It is still fresh in the memories of the people what Croatian attitudes towards Roma during WWII did, when most of the Romas were eliminated together with other minorities in concentration camps established by the Croatian fascists. So when events like May 1 expulsion of few Roma families in the Croatian municipality of Zadar occur, the memories of that not so distant Croatian past become all too vivid.
It was the latest of several anti-Roma actions or statements in Croatia, when local vigilantes led by the major of the town of Siroka Kula have set up a “headquarters” to organize “the protection of local population from Roma and their cattle.
All of the developments were ‘properly’ covered by the Croatian media, yet state officials did nothing to prevent discrimination and expulsions of the families.
Vigilantes, led by mayor were given all the media attention and space for their incendiary languages so no one should be surprised if more similar Roma expulsions become norm all over Croatia. As usual, all the justification for the discriminations was wrapped around concerns for land and honor of the nation, which Roma people endanger.
“The Roma minority have more rights than the majority do here”, one of the vigilantes Ivica Stimac told the daily Novi list, claiming that cattle owned by Roma families were destroying wheat fields.
In another, more serious, incident, in Skabrnja, in Dalmatia, Roma families were driven off land they had bought.
Ante Djanija’s Roma family quit their property on May 3 after receiving threats from locals, including the local mayor, Luka Skara.
“Serbs and Roma never lived in Skabrnja and they never will,” said Skara told a rally, announcing that a wall and barbed wire would be built round land bought by the family.
The day after the family left Skabrnja, police arrested Skara. But after he was released, Skara stated that “Roma should be put together with the garbage”.
Some government ministers have also stirred anti-Roma sentiments in recent weeks.
On a visit in late March to Medjimurje, in northern Croatia, where many Roma live, Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said that “more than a half of all criminal offences in Medjimurje were perpetrated by the Roma population”.
Amnesty International Croatia later criticized the minister, saying his words “reinforce discriminatory racial stereotypes”.
But two weeks later, Zeljko Prsa, chief of police in Osijek, in eastern Croatia, blamed Roma for many acts of burglary and housebreaking.
“They are a protected minority, you know how that goes. There’s nothing we can do but to intensify patrols or expel them”, said Prsa, informing the city council about the security situation in the Osijek area.
Skabrnja is located in south-western Croatia and formed part of the municipality of Zadar, which bordered the Benkovac municipality, near the Adriatic Sea. Skabrnja had about 2,000 inhabitants, almost exclusively Croat, who could not tolerate few Roma families.