Serbs abandon life of fear in Croatia

Tudjman's generous law on minorities is not halting an exodus of frightened people, writes Emma Daly in Zagreb

"My family lived in Croatia for 800 years," saidAna. But, she is planning to leave for good this summer, with her husband Ilija and their two sons.

The family will swap the comfortable two-storey house they built in a village outside Zagreb for a Croat-owned house in northern Serbia. Ana has decided, regretfully, that life as a Serb in Croatia has become too painful, adding: "Probably the situation for [the Croats in Serbia] is not very rosy either."

Since Croatia's recognition in January 1992, when the Serbs accounted for about 12 per cent of the 4 million-plus population, some 300,000 have left government-held territory, 85,000 moving to the "Serbian Republic of Krajina".

Of those who stayed, some have assimilated, changing their names and converting to Catholicism; others stick it out, loath to leave their homes and hoping for better times.

"There is no way to live well in Krajina. I would have no job there. Everything we own is here. Our children were born here. We don't want to give it up," said Gordana, a Croatian Serb in Zagreb who lost her job as a cook, she claims, because of discrimination.

She and her husband, Dragan, describe a life circumscribed by intimidation, isolated from their Croatian neighbours, cut off from relatives in the Krajina, their children bullied at school and rejected for places at university.

"A Serbian colleague of mine changed his name to Ivan [a Croatian name] but it didn't help him much because everyone knew he was a Serb and in a way they despised him a bit for giving up a part of himself," Dragan said. "And he lost his job in the end, anyway."

Ana and Ilija decided to leave because their two sons were bullied at school - the youngest by his teacher - and friendless. "I was born here and I'm going to the unknown but I'm happy to do it because of the children," Ana said.

Such stories are common, according to human rights officials and Croatian Serb politicians. "I would call the policy of our government towards Serbs `soft ethnic cleansing'," said Ivan Cicik, of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.

The atmosphere is better now, three years after the Serb-Croat war. It is almost certainly safer to be a Serb in Croatia than to be a Croat in Krajina.

Mr Cicik says that the situation is improving, as does Taduesz Mazowiecki, the United Nations human rights rapporteur.

Under Croatian law, Serbs are guaranteed human rights and the advancement of their culture. Serious crimes, such as kidnappings, murders, the destruction of Serbian houses and illegal evictions are no longer a problem. Yet, Serbs do not enjoy the rights to which they are entitled by law.

Many face obstacles getting citizenship and keeping their jobs and homes. They also encounter hostility, much of it fostered by the government.

When asked about illegal evictions last year, President Franjo Tudjman replied that "Evictions have to do with individuals who are guilty or in connection with those guilty for the fact that in Croatia today we have 250,000 people driven out of their homes ...and also thousands of people killed." As Mr Cicik said: "The Serbs are accused of collective guilt."

Veselin Pejnovic, an MP of the Serbian National Party, considered a Tudjman puppet group by other Serbian politicians, and Milorad Pupovac, founder of the Independent Serbian Party, say the minorities law does not yet apply in Croatia.

The government says the minorities law will be implemented fully once the Krajina is reintegrated. But the Krajina Serbs have refused to consider a peace plan for Croatia until Mr Tudjman revokes his decision to expel the UN. The two enemies have made some progress, agreeing to open a road linking two Serb-held areas.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links