Uprooted Community

Roma's life in Belgrade

Belgrade, the geographic center of the Balkans, is the crossroads at which many civilizations crossed their ways since ancient times. Therefore, it cannot be surprising that the Roma wheel stopped there too. In search of a better life, Roma communities settled in illegal settlements spread out all over the city, but mostly at river banks, close to downtown, where their main source of income, secondary raw materials, was available. Wanted nowhere and neglected everywhere, Roma people face many obstacles in their lives. It’s almost impossible for them to climb the social ladder – the reason why most of them remain captured in the vicious circle of poverty. Being exposed to cultural isolation they developed distrust towards other people. Hence, it’s very hard to enter their lives, but we can mostly observe them from distance. While numerous passers-by shy away from such settlements, for a small number of people, like myself, they provide a challenge of discovering how different cultures live.

Those who enter such settlements initially face huge distrust. However, if one comes in good faith and shows genuine interest for their lives, doors begin to open and suddenly that person, once an unwanted stranger, becomes a welcome guest in their homes. They live in cardboard houses that are very close to each other, often without basic hygiene conditions, such as toilets, or running water. However, it’s easy to notice that their homes are clean, particularly having in mind difficult conditions they live in. Women take credit for that, while men usually spend their days searching for secondary raw materials which they sell cheaply based on their weight.

In these settlement, many children do not attend school, since they are considered more useful to their parents if they beg. However, I was mostly fascinated by children ability to enjoy everyday life, despite challenging living conditions. This positive spirit, along with the fact that for Roma people their children are at the center of their universe, made me focus my photographic coverage on the youngest residents of these settlements.

The most famous Roma settlement that I covered was ‘’Gazela’’, named after the bridge which connects old and new parts of Belgrade. In this unhygienic settlement, over 900 people lived in cardboard shacks. Many citizens considered it a shame of the Serbian capital, particularly due to the fact that it had been attracting attention both of foreigners who were on their way to the city center from the airport, and transiting passengers who were driving through Serbia to Greece or Turkey. Since the settlement brought bad publicity to the Serbian capital, the Government decided to destroy it, move the residents to outskirts and settle them in small and sterile metal containers. Despite the Roma community hesitation and resistance, they were forcefully removed at the end of August 2009 which ended their lives in houses that are characteristic for their culture – colorful and made of different materials. An additional reason for their dissatisfaction was that sources of secondary raw materials had become more distant. However, at the same time, they gained hope for the future, since many of their children have finally started going to school and had been given a chance for better life.

Children playing with a sheep, several days before Djurdjevdan (St George day) - Orthodox Christian holiday. In the background is the new building site that threatens to undermine ‘’Belville’’ Roma shanty town.
Pregnant woman and her daughter before the eviction. Blok 61 settlement in New Belgrade.
Young couple with a baby in their one-room home made of cardboard. Gazella settlement.
Two Roma babies bundled up in a traditional way at their home in Mali Leskovac, Karaburma settlement.
Roma children playing on the carpet at their home in Mali Leskovac, Karaburma settlement.
A girl dancing to traditional Roma music at neighbour's home. Belville settlement in New Belgrade.
Children playing in the pool which was found broken next to trash, and then repaired by their father. Gazella settlement.
Early morning in Gazella, the biggest shanty town in Belgrade. The settlement lacks water and canalisation while they have electricity only in the night, since the residents illegally connected their homes to a city light pole.
Mother breastfeeding her baby next to her older child at their home in New Belgrade, Belville settlement.
Roma girl in the cradle, settlement in the Cukarica wood, at Belgrade outskirts.
Lonely boy at his one-room home just before the eviction of Roma settlement on New Belgrade.
A barefoot girl walks alone in the Belvile settlement on New Belgrade.
Man whose house was burnt by fire. Fires are frequent in such shanty settlements, since their residents, having no electricity, burn various combustible. materials in order to make meals or warm themselves up.
Main income comes from collecting secondary raw materials, cardboard and metals.
An older couple at their home in Mali Leskovac, Karaburma settlement, Belgrade.
Roma girls celebrating Djurdjevdan (St. Georgie Day). Gazella settlement, under the same name bridge.
On 6th of May, Roma people celebrate Djurdjevdan (St. Georgie day) when they traditionally slaughter sheep and celebrate all day with family and friends. Karaburma settlement.
Children returning from the nearby Sava river bank where they bath and wash their clothes.
Roma belongings packed before moving to the outskirts of the city. Gazella settlement, August, 2009.
Remnants of Roma houses in the Gazella settlement demolished by bulldozers.
Sheep in the car ready to be sold for Djurdjevdan celebration (St George Day), the Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday that Roma also celebrate. Roma drive cars in such condition since they don’t have enough money to pay every year a costly registration. fee. Belgrade suburb, Mirijevo.
Roma belongings at their new settlement in Mirijevo.
Resettled Roma families in the Belgrade suburb of Rakovica.
At the outskirt of the city, Roma girls playing at their new settlement in Rakovica.
Metal containers - new home for resettled Roma in Rakovica settlement.
Room interior in a metal container, a new home for Roma. Most of the families are given one room containers, while only a few with very large families have right on two connected containers.
A view on the new Roma metal houses in the Mirijevo settlement, Belgrade suburb.
Woman collecting flowers nearby her new home in the Belgrade outskirts of Mirijevo.
Roma teenagers at night in their new settlement in Mirijevo.