Before independence I had all my documents issued in Ljubljana. I was brought to Slovenia in 1969 when I was one year old. I went to school here, I worked here and formed a family.
On 30 December 1990 I had a very bad car accident. I stayed in hospitals, so I didn’t apply for citizenship in time. When I came out, I was on crutches for several months. The boss I worked for was to give me a permanent job after the new year. That’s what was agreed. Because of the accident, and the long period of recovery, this job fell through. I had barely recovered from the accident when I was erased in 1992. Obviously, “southerners” were welcome only as a workforce and only during the era of Yugoslavia – after independence we became redundant.
The last of my documents issued in Ljubljana before independence was my ID card. It was issued one year before the erasure, on 29 April 1991. It should have been valid until 2001, but in 1992 they destroyed it. I didn’t have a driver’s license. I had a Yugoslavian passport which had also been issued in Slovenia before independence, and it became invalid with the erasure.
It was in 1992, if I remember correctly, when I got an invitation to come to the administrative unit concerning my citizenship. I was glad to be able to finally settle this. When I arrived there, a lady asked me if I wanted to take Slovenian citizenship and I said that I did. As a matter of fact, before that I had already tried to submit the application for citizenship, but a clerk at the applications counter rejected mine, saying that I didn’t have all the required documents. This lady asked me if I had my ID card with me. I gave it to her. She took it, punched it and returned it to me saying: “From now on you’re erased.”
I was like a homeless person: without a home, without a family, which didn’t want me because I didn’t have papers, without anything. Naturally, I didn’t steal, I didn’t want to. But I humbled myself so much that I asked a man for a piece of bread. Since I was considered a foreigner, I didn’t have the right to social assistance. I didn’t receive help from the Red Cross or Karitas either – if I had been a refugee, I’d have been entitled according to their criteria, but since I was not, I didn’t belong there.
Of course I didn’t know what it meant, what the consequences were. She instructed me to go to the office for foreigners and ask there what to do. I went there and asked them what I had to do to be able to stay in Slovenia. There were two young women sitting there; they looked at me and asked on whose behalf I was asking. “On my own,” I said. They simply couldn’t believe it; they too thought it was strange. They explained to me what I had to do – that I first had to go to the Bosnian embassy and get a Bosnian passport. At that time there was no Bosnian embassy in Ljubljana; the nearest one was in Italy. So I got down to obtaining Bosnian documents, foreign documents. I phoned the embassy because I couldn’t go to Italy without valid documents. They asked me if I had a permanent address in Ljubljana, and I said I didn’t because they invalidated it. “If that is the case, then you cannot get Bosnian documents from the embassy,” was what they said. So I was at zero point – nowhere. I didn’t have Slovenian citizenship or any valid document. One of my brothers was erased too, but other siblings – we were eight children in my family – didn’t have problems; they all became Slovenian citizens. The loss of legal status caused many complications. I split from my partner during that time, when my life disintegrated, because I couldn’t get citizen status. The apartment was owned by the company for which she worked at the time. When we split, I moved out of the apartment, and she later purchased it from the company. We were not married, but we had the same address – that address was my registered permanent address. One reason why we quarrelled was the complications regarding citizenship. I preferred to move out of the apartment, so that she could stay there with our son (born in 1991). I was left literally without anything, like a hobo, left to my own devices, without documents, without a job, without a family and without an apartment. I slept in basements, old cars and parks.
I was seriously ill but I didn’t have health insurance. I also didn’t have money to pay for examinations, so I could not see a doctor. There had been no free medical help until 2002 when doctor Doplihar opened the outpatient clinic in Mislejeva Street for people without health insurance. Then for some time I went there until I got citizenship and arranged health insurance. In the meantime I went without health care for 10 years.
Since I know how it is when you’re ill and you don’t have access to doctors, I think that the right to medical help is one of the essential rights. Without health, you’re destroyed. You cannot even work illegally if you are ill. I wonder what happened to the Hippocratic oath. Has it been replaced by the insurance policy? My health condition chronically deteriorated during the period of erasure, when I couldn’t access health care anywhere. Now I have the certificate that I have level three disability, but I think it should be at least level two disability. My legs have been swelling and the wounds opening up, so I have to wear bandages all the time. I cannot see in my right eye – this is also one of the consequences of not having treatment. It went to my lungs; I should stop smoking. Well, I try, slowly. The erasure really affected my health.
From that time on, after I became a foreigner without documents and without status, no one wanted to give me a job. They were afraid of the police. I lived on what I could earn working illegally and on what I could cadge from others. I was like a homeless person: without a home, without a family, which didn’t want me because I didn’t have papers, without anything. Naturally, I didn’t steal, I didn’t want to. But I humbled myself so much that I asked a man for a piece of bread. Since I was considered a foreigner, I didn’t have the right to social assistance. I didn’t receive help from the Red Cross or Karitas either – if I had been a refugee, I’d have been entitled according to their criteria, but since I was not, I didn’t belong there.
Of course there were people, several individuals, who helped me. I don’t know how it would have turned out without their help. For example, in 1998 I met Mr. M.N. who has a restaurant in Tomačevo and rents out rooms. I told him how it was with me, that I didn’t have anywhere to sleep, and asked if he had a room. He said that he had a vacant room. I asked him if he was renting it out and what was the price. And he replied by asking me if I had the money. I told him I didn’t have money. “Why do you ask then? Go upstairs and take it.” And that’s what I did; I went “upstairs” and stayed there for several years. In return, I worked in his restaurant. I helped him roast pigs and I served guests.
During the time I worked for him I was almost deported to Bosnia. This was in 2001. Until then I was successful in hiding, I didn’t cause any trouble, I didn’t steal, I walked around the town as little as I could. And then it was like this. It was seven in the morning, we were drinking coffee when five policemen entered the restaurant. One came to me and wanted to check my identification. I told him I didn’t have documents. Then he said it didn’t matter: “Tell me your surname.” I told him and it was enough. They had almost finished, they were practically leaving, when the other police officer looked in my direction and told the first police officer: “And this one has no documents!” As if he knew that I didn’t have them. The first one told him I didn’t have documents but said that he already wrote down my name. The other one insisted on processing me. One of them followed me to my room, and I presented my invalidated ID card issued in Slovenia. For them it was an invalid document, so I had to go with them. They took me to the Ljubljana Bežigrad police station.“Now you go before the judge for minor offenses,” they ordered. The judge issued the ruling that there was no reason for expulsion. But, despite this, the police officers put me back into the police car and took me to the Detention Center, which was in Šiška at that time. It was Monday. They told me that on Wednesday I’d be on the plane to Sarajevo. They didn’t respect the ruling. In the center I had the right to make one phone call. I called Matevž Krivic and he called Mr. M.N. They both came to fetch me, and they got me out. If those two had not reacted so fast, I’d have been on the plane flying to Sarajevo on that Wednesday in 2001.
My friends and acquaintances didn’t know that I was erased, except for one policeman and M.N., of course, who rescued me from the Center for Aliens. Later, after 2003, when I obtained citizenship and began to appear on television and in the newspapers, they were very surprised: “We didn’t know, why didn’t you tell us?” I indeed didn’t talk about it with anyone, except with one policeman who protected me. If we went somewhere, he said: “Come with me, when they see that I’m a policeman they won’t check your identification.” I went out with him; otherwise I didn’t. I didn’t ask my friends for help.
I found my way around on my own. Because I was ashamed. I had a good life before that, as a waiter I had quite a good salary, and then I found myself practically at the bottom. The policeman, my friend, offered to give me something from time to time, but I didn’t want to take it. From time to time he paid for a drink, but that’s different. I didn’t want to take money. I’m like that, stubborn. You’re afraid to ask your colleague, because you’re afraid that you’ll lose him. I was lucky to have this friend.
I maintained contact with my son and daughter to a greater or lesser degree despite all the losses I suffered. But I was ashamed because I couldn’t offer them anything. For some time I visited my son in secret. But I had contact with my daughter from my first marriage all the time; she is older and she could understand it. Now she helps us build a relationship.
We learnt that the erasure was an unlawful measure only in 2002, no sooner than that. I knew that I didn’t have a permanent address, that I didn’t have the right to health care, to employment, social aid, in short, no right to anything. But we didn’t know that it was a mistake by Slovenia, until Todorović and Krivic appeared in public with the data and explanations. Before that, we were only “southerners.” Then when we learnt that there were many of us and that it was a mistake by Slovenian politicians, we began to fight, but you cannot fight the system alone. Right up to 2002, when the erased people went public, I didn’t know any erased person. It seems that all of us were hiding, nobody talked about it. When I heard about the association and got Aleksandar Todorović’s number, I called him straight away and told him about my situation. We began to meet each other at that time and we still fight together. I’m a member of the Civil Initiative of the Erased People, and the Vice-Chairman for the Ljubljana district. This association does not receive donations; we have no resources. The only thing we have is moral support, and we too offer moral support to everybody.
We demand that all the people who were stripped of permanent residence permits in 1992 be given back their status, retroactively as well, and that all injustices be remedied. For example, I lost 11 years of qualifying years for pension, because I was not “employable,” although I had to work. I lost my health, I lost my sight, I lost my family. No financial compensation, no matter how high it is, can give me back my health and my family; these cannot be evaluated in terms of money. But those who were responsible for the erasure, meaning those who ordered this measure and allowed it, must be held responsible for what they did, morally and in court. Bavčar was the Minister of the Interior in 1992 and he signed the document that made the erasure legitimate.
In 2003, on 13 October, I obtained Slovenian citizenship based on Article 19 of the Citizenship Act. After that I immediately went out to find a job. I “bamboozled” my employer, to be honest, because I didn’t tell him that I was ill. It was really urgent for me to get a job and health insurance. I spent a lot of time on sick leave and that’s why I was dismissed. Now I receive a disability pension, but it is very low because of the insufficient number of working years.
Now that I have citizenship, certain things have changed for the better. I don’t have to hide from the police any more, and I have the right to legal employment. But I have the same health problems as in the past; the only difference is that now I can go to a doctor. But I cannot work as I did in the past – not because I don’t have the right to work, but because of all those health problems that piled up over time. I applied for a non-profit apartment, but you know how it is, there are too few available apartments and too many people applying. I can travel now and I travelled a lot with the erased people and our supporters – to Italy, Brussels, Bosnia, Serbia etc. Before that, I hadn’t left Slovenia for 12 years; my aunt almost didn’t recognize me when I appeared in my place of birth one day. What I find most important is that now I can take part in the struggle of various groups, asylum seekers, immigrant workers, against the detention centers in Italy and Slovenia and so on, and nobody persecutes me because of that. I can appear on the “frontline,” give statements to the media and the like. Thanks to activism, my life had taken the right direction.