FRI, 07 JUN 1996 19:10:39 GMT
Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem
AIM Belgrade, June 5, 1996
Exactly at the time when even the most sceptical people started to believe that the Eastern-Slavonian peace experiment might succeed before the prescribed time limit, dark clouds appeared over its implementation. "And if you have a cloud above your head, you cannot feel safe", declared Jacques Klein, the alpha and omega of UN operation in this region, commenting on the Croatian Law on Amnesty which pardoned only those Serbs for armed rebellion who had lived in the region of Srem and Baranja until 1991, "and not all those who are living here now, as we have agreed" (Klein).
However, the mentioned incomplete amnesty is not the only reason why it became cloudy over Eastern Slavonia, because sooner or later, in accordance with demands of the international community, Zagreb will have to increase the scope of its "forgiveness" and clasp all its Serb "outcasts" in its arms, except for war criminals, of course. Deputies of Vukovar Municipal Assembly have also contributed to the dark skies with their demand that the whole region be proclaimed special and demilitarized zone with a very high level of autonomy.
"It would in fact be a state within a state", Miroslav Keravica, the new Mayor of Vukovar explained the essence of the demand. Keravica found a pretext for this renewed demand for Serb autonomy, among other, in public statements of German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel ("autonomy for the Serb ethnic minority in Croatia") and an alleged statement of administrator Klein made in Ilok: "Autonomy for the Serbs, why not?!".
With such arguments, or without them, the "spectre of autonomy" is circling over Zagreb again. Reactions are not unexpected, ranging from "never and not at any cost" (Franjo Tudjman), to announcement of reaffirmation of the "Serb community in Croatia" (Tudjman again at the session of the Presidential Council). Belgrade is reacting by silence, leaving to the others to interpret its stand. For example, to Mate Granic, Croatian foreign minister, who confirmed after the return from Geneva that Tudjman and Milosevic had talked not only of Bosnia but of Eastern Slavionia as well and "supported efforts for reintegration of this region peacefully into the constitutional legal system of Croatia".
The efforts for reintegration, however, every now and them stumble upon a trap. The highway between Belgrade and Zagreb is opened. For whom? "For everybody, except the Serbs and the Croats", Zvonimir Markovic, head of the Croatian office in Belgrade, commented on absence of civilian transportation. The oil pipeline has also become operational, but, as the head of the office of the Croatian Government for implementation of the Erdut agreement, Ivica Vrkic says, "when we offer the job in Djeletovci to all those who used to work there, the Serbs say they wish to set up a company of their own". Vrkic adds: "When we offer their workers employment in Croatian Railways, they establish a railway public enterprise of their own. We even offered them pensions. But, their politicians would like to take the money from Croatia under their own conditions, which would appear as if we were paying reparations to those who intended to occupy our land."
For the sake of the truth it should be said that the Croats were not the first to offer pensions to Serb pensioners in Eastern Slavonia, but it was a project of Klein's administration which was planned to be "tested" first in the village of Darda in Baranja, and then in the whole region. UNTAES stimulated the Government of Croatia to begin paying pensions experimentally to the Serbs in the region. A joint, Serbo-Croatian committee was formed and all pensioners from Darda were invited to come to the local community offices by the end of May in order to be registered and to submit applications for birth certificates, citizenship and identity cards. Three weeks later, according to the plan, the Croatian Retirement Fund was expected to begin paying pensions to the Serbs. The whole operation, though, met with obstacles right in the beginning.
Local Serb authorities experienced the "pension project" as a Croatian and UNTAES provocation, or as Dr Vojislav Stanimirovic, President of the Regional Executive Council, said, "it means introduction of Croatian citizenship behind our backs". Besides, Serb and Croatian lists of pensioners differ a great deal. On the lists of the Serb authorities, there are about 12 thousand persons entitled to pensions in Croatia who are now living in the region. On Croatian lists, there are only five thousand such persons. The operation of registering pensioners in Darda was interrupted, as claimed by witnesses, due to extremely arrogant behavior of representatives of the Retirement Fund of Croatia, who had demanded that a Croatian flag, coat of arms, Tudjman's photograph and the other insignia be hoisted in the offices where registration took place, which just added oil on the already smouldering fire.
The fire is smouldering because of demilitarization which is going on for quite some time and which should be over by June 20. How ever hard the President of the Region Goran Hadzic may be trying hard to repeat that "our arms are not a gurantee of our security any more", advocating in this way the undisturbed process of disarmament, many Serbs find it difficult to part from their weapons, still fearing the possibility of an armed reintegration into Croatia. Several incidents registered on both sides in the very first days of demilitarization seem to speak in favour of this fear. Just as they are confirmed also by the not in the least peaceful declarations of leaders of Osijek District that "they will have to strain relations with the Serbs if they continue to repeat their old political rhetoric.
The Croatian media, however, also manifest reluctance in abandoning their own old political rhetoric still using the language of the early nineties, the one in which "only we are the victims, and only they are the oppressors". Polls among banished Croats have become more frequent, 90 per cent of whom, if pollers are to be believed, wish to retun, but only under the condition "that they encounter no Serbs there".
But the Serbs are still "there". Even Jacques Klein is still there, who is experienced by political rhetoricians of both parties as a temporary occupier. By the Serbs because he has taken the "liberated region" away from them, and by the Croats because he has prevented them to "liberate" their territory in a manner deja vu. And while this specific occupation of the liberators lasts, Eastern Slavonija, Baranja and Western Srem are awaiting implementation of the Erdut agreement in the shadow of Bosnia. The dark clouds above are just part of (un)expected accompanying phenomena of the process of reintegration which is planned to last a year, and an additional year. All nuances of future developments cannot be predicted even by the most clairvoyant among the actors.
(AIM) Milka Ljubicic