by Slobodan DURMANOVIC
JOVO JANJIC: I am a native of Ilidza. My family has been living here for four generations. My great grandfathers, my grandfathers, then my father, myself, my brothers and the rest of my family, all of us were born here. I've spent my whole life in Ilidza and Sarajevo. I was educated here and worked for two large companies, Famos and Energoinvest, where I was employed when the war started. I had many friends in Ilidza, with different ethnic backgrounds, even my best man is not a Serb and we are still friends. As a sportsman, I also mingled with people of all ethnic backgrounds. Knowing the mentality of those people, and also given that between the two wars there haven't been any significant ethnic conflicts there, I did not believe that a conflict was possible in that region, especially not an ethnic conflict. I am a Serb, but also a Yugoslav patriot, I loved that country, but when I realized that shit had hit the fan, I tried to contribute and save what could be saved. Thus, as a member of the League of Communists, later renamed as the Social Democratic Party (SDP), although I had never been active in the communist party (they made me a member in the late eighties), I collected signatures for the petitions for peace together with people of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, in Ilidza, for only one day, we collected several hundreds of signatures. That somehow raised my hope that the people were against a conflict. But, it seems, other people, those who founded ethnic political parties, were stronger...
REPORTER: When people discuss the suffering of the residents of Sarajevo during the war, in Federation BH, as well as abroad, they mostly discuss the siege of Sarajevo, bombardment and sniper attacks by the Army of the Republic of Srpska?
It is regrettable that when people talk about the war in Sarajevo no one mentions the suffering of the people who lived on the then Serb controlled side of the frontline but, on the contrary, almost exclusively talk about the suffering of the people who lived on the other side, while people suffered on both sides of the frontline. I regret that the public abroad is still only presented a one-sided image of Sarajevo, focusing on the side where Bosniaks suffered, while the image of the rest of the city is hidden in darkness. It is true that the more urban and densely populated part of the city was surrounded by the Army of the Republic of Srpska and bombed, but the other part of the city, the Sarajevo field, as it used to be known, which covers about two-thirds of the city area, was divided and armies were there separated by several tens of meters. The frontline was so complex that during the war the trip from Ilidza to Srpsko Sarajevo, normally a distance of about 5-6 kilometers [3.75 miles], increased to about 100 kilometers [62 miles]. Therefore, the part of the Sarajevo under the control of the Army of the Republic of Srpska was under a sort of a siege and was attacked from the other side. Even today we can see evidence of those attacks in the territory of the former Serb municipalities - if someone is willing to see them. On the roads, bus stations and in settlements there are numerous traces of bombs. The mitigating circumstance was that this part of the city did not lack food, water, and electricity as much as the other side did. But, it was equally dangerous to live on this side. No one was spared. Simply, the Army of BH attacked within its capabilities. If it could, and it was willing, it would have inflicted much worse suffering on this side. Also, there were plenty sniper attacks from Sarajevo on this side, controlled by the Army of Srpska. I recall when several citizens died in sniper attacks, one of them was a friend of mine, in the center of Ilidza. They were shot by a sniper stationed on the top of the Freezer building [hladnjaca]. Finally, during the last few years we are slowly learning details about some of their organized sniping groups, such as "Seve", which, besides Serbs, even killed Bosniaks in their part of the city.
After three and a half years, the war ended with the Dayton Agreement, which ceded a part of the Serb territory to the Federation BH. What happened then?
There can be no doubt that most citizens in that territory eagerly awaited the end of the war and in such a situation we were happy expecting that a peace would be achieved. However, once we saw the results we realized that they were catastrophic for that region.
The biggest blow was that at first no one from the Srpska authorities addressed the population to inform them about the outcome of the negotiations. Instead, that was done by Slobodan Milosevic, who probably had no idea what he was talking about. The then Srpska authorities did not do anything to approach those citizens, or at least to console them, and explain the implications of the Dayton Agreement. The first initiative to obtain more information came from the citizens. I participated in it. We invited the then mayor of Ilidza Nedeljko Prstojevic to the first meeting, held in the settlement of Luzani. At that meeting he could not offer anything definite and tell us whether we should stay or leave. Time was running out and people were slowly drifting into hopelessness, as they had no idea what to do. Then we picked out people among ourselves to represent us and independently obtained a translation of the Dayton Agreement from the Federation BH.
Were you received by anyone from the Srpska leadership?
Through various channels we sent requests for a meeting in Pale and after a short while we were invited to a meeting. In the December of 1995, 30-40 people went to Pale and were received by Radovan Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik, with several people from their cabinets.
The meeting lasted five to six hours and mostly consisted of our questions for them and their mutual expressions of surprise. My impression was that they were not prepared to tell us whether to stay or prepare to leave. For example, regarding some parts of the Dayton Agreement, Karadzic asked Krajisnik: "Momcilo, can this really be..?" etc. In the end they only told us that they would soon call us again and will then give us definite instructions. We returned more confused than initially. It is interesting, however, that exhumation of slain fighters already started at that time. Orders for displacement of several companies had also already been received. Some residents approved that, some did not, but many took that as a message saying "if my job leaves, I can't stay either". Then the Federation BH authorities started issuing announcements in preparation for the assumption of control of the newly acquired territories. These announcements mostly contained threats. For example, Alija Izetbegovic supposedly called on everyone to stay, but stressed that only those who did not fight in the war could actually stay, which was nonsense. His minister of foreign affairs, Hasan Muratovic, on the other hand said that Serb pupils would not be allowed to continue education if they participated in protest rallies.
What happened at the next meeting with Karadzic?
15-20 days later we were invited to come to the hotel "Bistrica" on the Jahorina Mountain. To our great surprise they showed us a model that was supposed to represent the city of Srpsko Sarajevo, which, they claimed, they were going to build in Srpska. An academician from Belgrade, I think Antic was his name, with some experts of his, put those models in front of us on the table saying that a new city would be constructed, that it would lean on the old Sarajevo, but would be ours. We were explained what sorts of roads would be constructed, what sort of infrastructure, from theaters to the university, that the center would be in Pale, while the city would spread from there to Sokolac and Rogatica. Our delegation included highly educated people from different walks of life and they asked questions, to which they received strange answers. For example, in response to a simple question regarding how such a large city was going to be supplied by water, we were told that if there was not enough water, they would bring more from the Drina river!? Then they told us that they would construct a tunnel under Lapisnica, 16-kilometers long, and even I know that the longest tunnel constructed in the former Yugoslavia was the one under the Ucka mountain and that it was about 5.5 kilometers long, while its construction took 20 years. Most of us in the council agreed that these plans were unrealistic and they remain to be unrealistic to this day. We were especially disappointed when all the mayors of the municipalities of the Srpsko Sarajevo, half way through the meeting, left the room, mocking the whole plan.
When you decided to advocate that people stay, did you have a plan in place for those who did follow your advice?
I am convinced that before the first exhumations at least half of residents were prepared to stay. In order to keep as much population as possible, we had already contacted representatives of the international community who were supposed to oversee peace implementation and security measures. We were trying to obtain guarantees from them, but we also decided to form an organization because otherwise any frustrated citizen could attack us. However, then the international community made a key mistake. Almost a month earlier than initially planned, they allowed the Federation BH police to enter our territory, municipality by municipality. They stated with Vogosca. The fact that deadlines were moved forward scared the people and they started to panic. The panic spread from Vogozca, to Ilijas, whose turn was coming in 5-6 days, then to Ilidza and so on. Even those who had previously firmly decided to stay, now decided to leave. That destroyed our efforts to create a strategic plan with representatives of the international community and to plan our survival under new circumstances. It was a catastrophe. During those days and weeks, almost 90 percent of population left. That was also a defeat of the purported plans of the international community.
Can you tell us about the current return to Vogosca, Ilidza, Ilijas and other territories about which you have information?
Most Serbs would prefer to sell their property and start a new life somewhere in the Republic of Srpska. This especially applies to those who are doing well in their new places of abode. However, the real estate market is very slow and only about one percent of homes sell annually. Therefore, a hundred years would be needed to sell everything. Secondly, the value of that property has fallen, because of excessive supply. In my opinion, the biggest obstacle to return is that the return cannot be sustained if there are no jobs for the returnees. Furthermore, even if the property is returned and had not been devastated, the previous tenant would devastate the property before leaving. Just imagine, you return to a devastated house, without windows and doors, or even worse, you have no job, and as soon as you move in the authorities deliver bills for phone, electricity, and water. Thus people who go through all of that, as well as anyone else who decides to sell now, sell at extremely low prices... There is an interesting development among the buyers. At first the buyers were showing interest in houses and plots at good locations, while now they buy even bare plots. Once they buy a plot, the authorities donate construction material and they build decent houses for vary little money. That is mostly done by young people among refugees in Sarajevo while they send the elderly family members back to their houses in Srpska. Thus they occupy space and I am convinced that there is a premeditated strategy behind all this coming from the top. All of them say that they want to return, while in reality they do everything in their power to stay. Unlike Serbs who tend to say whatever comes to their mind and clearly say "I'm not going back if my life depended on it". And then the foreigners deny funding for reconstruction of the houses of the returnees, because they see that as waste, if those houses are to be immediately sold. I speak from my own experience.
Do the Federation BH authorities really try to prevent obstruction of the return of property and does the police attempt to prevent devastation of property before the return of true owners?
They cannot prevent devastation because they don't want to! Although the OHR has issued regulation according to which devastation of property is punishable, those regulations are being ignored. I even believe that the situation has gotten worse since those regulations were issued. The police says that their job is only to be present during evictions, but that they are not obliged to do anything to prevent devastation of property. The local authorities representatives, who are a logical arbitrator in this case, because they initially brought new tenants to the property, respond by saying "sue him". And when you hear the response "sue him" you know that you stand zero chance to recoup the damage.
Do you think that constitutional changes will contribute to a better position of the returnees?
According to the constitutional changes everything is going back to the way it was in 1991, while nothing remains the way it was in 1991 nor will ever go back to the way it was in 1991. If the constitutional changes are consistently implemented, both Sarajevo and the Federation BH will have a shortage of Serbs needed to set up governments, while the situation in Srpska regarding Bosniaks will also be similar. If we try to implement the constitutional changes in Sarajevo we shall have to chase Serbs all over the city to appoint them to government jobs. Besides there are other problems that reduce interest for the return. For example, mosques are being built at locations in centers of towns, where earlier it was impossible to obtain building permits. That's what happened in Hadzici, and similar plans are prepared for Ilijas, where after an intervention by the citizens, and with assistance from the OHR we tried to prevent that, it seems in vain. The newly constructed mosques do not resemble the old ones, probably at the request of the donors from the Middle East, and are constructed at places where there were no mosques before the war. Given that the local authorities are also confiscating Serb-owned land for construction of roads and other construction projects, it becomes clear that all of that is done with the goal of obstructing returns.