Excerpts from the contents of the bulletin “Multi-ethnicity and development” (Bulletin no. 6)
THE RETURN OF THE REFUGEES : WHERE AND WHY DID WE STOP ?
Ph. D. Slobodan Uzelac *
The lines of force which complicate the return and prolong the exile
The lines of force which produced the exile, and which even today feverishly oppose the return of the refugees are various and numerous. And extremely powerful. Those and such lines of force are favoured by some, we could say, self-evident elements such as:
- duration of the exile nowadays is already so long that it got the attribute of “prolonged” a long time ago;
- occupation of private housing-buildings through self-evident temporary care, and afterward the permanent occupation of those same buildings only by “our” people at the price which is extremely low for the owners;
- illegal occupation of someone else's private and business unmovable property (land, garage, merchant’s shops) with complete passiveness of the governmental bodies, executive as well as judicial ones;
- illegal investments in someone else's property, in which process the courts with help of the court experts often force the owners to pay the illegal investors the compensations that usually exceed the boundaries of not only financial solvency of the owners but the common sense also, which is borne out by numerous individual complaints of the owners addressed to nongovernmental organizations which deal with the protection of human-rights of returnees;
- repurchase and exchange of unmovable property under the publicly known and visible pressure which the courts usually do not even process.
To above mentioned force lines should be added the utter, and not just economic, underdevelopment and devastation of not just rural but also urban, returnee areas, but to that fact should also be added the new economical elements which stand in the way of return. Here are just a few of them:
- loudly proclaimed politics of regional development which remained unrealized, which is characteristic for all newly founded states – it is not just about the sinister metropolisation in relation between the capital city and regional centres, but that phenomenon is also visible on the lower levels. That ultimately brings to the utter overall socio-developmental misbalance which can be recognized by the phenomenon of big (rich, developed, overcrowded...) head on the small body;
- the utter unemployment which seems to primarily and most of all affect exactly these areas;
- refusing to accept of Government's additional, most often the intervention, already given help to the returnee areas in which process in Croatia, for example, precede the leaderships of the city of Benkovac and the borough of Polača;
- additional post-war devastation of the returnee areas which lasts till today is recognisable in the grotesque examples of systematic illegal demolition and stealing of the hewn rocks from the walls of centuries-old village-houses and, what's more, “in broad daylight”, the rocks that later were built in the walls of country houses;
- the frequent practice of opening of illegal and semi-legal quarries and rubbish dumps by whose location, close to newly restored houses of the returnees, investors and their political protectors send a clear message to the returnees what kind of water they will drink and what kind of air they will breathe if they return;
- the media-satanization of unfortunately a few brave and loud opponents of so called humane relocation and persecution, who are most often gathered around the nongovernmental organizations;
- the primary purpose of the endless list of secret indictments for the war-crimes seems to be not to punish the perpetrators of the crimes but to disable their return home – as has not passed enough time for all newly founded states to synchronize their own criteria for justified persecution of perpetrators of the war-crimes in which the place where they live would not be important. And in that situation of our exactly that temporary abidance in another state serves as a safe refuge and safe obstacle to the return.
And so on...
What we should have and could have done, but we haven't
When we finally confront the arguments for and against the return we will easily notice what the differences are. They differ from each other on the level on which they are situated. Namely, the arguments “for” are mostly of principled, declarative nature, while the arguments “against” are on the real life level. Their confrontation necessarily results by a kind of hypocrisy in which almost always win these latter ones.
In a given situation the abundance of messages sent from the political peaks still does not move the things from the dead point. The abyss between the proclamations and reality is only too deep to be easily crossed.
The smouldering conflict between once belligerent sides is not finished. There was no conflict only between belligerent armies but also between people. That is unfortunately the accompanying fact of all modern war-conflicts. To that surely contribute the numerous features of the world as a global village, in which process the mediums of mass communication, especially the electronic ones, play the crucial role. Exactly those mediums most of all contributed to the conflict being lowered even on the lowest levels and spread to the widest ones, and that fact now shows to be extremely serious obstacle to the return of the refugees. However, it seems that this fact has never been clearly illuminated, not to mention that really little has been done on its removal. And it can not be removed by mere political and other messages from the highest level. In order to remove it, it is necessary to climb down to the people.
And who should and can do it? Those people who till today have done the least for that, and they are those who have the most influence on the consciousness of people in a given space. Among them we surely count the schools, but the other institutions should also not be forgotten, institutions that are in the eyes of people even more respectable and organized and to which surely belong the religious communities and their institutions, clubs, especially sport ones, which gather around themselves relatively great number of young people, and similar.
The regional development, as we have said, is extremely significant for the return of the refugees. That is also something on which we must have and could have work much harder. The overall economic crisis and the common social crisis, which by all odds will not be short-lived, will probably cause that the countries such as Croatia and its neighbouring countries strategically will lean on the development of their own regions. We could say: Better ever, than never.
The finding of persons who were lost during the war is characteristic of all environments and all national and religious categories. The number of these persons is still being measured in thousands and because it is so great it can’t can not be the obstacle to the return of the refugees. In their finding so far have been engaged only state services and institutions. By all odds, they have done what they could. From now on maybe people, citizens, those who were in the war on the sides opposite to those to which belong the missing persons can do something. The ways to encourage people to provide assistance in the finding of the missing persons should be and can be found. Of course, the process can be successful only if it will move in all directions in the same time.
Finally, the all constitutional and legal regulations which regulate the rights and duties of national minorities could have and must have been carried out better and more complete. This is especially true for the rights and duties of the members of so call newly founded national minorities, that is, those national minorities which originated from the members of the peoples the former common Yugoslavian country was formed of.
The regional cooperation, that is the cooperation of the countries founded on the territory of the former common Yugoslavian country, arises as a condition without which is not even possible to expect the more significant return of the refugees. It should be stated at once that it would be quite naive to expect that this regional cooperation will be more successful because the persons involved will figure out that such cooperation will improve the process of the return of refugees. Moreover, not even the regional conference which was recently held in Sarajevo with the aim to be the donor one in the sense that the financial means for solving at least those most actual refugee-questions be raised, only partially fulfil the expectations. On the other hand, it should be expected that that cooperation will be the consequence of the economical necessity to which all these countries will be brought by the unstoppable Euro integration processes.
* Professor of the Education-rehabilitation Faculty of the University of Zagreb, and vice-president of the Government of the Republic of Croatia in the previous mandate (2007.-2011.) in whose scope were the questions of the return of refugees.
THE ACCESSION TO THE EU AND MORE HIGH-QUALITY DEVELOPMENT OF THE RURAL AREAS CAN STRENGTHEN THE RETURN
Interview with Milan Tankosić, Deputy in the borough of Gračac
- Is the return “finished”, or in that respect there are still certain possibilities?
I think that the return of the people who escaped from the Republic of Croatia will be shrinking in the classis meaning of that term. In the same time, the migrations of the people will not cease, and the citizens who escaped from the Republic of Croatia, who already have gotten the asylum and citizenship somewhere, and also realized the citizenship of the Republic of Croatia, will use the opportunity in the fact that Croatia is going to be the member-state of the EU. Considering that there will also be the various possibilities of financing of exactly rural areas from where the most refugees are, that will additionally influence the faster development of those areas and in the same way the return into them. Of course, it is clear that the older citizens will constantly and in modest number come and return into these areas to reduce the life-expenses and “free” the living space to the younger members of their own families. Of course, one of the strongest motifs is the love for one’s own birthplace and the nostalgia for one’s own homeland.
- How does the return concretely look like in your own local community?
Into my community mostly the older people have returned and they did so for several reasons: 1. Because they are used to live in this area and they love their homeland; they mostly have pensions and are economically independent, and here they have lower life-expenses. 2. Because the young people who would like to return and remain here, do not have a chance for employment, and there where such an opportunity exists they are being discriminated in the process of employing. 3. Because too much time has passed from their exile and the people, to a large degree, already socially included in the countries of asylum. 4. Because many young people can not and do not want to endure the psychological burden of the continuous return to the war, insults and discriminations which unfortunately are still being carried out through some media.
- Are the returnee areas stinted and blocked in their own development and how?
Because of already mentioned problems it is certain that these areas are stinted in their own development. There are simply not enough elements any more for the adequate development on those areas, because people are the most important factor for the development. The lower educational structure, the higher age, small investment potentials (because the whole area is impoverished) etc. all that creates “the circle of poverty” in which we continuously circle around and out of which is extremely hard to get. Because of that the overall society in this area also contributes less to the country and in that way we also get the negative feedback there. There are not many citizens who are permanently settled there, there are no bigger tax-payers and the payers of the tax from contribution and because of that even government, in political sense, is not much interested in this part of the Republic of Croatia. When it is necessary to get the political support from these places, politicians play a card of patriotism, ethnical disagreements and misunderstandings, etc. Only a few people mention the program of economic revitalization, and only Serbian minority-party in its own program has the specific problems regarding the return in the Republic of Croatia.
- Are the majority-community and the society as a whole aware of that handicap (for example, Croatian population too)?
I think that the community is not aware of the handicap which emanates from the fact that there is no return of the people. A small number of people are aware of all problems regarding the return and in what way it becomes one of the main causes of underdevelopment of their area. It is necessary that different social subjects (politics and media and civil sector) constantly raise the consciousness of the importance of this problem. Any other opinion is malicious toward the space as well as toward the people who live in it or would like to live. The area which is developmentally discriminated, blocked and devastated is not problem only for itself but becomes a burden for the whole society.
- How to change that?
The situation which we have is not possible to change easily any more, and if any results are to be achieved it is necessary to have higher engagement of all important factors which can be influential. Media must change the way in which they approach this problem and be slightly more objective. Of course, we should continuously work on the conciliation of ethnic communities in that area and on mutual understanding. Country must do all it can through its own instruments, to finish the process of restoration, to continue the process of housing-care, to secure the higher presence of developmental agencies in that area, to arrange a few strategic business-zones and business-incubators in cooperation with local self-governments, to motivate somehow the return of educated people. The international community should help this process, but we should initiate it more decisively. It is very important that people feel the positive climate and atmosphere and start believing in the future of Croatia as a developed and safe country, and in that way they themselves will also be more courageous in all their entrepreneurial and socially useful activities.