In Cetingrad, Vojnic and Topusko, ten years after the end of the war, 120 individuals live in poverty as stateless persons
Police Insulted Us: Turks, You Do Not Belong Here
"No one wants us here. Wherever we go we have problems. Representatives of some organizations and journalists used to visit. They promised to help, but it was all lies. My father earned a war veteran pension in Croatia, but he hasn't received a cent since 1995. Last year he died in poverty. They treat us as we were not human," Sead Muric, who came to Croatia as a baby in long gone 1968, bitterly says
by Vedran GVOZDAK
Novi List, Rijeka, Croatia, February 27, 2005
"It's easy for politicians to talk, we'll do this, we'll do that. None of them has ever visited the villages of Bogovolja or Komesarac to see how we live in poverty. They only talk during election campaigns and our lives are getting harder with every new day. If only we could get passports and finally become citizens of this country, it would be easier. We could get jobs, child supplement, whatever. Without passports, our kids cannot even enroll in school. This way, simply no one cares about us". With these words, spoken almost in one voice, we were greeted by the members of the Muric family from the village of Komesarac in the Cetingrad municipality. The Murics live like refugees in their homeland, Croatia. Our collocutors are sharing the fate of about two hundred Bosniaks from Cetingrad, Vojnic, Maljevac, Topusko and a few other towns. Early in the war, just like ethnic Croats, they had to run in front of the [Serb] aggressor. While ethnic Croats found shelter in Karlovac, Zagreb and other parts of Croatia, Bosniaks escaped to Bosnia. After the liberation they returned to their homes, but it seems someone forgot to give them citizenship papers and confirm that they were citizens of Croatia, as before the war.
In a recent political action directed at the government of Croatia, the president of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Croatia, Semso Tankovic, again drew attention to the problem of these people describing it as humiliating. The government replies that 60 percent of Bosniaks who meet legal requirements have already obtained citizenship papers, while the rest are "being processed". Whether that is referred to as "process" or something else, the cases in which in one family one child has a citizenship while the other one does not, or other similar drastic examples are anything but simple to their parents.
The village of Komesarac in the Cetingrad municipality sits right next to the border with Bosnia-Hercegovina. Most of its inhabitants are ethnic Bosniaks. This village, with houses scattered on nearby hills, has recently been cut off from the rest of the country by snow. Its inhabitants lack drinking water, some of them even lack electricity, while they can only dream about other services. However, as they emphasize, they are especially hurt by something else, the injustice they encounter daily:
"Some of us have managed to obtain citizenship papers and other necessary documents, but all of that is very expensive. Here almost no one has a job, people are broke. Only application costs 1500 Kunas [about $250], then you have to pay another 500 [$80] and wait for three months to see if they'll give you citizenship or not," Sabiha Muric told us. She is still on "the waiting list". Sabiha adds that in addition to application fees, a few hundred dollars must be spent on travel and legal help.
"No one wants to help us, or at least tell us what we are supposed to do. When we go to the city hall in Cetingrad, it seems they don't even know what to tell us," she added. Although he was brought over the border with the then Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina to Croatia in long gone 1968 as a baby, Sead Muric managed to get Croatian citizenship only six months ago when he decided to "grapple" with the bureaucracy. For us, he recalled bad experiences in his dealings with bureaucracy, which in his opinion always "takes it out on the poor".
No Papers, No Social Security
"I had to go all the way to Slunj to get ‘papers', at least fifty times. There, they gave me a ‘guarantee for acceptance to Croatian citizenship', but I had to get a document proving that I was not a Bosnian citizenship before I could get citizenship ‘papers'. At that point no one here, or in Bosnia, in Cazin, could tell me what to do next. The second time I tried to use an authorized representative who submitted all the documentation on my behalf. In the end I had to wait for three, four months, for a background check," says Muric, who managed to obtain the Croatian citizenship, but whose wife Zemka is still a stateless person. Regardless of the difficult situation he faces, Muric says that he has to somehow feed his four children. He is unemployed, while his situation is made worse by the injury he suffered as a civilian at the beginning of the war.
"Here no one wants us. Wherever we go, we face problems. Representatives of some organizations and journalists have already visited the village. They promised to help but it was all lies. My father earned a state pension [social security] in Croatia as a war veteran, but since 1995 he hasn't received a cent. Last year he died in poverty. They treat as if we were not human," Muric continues, bitter. To the question whether such attitude implies discrimination on ethnic basis, because they are Bosniaks, he says that he was only mistreated on the ethnic basis by a few individuals, including some policemen.
Stateless Persons From Cetingrad
He is especially bothered by the fact that many residents of Cetinska Krajina, across the border in Bosnia actually received incentives from the Croatian authorities after the war to acquire the Croatian citizenship even though they had never lived in Croatia. On the other hand, they, even though they have lived their whole life in Croatia, have been swindled. Namely, it is well known that in 1995 the current Croatian authorities did not treat Croatian citizenship as a terribly "precious" commodity so that, according to some accounts, more than 30,000 Bosniaks in Cazin Krajina were granted Croatian citizenship.
One of drastic examples of the indolence of the state bureaucracy is Semso Babic from the village of Bogovolja. He and his family, a wife and two children, also do not have citizenship papers. Although before the war Semso was registered in Slunj, after the war the authorities refused to renew his identification card. On the other hand, Semso is not a citizen of Bosnia-Hercegovina, so that he is a stateless person. It seems, he is not the only one with that status. Namely, in the border region of the municipalities of Cetingrad, Vojnic and Topusko, there are about 1,700 Bosniaks, while ten years after the war, 120 still have not obtained their citizenship papers. As effendi Admir Muhic, imam in Bogovolja, says, those people or their parents settled here in the sixties, when they bought farms and worked as farmers.
"They all lived here, raised their children, until the unfortunate war, when Bosniaks and ethnic Croats ran away together. Such a situation is absurd. Although everything has been regulated by the law, in practice nothing functions the way it should. People are bitter and hurt by this injustice. It is especially sad that a few years ago some of them were insulted by the Police and told that they were ‘Turks' and did not belong here, or that they would ‘never get citizenship papers', and similar insults," Muhic said. He also claims that documents of many Bosniaks were unnecessarily "lost" for years, all of which additionally discouraged them.
Instead of reacting to the "Serb issue" provoked by a handful of manipulated manipulators, Croatian politicians should dedicate themselves to it in the long-term
by Neven SANTIC
Novi List, Rijeka, Croatia, March 9, 2005
Everyone capable of political thinking is aware that the "government of the Republic of Serb Krajina in exile" is as much of a factor as the "free Istrian and Dalmatian municipalities" founded by Italian esuli after WWII. Therefore, even if tomorrow "town councils in exile" of Knin, Glina or Beli Manastir are set up, that would not change anything. This is a futile, for some nostalgic and for others political, return to political framework dismantled after the arrival of democracy.
Namely, those who condemned the gathering (Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, Milorad Pupovac...), as well as those, like Sima Rajic and Ivan Zvonimir Cicak at the yesterday's meeting of the Parliamentary committee for Human Rights and Rights Of Ethnic Minorities, who are convinced that both Croatian state and Serb minority institution should be more forceful in their condemnation, failed to emphasize two things. First, that as early as 1990 Serb representatives had at their disposal all the democratic means to resolve their status without resorting to war.
The situation was such that the process would not have been easy, but it was worth trying. For the sake of democratic values. However, the prevailing view of democracy at the time, with exception of people like Milorad Pupovac and Nikola Viskovic who traveled at the time to Knin trying to convince leaders of the Serb rebellion to talk and negotiate with authorities in Zagreb instead of resorting to war, was anything but "democratic". Now, scepters from exile are suddenly appearing with fake democratic rhetoric, at a definitely wrong place for seeking protection of anybody's rights - in a different country.
Problems Still Exist
Secondly, at this moment, no matter how much we keep dismissing complaints of "exiles" from Belgrade, we should not forget that the Serb minority in Croatia still faces problems. For years the process of return was neglected and undermined, so that much time and effort will be needed to finally push it in the right direction. And that means that all those who wish to return should be allowed to do so, without being blocked by various bureaucratic and other obstacles. At the same time, that would be the strongest possible message to various well heeled "fighters for human rights" from Serbia, much stronger than a strained statement by the Croatian Parliament, Government or the Serb People's Council, for example.
Therefore, instead of reacting to the "Serb issue" provoked by a handful of manipulated manipulators, Croatian politicians should dedicate themselves to it in the long-term. In that, naturally, we should drop all the conditions. Namely, no country may impose on its nationals conditions, except for respect of the Constitution and laws, for earning the "right" to live in the country. Political parties, which refuse to put themselves under the full oversight of political institutions and operate in accordance to the rules of a democratic political system, are least prepared to set such conditions. (We could convince ourselves that this was true by watching the debate about the proposed Political Parties Act, which was unanimously rejected in the Parliament by all the political parties.)
To Provocation Respond With Smile
In other words, if a Serb returnee to Croatia wants to criticize Croatian authorities, or propose solutions that are bound to drive Croat nationalists crazy, he has the right to do so as any other citizen of Croatia. Until he violates the Constitution and decides to start an armed rebellion, he has an unalienable democratic and political right to express his dissatisfaction. And it is his human right to be treated as every other non-Serb national of Croatia.
Despite the war and its traumas Croatia must continue its democratic development. There must not be any taboo issues that should not be discussed, even it they are bound to make a part of the population uncomfortable. Consequently one of the biggest achievements of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is not his "opening towards Europe by the HDZ", as is usually assumed, but his approach towards the Serb question in Croatia. The Tudman regime did not sincerely attempt to solve it, and even Ivica Racan was afraid to crack it in the right manner. However, if the "solution to the Serb question" boils down to Sanader, without a wider support from the whole political elite we can hardly expect to see any results and integration of Serbs in the Croatian society and the democratic development of the country as a whole. Otherwise, we cannot expect a day when we can respond to provocation from "exiles" in Belgrade by scornful smiles instead of condemnation.
In Vukovar, Youth Beaten Up For Wearing "Red Star" Soccer Team Scarf
Novi List, Rijeka, Croatia, February 11, 2005
The news service of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) yesterday condemned an attack by unidentified culprits on a student of the Vukovar High School, Srdjan Orsic from Dalj, which took place on Saturday. Orsic wore a "Red Star" [Belgrade] soccer team scarf at the time of the attack. He was accosted in the center of Vukovar by two unidentified men, aged about 30, who demanded that he take the scarf off. The attackers hit Orsic with their fists in the head, and later kicked his head, so that he had to seek medical care. The SDSS statement claims that passers by refused to assist the young man, except an unidentified man who offered to give him a lift to the hospital. However, "once he saw Orsic's scarf, he immediately stopped and ordered him to get out of the car".
Translated on February 3, 2006