- Estimated population (including Voivodina and Kosovo but excluding Montenegro): 600,000. It is likely that the first Gypsies to reach Serbia were shoemakers who lived in Prizren some time around 1348. Under the Ottoman Empire (from 1459), the Gypsies were classed as one of the many ethnic groups in the country. No overall census figures are available for the Gypsy population at that time. The Viennese Gypsiologist Franz Miklosich reported that there were some 25,000 Gypsies in Serbia in the 1860s. At one time, the Turkish rulers of the country attempted to ban nomadism, but they were not successful. Many Vlah Gypsies came after the emancipation of the slaves in Romania, joining earlier immigrants from across the Danube who had by the end of the 18th century already become sedentary.From 1878 Serbia was independent. In 1879 and 1884 the new state passed laws to prohibit Gypsies from nomadizing, and in 1891 there was an order that Gypsies who were not settled and without an occupation should be reported to the authorities. Foreign Gypsies were to be expelled. The censuses at the end of the 19th century showed around 50,000 Gypsies in Serbia. About half claimed Romani as the mother tongue, and 25 percent were Muslim.In 1918 Serbia became part of Yugoslavia, until 1941 when it came under military rule by the German Army. Soon after the German conquest of Yugoslavia, regulations forbade Gypsies in Serbia to use public transport or cafés. They had to wear an armband with the letter Z on it. At first the Germans took Gypsy men to act as hostages and then shot them in reprisal for the deaths of German soldiers at the hands of Partisans. The women and children were placed in a concentration camp at Zemun (Semlin). Many were killed in gassing vans. Harald Turner-head of the German military administration- reported to Berlin that the "Gypsy problem had been solved," as he wanted to concentrate on the fight against the Partisans. However, large numbers were still living outside Belgrade. The German occupying forces began to round up Gypsies in Nis in eastern Serbia and imprison them at a concentration camp at Crveni Krst. Again many were shot in reprisals for attacks on German soldiers. During the German occupation of Serbia, some 30,000 Gypsies were killed.In 1944 Yugoslavia was reestablished as a republic. The 1971 census recorded 49,894 Romanies for Serbia (including Voivodina and Kosovo) and 396 for Montenegro, an unbelievably low figure, even allowing for the losses during the Nazi period.In 1991-1992 Yugoslavia was split again. Only Serbia (including Voivodina and Kosovo) and Montenegro remained in the Yugoslav Republic, which was renamed Serbia and Montenegro. After 1993 the Serbian government made some efforts to get its Gypsy population to support the government. Government officials attended an official church service in Romani and subsidies were given to newspapers. Poet Trifun Dimic was able to publish the New Testament in Romani as well as a first reader for schools. One cloud in the picture was the harassment of Rajko DjuriC, who was forced to flee the country because of his opposition to Serbia's support for the Bosnian Serbs.The 1991 census gave a figure of 70,126 Roma in Serbia (excluding Kosovo and Voivodina). The figures were rising steadily, which reflected not merely the high birth rate of the population but also increasing self-confidence and willingness to be recognized as Roma at the start of the 1990s. However, there still remains some way to go before the recorded population reaches the estimated real figure of 600,000. Roma in Yugoslavia can be classified by religion (Orthodox, Catholic, or Muslim) or language (Erlia or a range of dialects used by previously nomadic groups such as the Gurbet). This applies equally to Serbia and Montenegro.Before the breakup of the federal state, the Roma in Serbia had made attempts to get their status raised to that of a national minority, a desire that was voiced at academic conferences in Belgrade in 1976 as well as Novi Sad (Voivodina) in 1990 and 1997. In the terms of the 1991 Constitution of Serbia, the Roma had the lowest status, the third rank, as an "ethnic group."The Romany Congress Party was founded at a meeting in Belgrade in 1997 on the symbolic date of 8 April (declared as Roma Nation Day at the first World Romany Congress) and soon had a membership of 2,000. One of its aims is for Roma to attain the status of a national minority. Its president, Dragoljub AckoviC, is editor of the magazine Romano Lil.Yet, in spite of more overt Belgrade government support for Roma, police harassment is common and street traders are a prime target. There have been reports of isolated cases of racist attacks on Roma, though Romany leaders have said they hear of such attacks in Belgrade every two or three days. Skinheads are active. In one reported incident in September 1996, they assaulted Roma in Kraljevo. Graffiti saying "Death to Roma" have appeared in Kragujevac, while houses have been set on fire in some places. A Romany, Dragan Dim-itrijevic, insulted and beaten by police in Kragujevac in 1999, did not get justice until five years later, in November 2004, when the United Nations Committee against Torture gave the Serbian government 90 days to start the long delayed investigation of this attack.Prejudice is widespread, and some villages will not allow the Roma to bury their dead in Orthodox cemeteries. There have been cases of discrimination in bars in Raska. In October 1997 the Serbian daily Nedeljini Telegraf published an article entitled "We Shall Expel the Roma, Negroes, Gays and Junkies and Create a Great White Serbia," quoting the words of skinheads from Novi Sad. In April 2001, the Roma cemetery in Nis was brutally violated, and the grave belonging to Sait BaliC, a prominent Roma activist, was particularly badly damaged.Even before the current economic depression, living conditions for Roma were inadequate, and in some parts of Serbia, life expectancy for Roma is only 29-33 years. Unemployment is high, and such work as the Roma have is usually of low status, such as day laborers, herdsmen, skinners, street sweepers, or cemetery workers. Meat is rarely on the menu in the Romany home and clothing is poor. Child allowances have not always been paid to Roma and Albanians.The majority of Romany children do not complete primary education and the cultural association Matica Romska accepts that more than 80 percent of the Romani population is illiterate. One reason is that 30 percent of Romany children arrive at primary school with no knowledge of Serbian because of the isolation of their communities, and there is little preschool provision by which they could learn the language of the education system. Less than 1 percent of Roma have completed higher education. There is, however, a Romany Cultural Federation, whose members must have at least a college degree. Members of the federation were active in founding the Romany Congress Party. As elsewhere in eastern Europe, a number of Romany children are placed in special schools, not because of lack of intelligence but after failing tests designed for those living in a different culture.Organizations having a responsibility other than culture and political activity include the [Romany] Committee for the Protection of Human Rights in Yugoslavia, founded in 1997 and based in Kragu-jevac, and the Society for the Improvement of Romany Settlements, established under the leadership of architect Vladmirt Macura and sociologist Aleksandrea Mitrovic.
Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . Donald Kenrick.