Minorities across the Balkans

The Roma
A memorial to the Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis opened in Berlin in 2012 (public source)

A memorial to the Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis opened in Berlin in 2012.  (Voice of America)

The origins of the Romany people, often referred to as Roma or Gypsies, remain a subject of speculation. There is a general consensus that these people, who practice various religions, have ties to a migrant movement from India to Europe during the Middle Ages. Their numbers are disputed, as they have been historically subjected to persecution by European states. Hitler's Nazi regime killed over half a million Gypsies between 1941 and 1945: since the end of the Cold War, they have been targets of racist attacks and discrimination in many places in Europe, notably in Romania and Hungary, where they are the most numerous and visible minority.

Roma economically and politically marginalized
More than half of the Roma communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina still live in informal settlements. (OSCE

More than half of the Roma communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina still live in informal settlements. (OSCE)

Official statistics put the total number of Roma in the Balkans at around 200,000, 70% of which are in Serbia. Advocacy NGOs claim a more realistic figure is around 800,000, with around 50% in Serbia, 30% in Macedonia, 10% in Albania, and smaller numbers in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

What is generally agreed is that they have been economically and politically marginalized. In Serbia and Macedonia, where they are most numerous, they have formed political parties, and appear to enjoy better relations with the Slavic majority than with the large Albanian minorities. Most of the Roma from Kosovo left in the wake of the war; Roma were alleged by Albanians to have colluded with Serbs during the conflict.

Ambassador Janez Lenarčič (r), the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, talking with a Brnješ/Bërnjesh resident during a visit to the Roma settlement to inspect the new waste-water collector built there with the aid of a grant from the Best Practices for Roma Integration project, 5 September 3013. (OSCE/Tomislav Georgiev)

Ambassador Janez Lenarčič (r), the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, talking with a Brnješ/Bërnjesh (Kosovo) resident during a visit to the Roma settlement to inspect the new waste-water collector built there with the aid of a grant from the Best Practices for Roma Integration project, 5 September 3013. (OSCE/Tomislav Georgiev)

Humanitarian organizations are working to improve educational and health services, but Roma nonetheless continue to face significant challenges.  An example of programs designed to assist Roma integration and access to public services is the Best Practices for Roma Integration Project, funded by the European Commission and implemented by OSCE field missions and ODIHR in the western Balkans.