Roma in Serbia
“Europe Revisited” is my ongoing audiovisual documentation of a few Roma families in Serbia.
Roma are the third-largest minority group in Serbia and their existence and way of life within the Balkans is longstanding, complex and challenging. They often live on the margins of society, subject to widespread poverty and discrimination, to the extent that the UN released a statement of concern about their exclusion and inequitable access to education, housing, employment and legal protection.
Serbia, currently in accession talks with the EU, now has an obligation to address integration of their minorities as part of its entry requirements. They are building social housing in a collaborative project with the EU & UN.
Longstanding poverty in a monetary based society is so much more eroding then I have ever understood. It slowly seeps into every aspect of life, chipping away one option for improvement after the other, until the person is rendered truly powerless.
One project, the Dweller Driven Upgrading of Roma Settlements, run by the charity HEKS and their Serbian partners EHO, shows a more holistic approach. It helps Roma families upgrade their existing, substandard domiciles, step by step, by themselves.
From initial application to actual construction, the families are in an active position. Once the application is approved, the municipality must supply deeds to the land and provide access to water, electricity and sanitation.
The project’s innovative and intricate structure has a strong emphasis on individual responsibility. The exchange of help, potentially creating dependency and expectation, is carefully considered and provides real incentive for the different stakeholders – Roma families, the surrounding communities and the municipality – to work together.
Last year I documented six families living in these substandard settlements. I focused on their daily lives as well as the progress of their construction.
This story opens up many important questions around modern migration and integration. Will such a collaboration help create new perspectives on “the other”. How much of that barrier, shaped and maintained over generations, can it break down? How can we better distribute our shared but finite resources and services? How much must minorities conform to established social norms for integration to be successful?
In Western Europe we have successfully controlled our environment to make it as non- invasive and non-aggressive as possible. Now we contemplate its beauty and maybe even mourn the loss of the wild, but it is kept at a manageable distance and we engage with it on our terms.
In Serbia that process of controlled environment v. wild environment is at a different stage, at least definitely for people with no means. The environment is still wild, abundant and invasive. Its beauty and power are obvious and with this uncontrollable force comes also a tangible cruelty, a struggle for survival of the weakest creatures. This cruelty is mirrored in the lives of the people I have met.