18 August 2005, Volume
ARE SERBS VICTIMS OF DISCRIMINATION IN CROATIA?
A Program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg
Today we will discuss the situation of the Serbs in Croatia with our guests: Anto Djapic, president of the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights [HSP], and Milan Djukic, president of the Serbian People's Party [SNS] in Croatia.
Mr. Djukic, is the situation of the Serbs in Croatia getting worse? Some political representatives of Croatian Serbs say there is discrimination, segregation, and ghettoization. Do you share those views?
Once again this issue has led to some excitement on the political stage in Croatia, since both assimilation and ghettoization are, paradoxically, a fact. The reason for this is that the government lacks the will to deal with basic issues affecting the situation of Croatia's Serbian population.
On the other hand, some Serbian representatives in the Croatian parliament have demanded extra rights [for the Serbian minority]. Seeking such additional rights actually leads to ghettoization and hampers the integration of Serbs in [Croatian] society. Those rights would benefit rural Serbs more than urban ones, which would tend to prompt the latter to assimilate [and lose their Serbian identity]. I have always advocated a civic state in which we all have the same rights and obligations.
I think that 10 years after the military operations Blitz and Storm [that ended the rebellion], the future of the Serbs in Croatia must not lie in living in ghettoes or in seeking a special status, but in integration into Croatian society with the same rights as the rest of the citizens of Croatia.
Unfortunately...the present government has reopened the Serbian question for the political benefit of the ruling [Croatian Democratic Community]. The interests of the Serbian minority are represented [in government]...by one Serbian party, the Independent Democratic Serbian Party [SDSS, of Milorad Pupovac], which, for various reasons, is the only Serbian parliamentary party in Croatia.
According to that party, the Serbs are entitled to a special status because of their links to the wartime occupiers, who are also the ones who made war against the Croatian state. Such an approach to the Serbian question is unfair toward the huge majority of Serbs who fulfilled their civic and military duties during the war and remained loyal citizens of Croatia.
I think that the HDZ on one hand and the SDSS on the other have chosen a wrong strategy to determine the status of the Serbs in Croatia. What we now have is a SDSS that acts as a client of the HDZ. This policy will backfire sooner or later and will ultimately harm the Serbian minority, especially those who did not rebel against Croatian state 15 years ago.
Mr. Djukic, are the Serbian returnees welcome in Croatia?
I cannot say they are not. However, as far as the return is concerned, I must say that the government is not doing enough to speed up the process.
Is private property being returned?
Private property has not yet been returned.
I must contest my colleague Djukic's claim. Private property is being returned. According to some reports, a huge percentage of it has already been given back, although not all of it. However, the fact is that the return of the Serbs is no longer a political issue -- which I consider a great step forward -- but rather an economic and social one.
Mr. Djukic is well aware, as I am, that resolving that issue depends very much on solving the problem of housing for the Croats who were expelled from Bosnia-Herzegovina and who now live in Serbian homes in formerly [rebel-held] territories. Both fairness and the law must be respected. That means that someone cannot take possession of three commercial properties that used to belong to a member of the Serbian minority [as a fellow Serb], and, once he is evicted, then...claim that he is a Croat.
However, there are poor people who cannot return to Banja Luka or Derventa or any other place in Bosnia-Herzegovina but who are now expected to leave the homes where they are living in Croatia and hand them back to their real [Serbian] owners. I think that we should insist on solidarity in these cases, but the return of private property is beyond question....
Mr. Djukic, do the Serbs in Croatia still face job discrimination?
The most obvious ethnically based discrimination is in the state administration and state-owned companies, such as the post offices, banks, etc. In Donji Lapac, where some 85-90 percent of the inhabitants are Serbs, there are 60 policemen, and none of them is a Serb. There is not a single Serbian teacher permanently employed in the local school. The situation is the same in the local post office and department of forest management.
Mr. Djukic is talking about the experience of Donji Lapac, but he is well aware, as well as I am, that in Hrvatsko Podunavlje [along the Danube] the situation is completely different. There are unemployed Croatian policemen there, while some members of Serbian paramilitary units, poorly educated in every sense and untrained for police jobs, are working as police officers, thanks to the Erdut agreement [that ended the rebellion in 1995].
[Several interior ministers have] explained this situation by citing our international obligations. So, in addition to the situation in Donji Lapac, which is perhaps not quite right, we also have a situation in Vukovar where members of the former Serbian paramilitaries known as the Scorpions have been on the police payroll.
We should speak openly about such things. Such special rights [for some Serbs] have only made things more complicated. It would have been much better if all the Serbs in Croatia enjoyed equal rights.