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The failure of the government to seriously address violence directed against ethnic, national and religious minorities in Serbia risks creating a climate of impunity. Unless the low-level violence in Serbia is curbed now, there is a real risk that the attacks will escalate, which in turn will lead to a further deterioration in inter-ethnic relations and risk the dwindling of long-established ethnic minority communities in Serbia.

As a Roma leader in Novi Sad told Human Rights Watch, following the violence against Roma in March 2004:

If there are no punishments, offenders will not hesitate to do the same thing again. We told the city authorities, if this happens again, all of us will march to the border and demand resettlement in some other country.210

Even the Ruthenians in Djurdjevo, where the ultra-nationalistic incidents in February and April were much more benign than those in Novi Sad against Roma, “began to consider moving out of the village. The atmosphere resembled that of the wartime years.”211 An Albanian pastry shop owner in Novi Sad, speaking under condition of anonymity because of concerns for his safety, told Human Rights Watch that, since the March violence, windows on his store have been smashed on dozens of occasions. “I don’t know whom to turn to, who to ask for help and protection,” he said.212 Another Albanian, whose bakery was attacked in March 2004, had closed his business when Human Rights Watch re-visited the location in January 2005.213

While the risks of inaction are great, the remedy is straightforward. It must begin with the government of Serbia taking seriously the rise of incidents targeting ethnic, national and religious minorities, speaking out against such crimes robustly, and ensuring that prosecutors and the courts hold accountable those responsible to the fullest extent of the law. Human Rights Watch also considers that legislation incorporating hate crime provisions into the Serbian criminal code could provide an effective mechanism to signal to perpetrators, victims and society as a whole that violence and hatred against minorities will not be tolerated, and that the Serbian authorities are committed to its eradication.

[210] Human Rights Watch interview with R.O., deputy president of the Association of Roma in Veliki rit, Novi Sad, July 19, 2004.

[211] Human Rights Watch interview with Miroslav Cakan, former president of the local community [mesna zajednica], now director of the Ruthenian Cultural Home, Djurdjevo, July 21, 2004.

[212] Human Rights Watch interview, Novi Sad, January 28, 2005.

[213] The bakery was located in Dusana Vasiljeva St. On the night of March 20/21, 2004, unknown perpetrators threw a Molotov cocktail into the bakery.

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