The European Roma Rights Centre together with representatives of the Roma community from Bitola, inhabitants of the Romani settlement Bair, and our local partners: Roma Civic Parliament (Bitola), ROMA SOS (Prilep), Bairska Svetlina (Bitola), the Helsinki Committee of the Republic of Macedonia, and Association Romano Avazi (Tetovo), strongly condemn the appearance of swastikas and graffiti calling for “Death to Gypsies” on the doors and walls of the primary school ‘Georgi Sugarev’ in Bitola. The racist graffiti which appeared few days ago is hate speech aiming to incite violence against the Roma community – a criminal offense under the legal provisions of the Macedonian Criminal Code. Such graffiti on the walls of a primary school is particularly troubling given the fact that most of the students enrolled in this school are of Romani ethnic origin (about 80%).
The ERRC is pleased to announce that the principal of the elementary school ‘Georgi Sugarev’ was contacted and has since undertaken measures to remove the aforementioned graffiti from the doors and walls of the school. However, in order to prevent such situations from happening in the future, supervision around the school must be increased to guarantee the safety of the Romani children. Increased vigilance would also provide the opportunity to identify the perpetrators of these or other similar illegal activities were they to occur. We further recommend that extra classes are held on discrimination, Roma, and anti-fascism, with the aim to educate racists before they carry out actions which damage the school and Romani community.
On Saturday 21 January, the case was reported to the police in Bitola and on Monday 23 January, a criminal complaint was prepared and signed by the residents of the local Romani settlement- Bair, against an unknown perpetrator, and lodged with the Public Prosecution Service in Bitola. In drawing racist graffiti on a majority-Roma primary school, the offender committed “Incitement of hatred, discord or intolerance on national, religious and other discriminatory basis” prescribed under Article 319 , “Racial and other discrimination” under Article 417 as well as “Endangerment of safety” under Article 144. The unknown perpetrator has, in addition to causing emotional and psychological pain for the Romani community, also put the security of many people in danger with this attempt to fuel violence between different communities in Macedonian society.
The ERRC congratulates the Roma in the community for asserting their rights and standing up to hatred and racism. We cannot allow those who spread and promote hate speech in public spaces to act with impunity. In letting these actions go unpunished, authorities would send a message that such acts will be tolerated by society. This would only embolden racists further and lead to a possible escalation in the severity of hate crimes. We therefore call on the relevant state institutions, the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to take urgent measures against this particularly dangerous example of hate speech against Romani children make certain that a strong, clear message is sent: Hate speech against Roma is illegal, and will not be normalized, condoned or left unpunished in the Republic of Macedonia.