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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    WED, 08 NOV 1995 22:03:53 GMT

    Will the People from Krajina Return to Croatia?

    BETWEEN WISHES AND COMPULSION

    "I will, grant God, go back as soon as possible, because I have no choice. Between sleeping in a reception centre (there is twenty of us in a single room) and sleeping among ruins of my house (I heard they'd burnt it down) - I choose my own hearth. It can't be worse than this, and I hope Tudjman has had enough of our blood - Petar B., a peasant from Banija contemplates, adding that he is ready for the worst, death, because "this here is also dying, there is no life...".

    AIM, Belgrade, November 2, 1995

    Three months of experience as refugees - that is how long the Serbs from Krajina will soon have. Even such a short time was sufficient for them to realize that noone needs them in Serbia and in Yugoslavia, and that over there, in Croatia, noone wishes to have them back. Both regimes are showing it unambiguously: Belgrade regime by its humiliating treatment of refugees, and the one in Zagreb by having destroyed their property in Krajina and by having killed their compatriots who had remined in their homes when action "Storm" began.

    According to the latest data of the Republican Commissariat of Refugees, 189 thousand banished Serbs from Krajina found refuge in Serbia. More than a half of them (111 thousand) were accomodated in Vojvodina, and about 15 thousand of them are staying in Kosovo. The rest are in Belgrade and its surroundings, and just a few in the interior of Serbia. Only in the next few days, the Government of Serbia will have draft measures for permanent accomodation of refugees from Krajina on its agenda, the implementation of which, if adopted, will begin next spring.

    Welcome of "motherland"

    With its action of forcible separation of male, military service eligible inhabitants of Krajina from their families immediately after their arrival to Serbia and by sending them off to units of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, first to Erdut, and then into the units in Eastern Slavonia and Bosnian Krajina, the official Belgrade eliminated two problems with this single stroke: first, wrath of the Serbs from Krajina was buffered by reducing the number of malcontents, and second, frontlines in Eastern Slavonia and Bosnia were strengthened in this way, for possible new conflicts in these regions.

    What men from Krajina are experiencing in Arkan's camp, according to the words of the few who have managed to get away, exceeds maltreatment methods applied in the notorious Communist prison on the island of Goli otok from the time of resistance to Stalinism. For example, a Serb from Banija who had been brought in by force, a disabled man who had not been a conscript even back in Krajina, was forced in Arkan's presence to eat the medical report and recommendation for a surgery in Belgrade Military Medical Academy, because Arkan's "Tigers" did not recognize such excuses.

    Another man from Krajina threw a cigarette butt on the floor of an improvised kitchen in Arkan's camp (that is, on the ground), and the punishment for it was - he spent the following 24 hours tied up to a post. Belgrade Humanitarian Law Fund informed the public about such and similar humiliations, stating that police had even broken into accomodation centres and taken men in large groups leaving their families without any information on their ultimate destination.

    To such, unexpected "welcome" in motherland, the Serbs in exile responded by introversion, exchanging their fears among themselves and in whispers, fearing that loud complaints could only aggravate their already bad position. In such circumstances, contemplations about return to their homes are more and more frequent. At first long queues were formed in front of the gate of the Croat Office in Belgrade, in Cakorska street. Now, the number of refugees from Krajina queueing at this address has diminished because they could not do anything for themselves over there. Namely, employees of the Office communicate with refugees through the fence, declaring that they are incompetent for most of the issues, forwarding people to Croat embassies in Budapest and Skopje. The only traces of their wish to return to Croatia are signed pieces of paper the Serbs from Krajina had handed through the wire fence to an employee of the Office.

    - I would return if I had any guarantee of the international community - Ranko P., a teacher from Benkovac, says. - Here I am just a nobody, I cannot get a passport, although I have an opportunity to go abroad with my family. The only motive for my return to Croatia is to stay there only as long as it is necessary to get all the papers with which I will then emigrate for good to one of the overseas countries. I will be satisfied, and so will Croatia...

    - I will return, grant God, as soon as possible, because I have no other choice. Between sleeping in a reception centre (there are twenty of us in a room) and sleeping among the ruins of my house (I'd heard that they have burnt it) - I choose my hearth. It cannot get any worse, and I hope Tudjman has had enough of our blood - Petar B., a peasant from Banija contemplates, adding that he is ready for the worst, death, because "this here is also dying, there is no life..."

    - Not a day passes without my thinking of going back. It is difficult to be smart at a time like this. People say, let's all go together, we returned to our burnt homes in '45, too - Luka J., a retired man from Korenica says. - But, it is not the same, then and now. Then we returned as victors, and what are we now, nobody, misery and distress, humiliated and made to look very small. I don't know, it will be very difficult...

    Milan R., an office clerk from Zagreb, born in Kordun, does not share his opinion: - For all of us, in general, it would be best if we never returned to Croatia, and from now on and for ever, if we forgot, if only we could, that we have ever been and existed there. On the contrary, if we don't, in a decade or two, our children will have to experience these and similar fears we and our ancestors have gone through.

    Return to Vojnic and Donji Lapac?

    - Whoever returns, individually or organized in groups, will have to face the following: he will not be able to say 'I am a Serb, I have been deprived of my rights to this or to that, I am threatened, or anything of the sort - Miso T. from Vojnic thinks. - Whenever he complains of anything like that, he will be answered: we don't care, you've been in Serbia, why have you returned... There will be no 'my script', no 'my flag', no 'my song'... because there will always be a Croat who will say: you have been there, why haven't you stayed there and sung to your heart's content!"

    And while Serb refugees are all in this or that way thinking about the possibility to return to their homes, pricking their ears to hear what peace negotiations on resolution of the crisis in former Yugoslav space will bring concerning their issue, some institutions are also engaged with the idea about their return.

    Steering Committee for return of the Serbs to Krajina which acts as part of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, by good offices of the American Embassy, sent three thousand filled out and signed forms of refugees from Krajina who wish to return to Croatia, and 1500 questionnaires in which Serb refugees declared that they did not wish to be deprived of their properties were recently sent to the address of Nikica Valentic, Prime Minister of Croatia.

    Ninko Miric, a member of the Committee believes that Croatia will be forced to answer in the affirmative to these demands, if for no other reason, due to pressure exerted by the international community.

    - If we could only, for the beginning, organize the return of at least a single group of a few thousand Serb refugees, so that their return passed without any major trauma, I am convinced that the remaining Serbs would with less difficulty and faster decide to return. We are planning a pilot project for an organiozed return into the minicipality of Vojnic in Kordun. This is a municipality where, according to the 1991 census, only Serbs lived with the exception of 144 Croats and just a small number of Muslims. We are preparing something similar for the municipality of Donji Lapac in Lika as well, a program elaborated by the Serb National Party from Zagreb which will be supported by international institutions. Effectuation of these projects will also be a specific test for the existence of the concept of ethnically clean states, that is, for the existence of an agreement to move the population. Now, it is most important for us to have patience if order to live to see the outcome of developments in the political sphere which will condition the final outcome of the initiative for the return of Serb refugees to Croatia - Ninko Miric says.

    Some of the leaders of the former Knin political leadership are also waiting for the outcome of developemnts, who, although pushed to the margins, still regularly come to the premises of the Krajina Bureau in Belgrade. According to the words of a minister from the government of Milan Babic who wishes to remain anonymous, they are still assembled, because they were informed that they could also be engaged in the organization of the return of Krajina refugees to Croatia, when the time comes, that is, when Milosevic and Tudjman will be forced to agree to it by suggestions and under pressure exerted by international factors.

    To the question what will happen to refugees who refuse to return under some kind of pressure, Babic's minister explains:

    - Noone will ask them. Just as we had no choice when we were leaving Krajina, they will have no choice either when they will be returning to it. Croatia will not be able to gain access to European institutions if it does not somehow resolve the Serb issue. And it will not be able to resolve it without the Serbs, which means that at least 50 thousand will have to go back. And Milosevic can quite simply accomplish this by refusing to give them the status of refugees, by abolishing aid, the right to health protection, education of their children, so those who do not manage to start making their living somehow by that time will simply have to return. And noone will feel sorry for us here, they will be happy to get rid of us, because we from Krajina, lay heavily on the guilty conscience not only of the Serb regime, but of the whole of Serbia.

    Come what may, it is certain that the refugees from Krajina will spend the approaching winter in exile. Factors in charge and those interested in their destiny will have enough time to reconsider and weigh all the elements of political bargaining which, as it seems, await these people in near future.

    Milka LJubicic