The opinion was issued in the proceedings concerning the complaint of AA against the Republic Geodetic Authority (hereinafter: the Authority) due to discrimination based on an assumed personal characteristic – nationality. In the complaint, the applicant stated, among other things, that he is the holder of property rights on cadastral plots no. 1990/2 and 1990/3 KO on the cadastral municipality of BB, as well as that he published an advertisement with the intention of selling his real estate and directed potential buyers to the official website of the Authority, not knowing that that part of BB was marked on the website of the Authority as “gypsy houses”. He further stated that because of the prejudices that prevail about the members of the Roma national minority, potential buyers gave up on buying real estate, that no Roma are living in this territory of the municipality of BB, but even if they did “the aforementioned would nevertheless represent discrimination based on national affiliation”. In the statement of the Authority, among other things, it was specified that the Authority does not assign geographic names, but in accordance with the provisions of Article 10, paragraph 1, point 17 of the Law on State Survey and Cadaster, it maintains the Register of Geographical Names in accordance with the Law and other relevant documents and publishes it on the official portal of the national infrastructure of geospatial data – Geo Serbia. It was further stated that the Commission for the Standardization of Geographical Names was formed, which prepared proposals, opinions, and expert explanations regarding the standardization and use of geographical names in the territory of the Republic of Serbia, and that the Commission, at its meeting on December 26, 2019, adopted the expert guidelines – “Toponymic guidelines of the Republic of Serbia,” which provides for the use of the term “Gypsy” on the maps.
In the statement, it was pointed out that the name of the hamlet “gypsy houses”, in the settlement BB, was taken from the topographic maps of the Military Geographical Institute from 1980 and 1982, that the Commission’s mandate had expired, and that in the real estate sheet number 211 KO BB, in which cadastral plots no. 1990/2 and 1990/3, are registered, there name “Gypsy houses” doesn’t exists, and in the A-sheet of the mentioned real estate sheet, the name “GG” is written for cadastral plot number 1990/2, and “crooked fields” for cadastral plot number 1990/3. Also, it was stated that the hamlet’s name, “gypsy house”, was made invisible on the official Geo Serbia portal.
After the conducted procedure, it was established that, for members of the Commission, the Authority proposes employees of the Authority and other prominent experts in the field of standardization and use of geographical names, to perform administrative and technical work for the needs of the Commission, as well as that the mandate of the Commission has expired. Upon inspection of the “Toponymic Guidelines of the Republic of Serbia” established that the copyright is retained by the Authority. Upon inspection of the property sheets, it was established that the name “gypsy houses” was not entered in these sheets. After the request for the statement, and upon inspection of the official Geo Serbia portal, the Commissioner established that the name of the hamlet “gypsy house” had been removed, of which they informed the complainant, who declared that he would stand by the submitted complaint. The Commissioner recognizes that it is indisputable that the name of the hamlet “gypsy house”, in the settlement BB, was taken from the topographical maps of the Military Geographical Institute from 1980 and 1982, and that the Authority made this name invisible immediately after it had been pointed out. Using terms such as “Gypsies, Gypsy” is socially unacceptable because it is a derogatory name for Roma and insults the dignity of members of an entire ethnic community. At the First World Roma Congress, which was held on April 8, 1971, the international name Roma was adopted instead of the word “Gypsy”, and it was stated that bearing in mind the historical facts, it represents a derogatory name for members of the Roma national minority, meaning “dirty, lepers and untouchables”. The use of the term “Gypsy houses”, as in this specific case the hamlet’s name in BB was designated, has a pejorative meaning, and creates a hostile, humiliating, and offensive environment. According to the results of the research conducted by the Ethnicity Research Center, over 65% of the respondents would not accept members of the Roma national minority as neighbors, and the results of the Public Opinion Survey Report “Citizens’ Attitudes towards Discrimination in Serbia” show that a fifth of the respondents would not like to have Roma as their neighbors (19%).
The Commissioner welcomes the fast and efficient reaction of the Authority, by which the name “Gypsy house” of the hamlet in BB was made invisible, thus confirming the standpoint that in this particular case, there was no intention to create a humiliating and offensive environment. However, bearing in mind that when examining whether a certain act is contrary to imperative regulations, the intention is not legally relevant, as well as the fact that the Authority manages its website and published data, and that, after the request for a statement, the name of the hamlet in BB was made invisible on the website, the Commissioner issued the opinion that the Republic Geodetic Authority violated the provisions of Article 12, in connection with Article 24 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination. Given that this name has already been made invisible, the Republic Geodetic Authority was recommended to undertake activities within its jurisdiction by initiating the formation of the Commission for the Standardization of Geographical Names and proposing an amendment to the Toponymic Guidelines of the Republic of Serbia in which the term “Gypsy” would be replaced by a more adequate term.
COMMISSIONER FOR THE PROTECTION OF EQUALITY