housing in addition to safety concerns, the return has been slowed down. Also, the registration of the returnees has not been accurate so it is not clear how many have actually been relocated.



Crowe, David M. 1994. A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia. New York: St. Martin's Press.

DecadeWatch. 10/2005, "Poverty, Social Exclusion and ethnicity in Serbia and Montenegro: The Case of Roma."

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Serbia and Montenegro. 1999-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006