IPS Blog

Erdogan Goes All Robert Moses on Istanbul

turkish protestorsIn the New York Times, Tim Arango reports from Istanbul

“Across this vast city, a capital for three former empires, cranes dangle over construction sites, tin walls barricade old slums, and skyscrapers outclimb the mosque minarets that have dominated the skyline for centuries — all a vanguard for more audacious projects already in the works.

“For many Turks, though, the development is not so much progress as a reflection of growing autocratic ambitions by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.”

Demonstrations in which construction equipment has been attacked were spurred by

A government plan to convert Taksim Square, historically a place of public gathering, into a replica Ottoman-era army barracks and shopping mall — what [a] historian, called “a Las Vegas of Ottoman splendor”. … But there are many other contentious projects that have drawn public outrage.

Arango, with an insightfulness a cut above the usual Times article, reports:

The swiftly changing physical landscape of Istanbul symbolizes the competing themes that undergird modern Turkey — Islam versus secularism, rural versus urban. They highlight a booming economy and a self-confidence expressed by the religiously conservative ruling elite.

He then writes of Dogan Kuban, who he calls “perhaps Istanbul’s foremost urban historian.”

He criticized the government for ignoring the country’s pre-Islamic history by not protecting certain archaeological sites and structures, an issue he cast as highlighting Turkey’s turn away from Western culture under Mr. Erdogan’s rule.

Erdogan’s behavior is reminiscent of Robert Moses, New York City’s “master builder,” who, with little or no input from legislatures, carried out development and infrastructure projects that often impacted aversely on neighborhoods.

Would that Americans rose up against an autocratic executive branch. Would that we Americans stood in the way of rampaging development — not to mention general tackiness — like the Turks have.

Syrian Rebels Doing Best They Can to Alienate Supporters

Syrian rebels-aleppoIt’s bad enough that it’s starting to look like Bashar al-Assad won’t be ousted from Syria anytime soon. What’s worse is that even were the rebels to win, the way they’ve been conducting the war suggests their reign wouldn’t be markedly different from Assad’s. In gaining the upper hand, the heart-eaters have compromised the uprising’s values and jeopardized its success.

No one explains this better than a commentator who goes by the name of Edwin Dark in a piece titled How We Lost the Syrian Revolution. We’re excerpting salient passages in hopes of directing you to Al Monitor to read the piece in its entirety. Dark (a pseudonym) begins:

So what went wrong? Or to be more accurate, where did we go wrong? How did a once inspirational and noble popular uprising calling for freedom and basic human rights degenerate into an orgy of bloodthirsty sectarian violence, with depravity unfit for even animals?

He elaborates (emphasis added).

… what we saw on the ground when the rebel fighters entered Aleppo was a far different reality. … To us, a rebel fighting against tyranny doesn’t commit the same sort of crimes as the regime he’s supposed to be fighting against. He doesn’t loot the homes, businesses and communities of the people he’s supposed to be fighting for. [They] would even kidnap for ransom and execute anyone they pleased. …. They would incessantly shell residential civilian neighborhoods under regime control … their snipers routinely killing in cold blood unsuspecting passersby. … tens of thousands became destitute and homeless in this once bustling, thriving and rich commercial metropolis.

As a former rebel himself, Dark asks “So who was ‘us’”?

… the civil grassroots opposition movement in Aleppo, who for months were organizing peaceful protests and handing out aid at considerable danger and risk to our own lives. “We” truly believed in the higher ideals of social and political change, and tried to. … model ourselves on the civil rights movement of the US in the 1960s, Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, and the teachings of Gandhi: precisely what similar civil movements in other Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt had done before.

In other words, “we mostly came from the educated urban middle class of the city,” while the rebels were

… the underprivileged rural class who … were out for revenge against the perceived injustices of years past. Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance. … Add to that terrible fray, the extremist Islamists and their open association with Al-Qaeda and their horrific plans for the future of our nation, and you can guess what the atmosphere over here felt like: a stifling primordial fear, a mixture of terror and despair.

‘Twas ever thus, the educated element elbowed aside by those driven by revenge rather than replacing tyranny with a just system. Sympathizers are repulsed and the rebellion loses, or it manages to win but reigns like those they drove out.

Six Reasons to Oppose John Kerry’s $4 Billion Plan for the Palestinians

The charade of “generous offers” to the Palestinians.

Secretary of State Kerry, Israeli President Peres, and Palestinian President Abbas.

Secretary of State Kerry, Israeli President Peres, and Palestinian President Abbas.

I often feel I’m in an Orwellian dystopia when I read news headlines involving Palestine or Israel. Here’s one: “John Kerry Reveals $4 Billion Plan To Boost The Economy . . . For The Palestinians.”

As someone who worked on development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for several years, I saw immediately how this would harm Palestinians and peace. This persistently inaccurate portrayal of the situation fools well-meaning Americans into supporting occupation and apartheid.

We can all agree on this: at Sunday’s World Economic Forum in Jordan, Secretary of State Kerry met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Kerry presented a plan (led by Tony Blair) “potentially worth $4 billion” in foreign investment which he said “could expand the Palestinian economy by up to 50 percent in the next three years” and “could also cut unemployment by almost two-thirds.” But Kerry’s caveat was: “[i]t all depends on parallel progress on peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” [Emphasis added.]

Perhaps he meant further conflict would retard economic growth, but it sounds more like political conditions. Whether good or bad, one thing is clear: few details were offered.

The entire transcript of the speech can be found on the State Department’s website, followed by the main points of contention:

A) Most Palestinians won’t benefit!

If past behavior of the US government, particularly USAID, and large international investment agencies is any guide, we can predict the results of such a plan. The $4 billion would not benefit most Palestinians – primarily just expats working at USAID and similar large IGOs, and secondarily a small class of Ramallah-ites.

Indeed, the plan could force Palestinians into a dependent relationship and prevent self-sufficiency. A common complaint of Palestinians is that their people have been “reduced to beggars.” They live in a big cage and know their country’s economy is subject to the whims of foreign donors.

B) The West Bank economy would become further stratified between the north, central, and south, (not to mention against Gaza), which is what Israeli hawks want (to divide and conquer). 

Kerry’s plan would likely favor those in Ramallah, the central West Bank city where nearly all international development organizations’ offices reside.

Within the West Bank economy, some in Ramallah now are doing quite well while those in the north (Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarem) and the south (Hebron and Bethlehem) are really struggling, with unemployment rates in the 20% range. We can expect more of the same from such a plan.

C) “Bigger than Oslo”? Since when is more apartheid a good thing?

Kerry presented this as “a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo.”

That sounds like, “If you liked a plan promising independence in 5 years but delivering apartheid and entrenched occupation over 20 years, you’ll love our next idea!”

The 1993 Oslo Accords laid the groundwork for apartheid. This is clear in the bizarre interim arrangement of governing the West Bank with Areas A, B, and C. Area A districts, the only “fully” under Palestinian control, are considered bantustans: they are non-contiguous, separated by Israeli settlements, military bases and checkpoints, and travel between them or into Israel is severely restricted.

If this $4 billion plan were implemented, it would be like the small disaster of Oslo in that desperate Palestinians would be accepting crumbs from their oppressors in exchange for a deepened system of control over their lives. Abbas is desperate to regain credibility with his own people – and to continue receiving US aid over and under the table in exchange for being a puppet leader.

D) At best, Kerry wants others to continue financing whatever the US helps destroy.

$4B is far less than the amount the US gives Israel annually, of which $3B is military aid, used to destroy farmland, install checkpoints, and other economy-destroying practices.

E) This inherent political manipulation in this plan would subvert the democratic will of the Palestinian people.

USAID has consistently used funds for obvious political manipulation, such as its eagerness to prop up the Fatah party and weaken Hamas by withdrawing funds to the Gaza Strip in 2007 (when Hamas took over) and funneling funds into Abbas’ public works.

Despites Kerry’s promises (“This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance”), history indicates that political conditions will be attached and followed by those seeking more future aid. These interventions usually yield undesirable governance in terms of freedom and peace.

F) Lastly, this plan is clearly disingenuous since the occupation is the problem, not just Palestinians lacking economic opportunity.

A diseased economy is merely a symptom of a military occupation and apartheid regime – this makes Palestinians more miserable but it does not destroy their reason for resisting.

**Don’t Believe the Hype** Even an idealistic 50% increase in Palestinian GDP and alleged lowered unemployment would really only benefit a few, the shameful, the sell-outs!

Lyndi Borne is a media intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Restoring Slovenia’s Erased

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Neza Kogovsek Salamon, head of the Peace Institute of Slovenia

Neza Kogovsek Salamon, head of the Peace Institute of Slovenia

It took two decades, but the Erased finally got their day in court. And the court ruled in their favor.

On June 26, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a lower court ruling that Slovenia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights in its treatment of the roughly 25,000 people stripped of residency in the wake of the country’s independence. The Grand Chamber ruled that, among other things, Slovenia discriminated against former Yugoslav nationals (in comparison to other resident aliens). The ruling also mandated that Slovenia pay compensation to the group that has come to be known as the Erased.

The Erasure took place in 1992. The first organization of the Erased was founded in 2002. And now, after a half dozen years of legal battle, victory was secured in 2012.

Neza Kogovsek Salamon, who heads up the Peace Institute in Slovenia, has been one of the architects of the legal strategy that culminated in Kuric and Others vs. Slovenia, the case that generated the European Court decision.

“It was actually a case that started with 11 applicants, and it started with some activists outside of the Peace Institute,” she told me back in October. “Nothing was happening at the time. The politicians were ignoring the issue, unless they used the issue against the Erased to gather political points. So, it was a very desperate situation for the victims and for the civil society. A group of activists decided that something had to be done, and the only thing that hadn’t been explored yet was the European Court of Human Rights. That’s how they started to gather cases.”

We were talking in the Peace Institute offices, which are located in Metelkova, the former army barracks that activists squatted in the 1990s. In addition to a youth hostel and several nightclubs, Metelkova houses a large collection of NGOs, including the Peace Institute. The alternative culture nurtured at Metelkova provided a good deal of support for the Erased at a time when the Slovenian mainstream was oblivious about the issue.

After the European Court decision, the major issue remaining is compensation: how much, for whom, in what form, over what period of time. Few people in Slovenia, however, expect that the government will ignore the judgment.

“This court is actually the most successful international court on the planet,” Neza Kogovsek Salamon explained to me. “When it comes to success rate, the number of judgments issued, the number of decisions implemented, there is no comparable institution in the world. If the Republic of Slovenia wants to be a democratic state, if it wants to be in the group of other democratic states without having to defend itself all the time, then it simply has to respect the decisions of the highest judicial bodies in Europe.”

In this interview, she guided me through the thorny legal issues, the question of compensation, and the implications of the case for human rights more generally. Below this interview, I’ve also included excerpts from our 2008 conversation.

The Interview

Do you remember where you were and how you felt about the fall of the Berlin wall?

I think I was still in elementary school, so I have no idea. The only thing I remember is the Eurovision songBrandenburger Tor that included the line: “After many long years, a new spring for the Brandenburg Gate.” Which means there are no more walls and was referring to the fall of the Berlin wall. So that’s the only thing I remember about the Berlin Wall.

Why did you decide to go into law? And human rights in particular?

I always felt that I have this sense of justice. I wanted to see justice in the world, and for me law was a natural way to go. Even though, while I was in law school, I saw that law is not always about justice. Very often it’s about a formalistic approach to resolving issues. So when I discovered that some branches of law have more to do with justice, these branches were of course very attractive to me. That’s how I started to work in the field of asylum law, citizenship, migration, human rights, and non-discrimination. These are still the issues that I connect very much with justice. I ended up a lawyer very much because of the sense of justice that I have always been carrying with me. Even my mother would say, for example, that when I was little I was always screaming about some injustice that has taken place.

Do you remember a particular incident when you were a child?

Not really. This is just something that she would say. I don’t remember that. But I’m not surprised that she would say that, because that’s very much me.

How did you get involved in the issue of the Erased?

When I was in the United States, I was very lucky to work as an intern for Human Rights Watch. Since I was from Slovenia, which was a part of former Yugoslavia, and because I spoke the local languages, I was interesting for them — with regard to the war crimes and crimes against humanity that took place after the dissolution. This is the issue I was studying in the United States when I was studying human rights law as well as working at Human Rights Watch.

Of course these are quite difficult issues for a twenty-something person. Then, when I came back, I actually needed a challenge that would be comparable to what I was doing in the United States. The biggest challenge in Slovenia at the time seemed to be the issue of Erased. It was very stigmatized, very politicized. And it was very difficult, on the other hand, for the victims. It’s not of course comparable to war crimes in the sense of the gravity of the crimes, but it’s very much comparable in the sense of the social and political mechanisms that led to these violations. So I immediately saw the parallels between the two issues. And I figured very quickly that this is something that would answer my need for a challenge.

In what year was that?

That was in 2006. I returned to Slovenia at the end of 2004. For a year I was working on non-discrimination issues, which were not difficult enough, I have to say. So this is when I got involved with the issue of the Erased. We started to prepare a project, and we received funding.

You said that anti-discrimination was not a big enough challenge. Why?

There are of course very difficult situations when it comes to anti-discrimination, and some problems are quite serious: for example, when you work on issues concerning the Roma population, or disability, or racism. I’m still working on these issues. But at the same time Slovenia was struggling a lot with issue of the Erased. On the political level, it didn’t compare to non-discrimination issues.

When you were in the United States, doing your studies and working with Human Rights Watch, had you thought about working with the Tribunal and going to The Hague?

It was always a very interesting option. But I just didn’t channel my interest in that direction sufficiently to pursue any opportunities there. At the time that I returned to Slovenia, there was an opportunity waiting for me here already, with the Peace Institute, working on non-discrimination issues. So that’s why I decided that I am going to start here and then see what happens. And then I just continued here, and I’m very happy about that.

When we talked about four and a half years ago, if I remember correctly, there had been a number of cases in front of the European Court. And there was a problematic piece of legislation here in Slovenia that did not include compensation and that raised some question about when citizenship would be retroactive. There were a number of thorny loophole questions. Could you take me through that point to where we are today?

The case that you mentioned is called Kuric and Others vs. Slovenia. It was actually a case that started with 11 applicants, and it started with some activists outside of the Peace Institute. Nothing was happening at the time. The politicians were ignoring the issue, unless they used the issue against the Erased to gather political points. So, it was a very desperate situation for the victims and for the civil society. A group of activists decided that something had to be done, and the only thing that hadn’t been explored yet was the European Court of Human Rights. That’s how they started to gather cases.

They gathered about 50 cases. And they looked for an attorney that would take the case pro bono to the European Court of Human Rights, because the people of course had absolutely no money to pay for an attorney. They looked for an attorney in Slovenia, and nobody wanted to take it. Some of the people said that the case had no chance of succeeding, others said they were scared, still others said they were not interested or they didn’t do pro bono cases. So they were not able to find anybody in Slovenia. They had some connections with Italian activists who found an attorney in Rome to represent them, so that’s how it all started.

The attorney selected 11 of the most difficult cases from these 50 and they took the case to court. About six months ago, the Peace Institute got involved in terms of supporting the case. We offered because we had started a project that enabled us as an institution to start working on this professionally, not just in our free-time, but really focusing on the issue through our capacity as lawyers, researchers, people working with the media, and so on. We actually got involved with the case quite seriously. We filed a third-party intervention to the court, and we were working in the field in Slovenia on the case. Because without being here and doing the analysis, we wouldn’t be able to exhaust the domestic remedies in the country. The Italian lawyer didn’t speak Slovenian so he couldn’t do it by himself. So this is where the Peace Institute started to play a big role.

And this was in…

This was in the beginning of 2007. After that, we worked on the case very seriously for three years. Then, the European Court of Human Rights issued the first decision on the merits, and it found in favor of the applicants. Unfortunately there were only 10 of them left, because one had died. There was another misfortune with the cases, because the court only found in favor of eight applicants. Two of them had already received permanent residence permits at the time, so the court said that this was a sufficient remedy offered to the people by the state. So, only eight of them were still victims in this case, because they still didn’t have any permanent residence issued by the state. It was a win, but it had some serous downsides.

There was a big question about what would happen next. The Slovenian government made it very easy. Both the attorneys and the applicants were undecided whether to appeal the case or not. They decided to appeal only with regard to the two who were left out. The Slovenian government, however, appealed everything. The government was not happy with the verdict, even though it was actually quite good for the government. Even though the court found in favor of the applicants, it decided that returning a permanent residence to the people is sufficient, without any compensation. This actually doesn’t cost very much, when you look at it from the point of view of the government. But this was a very bad outcome for the applicants, and for the community of the Erased in general. The Slovenian government didn’t really see it that way.

A year after that, in 2011, there was a public hearing. Of course the Court held public hearings all the time. But for the Erased people, of course, it was a key event. Our project made sure that they went to Strasbourg to attend the hearing, so that the judges could actually see the people about whom they are deciding. When you see the applicants, you can see their suffering, what they have been through in the last 20 years, on their faces. So it was quite important for us that this is not just an abstract legal issue for the judges but that it actually has a very serious impact on the victims of the violation.

That was quite an event, you can imagine. Some of the applicants, they were getting outside of the country for the first time in 20 years because they simply had no documents before that. We even asked the court to give them special permission if the police would stop their bus and they could show these documents of the European Court of Human Rights saying that they are going to attend the hearings. This was quite an emotionally strong period for the applicants and for the whole team.

Finally, in 2012, the grand chamber issued the second judgment, which was great for the Erased in most aspects. Six of the remaining eight applicants were granted compensation. In the meantime these six people had also received permanent residence from the government. So the key question was whether the grand chamber was going to consider the giving back of permanent residence to be a sufficient remedy. If they said yes, then the whole case would be lost. There were only two people that didn’t get permanent residence, and this is because they didn’t apply in time. One of them applied later, but one didn’t apply at all. They said, “We want the state to give it back to us without applying.”

But the court said that these six people who had already received permanent residence are still victims, because this is not sufficient. It only stops the violations from continuing, but it doesn’t really remedy anything from the past. For the past there has to be compensation—this was the key message of the European Court of Human Rights. The six applicants got 20,000 Euros each for non-pecuniary damages. They are still waiting for pecuniary damages to be determined, which means they will probably get something more. Which again, is probably not so much when you think about the 20 years of suffering. But still it is a very high compensation from the European Court of Human Rights when you look at its case law. It’s not very often that the court grants such a high compensation.

What’s the difference between pecuniary and non-pecuniary?

Non-pecuniary damages actually means compensation for the suffering — the emotional suffering, the physical suffering — caused by this violation. Pecuniary damages actually means material damages: lost incomes, lost future income, the expenses that they had. Because they were left without any kind of legal status. For example, if they had to pay for a doctor, since they were not entitled to free health services. This is still waiting to be decided.

And that depends on the person?

Yes, it’s case by case.

Non-pecuniary, that was one sum for each…?

That was the same sum for the six applicants, which of course does not mean that the same sum would be awarded in any future cases, unless they would be very similar in the circumstances. The principle of equity is actually the main basis on which the European Court decides damages. It approximates the damage but doesn’t really go into details when determining the amount of non-pecuniary damages. So, this was really big benchmark in the whole struggle, because this was the first time that any of the erased people got any kind of monetary compensation for this violation. At the same time, the judgment is quite important because it is also a pilot judgment. Meaning that the court also ordered the Slovenian state to adopt an ad hoc mechanism for compensations to be paid in Slovenia. This means that it doesn’t only have an effect on the six applicants who won in this case, but it also has an effect on all the other Erased people in Slovenia.

There was of course a downside to the judgment. First of all, the two applicants who were already rejected stayed in this position. The grand chamber couldn’t really change, for procedural reasons, the decision of the chamber. Because it does not have the competence to look into the question of who is still a victim and who is not a victim. If the chamber decides that people are no longer victims of a violation, then the grand chamber cannot change that. This was very unfortunate. There was also a very close vote on this among the judges, so there was no agreement among the judges on this issue. Another downside concerns the other applicants who did not apply for permanent residence until 2010, and there was a very close vote by the judges. Nine of the judges felt that they should have applied for permanent residence permit – and that this was an effective domestic remedy — while eight judges said: “but we already said in the judgment that there are no effective remedies in the country, so why would we claim for the two that they have to apply for this? What if they don’t want permanent residence anymore? What if they just want compensation for the suffering? Isn’t that legitimate as well?” So that was a very close vote, nine to eight, but the nine, of course, prevailed. So the two people were rejected for reason of the non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.

This is what happened with the case at the European Court of Human Rights. At the same time, of course, we had some national developments, which didn’t really have much to do with this pending case. There was a change of government here in Slovenia in the meantime. In 2008, a left-wing government came to power. They were a bit more attentive to this issue, and the minister of interior, Katarina Kresal, was actually very much in favor of doing something. She actually said in her first speech to the public, when she was running for the position of the minister, that one of her priorities would be dealing with the issue of Erased people, because it was simply unbearable, from the point of view of the rule of law, to have a constitutional court decision from 2003 that had not been implemented yet. She said that she would immediately do something about that. When she came to power, the ministry of interior started to prepare an amendment to the problematic law from 1999. When this law was passed in 2010, the government enabled a bigger group of erased people to get their status back. Not all of them, because there were still quite strict conditions that a person had to meet to get the status back. The number of people who managed this is quite low, so civil society, including the Peace Institute and including me, is still not very happy with the law. But still the window of opportunity opened up a bit more.

The main problem is the deadline to apply for legal status, which is going to expire next year. Some people are only now getting information about this possibility, and we believe that some people will get the information only after the expiration of this deadline. So, they will never be able to get back permanent residence according to the more favorable conditions that are in place for the Erased. They will only be able to get it back under the general rules of migration law in Slovenia. So we think that this deadline should be extended.

The other problem is, without going into too much detail, that there are still very strict conditions that have to be fulfilled. You have to prove that you tried to return, and it’s very difficult to try to prove that if, for example, you only made phone calls. How can you prove that you made a phone call on September 1, 2007? It’s completely impossible. So there are some very difficult conditions like that, and this is proven by the rejection rate of these applications filed by the Erased people, which is quite high.

The Slovenian government has no intention to appeal this latest decision of the European court? Does it have that option?

It doesn’t have any other option to appeal. This is the final, final decision. The only thing they can do is to implement the decision. They have to explain how they implemented the decision to the committee of ministers, which is the body supervising the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights decisions in the Council of Europe. The European Court has no more powers to execute the decisions. It is up to the government, and the government has to explain to the committee of ministers. The committee of ministers then reviews the measures proposed by the government, and then it issues an opinion on whether this is sufficient or not.

But in some cases the European Court makes decisions and governments simply don’t implement the decision because the court, as you said, doesn’t have any actual leverage other than public opinion. When I said to one of my Slovenian interviewees, “The Slovenian government could just ignore this decision too,” this person said, “The Slovenian government would never do that!” I said, “Really? I’m actually quite surprised and happy to hear that.” And that’s your opinion as well?

Well, it does happen of course. There are a number of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights that haven’t been implemented, as we all know. There is a very well known one in the United Kingdom about prisoners deprived of the right to vote. There was a decision in the European Court of Human Rights, and the UK government got very angry and simply refused to implement it. So it does happen, as it does happen as well with the Slovenian Constitutional Court decisions. It was a very similar situation with the 2003 decision, and it took seven years for the government to implement it.

This is very much a decision of the government: what kind of government and what kind of state the Republic of Slovenia wants to be. Is it going to be a state that will respect the most important rule-of-law institutions, not just in Slovenia, but on the European level, and this goes particularly for the European Court of Human Rights? This court is actually the most successful international court on the planet. When it comes to success rate, the number of judgments issued, the number of decisions implemented, there is no comparable institution in the world. If the Republic of Slovenia wants to be a democratic state, if it wants to be in the group of other democratic states without having to defend itself all the time, then it simply has to respect the decisions of the highest judicial bodies in Europe. Otherwise, in this political process, it’s going to have a lot of explaining to do. And it already has had a lot of explaining to do with the issue of the Erased, which was completely unnecessary. It could have resolved the issue 10 years ago. I would be very surprised if the government chose the path that would make it still have a lot of explaining to do.

I would personally advise the government to resolve the problem, because otherwise it is just going to be hanging there. People are not going to just die off so soon. There are lots of young Erased people who can call attention to this issue for the next 50 years, and I’m not very sure if we all – not just civil society, but the government too – have the resources and the energy to deal with this. Also, public opinion here has changed a lot. There are lots of people who didn’t understand before but who now understand, after the European Court of Human Rights judgment.

Was there any significant political voice that called for ignoring the European court decision?

The word “ignore” wasn’t used. There were some statements that were not very flattering and that pointed to the direction of ignoring. But this word was not used. The statements were made in terms of, for example, “Slovenia just simply doesn’t have the money to pay these compensations.” This was the statement of the prime minister. After that he didn’t issue these statements anymore. I would say the politicians thought twice and realized that this is not a statement to be made in democratic Europe. Also, the first six compensations were paid on time, within the three-month deadline set by the court. Each country that is a member of the Council of Europe and that has granted competence to the European Court of Human Rights to review complaints has put money aside in reserve for compensations to be paid because of the judgments of the court. Slovenia has done the same.

You mean the 20,000 Euro non-pecuniary judgment?

Yes, for the six applicants. Meaning that 120,000 Euros was already paid. Another statement was given by the current minister of interior, who said something like, “Some of the Erased people do not deserve this, so the experts will decide who will get compensation and who will not.” So there was still some relativism introduced into the issue, which we have been hearing for the last 20 years. But after some time these kinds of statements stopped.

Now everything points in the direction that a law will be prepared, in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights judgment. There was just recently a working group appointed to prepare this law. The court gave Slovenia one year to prepare this ad hoc compensation committee. Of course the question remains: “What kind of scheme will they propose? What kind of conditions will be again imposed on the people?” Because there will definitely be some conditions. The Slovenian government will definitely try to limit the number of people eligible for such compensation and limit the amount of compensation as much as possible. If the compensation paid, or proposed, will be very low, they will again have some explaining to do.

And do you have any recommendations at this point about how compensation can be calculated?

There were some measures in the past, passed by the Slovenian government, on the issue of remedying human rights violations. These laws concerned remedying injustices that took place at the time of the Second World War. This is a starting point that can be used for the issue of the Erased as well.

Compensation would definitely have to be paid for the erasure as such, and for the suffering that the people have experienced. There is definitely a difference between those who managed to regulate their status very soon – some people managed that after a few months or a few years — and those who couldn’t do it for 15-20 years. There is also a way to calculate material damages. For example, if because of the erasure, the Erased people weren’t able to keep their permanent residence all this time, which is something that should have taken place. If they kept a permanent residence permit, they would be at least entitled to social assistance from the state. This is the minimum income that anybody with permanent residence in Slovenia is entitled to.

There are also other possibilities that can be explored, because we are all aware of the financial situation of Slovenia. There are not endless opportunities for compensation. There are also many proposals on the table of remedies that are not necessarily expressed in money. For example, the state has a number of empty apartments. If there is a family who would like to return but has nowhere to return to, the family could use this apartment for a year until they managed to integrate a little bit better and support themselves. There is also a scheme of scholarships already in place in Slovenia. If there is a child born to an Erased person, there could be additional points awarded to this child when he is competing for the scholarship. A similar priority could be given to a person who today has citizenship and is already eligible for non-profit apartments: an additional 100 points could be given to the Erased people and maybe they could get an apartment this way. So there are a number of additional ways to address this compensation without really causing additional financial burden to the state.

Part of your project was to do a lot of interviews with the Erased, and I’m curious, were you able to do interviews with people outside of Slovenia as wel

Yes, some interviews were made both in Slovenia with the people who were absent for a very long time and also outside of Slovenia with people who are still absent. So we know quite well what happened to the people who, for example, were deported, who could never return, and what happened to people who left Slovenia temporarily to visit somebody or to go to a funeral or to go on vacation and could never return. Some people thought they would leave temporarily and see what happens, and they could not return. I think we have quite a good insight into what people experienced in these 20 years.

I remember stories of people being deported and getting caught up in the wars that were taking place at that time. Were you able to track down people who had that experience?

Yes, usually when we interview somebody who was been absent for almost 20 years, they have a story like this, of being caught up in a war after being deported.

Do you have a sense of how many people who are not in Slovenia at the moment would like to take advantage of the opportunity to return?

We don’t have the precise statistics. But we do know that from about 25,000 erased people, about 10-11,000 managed to regulate their status in Slovenia, and this number has not increased much since 2009. Also, unfortunately, about 1,300 people died. Which means that about 13,000 of the Erased, more or less, are still outside Slovenia and are still potential applicants for permanent residence permit. Among those 13,000, maybe 250 until now applied for permanent residence permit since 2010, when the amendments to the old act were introduced. So, 250 out of a potential 13,000 is a very low number. So what we figured out when we were talking to the people is that first of all, the information about this possibility simply doesn’t reach the potential applicants, because the government didn’t do any serious information campaign when this law was adopted. Maybe some brochures were sent to embassies of Slovenia in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, but the state as such didn’t really do any information campaign. We tried to disseminate information through our media and civil-society channels in the countries of former Yugoslavia, but this is very limited.

Second of all, people are probably now not so interested in regulating their legal status in Slovenia because 20 years have passed since this violation took place. They probably arranged their lives now in the republics of former Yugoslavia or in Western Europe. A lot of Erased people are living in Germany, Belgium, and so on, where they went after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Now they are becoming a little bit more interested because they saw that something is finally moving with the European Court of Human Rights judgment and the possibility of compensation, which is totally normal. Even if they are not interested to get their permanent residence permit, they might be interested to get some compensation for the suffering they have gone through because of the erasure.

Earlier you said there had been a shift in public opinion here in Slovenia. I remember when I was here in 2008, there was a pro bono ad campaign with banners and selections from interviews with the Erased. I’m curious whether you think that played an important role in this shift in public opinion, or were there other major initiatives?

The information campaign with the big banners was important, and it contributed a little bit to the change. But I think that the main element that changed public opinion was, first of all, the civil society work on this issue. Which of course is only possible if you have support for these projects. Otherwise you just do it in your free time, which none of us has very much of. Civil society was working on this issue for the last six years, constantly, without letting the politicians remove it from their agenda. This made it possible every year to do some activities on the anniversary of the erasure, which is February 26. We did roundtables informing the public about what has been happening and public letters supporting the case in the European Court of Human Rights, which then ended up with such a victorious judgment. There were also the protests carried out by the Erased people themselves.

I wouldn’t say that any one of these activities had a much more important role than any other, except for perhaps the European Court of Human Rights judgment. That was definitely the major element that influenced public opinion. If civil society had been weak, if there were no funds behind it, if there was no legal aid, if there was no such combination of different activities, I think that the issue would have been in a quite different state today.

We carried out a public opinion poll a couple of years ago precisely to see where public opinion stands. It would be very useful to repeat that in the future, like next year or in two years, with the same questions, to see whether this changed or not.

What were the results a couple years ago?

There is a little summary of the results in the introduction to our book, The Scars of Erasure. It’s actually not as bad as you would expect. But I would expect now it would be even better.

The source of information that I have for saying that public opinion has changed is the commentaries in the media. If you go online and look at the major newspapers and the commentaries on the issue of the Erased, the forum below the articles shows a completely different story compared to what was happening a couple of years ago. Before it was only stigmatization of Erased people, trying to portray them as traitors, cheats, aggressors, trying to dehumanize them. But now it’s a completely different story. People who clearly are not political are saying, “But come on people, the European Court of Human Rights said it. I mean if they said it, obviously there’s something wrong. I was not supporting the erased people for a very long time, but this clearly convinced me because I just believe in this court. I think it has credibility, and we just simply have to do something about it.” Things like that show you that ordinary people who are not paid to participate in this kind of forum – and there are people paid by the political parties to comment in the newspaper – are saying that they are not experts and have changed their opinion.

Some of the folks in the Erased movement want compensation in the form of justice: punishment for those who are responsible for what happened. Do you think that is possible?

This issue actually started to become more visible now that no one can argue that this was not a violation when even the European Court of Human Rights has said that it is. Many times you had politicians, especially new ones who just entered the scene, who wanted to debate whether or not this was a violation. Now these types of politicians are in a minority, and this has opened the space for the issue of responsibility to come up.

So, lots of people are now asking about the issue of responsibility. Also lots of people are not very happy that taxpayers are going to be paying for this compensation. So they are calling on the perpetrators of this violation to pay. It’s a very good question, whether this will happen or not. It’s not possible to prosecute this as genocide or a war crime. It doesn’t meet the threshold for a crime against humanity. So it has to be something else, like the abuse of authority or violation of equality. So there is a possibility under our criminal law.

Justice Zupancic, a Slovenian judge at the European Court of Human Rights, also very clearly pointed out in his concurring opinion that the member states of the Council of Europe have to investigate all suspicions of violations of equality of discriminatory acts. And the European Court of Human Rights did confirm that the erasure, and the lack of remedies for the erasure, was not just a violation of article 8, which is the protection of private and family life, but also a violation of the principle of non-discrimination. It was clearly a discriminatory act, and therefore the country has to investigate it. If it doesn’t investigate it, then it also violated the principle of non-discrimination. So there’s an additional duty of non-discrimination that has to be investigated by the state if they want to be in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights. This opens up a very interesting legal and political discussion. On the one hand, our law has quite short statutory limitations that have all expired because this violation took place 20 years ago; on the other hand, we have a very clear obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights to investigate all discriminatory acts, regardless of any possible expiration of statutory limitations. The Erased people are preparing some kind of criminal report, which the state prosecutor’s office will have to deal with.

So, this investigatory committee would be separate from the ad hoc committee that’s put together for figuring out compensation?

This would be a separate issue. Because what you’re actually suggesting is, if I understand correctly, some kind of truth commission. So there are three possibilities. One is the committee that was put in place by the government to implement the European Court of Human Rights decision on compensation. The second thing is the report prepared by the Erased people, which would be sent to the prosecutor’s office. And the third possibility, which civil society has put on the table, is the possibility of a truth, or investigatory, committee. We have been advocating for this for quite a long time, but there was no serious response yet by the government. The only response that we got was something like, “We don’t think that’s necessary.”

So I don’t think that this will take place, even though this would be quite useful for catharsis: to really embrace the fact that this did happen, that we really have to put energy into remedying these violations and investigate what happened. We already know a lot of what happened. We have the main documents, but some issues still remain unclear. Like whether this was really a decision, or was it something that just came naturally? Whether it was discussed by some government committee, or the government just trusted the ministry to do the right thing, and then the ministry did it this way? So there are lots of issues that still remain unresolved on this political level. So it would definitely be useful to have some kind of truth commission. But I’m very often afraid that this proposal would be abused by the parliament to establish a parliamentary committee—which is never good. It’s always used just for political purposes, and it never really is genuinely used to investigate some kind of an issue. So I would say that if they want to have a parliamentary committee, it’s better to not have anything.

Do you think that this issue has implications beyond just the Erased? Does it have implications for how one defines citizenship, or how one establishes citizenship in a state in transition, or questions of non-discrimination?

I think it already had impact beyond that. I’m not sure if it had de facto impact, in terms of some countries learning from us and doing it the right way, especially because in Europe there were not so many new countries that would be defining citizenship. But I think that it did affect scientific discussion about citizenship, even though, as you know, it’s not so much about citizenship. It’s more about permanent residence and the right to continue residing in the country even though the borders changed. Even if you are without citizenship, as long as you have residence rights you can still live normally, with all the social and economic rights.

But regardless of that, I think it already did have a lot of impact, because there were lots of academics, researchers, philosophers who took the problem of erasure as their starting point. Even on the international law level, the international law commission started to work on draft articles about the regulation of citizenship in the case of state succession. And these articles take into account the problems that took place in Slovenia, in the former Yugoslavia, as well as the Baltic states and the Czech Republic and Slovakia. So there is a very good starting point with the draft articles, which unfortunately never really grew into a convention, or anything binding for the international public.

Of course it doesn’t mean that similar violations cannot take place in the future. They always do. We always think that we learn something from a genocide, and there’s another genocide taking place. But still the awareness does produce certain changes at the international level with regard to declarations, even if they are not binding. So, slowly, we are making progress as a planet.

You said that the reason you took on the issue is because it was a challenge, a big challenge. Have you identified another major injustice that would engage you in the same way that this issue has engaged you?

Unfortunately, I think that we are living in a time that is quite challenging when it comes to human rights. Especially because of the economic crisis, which is now worldwide. The economic crisis has been a very useful excuse to interfere with human rights in general, especially social and economic rights, which are not even recognized as rights everywhere in the world.

There was recently a quite big interference with the rule of law and human rights in general in Slovenia. For example, there was a problem with pensions. With the austerity package that Slovenia adopted, there was also a big cut in one portion of pensions that are being paid in Slovenia. But these pensions were recognized by legislation, and by binding decisions issued by competent bodies. So they are part of the rule of law. With the austerity measures, the state has interfered with a number of pensions that were recognized this way, and this raises a very serious debate of how far the austerity measures can go when it comes to human rights protection, and mechanisms we actually have in place to protect human rights. We are awaiting a new package of austerity measures that will definitely again cut some of the acquired rights.

This is a very serious challenge. It’s a challenge for all of us to find a way to protect human rights to the extent that we can afford to and at the same time make sure that the government does not go bankrupt.

Have you already elaborated a project on this? Or are you just beginning to think about it?

We have some projects that are dealing with this, but in a more specific way, for example, in labor rights. It doesn’t deal so much with the whole scale of social and economic rights, not yet. One of our colleagues is actually doing a twin project with Mexico. We are learning from them about austerity measures and a weak social state and so on. And they can learn from us about what kind of mechanisms can be in place to at least have some kind of welfare state.

When you look into the near future, and you consider the prospects for Slovenia over the next couple of years, how do you evaluate those prospects on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being most pessimistic and ten being most optimistic?

I would say 5. Because we cannot ignore the fact that we are part of the developed world. We live very well compared to a very big part of the world that doesn’t live so well. I try to mention this from time to time when people are very desperate. Because I know how people are living in other parts of the world, and we are still well off. So for that reason I would still keep it a 5.

But I would not assess it more than 5 because I think that Slovenia is unfortunately following the pattern that Europe is tackling the crisis, which we are not very happy about it. We think that it is adopting too much of a neo-liberal, Chicago School approach. We think that the Keynes school would be a better one to follow. Maybe a New Deal would be a very good option, not just for Slovenia, but for Europe. Because Slovenia is very much connected to the economy of Europe as a whole, because we are such a small economy. So that’s why I would not give it more than a 5.

The second quantitative question is, when you look back from 1989 until today and you evaluate all that has happened here in this country, or hasn’t happened here in this country, how would you evaluate that 1 to 10, with 1 being most dissatisfied and 10 being the most satisfied?

I would say the same, 5. I think we still managed to have some progress. We tackled some difficult issues, at least to a certain extent. But precisely for the fact that so much has been promised at the independence, I still think that the state as such made lots of mistakes that were completely unnecessary. That’s why I would not keep it more than 5, and I consider 5 a bad grade. It’s not 1, but it’s not passing.

The final quantitative question, again from 1989 until today, same scale, 1 being most dissatisfied and 10 being the most satisfied: your personal life?

I’m always optimistic, always trying to set new goals. And so far I have achieved most of my goals, so I would just give it a 10.

Ljubljana, October 19, 2012

Interview (2008)


I studied international human rights law at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. When I came back to Slovenia, I cooperated with the Peace Institute, doing some judicial training on anti-discrimination. At this time, I was planning to do a bigger project on issue of erasure. The work that had been done on this issue was not systematic enough, the NGOs working in this field are weak. So it was important for a bigger NGO like the Peace Institute to do advocacy and research on this topic.

When I came back to Slovenia in 2004, the right-wing parties had won the elections. Many people dealing with the issue of the Erased at that time were tired. So I came to the Peace Institute, showed some enthusiasm about the issue. This was the biggest human rights violation in the 16-year history of Slovenia. Since I had been dealing with war crimes and other human rights violations around the world in my studies, I felt that this was the issue that needed attention at the moment. So I became coordinator of a three-year project that began in January 2007 and will end in December 2009 and will monitor everything connected to the issue of the Erased and analyze policy developments. My role is overview but as a lawyer I will also get involved in particular cases and I will serve as the contact person for the attorney’s office in Rome representing the 11 cases in the European court. Whenever they need information on national legislation or on the complainants, I am the contact person.

There are two main parts of the field research. We will be contacting erased people throughout Slovenia and abroad (Bosnia, Italy, Germany). And we will also do interviews with the Erased to make an archive of their recorded testimony. We will later use these recordings to do sociological and legal analysis of the consequences of erasure. From this research, we have encountered people who still don’t have status or need legal assistance to resolve other legal issues. We link these people in the field with lawyers. Everything depends on the client. People are still afraid of the authorities and what will happen to them. We are also planning two academic conferences to insert the issue of erasure into public discourse and into the academic debate. Because up to now it has been completely lacking. Why do we only have two publications on the Erased, which is the biggest human rights situation in Slovenia? In comparison, there are a dozen publications on Roma.


The government has said that its proposed draft law will resolve the issue of the Erased and implement the decision of the Constitutional Court from 2003. But if we look at the draft law, it will not in fact implement the court decision. The 2003 Constitutional Court decision demanded that the status of the Erased be returned from the date of erasure, retroactively. But the draft law foresees the return of erasure only to the moment of the filing of the application for permanent residence. A person could have filed in 1999 or 2005 – it’s different for every person. If this law were adopted, these people would have a gap in the history of their legal status of 10 years, or 16 years. The second point is that the beneficiaries of the law are limited to those who applied in the past for permanent residency, and does not include those who didn’t apply. A third point: the draft completely excludes the right to compensation.

Of the 18,000 Erased, about 12,000 already have permanent residency. They got it back. A lot of them also got citizenship. So, there are about 6,000 left. About 2,000 of these have some temporary residency, on the basis of work or family status or schooling. This means that they are still in a very precarious situation. This status could cease any year. The other 4,000 still don’t have status. Many were expelled and couldn’t return. Many left on their own because they couldn’t survive in Slovenia as illegal migrants. We don’t know how many of these are here and how many have left. The Slovenian government claims that the erasure doesn’t exist anymore because the ones who left did so voluntarily. But they didn’t leave voluntarily.

The government didn’t coordinate with other political parties whose votes they needed in order to get the law passed by two-thirds. This suggests that adoption of the law is not the government’s goal. Last October 29, the government faced a deadline to respond to a lawsuit filed in the European Court of Human Rights. That’s when the government confirmed the draft of the constitutional law. The old proposal was first prepared in fall 2004. It was marked internal and wasn’t known to the public. Only after Amnesty International and journalists from the paper Mladina filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner in accordance with the Access to Public Information act was the draft made public in April 2005. At that time, the coalition parties were not able to secure two-thirds of the votes. It was put aside and no one ever thought it would again be invoked as an appropriate tool because it was rejected that first time. Then, suddenly after two and a half years, this act is proposed as an appropriate tool for remedying violation. The government simply wanted to show that there was some activity going on and shift the burden to parliamentarians. Now the government can point fingers at the parliamentarians who don’t support it. But I think the members of parliament have good grounds for not supporting it, because it doesn’t implement the Constitutional Court decision.

The Constitutional Court established that erasure was unconstitutional. So we need to repair the unconstitutionality. We have to reestablish the situation as it was before the violation. One part of remedying the situation is to eliminate the legal gaps in the history of the Erased. If a person got permanent residence back as of 2005, this person has a 13-year gap in their legal history. If this person got a supplementary decision recognizing their erasure from 1992, this person would for the first time have proof that permanent residency was taken away for them. The Constitutional Court said this is the case for the whole community. But the individual doesn’t yet have this recognition. This person could also use this supplementary decision to ask for compensation.

Why did people not file for compensation after the 2003 Constitutional Court decision? We don’t know. But here are some guesses. They didn’t know whether they had the right to do so because no act said that they had the right to compensation. If the state proposed a law, and the law were adopted, then people would immediately say, “Ah, there really was a violation, and I have the right to file a claim.” Since the government from 2003 on was simply buying time, people were also confused. Only two claims were filed, and they were not successful because of the statute of limitations. According to the general principle of tort law, compensation for damage can be claimed three years after you learned of the damage or five years after the damage was done. The court in one case interpreted the statute to have expired after the publication of the first Constitutional Court decision in 1999, which was more than five years before the claim for compensation. Because of this negative outcome of the first lawsuit and the general position of most lawyers that the statue already expired, people were not courageous enough to file such claims.

We are also trying to file an exemplary lawsuit for compensation but are having difficulty finding a good case. We’re trying to find a person who recently got their status back, for example in 2007. That’s the moment when they were sure that the state was responsible for the violation done to them. Most of the statuses issued to people happened more than three years ago.

We’re now in 2008. The coalition parties don’t believe the erasure ever took place. The state goes back to 1992 to justify that what they did was right. This is like the work of Sisyphus: you climb and you climb and you think you’re talking about something at the top and then they go back to 1992 and you’re back again at the bottom. We’re waiting for elections in the Fall for parliament. Some parties other than the government party have good chances. We’ve talked with these other parties. But the issue of the Erased is not popular, so none of them can give you their word that they would actually resolve it once they come into power. Even if the government swings back to the left, the chances for the status of the Erased to be resolved is very small. It will take more than a shift in government. Generations will have to change. Until all the people who were in power during the erasure retire and new people come in who can see the situation objectively, there will be very little chance of positive outcome. Left-wing parties were on top for 12 years, and they tolerated the consequences of the erasure. So, everyone is complicit.

We don’t really have any good public opinion analysis on views of the erasure. There were only a couple smaller polls conducted by a communication agency around the time of the Constitutional Court decisions. The moment when they were conducted was very politicized, very heated. So perhaps the polls would be different now. They were all very negative against the Erased. The outcome of the referendum was that 97% of the voters said that the rights of the Erased should not be restored. Only about a third of registered voters voted. And they were the ones who were totally against the Erased. So, it’s hard to say that the referendum or the polls around the referendum represent public opinion. The opponents of the Erased are so loud, and they give their nationalistic statements without any fear. Supporters are quiet, and reluctant to expose themselves on this issue.


The claims were filed on July 4, 2006. The application is very long, 100 pages, and covers 11 cases. There are two types of claims. The first is general and applies to all applicants. The second includes specific claims that consider violations that happened to them individually. There were about 12 violations of rights invoked. Eight of them were declared inadmissible by the court for different reasons. For instance, one person claimed that because of the erasure, his health deteriorated. Because he didn’t have health insurance, his health deteriorated even more. This was very much the case with many of the Erased. But the right of health is not protected by the European Convention of Human Rights. The same applies to the right of employment.

Four claims of violations of rights remained under the scrutiny of the court. It’s a two-stage process. The court investigates whether the case fulfils procedural requirements and then it decides on the merits of the case. These four rights that the claimants say were violated are: 1) right to private and family life; 2) right to effective legal remedy; 3) right to non-discrimination; and 4) right to property. In this last case, people did not get the pensions for which they paid contributions. Some worked for 30 years and had paid contributions for all that time.

The case is considered urgent, which means that it will be decided sooner than the majority of cases in the Court. The applicants had a deadline to respond to the government by January 30, 2008. Now the government has a deadline of the end of May. NGOs like the Peace Institute, the Equal Rights Trust from London, the Open Society Justice Initiative have filed third party amicus briefs. We focused on the right to effective legal remedy, which I think is the strongest part of application. The government said that the Erased have so many other legal remedies. But how many legal remedies can you expect these people to use? Many are homeless, many are poor.

If the Court finds in favor of the claimants, the government is obliged to remedy only these people. Unless the Court recognizes that it is systemic and requires legislation that deals with all those affected. Even if these people only win in this individual case, the court provides an interpretation of standards, which other Erased can invoke in their lawsuits. This can be used domestically but it depends on the court.


We are using everything we can – gathering information to support claims in the lobbying process, legal remedies, media for public awareness, international lobbying. We’ve tried many things, and nothing has helped. But if we help this new generation, we hope this can bring change in the future.

The president of one association of the Erased, Alexander Todorovic, feels that criminal procedures are very important. He filed a complaint. He was prosecuted in court by three people responsible for the erasure because he called them fascist. The court was lenient. They said he just shouldn’t do it again. He used the opportunity of the court room to file the criminal complaint of genocide – which was a bit off if you ask me but anyway. The police started to investigate this complaint, so he thinks this is very important politically. The sole fact that the police is investigating it as an act of genocide is a great victory.

There is a communications agency just now carrying out a public awareness campaign. There is a building being renovated that now has yellow drapes in the front with three stories of the erased. It’s also on bus stops – silhouettes of people with links to their stories. They present intimate stories of people in an emotional way to touch every individual who reads them – without politicization, without political debate. We contributed the stories from our interviews, especially those of women and children. Here’s one example: “When they told me that I’m not in the register any more, I thought it was only a bureaucratic mistake that would take only an hour of my time… not 16 years.” They give just the skeleton of the story to give some drama. It’s a pro bonocampaign. The whole agency is devoted to it.

They also have a lot of sponsors. The building belongs to the municipality of Ljubljana and the mayor gave it for free. The city could have gotten a lot of money for the advertising space. The mayor is sensitive to this issue because he is an ethnic Serb. He offered the façade for two months to raise awareness. The construction company agreed to pay for the production and the hanging of the drapes. Some resources were provided by Amnesty International and by us. It was the idea of the communications agency. They want to do a social responsibility project and they thought this was the most problematic issue. They had to choose between hate speech and the Erased and they chose the Erased.


It’s possible to get Slovenian citizenship if you’re not Slovenian. About 170,000 non-ethnic Slovenians got citizenship after independence. There are lots of provisions in our legislation. There is naturalization (after 10 years), special interest (sports and culture), refugees (after 5 years for people with asylum status). You can get citizenship if you get married.

We more or less have the same citizenship legislation as in 1991. The government provided a little easier condition for Slovenians living outside Slovenia but other than that the legislation didn’t change much. A provision was added for refugees. There was a possibility for the Erased to apply for citizenship through another provision.

All other claims from the Erased are about permanent residence. They want this right back. Ordinary people mix up the two. Erasure has nothing to do with citizenship. Citizenship was used to define the group that was erased.


In the meantime we found out from the Ministry of Interior that this data is not entirely true. Among the 12.000 there are also people who only had temporary residence at the time of independence of Slovenia, so they were not erased (the Erased are those who had permanent residence). The Ministry actually does not have the separate data on Erased only; even they don’t know how many have status.

At the end the drapes were hanging there for even longer, for more than two months.

This Week in OtherWords: May 29, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Bob Lord points to the larger story behind Apple’s outrageous-without-being-illegal tax record and Jess Hunter-Bowman notes that Latin America is leading the way toward a more rational drug policy.

Here’s a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. As always, these materials are available for use at no charge in newspapers and new media under a Creative Commons license. Editors may find information about that on our website or contact me with any questions at OtherWords[ AT ]ips-dc.org.

If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. Charting a New Course on Illegal Drugs / Jess Hunter-Bowman
    After 40 years of failing to stem the drug trade, there’s a global conversation about new approaches.
  2. The Irish Tax Blight / Bob Lord
    Apple has illuminated how corporations can easily avoid taxation as our economy becomes more global.
  3. How to Help Syria Now / Chris Toensing
    Washington should step up diplomacy and humanitarian aid rather than taking a more belligerent stance.
  4. Oklahoma’s Biblical Irony / Donald Kaul
    Sen. Coburn’s underlying logic goes to the heart of the snake oil that Republicans are selling the American people these days.
  5. These Hedges Need Trimming / Sam Pizzigati
    Are hedge funds a financial service or a racket?
  6. How I Fell for Farmers’ Markets / Jill Richardson
    Eaters everywhere across America are discovering the joy of buying directly from local farmers.
  7. The New Face of Poverty in America / Jim Hightower
    The suburbs have become the fastest-growing home of American poverty.
  8. Neglecting Mother Nature / William A. Collins
    There’s no clear sense of urgency regarding the environment in the United States today.
  9. Oklahoma’s Silly Goose / Khalil Bendib cartoon

    Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords.org

    Oklahoma's Silly Goose, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Oklahoma’s Silly Goose, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The Dying Sahara: Jeremy Keenan’s Latest Book Reviewed

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

drone base-The Dying Sahara-Global War On Terrorism-Jeremy Keenan-Niger-Pan Sahel Initiative, the Long War-Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative

Their main outlines by now hardly secret, still, the extent of U.S. military machinations in Africa, which intensified after 9/11, are neither well known nor appreciated. The pretext for the military buildup is, once again, a terrorist threat to the region, the claim that the Sahara in particular has become a hotbed of terrorism requiring nothing less than a ‘second front of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)’. Or so it has been argued in a U.S. mainstream media that rarely questions the intentions of its military abroad and takes their oft-distorted version of events as sacred truth.

Although it might be much closer to the truth, in American academic, media and government circles it is of course rather crude and graceless to assert that the U.S. role in Africa is little more than a scramble for oil, natural gas and strategic minerals. Indeed, the U.S. Africa policy, stripped of human rights and democracy rhetoric, is essentially a repeat of the late 19th century colonial scramble to get a piece of ‘that magnificent African cake’. The epicenter of the concern is the Sahara, the region which straddles the Algerian oil and natural gas fields to the north, the Niger uranium mines in the center, and the oil, gold and diamonds of the West African ‘Gold Coast,’ as it used to be called.

Playing down the language, but at the same time intensifying the policy, the Obama Administration prefers to put a softer face on this new arena of American militarized frenzy, preferring the less crusader-like term ‘the Long War’ to the Global War On Terrorism, too much associated with the Bush years. Let us not be again hoodwinked by language.

‘The Long War’ or GWOT 2 includes the creation of a special regional U.S. command, AFRICOM; a new regional strategic partner a la Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia (Algeria), a series of U.S. sponsored ‘anti-terrorism networks’ — first the Pan Sahel Initiative, which, in 2006, was replaced by the more inclusive Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative — an array of joint military maneuvers with African countries; and the growing use of American special operations throughout the region, and the establishment of a network of small military bases. Using the Malian crisis as the most recent pretext, the latest addition to the U.S.-African military footprint is a recently opened drone base in Niger.

Algeria and the United States – The Making of a Quiet Love Affair

A few months ago, British anthropologist Jeremy Keenan published his second volume on the growing instability in the African Sahara. The Dying Sahara: US Imperialism and Terror in Africa (Pluto Press, 2013) is a follow-up to The Dark Sahara: America’s War on Terror in Africa (Pluto Press, 2009). That is not the end of it, as a third volume appears to be in the making. This, the second volume, builds nicely on the first. Taken together they are a rather well-documented, well-reasoned and damning indictment of the U.S. Africa policy. The Obama Administration’s softer linguistic approach will find it difficult to counter Keenan’s arguments.

Given Keenan’s lifelong association with the Sahara and its diverse peoples, and his truly encyclopedic knowledge and prolific writings on the region, the books are more than the titles suggest. They not only probe the growing U.S. military infiltration into the region using what in large measure has been a fabricated terrorist threat to the region, but provide far more: a detailed description and analysis of Sahara regional politics along with some valuable cultural history. Both books always return to the main theme: the whys and hows of the decade-long U.S. strategic focus to the region.

The essence of Keenan’s argument in both volumes goes something like this: in an effort to beef up the U.S. military presence in Africa to provide the security net for oil and natural gas sources from North Africa to Nigeria, the United States needed to either dramatically amplify the ‘terrorist threat’ to the region or literally fabricate one. True, this took some doing and some time, but with more than a little help from its new-found alliance with Algiers, the pretext was successfully enough shaped to provide the necessary U.S. military buildup. Keenan’s Sahara series shows, in excruciating detail, in fact, how it was done.

Love at First Sight

Washington also needed a strong, militaristic regional ally which it has found in, of all places, Algeria. While State Department rhetoric is thick with references to democracy and human rights, when it comes to the nitty-gritty, Washington always prefers military strongmen. It was love at first sight between Cheney, Rumsfeld, Mediene and Lamari. By way of comparison, the U.S. strategic alliance with Israel elsewhere in the region strengthened appreciatively after Israel’s overwhelming military victory in the 1967 War. Unlike Saudi Arabia, here was a country that knew actually knew how to use its Mirage and F-4 jet fighters.

Likewise, impressed, rather than repulsed, by the manner in which the Algerian military and security force was able to maintain political power and crush its opponents torturing and killing its way to victory during the ‘dirty war’ in that country in the 1990s, first the Bush and then the Obama Administration saw in this regime yet another perfect partner.

Keenan explains the rationale behind the U.S. Africa policy early on in The Dying Sahara. A long paragraph is worth quoting in full:

Africa’s strategic importance to the US over the last decade has undergone several significant shifts and reappraisals… In 1998, US dependency on foreign oil supplies surpassed the psychologically critical 50 per cent level and in 2000 became an election issue as George W. Bush pledged to make energy security a top priority of his presidency. True to his word, he established a National Energy Policy Development (NEPD) Group within two weeks of taking office. The Group, under the Chairmanship of Vice-President Dick Cheney, published its strategically critical report in May 2003, four months before 9/11. Although the intended impact of the report was subsumed by the overwhelming events of 9/11, the Cheney Report, as it became known, set the direction of subsequent U.S. policy towards Africa by identifying the continent, especially West Africa, as a major new source of US oil imports. The report had estimated that Africa would provide 25% of US oil imports by 2015. Since 2011, US oil imports from Africa have nearly doubled, with more recent estimates putting Africa’s contribution as high as 35%. It is not surprising that the Bush Administration, shortly after coming to power, defined African oil as a ‘strategic national interest’ and thus a resource that the US might choose military force to control.

The Algerian DRS’s Specialty: Fabricating Terrorism, at Home and Abroad

As a part of the strategy for increasing oil and natural gas flows from Africa, the White House concluded that a U.S. ‘military structure’ would be needed to assure the free flow of African oil to the North American continent. As it is a bit crude (if accurate) for the United States to argue its African military buildup was much more about satisfying the American energy addiction than promoting democracy and human rights, the usual pretexts, another more dramatic rationalization needed to be provided. The chosen pretext – the one that worked well enough to justify the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq – was the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).

But as Keenan notes, in 2001-2, when Washington made this strategic choice, there was a problem with the project: “launching a new front on the GWOT in a continent largely devoid of terrorism was a little trickier.” Terrorism hardly existed (or not at all) in the regions targeted by the White House for oil production.[ii] The situation created a bit of a problem: how to wage war against a terrorism that didn’t exist! Not to worry (if you are an oil company), the Bush Administration did have an answer, which any crooked district attorney or any war-hungry general knows: if the case is politically important enough, when in doubt, fabricate the evidence!

To a great degree this has been accomplished, through a decade-long regional strategic alliance between U.S. intelligence and military (C.I.A., AFRICOM and the like) and the Algerian security apparatus, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS).

In order to make the Sahara ‘terrorist threat’ credible – a difficult task given the overwhelming absence of evidence – both the Bush and Obama Administrations have tried both to establish links between Al Qaeda in Afghanistan-Pakistan and Sahara Islamist terrorist organizations on the one hand and then magnify the threat that these groups present to the region, and ultimately to U.S. strategic interests there. Keenan dedicates a whole chapter in The Dark Sahara to what he calls ‘the Banana Theory of Terrorism’, detailing how the supposed links between the North African and Afghan/Pakistani terrorists are more the creation of American public relations than reality.

In the same vein, while there were a small number of terrorist acts – mostly kidnappings of European tourists – over the decade since 9-11, Keenan notes that, actually, if highly publicized in the European and American media, that there were very few incidents all told. Those terrorist incidents that did occur repeatedly bore the markings of false flag operations either organized by the Algerian DRS, or done in conjunction with them.

The Utility of Ignorance

American military penetration of the Sahara was made more difficult – but not impossible – by the vast level of ignorance on the part of American authorities and the public concerning the cultural/political dynamics of the countries of North Africa and the Sahara. Nothing new here. A decade on, other than the skewed data learned from satellite and drone electronic spying, not much has changed on this score. One might add to this, that despite all the work of U.S. intelligence agencies, the actual intelligence that the United States has on the ground in North Africa and the Sahara is – as it was in Afghanistan and Iraq – scant at best. Thus the need for a well-informed local partner like the Algerian generals to fill the gap.

By now, we should be accustomed to the pattern – the pretexts for intervention. For starters, one needs an exaggerated or fabricated threat, which an all-too-willing media spoon-feeds to an all-too-gullible public, be it Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the supposed link between Islamists in the North African Sahara and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, or Assad’s Syria using chemical weapons.

The fabricated threats are given credence through a variety of false flag operations, provocations, what have you. In the case of the Sahara, carefully orchestrated kidnappings and highly publicized kidnappings of foreign – mostly European – tourists by terrorist groups were carried out either under the auspices of, or in close cooperation with the Algerian DRS. In so doing the DRS provided an important service to its American partners.

False flag operations are, admittedly, difficult, but not impossible, to prove. Few people do it better, more carefully, more thoroughly than Keenan. He makes a strong case based in part on his extensive, lifelong contacts on the ground among the peoples of the Sahara, in part as a result of careful documented research of the U.S. Saharan military buildup. If one or two of his hypotheses might be open to question, the fact remains that, taken in its entirety, Keenan’s compelling argument for the whys and hows of the U.S. military involvement in the Sahara is deadly accurate. He’s nailed the skunks to the wall and, not surprisingly, now they are starting to squirm. AFRICOM (and the Algerians) can deny the existence of a U.S. Special Forces base in Tamanrasset until they turn blue, but it existed. Likewise, Washington might deny the use of U.S. Special Operations in Northern Mali, but the growing evidence suggests otherwise. In a number of these operations war crimes and slaughter of civilians were committed.

Read Keenan, learn something about where your sons and daughters are going to go next, to torture and kill people, mostly innocent people participating in legitimate social movements to improve their lives economically and politically, in the name of ‘fighting terrorism’, but mostly to protect access to African oil, natural gas, uranium. It’s the same old song, new pretext.


[i] Jeremy Keenan. The Dying Sahara: US Imperialism and Terror in Africa. Pluto Press. 2013, p. 10

[ii] Most of the terrorism in North Africa, when not concerning the terrorism of undemocratic regimes against their own people, existed only on the continent’s periphery – far from the oil-producing regimes, and there was precious little of that.

Rob Prince, whose teaching title has changed five times in the past twenty years, although the job is the same, is Teaching Professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. In recent years, he has written extensively on North Africa.

Who Could Have Imagined That President Obama Would Double-Down on Some of Bush’s Policies?

At least he doesn’t enjoy taking out terrorists like Bush did.

drone-predator-president obama-target killingAs the Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman reported about President Obama’s appearance at the National Defense University on Thursday, May 23:

“At a highly anticipated speech on counterterrorism this afternoon, President Obama announced reforms that would dramatically ratchet down the administration’s drone program. But one thing that will not change, two highly placed administration sources tell The Daily Beast, is Obama’s singular involvement in making individual kill decisions—this despite the fact that the military made an aggressive push to wrest back control over final targeting calls from the commander in chief.”

I was just about to make a snide comparison to President Bush, but first I googled. Turns out, in 2012, at the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift wrote:

Reports … on how Obama personally signs off on a “kill list” of al-Qaeda terrorists prepared by the CIA and the Pentagon is chillingly reminiscent of the deck of playing cards that Bush used to keep score of top terrorist targets when he was in the Oval Office.

Is the Drone Program Contracting — or Expanding?

drones-targeted killing-president obamaAfter President Obama’s speech on May 23 at the National Defense University, Peter Baker reported for the New York Times:

“Nearly a dozen years after the hijackings that transformed America, President Obama said Thursday that it was time to narrow the scope of the grinding battle against terrorists and begin the transition to a day when the country will no longer be on a war footing.”

But, at McClatchy, Leslie Clark and Jonathan Landay noted that “he also appeared to be laying groundwork for an expansion of the controversial targeted killings.”

… Obama’s speech appeared to expand those who are targeted in drone strikes and other undisclosed “lethal actions”. … In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed “senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.

But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from “those who want to kill us” and “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat” to “all potential terrorist targets.”

If the members of the Obama administration seek to expand the ranks of those deemed eligible for drone strikes, maybe it’s because they’re tired of individuals popping up so readily to replace militant leaders that they’ve exploded to smithereens. Maybe they figure that if they target the next-in-command first, when the leader is then inevitably assassinated, it will leave a void that the militants will scramble to replace. (Tongue in cheek! Sort of.)

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (5/24)

An ICBM launch capsule

An ICBM launch capsule

The International Atomic Energy Agency and Mission Creep

Nonetheless, the [International Atomic Energy Agency’ has been insisting on access to the Parchin military base to address concerns about “possible military dimensions.” … The agency’s standard safeguards treaty makes clear that its mandate is to account for fissile materials “for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

This may seem a subtle, technical distinction, but it has important implications for the role the IAEA has been given to play by its member states – including Iran. The IAEA is not a “nuclear watchdog” or nuclear policeman. It is, essentially, a fissile material accounting agency, with deliberately limited powers of investigation into states’ peaceful nuclear programs – which the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty refers to as every state’s “inalienable right.”

‘Reset’ on Iran now, Yousaf Butt, Reuters

More on Parchin: How It Parallels Benghazi

Reading … reports, it struck me how the whole Parchin issue appears to be being used by the IAEA so similarly to how the Benghazi consulate attack issue is being used by the US House of Representatives. In both cases, I think we are seeing perfect examples of the use of investigation powers by a legal institution as a political weapon. In both cases, the investigating authorities ask a neverending stream of questions, trying to get at “the truth,” which is really of course merely an attempt to confirm their own unsupported allegations against the target of the investigation. But the fact that no evidence is ever produced through these endless interrogatories that there is in fact anything ”there” there, does not deter the investigators. That’s because the purpose of the investigation isn’t really, in the final analysis, a quest for truth. It’s a procedural weapon that is being employed to harm the public perception of the adversary target, by maintaining an investigation ad infinitum, in the hopes that the absence of any actual incriminating evidence will be lost on a largely ignorant public audience, and that the fact alone of an ongoing investigation will be enough for media outlets like the Washington Post to parrot the unfounded accusations, keeping the perception of something “there” in the public consciousness.

Wherefore Parchin? Dan Joyner, Arms Control Law

There’s a Limit to Deterrence’s Charms

All told, these reports represent more than 1,000 pages of text that all boils down, more or less, to the idea that the Department of Defense, and especially the Air Force, are losing competence in the nuclear enterprise because no one takes deterrence seriously anymore. You could read any of the reports, but they typically contain sober warnings about the “loss of attention and focus, downgrading, dilution, and dispersal of officers and personnel” involved in the nuclear mission that reflects “a failure to appreciate the larger role of deterrence.”

“Failure to appreciate” is one way of looking at it. One might, on the other hand, argue that the lack of appreciation stems from the fact that there isn’t anything to appreciate. Many of these weapons no longer have plausible military missions. The people handling them know that, and act accordingly. The problem isn’t that they don’t “get it.” The problem is that they do.

Death Wears Bunny Slippers, Jeffrey Lewis, Foreign Policy

Battle for the Soul of Guatemala

Ríos Montt maintained his innocence, saying he had no control over what soldiers did in the field. He disputed that there was a policy of extermination; “We had a concept of Guatemalanness,” he said, “not to take away the Maya identity but to consolidate them with us.” As anthropologist Patrick Ball testified, the army wiped out 5.5 percent of the Ixil in 17 months.

The Jig Is Up in Guatemala, Patricia Davis, Foreign Policy in Focus

Iran Never Got Over U.S. Intelligence Infiltration of U.N. Inspection Teams in Iraq

“There is a consensus within Iran that more access [granted to and] more cooperation [with the International Atomic Energy Agency means] more assassinations, more sabotage,” says [Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team]. “Which means there is a great, great mistrust from the Iranian point of view to the real intention of the IAEA. They are really concerned that the IAEA has been used as an instrument for espionage, sabotage, covert action and preparing the ground for a military strike.”

Iran nuclear talks: Why the trust gap is so great, Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor

The MSM Doesn’t Know a Dramatic Story When It Sees It

In the face of this situation — as much as it pains me to say this — you are failing. Your so-called “objectivity,” your bloodless impartiality, are nothing but a convenient excuse for what amounts to an inexcusable failure to tell the most urgent truth we’ve ever faced.

Let me be clear: the problem isn’t simply a matter of “false balance” — for most of you, that debate is largely over, and you no longer balance the overwhelming scientific consensus with the views of fossil-fuel lobby hacks. No, what I’m talking about is your failure to cover the climate crisis as a crisis — one in which countless millions, even billions, of lives are at stake.

A Convenient Excuse, Wen Stephenson, the Boston Phoenix

Yugoslavia: When a Country Actually Is Wiped Off the Map

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Irfan Besirovic

Irfan Besirovic

You are born in a country. You are a citizen of that country, and you don’t give it much thought. It’s like the air that you breathe.

And then the country disappears.

Everything that you took for granted has vanished. The ground beneath your feet has shifted irreversibly. Your national identity is up for grabs.

When Yugoslavia fell apart in the early 1990s, most people simply became citizens of what had once been constituent republics: Croatia, Bosnia, and so on. But for some, it was not a simple process at all.

In Slovenia, for instance, a significant minority of the population did not successfully make the transition. After the country’s independence, citizens of other former republics living in Slovenia had six months to file for citizenship. More than 25,000 failed to do so and, through an administrative decision, were denied residency in the land where some had lived virtually their entire lives.

They had once been Yugoslav, and they were not deemed Slovene. They fell between the stools, and the fall was a hard one.

Eventually, this group of people came to be known as the Erased. They are a diverse group. Many were born outside of Slovenia; some did not have personal documents; some did not know about the option to file for citizenship; some felt that they should not have to do so.

Irfan Besirovic was born in Bosnia and came to Slovenia when he was only a year old. Slovenia is the only land that he remembers.

This is his story.

The Interview

When did you first come to Ljubljana?

In 1963.

You were quite young.

I was five years old. Before that, our family lived in Pivka, a small Slovenian town. I came to Slovenia when I was one year old.

How was your early life when you were in school? Was it generally a happy time?

Until the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was generally a happy period. I finished school, made a family, had a job. My life was generally stable until the breakup of the country.

I went to a Slovenian school. When my family came to Slovenia, we were one of the first families to come from the south. There were not so many people coming to Slovenia from other parts of Yugoslavia in those days. In my primary school, there were only two families from Bosnia. The school was in Trnovo, near the Ljubljanica River. I didn’t have any problems because of my origin.

You didn’t experience any discrimination growing up?

From time to time we were called “Bosnians.” But everyone was a Bosnian in those days: the Serbs, the Macedonians, the Bosnians. The word didn’t have a bad connotation until after independence. After independence, they called all the people from the other side of the Kolpa River (a river bordering Slovenia and Croatia), from the republics south of Slovenia, they called such people “chifuti” or “chefurji.”

What does “chifuti/chefurji” literally mean?

It comes from “Chifuti”, which is another word for “Jew.” But here in Slovenia the word means Bosnian.

How did you think of yourself in those days: as Slovenian, Yugoslav, Bosnian?

We considered ourselves Yugoslavs. We didn’t know about republican citizenship. Whenever you were asked, you responded, “Yugoslav.”

Do you remember where you were when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

I was in Ljubljana. It was in the media a lot that the Berlin Wall fell. We said, “Finally, the Germans have joined their nation together. It’s great that that happened.” But then, all the other countries around here fell apart.

Was there a point at which you were worried that the situation in Yugoslavia would end up as a war?

No, never. When a Slovenian came to Bosnia or a Bosnian went to Slovenia, they were accepted. There was eating and drinking, and everyone did it together. I never imagined that a war would happen here in Yugoslavia.

What did you think when Slovenia declared independence?

I was not surprised. Everything had already started in the 1980s. There were signs, like the young people in Slovenia boycotting the shtafeta — when young people carried a baton in a relay race through all of Yugoslavia and gave it to Tito on his birthday, on May 25. Later, the Slovenian Communist Party left the party’s Central Committee. So, it was not a complete surprise. But no one thought it would end in this way.

Do you remember when Tito died?

I remember it well. I woke up with a terrible toothache. I went to work and told my boss. He told me to go to the dentist. On the way to the dentist, I heard that Tito died. So I went to the café bar Slon. There was really sad music, and all the people there were crying. The whole moment was really sad. Everyone was on the street in Ljubljana. Everyone was crying, regardless of nationality.

Were you sad too?

Tito meant something to us then. So, yes, I was sad, I had been a soldier. I had carried the shtafeta. I watched his train leave when he went to Romania. I was part of youth brigade when Tito visited along with an African president. It was 1976, and I was able to say hello to him.

Do you feel the same way about Tito today as you did back then?

I still respect Tito. But my feelings have changed a lot. There is too much nationalism — not only here but all over Yugoslavia.

Can you describe the moment that this process of erasure began and how you felt about it?

When they made a hole in my identity card, I didn’t know what that meant. They told me that I was erased from the registry of permanent residents, and I had to arrange my status as foreigner. I didn’t know what the extent of the consequences would be, not until I had health issues and I couldn’t go to the doctor because they wouldn’t treat me, not until my domestic situation worsened and I had an argument with my wife because I wasn’t earning any money and I couldn’t be an equal part of the community. Only then did I realize what the consequences would be. Without documents I couldn’t go to the doctor. Without papers, I couldn’t get a job.

I went to the Red Cross, and they said they couldn’t help me because I wasn’t a refugee, I wasn’t anything, I wasn’t entitled to any help. And then all my problems started. I broke up with my partner. I was homeless.

A couple years later, I met a person and made arrangements to stay at his place. I worked as a waiter at his restaurant. But I didn’t get a paycheck. I also took care of his baby and his grandmother. I roasted pigs. I cleaned. I did everything. But I wasn’t paid.

Before the erasure, I worked as a waiter. After I finally got citizenship in 2004, I got work in a construction company. I had to get a job quickly. But after a month at that job, the vein in my leg burst, so I was on sick leave.

Your health is better now?

It’s better, but it’s not okay. I still have problems with wounds on my legs. Some are healed, some are still open. They can’t discover where the veins are blocked. But even if they do, and they do the operation, there’s a risk that I could be an invalid. So the health consequences are long-lasting.

After the erasure, you knew very few people in the same situation.

Until 2002 when I joined the Association of Self-Organized Erased, I knew a couple people. I wasn’t aware that there were thousands of Erased. Only through this association did I learn about this. At the beginning, the official number of Erased was 18,000. Then the government admitted that it was 25,000.

What was your reaction when you learned there were so many people in the same situation as you?

Personally it was easier to know that the number was so huge. It was a relief that the public was becoming more aware of the Erasure. If we were fighting together, we could get something done about this issue.

It’s been nearly a decade of activity on this issue. How would you evaluate this work?

It’s been quite hard. There were a lot of provocations from a lot of people But overall, I would say that it was a success. We proved that it was the state’s fault, not our fault. And the European Court of Human Rights has proven/confirmed that.

Can you give an example of a provocation?

From the ordinary people, it was: “What do you want, you Bosnian? Just go back!” From the side of the politicians, they spoke of aggressors against Slovenia. They said that these illiterate cleaning ladies should just be put on trains and sent back.

These were provocations in the media or said to you personally?

Ordinary people said these things to me personally, but politicians said this in the media.

What did people say when you told them that you’d been in Slovenia since you were a baby?

When they heard the stories of me and others, the reactions changed. There is quite a lot of support now. When I meet someone who saw me on television, they tell me, “Good job, this is how it should be done.” So, it has changed on an everyday level. But some politicians haven’t changed.

Has this movement inspired other Slovenians to fight for their rights?

Yes, more and more people are fighting for their rights. The most important message is that if you don’t fight for your rights, if you stay at home and don’t fight, nothing will happen. It’s a really important part of this movement that it’s been inclusive. We weren’t just struggling for the Erased. We were fighting also for the rights of Roma and the LGBT community.

You’ve taken on a leadership position of the movement. How has that been?

I took over the function of president of our association two years ago. The public is quite fond of me, I think, because I choose my words carefully. I don’t attack ordinary people. I only attack the politics. So, it’s been a good experience to gain some recognition from the public. At first, when I took over this job, I was afraid of what would happen. There wasn’t so much support in the public. But now, I’m swimming in it. It’s no problem.

Was the decision of the European Court a surprise for you?

In 2010, when the first verdict was issued, I was really surprised. Then when the Slovenian government made a complaint, I was hoping that it would be positive in the end. When the court issues something positive the first time, it’s a bigger surprise if the decision isn’t positive the second time around. So I was more surprised after the first verdict in 2010 than the more recent one in 2012.

Do you think the Slovenian government will abide by the decision?

The Slovenian government must abide by the verdict. It has until June 26 to come up with a plan for compensation. Otherwise, the court will decide what kind of compensation will be made for the Erased. And just yesterday, a new commission was announced to come up with this compensation plan. The chief of the commission is the general secretary of the ministry of the interior. So I’m quite sure that they’re working on it. I just don’t know what the final result will be.

Will there be a representative of the Erased on the commission?

For now, I don’t know, because this is new information. But there should be a representative from one of the two associations of the Erased. We should decide our conditions. It’s not good when someone else decides that for us. Someone who was not erased cannot know what it was like to be Erased and what the compensation should be.

Are there major differences of opinion between the two associations of the Erased?

There’s a difference of methodology. The other association is fonder of negotiating behind the table and taking the legal path. Our organization is more for actions, demonstrations, and a more public way of struggling, though of course we also support the legal path. If we didn’t do demonstrations and hunger strikes, I’m sure that the European Court decision wouldn’t have been made. The legal case at the European Court was also a result of the actions of our association.

Using your own example, can you explain how the compensation might work?

I always say that there is no money in the world that can compensate for lost health, for lost work, for lost contact with my child. There should also be moral compensation. This would be punishment, prosecution, for the people guilty of the erasure.

Do you think that will happen?

Not in Slovenia. Compare the situation of the tycoons in charge of privatization who drained the companies before they went bankrupt. If they have not been punished for what they did, then the people responsible for the Erased will not be punished either.

Do you think the Slovenian public will accept the compensation? Or are they saying that Slovenia just doesn’t have the money for this?

I think that the people are divided. There are forums where many people speak against the compensation. But many people say, “Finally the situation is resolved and people should get compensation.”

The biggest problem is that the politicians are inflating the amount of money for compensation. Then the people are afraid of such a high amount, such a big hole in the budget. We need to know that not all Erased had equal damage. Some were erased for a year, some for five, some for 20. If we don’t give the same compensation to everyone, if we do it case by case, then the compensation won’t be so high. Also, some Erased are prepared to receive a certain amount of money each month – maybe 300-400 Euros per month — for the rest of their life. So it doesn’t mean a lot of money at once.

This may take years to figure out, especially if it’s case by case.

Of course it will be a complex process if it’s case by case. And each person must prove the damage.

There is also a large number of Erased who never asked for permanent residency. The opportunity to get permanent residency is open only for another year. And I’m worried that many people will not get that status. So it’s not clear whether they will get compensation.

And then there are all the people who died. I don’t know what will happen with them and their families.

But Slovenia will have to make the compensations. If it doesn’t, there will be a sanction. The government can’t say it doesn’t have the money. That would be like if I have to go to the prison and I say that I don’t have the time to do that!

In addition to compensation, what are the other unfinished tasks for your association?

If Slovenia provides compensation, it would be the end of the fight for the Erased. The only thing left would be maybe punishment of the guilty. The official statutes of our association say that it will function until the violations are corrected. Compensation would mean that the violations are corrected. But we can still go on with the struggle — just not within the association. We can struggle on behalf of other peoples’ human rights.

What do you think of the current political and economic situation in Slovenia — the economic crisis, the corruption trials?

There is corruption everywhere in Slovenia, in all spheres. We all know that this corruption has been happening for 20 years. Only now is it coming out in public. We also know that without this corruption the economic crisis wouldn’t be so big.

In terms of the political crisis, one huge problem is that the opinion of voters is not respected. The prime minister is on trial and still his situation doesn’t change. Other people in parliament have been accused of various crimes but they don’t leave their seats. They simply don’t respect the will of the people.

Until this generation of politicians passes, nothing will happen.

Many of the services that Slovenians have enjoyed over the last decades are being gradually taken away. Someone told me that they thought that the average Slovenian is now beginning to feel what the Erased felt.

What’s your opinion of that?

It’s not just a reduction in public services. It’s also fewer jobs. So, people in this situation will face something similar to the Erased, though it will be a bit better for them since they will receive some social benefits. But it is quite obvious that this policy is ruining the state. I can’t remember before, in former Yugoslavia, when so many people were unemployed and hungry. In a year or two, there will be more homeless people who can’t afford electricity, rent. I think that the future is bleak.

Ljubljana, October 18, 2012

Interview (2008)

I came here when I was one year old, from Bosnia. I’ve lived all my life in Slovenia. I’ve never really had any connection with Bosnia again.

I was erased 30 years later after I came to Slovenia. This is how it happened:

There was a period of time when the government was accepting applications for citizenship. Just before this period, I had a major car crash. It was on December 31, 1990. I was in a coma. I’d broken my pelvis. I’d bit through my tongue. During all of 1991, I was in hospital and undergoing rehabilitation. In April 1991, I received my identity card without a problem. I needed this for the health insurance. The term for applying for Slovenian citizenship lasted from July to December 1991. During this period, I went to apply for citizenship. But the employee at the unit told me that I’d already missed the term.

Then, in March 1992, I got an invitation from the administrative unit saying that I must go there and arrange things. The clerk asked me if I had Slovenian citizenship. I said no, but it’s being arranged. The last time they told me I’d missed the term. This clerk said that I must give her my ID card. She took it and made a hole in it so that it wasn’t valid any more. It was like this for many people: all the documents of the Erased just expired. But for other citizens of Slovenia, their old passports were valid again. Anyway, she gave me back my ID.

I was living at the time with the mother of my son, who was born in 1991. We broke up after the Erasure. In March and April 1992, I had no place to live. I was homeless. I had no papers, no documents. All the Erased at that time were hiding and were afraid to tell anyone that they didn’t have status. I knew that there were other people like me because my brother was also Erased. I heard from him from time to time, but not regularly, because we were all afraid. For almost one year, I was homeless. Sometimes I slept at my friend’s, but this was not a permanent solution. I was also sleeping outside. I spent the winter in basements.

I had surgery after the car crash, and they put a piece of metal inside my pelvis. But they made a mistake and cut the nerve. Later they were afraid to take out the metal because there might be something wrong with the nerve and I might become paralyzed. But the problem was that my body was rejecting this metal. In the early 90s, I began to get open wounds all over my body. Also in the 1990s, I survived thrombosis. I didn’t have health insurance. One of the side effects was that I almost lost sight in my right eye. I still don’t see well on that side, but it’s better than it was before.

I had been a waiter all my life. I knew many people and many people knew me. In 1993, I ran into a man that I had known before. He took me home. He gave me a job as a waiter in exchange for shelter and food, but I didn’t get any pay. This lasted for two years. Then in 1995, inspectors closed down the restaurant, and I was again on the street. This lasted for a few months. But it was the summer, so sleeping on the street was easier. Then I ran into another person and arranged to work as a waiter under the same conditions: in exchange for food and shelter. This restaurant was in a poor part of Ljubljana where many Erased lived. I was in contact with people in the same situation as me but we didn’t know it.

My first problem with the police came in 2002. They came to the bar at 7 a.m. and started to ask for documents. I didn’t have documents. They asked me for my name. They asked for my ID card. Since it was not valid, they took me with them to the court. They wanted to deport me. But the judge said that there was no need to deport me. The police put me in a detention center anyway and told me that they were going to deport me to Sarajevo.

“I have no connection to Sarajevo,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter,” they said. “We’ll leave you at the airport there.”

I stayed overnight at the detention center. I talked with the social worker, who told me to call a lawyer and the restaurant owner. They came and signed a guarantee that I will stay at a friend’s house. But the police still wouldn’t let me out of the detention center. The next day, the social worker came and said, “What are you doing here?” She called the police inspector. After two more hours of waiting, they released me. For the next two years, I had to go back monthly to get a stamp at the detention center. I could move around in the area of the city where I was living.

After two years, the police returned. They told me that my staying in Slovenia had expired and they were there to bring me back to the detention center. In 2003, the law was passed for the Erased to get Slovenian citizenship. It was easy for some, and not for others. If you could prove that you had stayed in Slovenia between 2003 and 2004, you could qualify. I told the police that I’d applied for citizenship. They said, “We will check,” even though I had confirmation from the ministry that I’d applied. I had to call the lawyer again. We went to the Ministry of Interior to get the original confirmation that I’d really applied. They said that until the procedure was approved or not, I could stay in the country. And then they left me in peace.

On October 13, 2004 I finally got Slovenian citizenship. I could finally get health insurance, but my problems were far from solved. I could move around freely, and I could get treatment for my health problems. I also could get a proper job. I found a job in construction. I worked for one month. Then a vein burst in my leg because the job was too strenuous and the veins could not take all the pressure. I lost almost a liter of blood on my way to the hospital. I didn’t have supplemental insurance on top of the basic insurance that doesn’t really cover anything. They just cleaned the wound. After one month, after I arranged for the supplemental insurance, I was able to get proper treatment. But I was in and out of hospital for the next few weeks. I had a problem with my eye. I was told my kidneys and lungs were weak. I spent two years on sick leave. After that, the construction firm couldn’t find me any work. The unemployment office couldn’t find me any work.

I’ve been part of the Erased movement since 2002. I’ve been in all the actions, demonstrations, and hunger strikes. It was not clear at first that the situation was so terrible, that there were so many Erased. After I was first on TV, all these guests that I’d been serving at the restaurant started to tell me that they were in a similar situation.

In the beginning our goal was to get back our status and our permanent residency. Some have gotten this status, some have not. Personally, if they would recognize all those years of my being Erased, I could accumulate enough of a working period so that I could retire. But I have this hole in my biography.

As for compensation, even if I get 5 million euros, that will not bring back my health. The only thing I wish for is that the people responsible for the Erasure, and for prolonging the Erasure, are convicted, that the Erasure is recognized as a crime.

Page 23 of 244« First...10...2122232425...304050...Last »