SAT, 06 OCT 2001 01:14:13 GMT
Where are Bosnia's Croats Headed?
AIM Zagreb, September 27, 2001
Long ago in 1992, everything seemed very simple to Franjo Tudjman.
According to the minutes from a meeting with Mate Boban which somehow
reached the public from the Archives of the President's Office, the late
Croatian president arranged a swap of the Bosnian side of the Sava River
Valley -- in which over 180,000 Croatian Roman Catholics lived -- for
certain parts in western Bosnia mostly inhabited by Serbs. The plan,
roughly outlined even before the war and whose details were worked out
by numerous intellectuals on both sides, was mostly carried out. The
logic behind the new, mass migration of people was simple: the
newly-formed states, as Kosta Cavoski used to explain, should be "nice
and compact," with ethnically homogeneous populations. Tudjman's Croatia
gave up the Sava River Valley, most of central Bosnia and Croatian
pockets around Sarajevo -- not to mention eastern Bosnia -- and the
Serbs, obviously in exchange, left Krajina, western Bosnia and other
regions where in accordance with the designs of great
strategists, they were an obstacle. After 200,000 Bosnian Croats moved
into the promised land, the Tudjman government offered them promises,
guarantees, and personal documents... and a number of Serb houses and
apartments. Back then, the historical project seemed easy to achieve:
Tudjman's power was at its height, the Serbs were declared people who
had voluntarily left Croatia, and all international statistics showed
that of all refugees from a certain region, in ideal conditions, hardly
one third returns. All this was covered by a special law which
immediately after Operation Storm deprived all refugees of their real
estate in Croatia and tenants automatically lost their tenancy rights to
apartments six months after vacating them.
This project, although seeming impregnable, much like the World Trade
Center in New York, however, began crumbling. Even though Tudjman's
policies seemed alive and well, especially concerning ethnic relations,
in the first year after the new Croatian government took office, it
appears that Racan has decided to change the status quo. Namely, last
week Croatian Vice Premier Goran Granic said that Croatia intends to
repeal all temporary permits for the use of Serb property, "because we
do not wish to bear that burden any longer," he said. The motives behind
this decision, however, are not purely ethical, but it was prompted by
persistent objections from the OSCE mission in Croatia, which quoted the
slow process of return of property to Serb returnees as one of the key
reasons for extending its mission in Croatia. The government was also
blasted for its continuous conflict with the leaders of the Serb
community in Croatia, who not even two years after the change of
government have felt any improvement in the official attitude towards
them. The government would like to get rid of European monitoring as
soon as possible, this being proof that Croatia has become a part of
The operation, however, will have its price, and it will not be low.
Namely, some 30,000 Bosnian Croats are still living in Serb houses, and
by the end of the year they will have to be accommodated elsewhere. Last
year the government took a EUR30 million loan to purchase the homes of
those Serb refugees who do not wish to return, and to remodel them, but
also for lots on which new houses for Bosnian Croats are to be built.
The money was spent, but more money, which Croatia does not have, will
have to be found to house 30,000 Bosnian Croats. It is certain that the
state will have 20 million kuna in construction material for building
new houses. This should suffice to build 300-500 homes, enough for only
one-tenth of the people who need a place to live. The others will have
to move from place to place for who knows how long.
A permanent solution will cost even more. To put an end to the refugee
issue Croatia will need, according to a government analysis, over 600
million kuna, or DM150 million! Not only Bosnian Croats are without
homes, but Serb returnees as well and they are returning: not in great
numbers, but slowly and surely. Recently, the registration of Serbs from
Croatia who used to have apartment tenancy rights began. Backed by
international pressure, they will attempt to force the Racan government
to restore their rights, as was done in all states created from the
former Yugoslavia. For now, Serbs from Croatia are the only ones who
have been denied that right. According to certain estimates, there are
some 40,000 of them. "The loss of tenancy rights should be viewed as a
major obstacle to their return," OSCE spokesman in Croatia Alessandro
Frascetti recently said. "It is a major issue indeed, which the OSCE
mission has brought up several times with the Croatian government.
Unfortunately, we have not received any response in regard to what the
government plans to do in the future."
The "humane resettlement" operation has, however, mostly been a success.
According to recently publicized data, over 120,000 Bosnian Croats have
been granted Croatian citizenship, which is one-half of the number that
the war uprooted and brought to Croatia. Some 40,000 of them now live in
the region that used to be called Krajina, and is today technically
labelled "the special state care region." They reside there side by side
with the indigenous Serbs, trying to understand what "special care"
actually means, because it brings nothing to either group. The other
two-thirds are accommodated in Eastern and Western Slavonia, Zagreb,
Rijeka, Istria, Split, or the Adriatic islands. According to official
data, some 20,000 people do not have Croatian citizenship. Obviously,
they will have no other chance but to return to Bosnia. Some 4,500
Bosnian refugees have returned already, but they are mainly Serbs, and
only about 10,000 Bosnian Croats have come back. A new census will
undoubtedly show that the Croatian state is more Croatian than ever.
According to some estimates, between 92 and 95 percent of all ethnic
Croats from the former Yugoslavia are living in Croatia today. On the
other hand, today's Bosnia has never been less Croatian and for exactly
the same reason.