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Serbia: State and Party-backed Violence against Members of the Housing Movement

Note from the LeftEast editors: Repression against our comrades in Serbia fighting for the right to housing is growing. Planned modifications to the Law on Enforcement and Security would expand the powers of private bayliffs and criminalize solidarity with those evicted. Also, direct violence against housing activists by the far right has intensified.  On June 6th, housing activists from Roof Over One’s Head in Serbia were beaten up. A large crowd gathered on June 11th in Novi Sad to protest the attacks. Also, On June 14th activists protested in front of the European Delegation building in Belgrade, asking for a meeting with the ambassador Sam Fabriche and demanding that the EU Delegation withdraw its support for the upcoming Law on Enforcement and Security, condemn a document that is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and draw more attention to the recent attacks on housing activists in Novi Sad.

Housing Activists are Beaten

A large crowd gathered on June 11th in Novi Sad to protest the attacks
against housing activists from Roof Over One’s Head.

On the 11th of June, over 700 people gathered on the campus of the University of Novi Sad to demonstrate solidarity with the victims of two recent brutal beatings of students and activists. Protesters demanded that those responsible be brought to justice. It should be mentioned that this was a protest organized at very short notice, but which nevertheless drew a large crowd because the level of violence jolted activists, students and allies into public action.

On June 6th, between 18:30 and 19:00, students Marko Đelević and Mihajlo Nikolić, activists from the anti-eviction organization Roof Over One’s Head (the Roof), were attacked and beaten with metal bars and steel brass knuckles by two masked attackers in front of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, in plain sight of numerous passers-by.

The afternoon of the attack, our comrades Marko and Mihajlo were headed towards the Faculty of Philosophy, having participated in a protest against tree cutting in Serbia. Going through the campus, they noticed that two suspiciously dressed men (caps and black tracksuits), standing next to posters of the party “Serbian Right”, were watching them. The suspicious men began to follow them to the Philosophy building. Just as Mihajlo and Marko were leaving the college campus to head home, the attackers, who were between 35 and 40 years old, ran up to them and began to hit them over the head with bars and brass knuckles (“boxers”). As Marko and Mihajlo defended themselves from blows, Marko’s head was hit and he suffered injuries on his hands and back, while Mihajlo had his tooth broken, brow bone cracked and developed several large hematomas due to hits to the face. The attackers had been noticed putting up pro-“Serbian Right” party posters on campus. The day after the attack, another student-activist and member of the opposition was also brutally beaten on the faculty campus.

The “Serbian Right” is a proxy party of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party and serves the regime by doing its dirty work. This attack best illustrates the dirty role of various right-wing organizations which, under the direct control of the Serbian Progressive Party, are used to silence opponents and people fighting for a better and more just society.

Earlier on the day of the attack, the Roof members Marko and Mihajlo had participated in an anti-eviction event and managed to defend the only home of the Ninić family. We view this attack as just one gruesome example of the increase of repression and the determination of the state to criminalize solidarity. In the last two years, the Roof resisted evictions and foreclosures by organizing over one hundred anti-eviction events in Belgrade and Novi Sad. This is part of our efforts to fight against the profit-oriented private bailiff system. The attack occurred after a new Law on Enforcement and Security was passed.

An Anti-Social Law to Further Empower Bailiffs

 The upcoming changes to the Law on Enforcement and Security, as proposed by the Ministry of Justice, will aggravate existing problems and create new ones. Above all:

– The right to a home will still not be protected. The proposal on banning the foreclosure of a real estate for utility debts below 5000 euros, which the Ministry put forward, is not enough to stop the endless waves of evictions that leave countless numbers of impoverished people in the streets.

– Solidarity of neighbors and citizens is going to be criminalized in the upcoming law. If the draft becomes law, the bailiffs will have the power to order police officers to arrest anyone who is interfering with the eviction process.

– The new law will give the bailiffs even more power. Institutional mechanisms that control how they work, make decisions and charge their expenses are going to be weakened.

– The rights of so-called “third parties”[1] will still be in the hands of the bailiffs, who will continue prosecuting them in the interest of the creditors. Furthermore, the Ministry proposed that third parties should pay for the costs of their own prosecution in the draft of the law.

Anti-eviction actions that were organized in the last two years shed light on the tragic and brutal reality of the eviction procedure and were the only source of valid information for the media and general public. If there were no solidarity with the oppressed, all the “information” about the implementation of the Law on enforcement would be propaganda stemming from the Chamber of bailiffs which brags about the high level of debt repayment and newly gained respect for the law they promote. At the same time, people facing evictions are persuaded that they are the ones responsible for their own fate, while phrases concerned with ‘’maintaining financial discipline’’ justify the suffering of families and individuals who are being left without a home. For these reasons, we should view the newly proposed articles that introduce fines and prison sentences for people preventing evictions as abolition of transparency of the enforcement procedure. Society has a right to be informed about the doings of public institutions while bailiffs and their clients have a totally opposite interest – to stay alone with the helpless debtors and exert pressure over them or worse. The bailiffs, their clients and the police see everyone watching or filming them while “they are just doing their job” as “interfering in the eviction procedure”. The abolishment of transparency in eviction procedures has a clear goal of not only supporting robbery, but also negating the basic presumptions of democracy.

“Enforcement and Security” with the Approval of the EU…

Section 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which Serbia signed and ratified, guarantees the right to a home. Nevertheless, EU institutions gave full support to the privatization of enforcement procedures in Serbia (a process which started in 2011) and still support the implementation of the Law on Enforcement and Security – despite the high numbers of housing rights violations this law led to. In the Annual Report of the European Commission for Serbia, published in 2019, the efficiency of the enforcement procedure, as well as the effect it had on the court system, was once again praised. Moreover, the European delegation in Serbia recently organized a discussion that was closed to the wider public, during which it commended the results of the private bailiffs – officially and ironically named ‘public’ bailiffs.

The 14th of June Protest, Source: N1 Serbia

On the 14th of June, about fifty persons gathered in front of the European Delegation building in Belgrade, asking for a meeting with the ambassador Sam Fabriche and demanding that the EU Delegation withdraw its support for the upcoming Law on Enforcement as well as condemn the document that is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Allies of the Roof from the European Action Coalition have sent letters to Serbian embassies in Portugal, Romania, Sweden and France as a way of supporting our struggle against the Law on enforcement. This protest was intended to pressure the EU representatives into ending their support for the Law on Enforcement and Security. Unfortunately, it also had to function as a gathering of solidarity for our beaten-up comrades.

The bloody heads of our activists are the best proof of the necessity to fight against those who put profit and power before the lives of all of us. Such attacks on our members and our organization, as well as any new laws and the broader criminalization of solidarity will not prevent us from fighting for the right of every person to have a roof over their head.

After the protest, news came that one of the attackers responsible for the second attack was apprehended. We are still waiting for the arrests of those who assaulted our comrades Mihajlo and Marko.

Niko bez doma!

Home for all!

Roof Over One’s Head

Anything you can do to support these struggles is welcomed!

You can:
– share this info
– send the attached materials to the press and other media outlets
– send a letter to the Serbian embassy in your country asking for a public position. you can use this model.
– organize an action of solidarity.

[1] Third parties are defined as ‘people who claim that they have a right which prevents the eviction process’; third parties are not suing or being sued. In praxis, third parties cannot postpone evictions in any legal way – evictions are an ‘urgent process’ so no appeal can block an eviction in court unless the private bailiff allows it. The courts do not treat third parties as relevant participants in the process. In fact, many cases exist when the third parties never knew their homes were part of some court case. People would one day get an eviction notice and find out there was a court case going on for years behind their back. Since evictions are an urgent process, courts are supposed to reach a decision in a span of 3-12 months, while the process of appealing and then suing to prove one’s ownership rights or tenant rights lasts on average 6-7 years. This giant discrepancy in allotted court time and a disbalance of power in the rights of bailiffs and targeted citizens created thousands of tragedies (and this is going to get worse with the new law). Lastly, it’s impossible to fight for one’s rights in court once you become homeless and, if the law is enacted, in even more debt after you’ve lost everything.