15 01 07

Erased of Slovenia - European problem

Josip Rotar

The story of erased is the story of ex-Yugoslav republic citizens that migrated to Slovenia in the nineteen-sixties, seventies and eighties. Although the reasons for migrations were diverse, the most obvious one was, of course, the employment. But just after Slovenian independence in 1992 The Ministry of Internal literally erased 18.305 people from the register of permanent citizenship holders. Until then, all permanent residents shared equal rights, for precedent Yugoslavian citizenship granted them civil as well as political rights. In the process of forming new, independent country, those persons who did not apply for Slovene citizenship up to a certain date or whose applications had previously been refused, were secretly erased from the register of permanent residency holders in Republic of Slovenia.

Suddenly becoming Erased citizens, many people stayed left without any rights at all, may they be economical, social, political, human or the rights that concerned residence permit, even if in their own homes. Some of them were therefore forced to migrate to other European countries (Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, Austria, as well as to the republics of former Yugoslavia). Some of those who stayed in Slovenia had to pretend that they were refugees or even asylum-seekers, even though they used to be fully entitled to equal social status up to when the erasure happened. Many of these people became 'illegal', several lost their job or their pension. There were some cases of suicide or death because of insufficient medical care, conditioned by poverty. Those who were Erased did not know for a long time that injustice did not only happen to them, but to a very large number of people, to thousands of them. The truth became obvious after many years. The Erased gradually became aware there is not just a few of them, they started contacting and getting to know each other; they compared and analysed their individual experiences and even appeared in public and media. Political and legal battle for retribution of fundamental social rights that were taken away from them against all constitutional laws in 1992, had finally begun. The Erased activists started to organize public protests in Slovenia as well as joined the demonstrations for migrant's rights in Italy. They organized public lectures, round tables, exhibitions and public tribunes. They discussed their problems with ambassadors of the republics of former Yugoslavia and started to meet up with representatives of European parliament.  

After long preparations of organizational as well as logistic nature, the group of Erased that was supported by activists from various movements, Slovenian as well as Italian, French and German, established the project named European Caravan of Erased and set off to Brussels via Trieste, Monfalcone and Paris. Already in Trieste, the Caravan was warmly received by regional representatives who openly supported their initiatives at solving the problem that, by then, achieved larger, European dimensions. The representatives promised they would support acceptance of the resolution on the level of provincial parliament; the resolution would oblige Slovene government to solve the problem of the Erased until 2008, when the country would take over the presidency of EU. In Paris the Caravan was well received as well. Inside of the French parliament, the Erased together with Sans Papiers organized press conference. Members of the French parliament, especially the socialists, members of the green party, Communist party of France and UPM party considered the stories of the Erased, pointing out the convergence criteria that are obligatory for every new member of EU. These criteria also involve the estimation of human rights.

»While Slovenia entered EU, the fact that this country erased one percent of its residents, had been widely neglected. Slovenia will have to solve the problem before taking over the EU chairmanship in 2008,« members of the French parliament agreed. They promised to contact French president Jacques Chirac about the matter, stimulating him to help solving it. On November 29th the Caravan arrived to European parliament in Brussels. The Erased, supported by the representatives of left coalition (GUE/NGL), pointed to the European dimensions of their problem. The problem of Erased must be solved before Slovenia takes over the EU chairmanship in 2008, for it cannot be accepted the country to take such position and, at the same time, violates human rights. The Caravan's visit concluded with the visit at European commissioner for jurisdiction, freedom and safety Franco Frattini. He promised to consider the issue carefully and response accordingly. One week later Frattini met Dragutin Mate, Slovene Minister of internal, but the media considered exclusively their discussion of successful implementation of Schengen. The epilogue of the meeting of Erased with Frattini hence still remains unknown. Considering Frattini's interest in EU's border regime, it is quite doubtful he would pay much of his attention trying to discuss the Erased issues with representatives of Slovene government. It seems that the government still does not acknowledge the Erasure, although the Constitutional court stated illegitimacy of Erasure already in 1999 and again in 2003. Current government, guided by the Prime Minister Janez Jan_a, that won the elections in 2004, is well-known by spreading hate speech and pointing it to stigmatised groups of Roma people, Erased citizens, Muslims, gays and lesbians. It was not really a hard task to create a xenophobic atmosphere, considering the overflow of turbofolk culture, which strongly appeared in about same time. Relatively high percentage of public opinion’s voices still believes that the Erased are the enemies of the nation as well as the state, accusing them of political speculation.  

In spite of these obvious obstacles, the Erased opened some important questions and discussions that successfully put persistency of democratic processes in Europe to the test. Do the human rights, promoted by governmental institutions, also exist outside the declarative level? Are there mechanisms within European institutions that could be used to sanction the state that would not consider criteria of human rights? As it is obvious from the media, Slovenian government claims to take advantage of its EU's chairmanship and promote itself in best possible way. Such non-professional and even egoistic ambitions can pose a big problem for the EU itself, for other EU members could potentially follow Slovenia's poor example and refuse to take full responsibility on the field of social rights.  

The Erasure is a European problem, for there is a lot of Erased citizens in other European places as well. Such example can be the case of several Roma people in Italy, who were born and raised in Italy, but are still denied of full citizenship. Similar is happening to descendants of migrants from Algiers in France. It seems that transnational European culture of social rights, solidarity and respectful attitude towards cultural differences is getting changes by politics of arresting and deportating 'migrants', and that does not necessarily exclude those, who are born in Europe or at least live here for a very long time. If we want Europe to remember its own migratory past and use this experience in the present, for incorporation, inclination and solidarity with all people, the communities of socially and politically excluded will have to start developing self-defensive mechanisms that would transform persecuted minorities into active majorities. These groups' and communities' movements do have to be aware of how governmental institutions work and what the first can expect from the latter. If they become equipped with knowledge, law, communication and media, they are able to influence the mechanisms of the institutions as well. Successful political experiment for the future benefit of European identity would define political force, able to activate certain processes and oblige a certain state, institution or individual to consider the criteria of human rights.

Josip Rotar