The present paper discusses the issue of refugees’ return to Croatia. The paper investigates the issue at length by reviewing history and linking it to the present situation in Croatia. The paper also brings into focus the viewpoint of Croatian government. The major part of the paper forms on the independent analysis about the whole situation so that a neutral perspective can be obtained. The paper ends with critical remarks in the conclusion section by making recommendation for the issue.
2- Purpose of the Research
The purpose of the present research is to specifically investigate the issue of the return of Serb refugees to Croatia in the aftermath of ethnic war that broke in the country between the Serbs and the Croats. The paper aims to explore this issue from a number of angles to bear a thorough understanding of the issue. For this purpose, the paper makes use of a number of research sources and arrives at the conclusion with sound judgments and observation made through the paper. Another purpose of the present research is to provide through facts about refugees return to Croatia in limited space so that it can be an efficient reference for reading and further research. The overall purpose of this paper is to make correct observation of the issue.
3- Method of Research
The method of research for the present paper is of qualitative design. Secondary data and sources would be used as the means of conducting the research. The secondary data would be used to gather distant facts; the paper attempts to bring these facts into one paper. At the same time, the present paper undertakes a simultaneous critical approach to examine, analyze, and summarize different issues for purposes of clarity and better understanding. Thus, the review of secondary sources in this paper can be rightly said to be the critical review of literature which is a very effective way for conducting research of this kind. The paper is divided into different sections which address specific issues separately. The research goes back to the time when the entire issue started in the present day Croatia as well as elsewhere. Afterward, the paper moves on to address the current situation from a number of angles so that a complete picture can be obtained. The Last chapter concludes that paper in which present writer gives personal analysis of the entire issue researched.
4- Research Question
The present research study aims to answer that following research question by reviewing secondary sources to arrive at the answer:
How easy is it for refugees to return to Croatia?
5- Background of the Entire Situation
Looking back to past reveals that Croatia was set for independence from Yugoslavia in the post-socialist time. However, this independence caused Croatia a high price because after its freedom, an inter-ethnic war was triggered between two ethnic groups in Croatia which were the Croats and the Serbs. This war started in 1991 and ended after four years. Areas like town of Knin were key points for these riots. It was basically the property relations that are seen to be the basis of this so violent an ethnic war between the two groups. It is so because in the pre-socialist Yugoslavia, “land was central to economic activity and to social identity in local society and was owned mainly by male family members”. Led by socialist policies previously, in the new state these property rights presented an entirely different situation. Right to housing was another major entitlement formed in the previous regimes. This was a more powerful factor in urban areas rather than rural areas. When Croatia came into being, only two types of property rights were retained. These were privately owned property and state governed property. What was missed was the factor of social ownership of property which was completely removed from the picture; social property was first taken under state administration and afterward was privatized. Other social rights like free healthcare facilities were also abandoned. Therefore, all this resulted in a “far-reaching social effects” for the country. These initiatives taken by the government, huge social and political changes taking place in the country, etc. led to a situation in which there started a race between the Croats and the Serbs as they began to capture and destroy properties of “other” ethnic groups within the same country. This was known as “ethnic cleansing”. This strategy was backed up by Slobodan Milosevic, then Serbian president for the Serbs and for Croats the assistance came from the Croatian nationalist government. There are a number of reasons for these post-independence events in Croatia which led to massive ethnic war in the country. For example, Serbs and Croats tried to form their own governments in different parts of the country which came to materialize into a big issue for later violence as well (Leutloff-Grandits, 2005, pp. 1-5).
In 1991, the Serbs, with the help of Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) formed a Serb state, the Republic of Serbian Krajina, which was not internationally recognized, in the parts of the country that had a mixed population of both the Serbs and the Croats. Knin became to capital of this state and its borders stretched to Bosnia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, from Dalmatian to the Danube. During the 1991-1995 war times, the Serbs by force expelled the Croats from the areas under their control. At the same instant, this was happening to the Serbs in those areas where they were in minority. They either fled or were forced to leave their houses and properties; many of them moved to the shelter of Yugoslavia or the Serbian governed Krajina where they, in turn, occupied the houses and properties left by the Croats. The overall result was that many of the areas became largely ethnically clean. However, it was in 1995 that the entire situation changed drastically. What happened was that the Croatian army regained mighty power and came to put deep anger over the Serbs who had to then surrender their territory. Almost all the Serbs had to flee to either Yugoslavia or Bosnia. In this situation the law was formed which allowed the returning Croats to occupy the houses and property left by the fleeing Serbs. Although the new law and the living patterns in the changed climate of Croatia demonstrated that now the fleeing Serbs would not return to Croatia. However, it the pressure from the international community, especially from the European Union, that required the Croatian government to “remove obstacles that would prevent the return of the Serbian population to Croatia”. Later days saw the Dayton Peace Agreement taking place, “a measure of Croatia’s commitment to the European Union”. Thus, in this context and with the pressure from the international community, the Croatian government undertook initiatives in 1998 that were focused to make the return of the Serb refugees a material reality. However, this was in a way a very slow process and the Serbs who returned to Croatia were just restricted to merely the rural areas. Major reason for this was that in the urban areas like Knin, the Serb-left houses and properties were already occupied by the Croats and it seems a far-cry to evacuate those for the Serbs. Although in 2000, the government went through a change, little was there that could change the situation. The author of the book particularly relates personal experience which makes it a very important observation that ownership rights of houses and property is the basic phenomenon with which the return of the refugees was linked. There are a number of reasons that the author presents in this connection which are from past links of a family to the sense of security (Leutloff-Grandits, 2005, pp. 5-12).
The responsible authorities, departments, and people in Croatia have undertaken numerous initiatives since the international pressure first made its way; however, it is correct to state that the present situation in Croatia is something that receives much criticism both from the international community and watch programs, and from the local insiders like the Serbs. As such, in the remaining paper, the investigation would focus on the present circumstances and situation going on in Croatia with regard to the return of the Serbian refugees and look into the matter to form a critical analysis as to what holds to be the right observation to make in this connection.
6- Human Rights Watch
As early as 1996, reports started coming that the Croats were stopping the returns of the Serbs. What was actually happening then was that the people were not trialed or halted for this human rights violation. This had serious implications for the returnees; it is surprising to note that the police were also reported to be involved in this violation (Jonathan, 1997). Since then the human rights violation have proved to be futile for the returnee Serbs because they did not declare Yugoslav citizenship; the simple reason is that they fear their existence in Croatia and think that it is any day they would have to flee again. The result is that they can’t find employment for this reason (Lawrence, 1996). It was in September 2006 that the Human Rights Watch released its report on the present situation taking place in Croatia with regard to the return of the Serb refugees to their motherland. The report points out to a number of issues that need immediate attention from the Croatian authorities. The report stated that at present there are significant hindrances that the returning Serbs face when it comes to enjoying human rights in the country. The report “A Decade of Disappointment: Continuing Obstacles to the Reintegration of Serb Returnees” brings forth the key issues for human rights violation. According to it, the Serbs face violation and intimidation by the Croats in a number of areas of daily life; the refugees who have already returned to Croatia, are stilling living a “precarious existence”. The report insisted that the Croatian government be more serious about this issue. Although the government’s registered returnees are about 120,000, (out of 350,000 actual Serbs who fled) the actual number of the Serbs is much lower than this figure. Because of unsuitable conditions in Croatia, all these Serbs do is live for a short time in Croatia and then return to Bosnia, Serbia, or elsewhere. There is sharp failure on the part of the government to address the issue of housing; many Serbs who own property while they were leaving Croatia have been stripped of their rights and nothing substantial is happening when their return is being talked about. “Government programs designed to provide them with substitute housing have proved ineffective, making return to Croatia difficult or impossible”. This attitude, according to the report, is simply the indication that the Croatian government holds that the Serbs are at present the second-class citizens (US Fed News Service, 2006).
If any serious change is planned by the Croatian government, it is important in the first place that it has to change its attitude toward the returning Serb population. In contrast, the repot related that there is a recent increase in the violent activities by the Croats against the Serbs which tells of the poor organization on the side of the government; these incidents range from murders to bombing, from assaulting the Serbs to damaging their houses and automobiles. The basis of such incidents is clearly the ethnic hatred that the Croats grudge against the Serbs. In 2005 alone, the official report registered at least 48 such cases which is way too much. Government laws, initiatives to restore order, and provision of equal opportunities to minorities like Serbs and others are proving to be of no use. At present there are few Serbs in the state employment. Another major problem is the restoring of electricity to the returnee Serb communities. The other part of the picture is the returnees have yet to obtain full right to their agricultural lands. Although 4000 houses, damaged or destroyed during the war, have been reconstructed, it is just a fraction of the entire goal to be achieved. The official process such as the process of filing an appeal for reconstruction and other issues is slow as a snail. The report emphasize that as large number of returns do not seem to be likely as of now, it is imperative that the government put full effort to prove its bias as wrong against the Serbs. If this would not be observed, it will be way too hard for the small number of refugees to return to Croatia which is completely a violation of human rights principles (US Fed News Service, 2006).
7- Difficulties in the Return
Looking at the present situation linked with the past it must be noticed that a cursory look tells that the responsibility of this situation lies on the Croatian nationalist parties which are not in favor of the returns. So these parties are to be targeted by the government for positive change. It is so because these parties now hold power in previously Serb communities. Local courts and other local departments certainly give way to serious issues that make the return more and difficult. One important observation is that the local courts and administrative departments have not played an active role to evict Croats out of the houses that belong to the Serbs. As such it is possible that one find this local and administrative problem to be responsible. However, according to Human Right Watch, what is actually happening is that the central government of the country is also equally responsible for this discrimination. The most significant reason is that the central government has failed to promote a political culture in which the return can be seen as a positive sign to the development of the nation. This given high disappointment to the human rights observes and advocates of democracy in Croatia. Although the coalition government undertook numerous measures to ensure better democracy and entered into such agreements with the European Union as “Stabilizing and Association Agreement”, it is still a far lying milestone to be covered as the actual objectives and the effectiveness of all the programs still, to the very present day, remain unrealized. “The government has never genuinely attempted to build a public atmosphere in which the populace would welcome return of Croatian Serbs”. Instead of that “the authorities have consistently prioritized that needs and rights of ethnic Croats – including refuges from Bosnia – over the rights of Serb refugees and returnees”. For the first time, as late as after 8 years of the end of the war, in 2003 that the Croatian Prime Minister publicly invited the Serb refugees to come back to their home. However, this invitation remained effective as far as the words go; practical efforts did lack (Human Right Watch, 2003).
8- Croatian Government’s Viewpoint
It is now important to look at the viewpoint of the Croatian government regarding the return of the Serb refugees. In 2007, Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Family Affairs, War Veterans and Intergenerational Solidarity, Jadranka Kosor stated that the government was undertaking a number of supportive programs to make possible the return of the refugees; he also supported the programs by UN High Commissioner for Refugees so that the refugees can be provided help at a number of stages. Protection of human rights standards and their continuous improvement was the focal point of the government. According to the Minister, the issues of returning refugees was on the high priority list of the government and the government would put effort to meet its goal of being a member of European Union and NATO. As more refugees have already returned to the country, more efforts would be put to provide assistance to displaced families. As for the plans for the year 2009, Kosor related that the government would make sure that the remaining 2,144 families that do not have ownership rights would own their own houses. Because many of the people who have tenancy rights are now living in Serbia, the government finds it difficult to communicate with those families. The government has already spent 16 billion for housing and repair and more would be spent (Vlada.hr, 2007).
9- Conclusion and Analysis
According to the above discussed points, it seems clear that the government, the local bodies, and the Croats are all responsible for the displacement and non-return attitude of the Serb refugees to Croatia. There is clear indication that the country now lacks healthy environment in which sense of security among Serbs can be witnessed. It is very important to note that when actual statistics of human right violation do not exist, how can it be possible to monitor what is happening to returnees in Croatia at present? Thus, it is highly imperative that the government must promote a sense of security among the Serbs in Croatia by developing actual democratic norms. The government must also make sure that those Serbs who have remained in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere must return to their home with equal honor and national pride so that Croatia finds a legitimate right to become the member of the EU.
Human Right Watch (2003). Broken promises Stop human rights abuses. Retrieved January 06, 2009 from: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2003/09/02/broken-promises
Jonathan, C. R. (1997). “Croatian mob tried to keep refugees out; U.S. envoy hears tale of families’ return.” The Washington Post. Washington Post Newsweek Interactive Co. 1997. Retrieved January 06, 2009 from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-726790.html
Lawrence, L. (1996). “Refugees from Bosnia, Croatia cannot go home. (World).” The Washington Times. News World Communications, Inc. Retrieved January 06, 2009 from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-56833205.html
Leutloff-Grandits, C. (2005). Claiming ownership in postwar Croatia: The dynamics of property relations and ethnic conflict in the Knin Region. Published by LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, pp. 1-50.
US Fed News Service (2006). “CROATIA: PLIGHT OF RETURNING SERB REFUGEES MAY SLOW E.U. BID.” US Fed News Service, Including US State News. HT Media Ltd. Retrieved January 06, 2009 from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-1125381671.html
Vlada.hr (2007). Croatian deputy PM attends UN meeting on refugees. Retrieved January 06, 2009 from: http://www.vlada.hr/en/naslovnica/priopcenja_za_javnost/2008/prosinac/potpredsjednica_vlade_kosor_u_zenevi