POV

Down in the Dumps: Unnatural Nomads

Burning tires and cables. A dense cloud of black smoke over the city. Two large fires in the last two weeks.

words and images by Sanja Rokvic intro by Teo J. Babini
©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

Gypsy is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days to describe anything from fashion to a spontaneous “way of living”. In fact, gypsy is most accurately, and often pejoratively, used to describe members of any nomadic culture, such as Irish Travellers, but no group is more ubiquitously associated with the term then the Romani People. Spread throughout the world, the Roma have appeared as lovable, archetypal characters in many forms of media, as well as influential musicians of folk, flamenco and gypsy jazz. The reality for most Roma is much less romantic…

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

Burning tires and cables. A dense cloud of black smoke over the city. Two large fires in the last two weeks. Firefighters in action, piles of garbage that accumulate throughout the year; all of this led me to the Romani settlement called Kerinov Grm.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

It is located in an idyllic place in the outskirts of Krško field in Slovenia, near the military airport and a few km away from the river Krka, which is protected by Natura 2000. In addition to the family houses, there is also a kindergarten and a football field. Approximately 300 people inhabit the village.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

At the entrance to the village a van blocks my way. One man with two sons steps out with the questions of why I am here and what I’m recording on the camera. Luckily, the inter-municipal environmental inspector, who is very familiar with people who live there and the issues surrounding the settlement, escorts me. We explain that we came over to check on the garbage dumps in order to make a report on potential solutions to the problem. Obviously satisfied with the answer, they continue on their way.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

At the first pile of garbage, I get out of the car and start taking photographs. At each of the stop, members of the community immediately appear with the question of what am I doing. I answer that I am taking some pictures of the garbage. After requesting a photograph of them, they not only decline but immediately flee the scene.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

Surprised with the level of distrust and inaccessibility of the community, I continue my research. I take shots of a number of landfills, some houses and animals. We drive to the interior of the village, where I shoot a few houses and a kindergarten. Two inhabitants again stop us, I offer the usual explanation. Again, I ask if I could take a picture, one immediately flees in the house while the other declines but wants to talk

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

Cassandra, a girl whose age I can’t quite figure out, tells us how the garbage interfere with her life and that she is waiting for the sanitation to come and clean things out. She also complains because there are no lines on the road. When we ask why she does not clean her own front yard, she answers that she has no broom, nor the bags in which to throw the trash away. She ensures us that she would have done it if she had had the necessary tools. The inspector ensured her that he would deliver all the tools, but I noticed his obvious doubt in her promises.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

After a while, we continued our research in another Roma village called Rimš, which is located in the clearing of the Krakovo forest. The Krakovo forest is one of the rare, preserved, pristine forests in Europe. The Flood Oak forest stretches between the Sotla, Sava and Krka rivers. Due to its unique nature, it was declared a protected natural monument in 1952. It covers an area of 40.5 ha.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

The village is very small; about thirty people live there in appalling conditions. They have no electricity, no drinking water and sleep in small wooden shacks. Compared to the previous settlement, their life is much more difficult. There is less trash, but many outdoor fireplaces. As usual, no one wanted to be photographed. Only one gentleman stated that he had no problems with being photographed, so snapped away. I asked him why everyone was so reluctant to take photos. He told me that there is a belief that if you capture someone on the camera, you steal his or her soul.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

According to the inspector, reports affecting the environment in this area have become a constant and are seemingly never ending. The Inspectorate has the authority to investigate situations and punish the perpetrators, but unfortunately, due to poor social conditions, sentences are never paid; and the recovery of the social transfers is not possible. Social transfers are the only funding these people receive, because in most cases the residents of Kerinov Grm are unemployed. So they continue with dangerous environmental practices acquire the raw materials they resell to earn a living.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

Of course, I also spoke to the Romani representative in the municipal council. He acknowledged that there is a lot of trash laying all around, but made a point that this is due to desperation. This method of scavenging is the only way to earn extra income for basic living expenses. He stressed that the Romani people live in deplorable living conditions.
Generally, the Romani response to our visit was very rigid. I felt a general skepticism towards outsiders. I can only assume they did not have a positive experience with the general. However, there are also some more positive examples in Slovenia. Where the Romani populations live in harmony with animals and nature.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

One example is in the Prekmurje region, North- Eastern Slovenia, the Romani settlement called Pušča. Every season they organize environmentally conscious clean ups. Their society is generally more functional, as they complete a much higher levels of education, have many people employed in Austria and experience fewer financial problems. They live in much better conditions.

©Sanja Rokvic

©Sanja Rokvic

Upon closer inspection of the situation, I notice that the ecological problems in the Romani settlements in Posavje are multilayered. Stemming from various social issues including the education system, healthcare, social boundaries, even treatment by law. The only practical solution I can see is for non-governmental organizations to collaboration with the Inspectorate to try to uplift these communities via socially beneficial strategies.
Next week, the “Let’s Clean Slovenia” campaign volunteers will work to remove the debris from the area. This action is annually organized by the Municipality of Krško. However, this is not a permanent solution, because the cycle continues each year without real improvement.

Comments are closed.