Tragic Story of the 21st. century: Evictions in Serbia

The following article is an excerpt from our latest printed Ecosprinter titled Reclaim Your Rights! – The Social Issue. We decided to bring you the articles from this edition in a digital form as well.

by Jelena Aleksic

People have divided thoughts about communism in Yugoslavia. Some will say that it was the worst regime in our history and others will say it was the best one. One thing that no one can deny, however, is that the working class could afford housing.

After  the  fall  of  communism  in  the  late  ‘80s,  socialism  took  over  during  the  ‘90s.  Nineties were the ‘dark years’ as we commonly call them: we had many wars, inflation, high crime rate, and protests which ended with overruled governments.  Even  though socialism wasn’t successful in this region, it  managed  to  provide  affordable  privatization  of  housing  for  the  families  that  had  been  given  accommodation during the communist period. That was the biggest recorded privatization in Serbia.

Situation drastically changed at the beginning of 2000’s. War and inflation drained people economically, which made home buying impossible and the only affordable option was to take out a loan from the bank and then pay it off on a monthly basis. Back then it did seem as a reasonable and affordable option, but it did not turn out to be such in the end.

Increased poverty in Serbia and unexpected rise of Swiss Franc (which automatically raised the loans taken in Swiss Francs) led to irregular monthly loan payments. And that is where the bailiffs take the scene. Highly common evictions begin in the year 2016 with the hard work of bailiffs to proceed them.

Bailiffs would organize private auctions without notifying the residents, where they would sell people’s homes if they were late with their payments; someone would buy those flats (often the family members of the bailiffs) and after a few weeks would show up in front of people’s doors claiming to be owners; current residents would be obliged to leave their homes. This is what happened in the case of the 94-year old Mara Dzankovic. Mara Dzankovic is an elderly cancer diagnosed women who lived in the apartment with her 40-year-old daughter. Private bailiff Mirjana Dimitrijevic sold their home on the private auction because of the debt they had and in two months period tried to evict them twice. After the first attempt, Mara had to be hospitalized because of the stress; in the hospital, doctors gave her the evidence document stating that she was not in the position to move because of her weakness and illness. It didn’t stop the bailiff and the police, however, and after the second attempt Mara and her daughter were violently evicted and even forced to leave all their personal belongings including medications for Mara.

On another note, there were a lot of cases were the owners that had bought a flat during the 2000s from another private owner would also be notified that they had to leave because their flat was sold to the new rightful owner because the papers that they had signed with the original owner were invalid. This happened in the case of Tatjana Anicic. Tatjana paid off her apartment in 2007. Eight years later, a bailiff appeared at her door and said she had to move out, following a court ruling in a dispute between previous owners of her apartment. Until that moment, Tatjana didn’t even know that the proceedings were being conducted in court, so she didn’t have the opportunity to present evidence that would prevent the former owners of her apartment from settling their mutual dispute to her detriment. When she managed to show her evidence, she was told that she has been tricked by the former owner and that the court couldn’t do anything about it. This was one of the first cases that went viral.

One of the recent cases is the case of the family Osman. Since the late ‘90s, the family Osman’s lived and owned the house on a land that the city of Belgrade recently predicted to be part of a new investment project. The Housing and Maintenance of Buildings law from 2016 implicates that the city has the obligation to provide an appropriate accommodation for people who are evicted for constructions with this purpose. The City of Belgrade decided to ignore the law by demolishing the whole house (no people-no obligation re-locating principle) and leaving the family Osman homeless.

During the period of 2016 to this day, many illegal evictions were attempted. In 2017, the organization “Krov nad glavom” (‘Roof’) was formed. In all the previous cases mentioned (and the ones that were not mentioned) ‘Roof’ managed to stop or postpone the eviction by using the methods of physical barricades. Beside support on the spot, they manage to live record incidents on social media, raise awareness about this issue, organize many charity events to support evicted families, rebuild houses and etc. They had to face many problems: violent attacks towards them, identification by the police, non-existent media attention and insufficient number of volunteers on the eviction days.

Without any hesitation, ‘Roof’ has become a part of the political resistance and hope. With the number of 154 households that they saved, they show us that even a small number of people are able to change the course of the events. Without any help, they are going to definitely continue to fight against this regime, to protect and raise awareness about the right to housing for all.

Jelena Aleksic is an activist and a student from Belgrade. She studies environmental science and sustainable development. Jelena is a member of Serbian Green Youth and she is really passionate about green politics, nature, books, food and good wine. Jelena has three dogs which she claims to love more then anything. Her role model is congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and she is hoping that she will meet her one day.