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Roma in Serbia (Working Title)

Claudia Leisinger | Serbia

Balkaza, Daliborka & Gilbana are three women married to three brothers. Together they have 12 children and grandchildren. Nineteen people in all live on this small patch of land with no access to the water mains or the sewage system.

Who would imagine that, in 21st century Europe, citizens live without access to water, sanitation and heating in their homes because they cannot earn enough money to upgrade their living conditions?

Currently there are more then 600 such substandard settlements in Serbia, each containing several houses.

Roma people often live there, on the margins of society, subject to widespread poverty and discrimination. Their longstanding inequitable access to education, housing, employment and legal protection has led to a very real exclusion from society, which needs urgent addressing.

These families depicted are part of a charity project that supports Roma families to upgrade their existing domiciles, step by step, by themselves.

Within the project, the exchange of help, potentially creating dependency, is carefully considered and provides real incentive for the different stakeholders, the Roma families, the surrounding communities and the municipality, to work together.

Will such a collaboration help create new perspectives on “the other”?

And how much must minorities conform to established social norms for integration to be successful anyway?

And above all, how can we distribute our shared but finite resources and services in a more just way?

Longstanding poverty in a monetary based society is so much more eroding then I have ever understood. Like water on earth it slowly seeps into every aspect of life, chipping away one option for improvement after the other, until the person is rendered truly powerless.

In Western Europe we have successfully controlled our environment to make it as non- invasive and non-aggressive as possible. Now we contemplate its beauty and maybe even mourn the loss of the wild, but it is kept at a manageable distance and we engage with it on our terms.

In Serbia that process of controlled environment vs wild environment seems at a different stage, at least definitely for people with no means. The environment is still wild, abundant and invasive. Its beauty and power are obvious and with this uncontrollable force comes also a tangible cruelty, a struggle for survival of the weakest creatures. This cruelty is mirrored in the lives of the people I have met.

I wonder about how important it is in our society for individuals to excerpt control over their environment and lives in order to be successful? It seems to be a very important signifier of how well we integrate into mainstream society.

So what does that mean for people who either choose not to or don’t have the ability to excerpt this amount of control over their environment?

How much do we have to conform to established social norms for us all to be a functioning community?

This question has followed me throughout my life. Growing up in Asia, returning to a very conservative small village in Switzerland with two adopted siblings, one Tibetan and one Swiss, to two very individualistic parents, living in a house with no central heating or indoor toilet - we were always on the outside of what was normal. And that is where we wanted to be. We were lucky not to be poor and without access to a future.

I want to put my voice in to advocate for a society that not only accepts those with different life styles but also respects their contribution to the whole – even if this contribution is not an obvious one.

This story wasn't shot for, but very much aided by two NGO's who supported me.

Swiss Church Aid
Seminarstrasse 28
P.O. Box
8042 Zurich

Tel.: +41 44 360 88 00




Claudia Leisinger
Web: www.claudialeisinger.com
Email: photo@claudialeisinger.com
Tel: +44(0)7768547700

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