MON, 19 JUN 1995 21:48:34 GMT
Croats in Serbia which is not in war with Croatia
AIM, Belgrade, June 12, 1995
Croat "blitzkrieg" in Western Slavonia was retaliated in Serbia by burning the sacristy and demolishing the parish Church of St. Clement in Hrtkovci. "Overheated" Serbs in village Vasica near Sid, levelled the Catholic church to the ground. In Kukujevci, approximately at the same time, a bust of the Catholic priest Petar Manic disappeared. In accordance with the already recognizable model of reacting, the police stated that the perpetrators are unknown, that an investigation started... On St. George's day, also unknown perpetrators from the village of Mali Bac demolished one of the concrete crosses which stand by the road. Is this a beginning on a new cycle which started in 1991 in Novi Slankamen, and then continued in Hrtkovci, Kukujevci, Sid, Ruma, Morovic?
Although noone around here can predict with certainty what will happen the next day, there will probably be no new wave of violence against Yugoslav citizens of Croat nationality. Nationalistic euphoria has died down, and the news about combats in Croatia are not carried in the first minutes of the central state tv daily news program. News about Western Slavonia are now pushed aside to the margins of the program.
Srem without Croats
"It is evident that what is happening in Croatia reflects on developments here, it is like a system of connected vessels, the extremists are 'let loose'. Nevertheless, the reactions are of lower intensity now than they used to be during the aggression against Croatia", President of the Democratic Alliance of the Croats in Vojvodina (DSHV), Bela Tonkovic says, but he very resolutely rejects the thesis that tensions in relation to domestic Croats eased thanks to stabilization of the frontlines in Croatia.
- Tensions are alleviated simply because villages with majority Croat population have disappeared. There isn't a single village in Srem with majority Croat population any more. This is a true illustration of Milosevic's policy - Tonkovic stresses.
The number of Croats who have, by their own free will or by force, left the territory of present Yugoslavia cannot be determined easily. Belgrade Archbishop, Mr France Perko, stated in September last year that "after considerable emigration which lasted for several years, emigration of Roman Catholics has almost been interrupted." According to his statement, towards the end of 1993, 8,200 Catholic believers lived in Belgrade Bishopric. At the 1991 census, 16,400 citizens of Belgrade declared themselves to be of Croat nationality.
"When I took over the Bishopric in 1987, it had 34 thousand believers", Mr Perko said, adding that "there are no incidents lately, but an anti-Catholic and anti-Vatican atmosphere which affects the believers and which speeded their emigration does exist".
Based on an investigation carried out on site, the Humanitarian Law Fund from Belgrade assessed that in mass emigrations in the course of June, July, and August 1992, more than 10 thousand Vojvodina Croats exchanged their property for the property of Serbs from Croatia, and that altogether about 20 thousand of Croats left Vojvodina.
Bela Tonkovic claims, however, that very precise data about the number of emigrants do exist, because they are all gathered in the Association of refugees and banned Croats in Croatia which has 40 thousand members.
- They are mostly people from Srem. There are some from Backa, but many of them are from Belgrade too. It is assessed that about 10 thousand have left from Belgrade alone - Tonkovic claims.
Tonkovic also denies reliability of data of the last census (1991) about the number of Croats who lived in the territory of Serbia and Montenegro. According to official data, about 100 thousand declared themselves to be Croats by nationality.
- According to the 1991 census, about 80 thousand Croats from Vojvodina dared declare themselves as Croats. We must be aware that in spring that same year, a specific war was waged in the media against Croatia, in preparation of the military aggression. At the time, to declare oneself as a Croat was true heroism - Tonkovic says.
He gives data of the Catholic Church as the most authentic. And according to these data of the Church, about 250 thousand Croats lived on the territory of present Yugoslavia in spring 1991. Out of that number, most of them lived in Vojvodina - 160,000, then in Belgrade - about 40,000, in Montenegro - up to 2,000, and in Kosovo - about 15,000.
To go or to stay
It is not difficult to imagine how those who were forced to leave their homes in this war feel. Those who remained to be the minority in "someone elses's" national state must feel equally bad. How do those Croats live who have remained in Yugoslavia, in the state which has "never waged war" against their parent country?
There are differences between regions, but it is probably the worst for those who live in Kosovo, where both poverty and ethnic intolerance pressure them. The most impressive example is village of Letnica. A group of Croats, inhabitants of this village in the municipality of Vitina on the Serbian-Macedonian border, appealed to the Humanitarian Law Fund not long ago. In 1991, about four thousand citizens of Croat nationality lived in this local community which consists of four Croat villages, and their number is nowadays reduced to 800.
Certain Marko Stojanovic, junior sergeant (as they said in their conversation with the asociates of the Fund) often arrests them, holds them in custody and mistreats them. A melancholy statement of one of the inhabitants describes their troubles best: "We were grieved most by the fact that Marko drove away the cows and the donkeys to the slaughter house in Gracanica. Those were the cows which gave milk for a family of 22 members. People are poor around here." Military patrols often take away the merchandise that they take to the marketplace, the tractors they transport the merchandise in, firewood they cut and carry for fuel. The soldiers park military vehicles in the yard of the Saint Vlaho nunnery, and it has become customary to dig trenches around the tilled land around the village.
It is similar in villages of Janjevo and Vrnavokolo, the other two local communities formed of several hamlets where Kosovo Croats live. Croats from Janjevo who emigrated to Slavonia in great numbers in the beginning of the war, leaving behind rich houses, are allegedly now seeking the possibility to return to their estates. In the course of last year, data about a hundred families who wished to return appeared in Belgrade media, and it was stated that they would demand guarantees from Serb authorities. They are waiting for those who have remained to send them news about the situation, whether it has become peaceful and stable, because they say that both the Serbs and the Albanians exert pressure on them there. The inhabitants of Janjevo who have remained claim that electric power supply is arbitrarily cut off in Croat villages, that they are not allowed to use the wells which were dug with the assistance of the Republic of Croatia in Kosovo, and that they have difficulties even when they send or receive their mail.
Inhabitants of the northern regions of the country, in Srem practically have no such problems. In Srem villages, "an idyllic peace" prevails, because their "blood count" has been changed. Kukujevci, for instance, were a purely Croat village before the war (with 97 per cent of the Croat population), and now it is inhabited mostly by the Serbs who emigrated from Croatia. It is assessed that about 80 per cent of the original population left.
Belgrade mostly treated its Croat citizens with tolerance. Mostly, because there was a certain amount of pressure here too, especially in the beginning of the war, when the regime television telecast disfigured corpses rousing revanchism and "patriotism" among the Serbs. There were cases of discharging from work which could never be proved to be on ethnic grounds, but it was more or less clearly indicated to them.
The case of eviction of Mrs. Ankica Glusac, a Croat, which occurred in the beginning of the year, ended, if one may say so, favourably. Mrs. Ankica Glusac was evicted from her apartment in New Belgrade, but the mayor of Belgrade, Nebojsa Covic, stepped in and, in the name of the city, allocated another apartment to Mrs. Glusac. Last month, a similar case of eviction happened to Catholic nuns who were evicted from one of the apartmets they used. The case has a complicated legal background, and since no pressure has been exerted by the public which existed when Mrs. Ankica Glusac was evicted, it is dubious what will happen with the demands to have their apartment returned to them.
Neither a nation, nor a minority
Discrimination against the Croats when speaking of state administration was most obvious in the case of the Army of Yugoslavia. Cleansing of the Army of all non-Serbs was completed by the end of 1993, when all persons in service of the the Army of Yugoslavia who did not have the citizenship of Yugoslavia were ordered to provide it in six-months' time. The procedure for acquiring the citizenship lasted much longer, and in a large number of cases, the applications were not even answered. Bela Tonkovic claims that the judiciary was cleansed in the similar manner, and that some top-level judges, with long experience and impeccable careers remained without their jobs, while their posts were taken by people "on whose judge's exam certificates, ink has not dried yet".
The attitude of the media towards local Croats is a separate issue, but one could say that the euphoria of searching for spirits of the past (counting of victims and searching for "those whose grandfathers were Ustashe") has to a considerable extent died down. The "patriotic" press has lately written about newly founded nations, (actually Croats from Backa and Srem) who allegedly are not Croats at all, but were forced to declare themselves as Croats by the Communist Party after the Second World War. Thanks to the efforts of the Serb authorities, this "injustice" is now put right, so that these two groups will be enabled to acquire all rights of national minorities. The President of DSHV calls this "the next step in systematic destroying of the Croats in the FRY".
It is interesting that both representatives of the Office of the Government of the Republic of Croatia in Belgrade, and representatives of Yugoslav authorities refused to talk about the citizens of Serbia of Croat nationality.
Mr Ivo Kujundzic, counsellor for humanitarian affairs of the Croat Office, at first accepted to talk, demanding to have the questions sent to him in writing in advance, because "times were inconvenient". The answers never arrived, but just an apology that everything had to be postponed for some other time, because he had to leave on a business trip.
Yugoslav lady Minister for protection of national minorities and human rights, Mrs. Margit Savovic, was also too busy to talk about this issue, because she had nothing to add to what she had already said about it. Namely, she declared, in mid 1994 in Sombor, that Croats in Yugoslavia were not even a minority, least of all a nation. in August 1993, during a visit to Hrtkovci (out of which at least 450 Croat and ethnically mixed families had emigrated), the lady Minister also said: "Hrtkovci were visited by many so-called defenders of human and minority rights and the village has become a symbol of alleged invented ethnic cleansing". Or the following: "There is no such thing as devastation of the village and ethnic cleansing, but just certain individual cases."
It appears as if everyone in Serbia is trying to avoid this unpleasant topic. The reason for such behavior might have been revealed by Ivo Viskovic, professor of the Faculty of Political sciences, in his speech at the International Conference about minorities.
"Although it has never been publicly said by anyone, it can be concluded that the issue of defining the status of the Muslims and the Croats in Serbia (it is similar in Montenegro) is intentionally postoned and that so far it has been neither formally, legally, nor actually determined. The trend applied so far in final political and legal confrontation of these issues was most probably the result of a wish not to complicate further the complex situation in our country and in this sense it can even be understood to a certain degree", Professor Viskovic says.
He warns, however, that application of the tactics "stick your head in the sand" for a long time might create additional tensions and lead to pressures on the international level - in relations with Croatia and B&H, but in relations with certain institutions of the international community as well.