Varga: Vid Varga...
Narrator: Vid Varga was born in Croatia and has lived in Slovenia most of his life. He moved to Austria in 1989. He explains--through an interpreter-- that when he went to renew his documents in 1992 in Slovenia, he was told that he couldn't do so because he wasn't a citizen:
Varga: [translation] When I came to a local municipality to exchange the documents and there my colleague worked who I knew from the workplace, I said to her Diana, what's going on? Why don't you issue me a new document. And she said, No Vid, I cannot do that.
When Slovenia became a country it offered automatic citizenship to ethnic Slovenians, and gave other residents six months to apply. 171 thousand people born in other ex-Yugoslavian republics—Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro—became Slovenian citizens. 18,000 did not and were barred from social services, jobs and housing. The Slovenian government purged these people from the national registry without much fanfare. So, each person found out individually—when renewing documents, or registering for unemployment. It took 10 years for these "Erased" to realize they were not alone, and become organized.
In 1999 and 2003, the Slovenian courts ruled that the erasure was unconstitutional, but many are still without rights, or they spent years in limbo waiting for them. So this caravan is an effort to engage the rest of the world—to make this a European issue.
Several Erased people were in the audience at a panel discussion on Tuesday in Paris. The whole discussion was translated between French and Slovenian. The Slovenian Ambassador to France, Janez Šumrada, was also in the audience, and stood up to correct what he called inaccuracies presented by members of the panel:
Šumrada [translation]: I think it's important to clarify some points, that were either deliberately hidden, or not explained with enough detail. The fact that 171 thousand residents opted for citizenship and got it—got it without any problems, ladies and gentlemen. Those who were left were the 18,305, but what was not said was that after 1992, that total number was going down—already in September 1992—four thousand eight hundred and ninety three people obtained permanent residency permits in Slovenian"
Narrator: As the Ambassador started to translate himself into Slovenian, panelist Jelka Zorn, who is on the faculty of Social Work at the University of Ljubljana, started to argue with him.
[sounds of arguing]
Narrator: Many in the audience cheered
[sound of clapping]
Narrator: And then several people rushed up to the Ambassador, speaking angrily, holding up their ID cards.
[sound of arguing]
Narrator: The Ambassador excused himself and quickly left the building.
Kurnik: We understood that it's impossible to solve this problem in our nation state
Narrator: Andrej Kurnik is one of the caravan's organizers:
Kurnik: Apparently it's impossible to solve this problem in Slovenia. And we think it is Europe
Narrator: Eleven Erased have sued the Slovenian state in the European court for human rights. In Paris on Tuesday French deputies vowed to write a letter to President Jacques Chirac about the situation:
Kurnik: Also to mention that uh- it's inconvenient that the country that does not solve such problems, that really are the problems of many in this country, which basic rights are denied, maybe its not suitable to held the presidency of the European Union in 2008.
Narrator: Ambasador Šumrada says that Slovenia is preparing a law to regularize those who are left. The law will be presented to parliament. He says that it wasn't done before because previous governments lacked the political will
Šumrada: [translation] Until now there was never been a clear majority in the parliament to pass a law like this
Narrator: And again, he is quick to minimize the number of people this is affecting:
Šumrada: [translation] It is, in my opinion. A few thousand people, but not 18,000
Narrator: Regardless of the numbers—of who is in or out of status today—there are many like Asim Skopich who want some kind of recognition. He finally got citizenship in 2003, but it didn't change much for him he says, because by that time he was too old to find a job:
Skopich: [translation] I didn't feel any different because many years of my life had been totally destroyed… My life has been ruined.
Producer: Sarah Elzas
Recorded in Paris, France