Interview with Jasmina Drmaku about the position of secondary raw material collectors in Novi Sad

The following text represents an interview taken from the portal with Jasmina Drmaku,  the activist of the  Roma Students Association from Novi Sad and the Serbian Roma Forum, regarding the situation of secondary raw material collectors in Novi Sad.

Photo: Bajsologija / Facebook

“The Roma Students Association is implementing activities in several Roma colonies in Novi Sad, where you also met with numerous collectors of secondary raw materials   who live in these settlements. How do the measures implemented by PUC Čistoća Novi Sad, in cooperation with the communal police and private security companies, endanger the minority?

The Roma Students Association has opened the Center for the Roma community in three Roma settlements in Novi Sad, where they provide free legal aid and psychosocial support. The members of the Center for the Roma community first came to us at the end of June, because they started to receive massive fines by the communal police due to the collecting of recyclable materials from waste containers. Since then The Roma Students Association has been trying to solve this problem. Together with the lawyer of the Center for the Roma community Jelena Krivokapic,  and  the president the Roma Students Association Nenad Vladisavljev,  we started to investigate what was going on, while trying to pacify the collectors, because they wanted to protest in front of the townhouse during Exit festival, and at the same time, we initiated the meeting with the mayor of Novi Sad.

What we’ve  found out from our research,  is that companies working for private  securities “Ippon Security” and “G4S”,  which are in charge of guarding and securing waste containers according to the Law on Private Security, have the right to carry out verification of the identity of persons entering the territory under their protection (in this  case – the containers). If that person refuses to agree to the verification of his identity, the security officers can only keep him away from the protected area, which implies that the security has no authority to write the fines nor to give them to collectors. This leads us to the conclusion that the fines are determined by the communal police who come after being called by the security and then they proceed to do “their” job.  What is very concerning is that collectors who have received penalties for the removal of communal  waste from containers, need to pay the fines ranging from 5 000 to 8 000 dinars, and the punishment for failing to pay is five  to eight  days in prison, depending on the length of the sentence.

What are the reactions of collectors in Novi Sad, do they agree to pay the fines? Will this repressive mechanism deter them from further collection of secondary raw materials from communal containers?

In the beginning, their reactions were very explosive. They addressed the Center for Roma community for logistical support in order to organize the protest during the Exit festival. However, we managed to calm them down and they agreed to elect their representative who will go to the meeting with the mayor. The meeting was held on Wednesday 18th October, and the outcome is favourable, and our collectors have given up on protesting for now, although they have repeated often that they are willing to do so because this entire matter revolves around the struggle to survive. We are aware that, if they are forced to fight for their rights and livelihoods on streets, it would further raise tensions and create a much bigger social problem.

In a statement published after the meeting, in the media of Novi Sad, it was not specified what the definite conclusions were, but it was emphasized “the importance of social inclusion of Roma in Novi Sad as one of the most important issues in the development of the whole society,” and new meetings are announced, in order to realize the proposal for improving the position of the Roma people. How do you see the solution to the problem of the collectors of secondary raw material in Novi Sad?

The meeting with the mayor of Novi Sad was attended by a representative of the collector from the Roma settlement VelikiRit and Bangladeš, Abdula Greku, the president of the Roma Students Association NenadVladisavljev, as well as the member of parliament, APV Jelena Jovanovic. In our opinion, the meeting went very well, because all the participants agreed that it was a common interest to find a solution that would be acceptable to everyone. We all agreed that it  is a much bigger problem to throw garbage all around the containers and to damage them, and we unanimously agreed that those who do this should be fined. What the Roma Students Association proposes  is to make a decision, within the city’s territory, which will enable the collectors to gather the trash from the waste containers. We still do not know how this will be implemented. The only thing left to do is to propose different mechanisms and choose the best one, in accordance with the city authorities.

What, in your opinion, is an alternative solution to the employment of unofficial  collectors of recyclables? Due to ethnic prejudices, to what extent is the realization of the right to work rendered difficult for the Roma minority? The right which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia?

Unemployment is generally a very big problem of the Republic of Serbia. This problem is even greater when it comes to members of the Roma nationality. No longer can the excuse for unemployment be the lack of young and educated Roma because there are those members of the minority who do complete university studies. Each year, five to seven Roma students graduate and despite this fact, they remain unemployed for longer periods of time. There is still no mechanism for affirmative action for employment of young and educated Roma, which could “compel” the majority of population to accept Roma as educated, neat, clean people, and colleagues who are equal to them.

As for the collectors of secondary raw materials, they also face a big problem. However, what we hope for in the near future is to come up with a way to provide legitimate work for collectors so they can earn enough for a normal life. “