On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the consular days of the Croatian embassy in Bosnia-Hercegovina are held in Banjaluka, crowds of these unfortunate individuals surge towards the door to inspect the list with the names of the few lucky ones who have managed to prove that they had been and still are the citizens of Croatia. However, they can carry that document around Banjaluka and keep it as a reminder of a humanitarian gesture of the Croatian authorities: they cannot travel with it to Croatia without a personal identification card and a passport.
"The International Community has done absolutely nothing for the Serb refugees from Croatia. It does not make it possible for them to visit their homes, vote in the Croatian elections, obtain documents... They have absolutely no rights," says Petar Dodan, the president of the Association of Serbs from Krajina and Croatia and assistant minister for refugees and internally displaced persons in the government of Srpska. For Dodan, consular days are "a pure humiliation of people". He claims that applicants are frequently sent back with an explanation that "they do not know what they want".
In the three years since these people had to leave their homes, UNHCR has organized only four visits: to Vojnic, Pakrac, Vrginmost, and Knin. Dodan claims that the total number of Serbs who have been on "sightseeing" trips of their homes is under one hundred. "Thirty five persons arrived from Banjaluka to Knin after 13 hours of travelling and three hours of waiting at the border," says Dodan.
During the visits, people mostly requested to be issued documents and visited their houses and cemeteries. In police stations they were told that before a personal identification card is issued they must return for an interview. The interview must be scheduled separately and conducted, perhaps, during their next visit. Based on the "frequency" of UNHCR organized visits to Croatia, these interviews could take place in year 2001.
Thanks to Westendorp's law about the Bosnian citizenship, Serbs from Croatia cannot apply for Bosnian citizenship until year 2000. Nevertheless, the authorities in Srpska are cooperative and the refugees from Croatia can obtain a personal identification card without the citizenship certificate, and the identification card is sufficient to obtain a Bosnian passport. Many are debating whether to use that possibility, because they are afraid that it would lead to the loss of a Croatian refugee "status" and the eventual possibility of obtaining a Croatian passport. Some are concerned that they would "assimilate" with the local population. It is easy to detect their fear of being thrown out of the apartments or houses in which they live now.
The Association of Serbs from Krajina and Croatia is currently surveying how many Serbs from Croatia remain in Srpska. It is estimated that there are about 50,000 of them. Besides, through questioners, the Association is trying to gauge how many of them are prepared to return to Croatia and how many would prefer to stay in Srpska. The Association has presented, in cooperation with the Association of Croat refugees from Bosnia-Hercegovina, the program "Evident '98". Its goal was to poll the refugees on whether they want to return, exchange property, or sell it. Because of the lack of interest by the authorities and insufficient financial support, the project "Evident '98" was only partly realized.
"The exodus of Serbs after the operations 'Flash' and 'Storm' was not 'promoted' enough in the media. The International Community ignored it. There is no point to write about it any more. Nobody cares about us anymore," says Janko Velimirovic, the editor-in-chief of the news agency "Flesh". "Flesh" employs about twenty young people, refugees from Croatia.
Velimirovic decries the silence about 15,000 Krajina Serb refugees currently living in Kosovo. After the wave of violence in Kosovo, some of these people are forced to escape for a forth time. It is estimated that about 2,000 of them escaped to Srpska and are staying with their relatives. The rest has scattered all over Serbia proper and some of them (about 60 people) have returned to Vojnic [in Croatia]. Some have managed to get visas for Norway and other West European countries.
The government of Croatia has recently decided that 24,000 Serbs can return to Croatia in the next three years. So far, only those older than 60 are returning. Those younger than 27 are obliged to spend a year serving mandatory military service in the Croatian Army, while the older males are eligible to be called up for the national guard duty. That also influences their decision not to return.
While the International Community representatives in Bosnia-Hercegovina from TV screens called on voters to "participate in elections and choose a better future", Serb refugees from Croatia living in Srpska have had no voting rights for seven years. Neither in their former, nor in their present homeland. In the meantime, consular days go on.