25 August 2005, Volume
ARE SERBS VICTIMS OF DISCRIMINATION IN CROATIA?
A Program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg
One problem is the tenant's right to their former homes. Serbian refugees often claim that they are the only group in former Yugoslavia deprived of tenants' rights since they were not allowed to buy the homes where they previously lived. Mr. Djapic, what is your view?
(president of the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights, HSP): I do not think it would be realistic to expect them to regain rights to their former homes, since this is not a property right in the strict sense of the word. Our party is very reserved about the issue, since it is a matter of money, much more money than Croatia has right now. Croatia cannot and must not incur any more debts, and, furthermore, Croatia was not the one that started the war. We were attacked, and the conflict was incited by a certain element within the Serbian national minority.
Anyway, I do think that those people should be helped and that ways should be devised for those who want to return to be able to do so. Those who really want to return should either make use of real estate agencies or be given construction materials. It should be treated as a social and humanitarian issue, not a political one.
Mr. Djukic, are you for the restoration of tenants' rights to their former homes?
(president of the Serbian People's Party [SNS] in Croatia): I do not insist on it, even though in Bosnia-Herzegovina this right was restored to all. What I insist on is an alternative, which means that those people get alternative accommodation in state-owned properties -- with special rental fees, of course. They should get either houses or flats, or else construction materials. They should be given the same rights the Croats enjoy. But this isn't happening. The program of alternative housing was adopted a year ago, but not a single case has been resolved so far. I therefore wonder whether the program wasn't just a propaganda exercise.
I think that those people should be helped, but only those who really want to come back and live here. We should not build houses for those who will come back to claim and sell them, and then return to where they have been living for the past 10 years.
Why has nothing been done then? Mr. Djukic claims that not a single case has been resolved so far.
The Serbs in Croatia have their legal representatives in the Croatian parliament and government, they have state secretaries, deputy ministers, and deputy district heads, in short much more than the Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights had before the last elections. Since they have a coalition deal and partnership with the ruling party in Croatia [the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)], they should be the ones to propose projects and make demands upon the government, and the government should then find the financial means to implement them.
When you think about how many Serbs participate in the executive branch -- eight deputy ministers and state secretaries -- it looks like a government within a government, or a parallel government. Those eight or 10 members of the leadership belonging to the Independent Democratic Serbian Party [SDSS, of Milorad Pupovac] enjoy the right to work, since their profession is to be Serbs, and this is why they are employed. But where ordinary people are concerned, we are simply talking about the basic right to return, with alternative accommodation for those denied the right to their former homes.
Mr. Djapic, to what extent do you think the Serbs in Croatia are under Belgrade's influence?
There is an element of Serbs from Croatia that continues to look toward Belgrade and Serbia as their mother country, since that is where they came from. One should not underestimate this element. Nor should we make jokes about the revived so-called government in exile of the former self-proclaimed Serbian Autonomous Region [SAO] of Krajina. One should not underestimate these people, since this is how it all started in Croatia some 15 years ago.
Many of our Serbian politicians in Croatia still enjoy considerable support from Belgrade, and some of them, if not the entire SDSS, still get Belgrade's approval for their political activities here....
There is no financial or any other form of aid from Belgrade for Croatian Serbs. Let me remind you that Serbian refugees were not given any rights in Serbia, that they have neither provisional accommodation, the right to work, nor dual citizenship. If you compare that with what Croatian refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina enjoy in Croatia, it will be clear to you that Belgrade has not shown any interest in Croatia's Serbs at all.
Finally, let us draw a conclusion: do the Serbs enjoy the same rights as the other citizens of Croatia?
Yes, they do. The Serbs are equal citizens of Croatia. In those regions where they face difficult social and economic situations, it is only because the Croats there do, too.
Yes, from the point of view of their constitutional rights and the special rights we have discussed here, but no, if we think about the discrimination they face. The Serbs in Croatia still bear the burden of collective responsibility [for the 1991-95 conflict]. I fear that there is no official policy aimed at resolving this situation.