Romani people in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Muslim Roma in Bosnia (around 1900)
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The Romani people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the largest of the 17 national minority in the country, although—due to the stigma attached to the label—this is often not reflected in statistics and censuses.
According to the 1991 census, there were 8,864 Romani in Bosnia and Herzegovina or 0.2 percent of the population. Yet, the number was probably much higher (10,422 Bosnians stated that Romani was their native language).
The BiH Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees (MHRR) conducted in 2010 a process of registration, recording a total number of 17,000 Roma, deemed partial. The MHRR estimates that there are at least 25,000 to 30,000 Roma resident in BiH, although they acknowledge that up to 39 percent of Roma did not participate in the registration in some districts. According to the Ministry, around 42 percent of the Romani population in BiH is below 19 years old.
The OSCE estimates the whole Romani population in Bosnia and Herzegovina at 40,000–50,000.
A partial survey by the BiH Ombudsman through Roma associations recorded around 50,000 Roma living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, of which 35,000 in the Federation BiH, 3,000 in Republika Srpska, and 2,000–2,500 in the Brčko District—without counting the Roma population in the Sarajevo Canton. Estimates for the whole Roma population living in Bosnia and Herzegovina range between 65,000 and 70,000.
There have been Romani people in Bosnia and Herzegovina for more than 600 years. Roma are deemed to have arrived in the territory of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina by the 14th–15th centuries, and to have adopted Islam as the majority confession during the times of Ottoman rule (15th–19th centuries). Already then, Roma were stigmatised and had to live in settlements outside city boundaries.
Rousseau, the French consul in Bosnia and Herzegovina, estimated in 1866 a number of 9,965 or 1.1 percent of the population were Romani. Johann Roskiewicz estimated in 1867 the number of the "Gypsies" in Bosnia at 9,000 (1.2 percent) and in Herzegovina at 2,500 (1.1 percent), resulting a total of 11,500 Romani.
Attitudes towards Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina hardened during the Austro-Hungarian forty-years rule (1878–1918), also due to rumours that Roma lived off immoral earnings. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica mentions 18,000 Romani in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1.6 percent).
The worst period for Bosnian Roma came with World War Two, when Bosnia and Herzegovina was included in the Nazi-aligned Independent State of Croatia (NDH). It is estimated that 28,000 Roma perished in the conflict, in concentration and extermination camps such as Jasenovac.
In Socialist Jugoslavia, the situation of Roma improved considerable, as they became officially recognised as a “national minority”, and came to enjoy a large degree of security and welfare.
During the war in Bosnia of 1992–1995, the Roma suffered mistreatment by all conflict parties, being often considered as agents of the enemy, or forcefully conscripted. Over 30,000 Bosnian Roma were expelled based on ethnic cleansing. Roma were subject to inhumane conditions in concentration camps and entire communities were destroyed.
The largest number of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina live in the Tuzla Canton (15,000–17,000), of which a sizeable proportion in the municipality of Tuzla (6,000–6,500), as well as in Živinice (3,500), Lukavac (2,540). The Sarajevo Canton hosts around 7,000 Roma families, mostly in the municipality of Novi Grad (FBiH) (1,200–1,500 families). The Zenica-Doboj Canton hosts between 7,700 to 8,200 Roma, of which 2,000–2,500 in the Zenica Municipality, 2,160 in Kakanj, 2,800 in Visoko. 2,000–2,500 Roma live in the Central Bosnia Canton, mostly in Donji Vakuf (500–550), Vitez (550) and Travnik (450). In the Una-Sana Canton there are between 2,000–2,200 Roma, of which 700 in the Bihać Municipality. In the territory of Herzegovina-Neretva Canton there are between 2,200–2,700 Roma, of which 450 in Konjic and 250 in Mostar. 2,000–2,500 Roma live in the Brčko District. In Republika Srpska live around 3,000–11,000 Roma, most of which in Gradiška (1,000), Bijeljina (541), Banja Luka (300), Prnjavor (200), Derventa (120).
Associations and representatives
84 associations of Roma are registered in BiH, of which 64 are in FBiH (with 25 active ones), 18 in RS and two in the Brčko District (one active). In the RS, 11 associations over 18 are members of the Roma Union (Savez Roma). Roma associations mostly operate at municipality level.
Notable Bosnian Roma
- Dervo Sejdić, vice president of NGO Kali Sara Roma Information Center
- Čika Mišo, Bosnia's last shoeshiner
- Emra Tahirović, footballer