May 17, 1993 Vreme News Digest Agency No 86

Serbs Outside Serbia and in Serbia

The Unbearable Difficulty of Making a Turnabout

by Filip Svarm

It has proved that the greatest sin of the Serbs outside Serbia was the fact that they believed Milosevic unquestioningly. It is true that he did his best to unite the Serbs while he could, but since that policy exhausted itself under the international community's pressure, the only option left was for Milosevic to turn into a peacemaker over night

"There's no life for us there anymore", said a Republic of Serb Krajina army member from Benkovac, while in Belgrade. "Even if we win or lose. If the Croats come, they'll exterminate us. No one will dare stay - children or the elderly. Even the cats will run - if they're Serbian cats. If we beat Tudjman back, things won't be much better. We won't be able to produce anything, or buy anything. We'll be living like Indians in a reservation until we die out. That is why whoever thinks about himself or his family will try to find some kind of a job or house in Serbia, while there's still time. That's why I'm here right now".

The migrations of Serbs living outside Serbia started before the outbreak of the national wars in the former Yugoslavia. Constitutional changes (Kosovo and Vojvodina) and their "Yugoslav" character and communist populism found a fertile ground in the numerous colonies of military pensioners originating from Krajina and now living in Belgrade. Retired colonels and forgotten police officials visited their birthplaces and explained the "role of Comrade Sloba" (Slobodan Milosevic, then new in politics-editor's note) to their compatriots. The circulation of the Belgrade dailies Politika and Vecernje Novosti jumped significantly, even though the readers had great difficulty with the Cyrillic script in the beginning. Victims of the new "Ustashi genocide" against Serbs appeared. All of them, regardless of the reasons - real or invented, made up the first wave of Serbs from the other side of the Drina River who descended on Serbia. Although small in number, they were bait for all the others. Their treatment, or rather an understanding for their sufferings, and giving them aid of all kinds, became at the time, a question of national honor and patriotism.

The Serbian "anti-bureaucratic" revolution, as the constitutional changes were dubbed, was followed by the "log revolution" in Krajina. Barricades, the maltreatment of travellers along the Lika-Dalmatia highway and rallies resulted in the fact that many urban Serbs in Croatia started feeling very uneasy. At the same time, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) introduced a coordination of the national ratio of those working for the police, in executive organs and on executive committees of large firms, with the result that a second wave of Serbs left for Serbia. Experts and the well-off were the first to leave, since they did not wish to abandon their careers or risk their capital and machines.

After war broke out, first in Croatia and then in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the third, biggest migration of Serbs outside Serbia to Serbia took place. This migration can be divided into two streams. The first consisting of refugees from war-affected territories outside Serbian control, i.e., people who had lost everything, and the second, made up of parts of the population of self-proclaimed Serbian states who were trying to save what they had. This again consisted of private businessmen and experts whose businesses had come to a standstill and all those who disagreed with the dominant interpretation of the idea "all Serbian interests". Namely, apart from the war, the Serbian "krajinas" had fallen into anarchy and crime controlled by local warlords, which pointed to the fact that lofty goals only hid mundane interests. Also, life without electricity and elementary security, without the basic foodstuffs and the possibility of educating one's children, did not promise a better tomorrow. Apart from these refugees, Serbs from towns and areas in Croatia not affected by war, migrated to Serbia after exchanging houses and farms with Croats in Serbia.

At the time, the war option had priority and the dream of the "United Serb States" was within reach, so that all sufferings could be borne and all means justified. None asked why Serbs across the Drina River were fighting and leaving their homes in order to come to Serbia, and what would happen to them. They were just the instruments of a policy - both those who fought and those who fled from war. They were all required to show national radicalism and absolute support to the current Serbian authorities embodied by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. This they did wholeheartedly. The authorities also made sure that the Serbs outside Serbia did not have representatives who could voice alternatives to war. Representatives of the Serbian regime were named - a dentist (former Knin Krajina leader Milan Babic), a warehouseman (Republic of Serb Krajina President Goran Hadzic), a psychiatrist (Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic) and a truck driver (leader of Herzegovinian Serbs Bozidar Vucurevic), with the sole purpose of making the people their accomplices. This wasn't all that difficult a task since all those who thought differently had been routed and proclaimed national traitors.

Currently there are around 500,000 Serb refugees in Serbia and an unknown number of other Serbs from outside Serbia who have not registered, primarily in order to avoid being deported to their birthplaces where they would be pressed to serve as cannon fodder for local warlords, such as Bozidar Vucurevic of Trebinje. Serb refugees are scattered throughout Serbia. The Serbian Commissioner for Refugees takes care of the refugees, while the others make do as best they can. Frequently both categories live off their savings or work illegally, because if they do find work they lose their refugee status, while the second category do not have the necessary documents for legal work. Apart from this, there are many regulations banning conscripts from the Serbian states from finding permanent employment.

The hosts' former hospitality is a thing of the past thanks to growing pressures of life under an economic embargo. All are now being lumped into the same boat: those who have lost everything, such as people from Lipik (Western Slavonija) or Gorazde (B-H), as well as weekend warriors, commanders and officials of the Serbian states from the other side of the Drina River who have robbed their own people and former neighbors and now own luxurious cars and flats in good neighborhoods. There are a growing number of comments to the effect that Serbs from the other side of the Drina River are more like the people they lived with, rather than the Serbs in Serbia. They are being asked what they want in Serbia and why they don't go back where they came from, and make up or die. It seems that the time of national pathos is slowly passing and phrases from the end of World War Two when those who had taken in refugees started calling them freeloaders, can be heard.

It has proved that the greatest sin of the Serbs outside Serbia was the fact that they believed Milosevic unquestioningly. It is true that he did his best to unite the Serbs while he could, but since that policy exhausted itself under the international community's pressure, the only option left was for Milosevic to turn into a peacemaker over night. Serbs across the Drina River just weren't capable of following this turnabout. Namely, they have been used to such a degree, and what is worse, in the field, where a lot of butchering and killing has been done in the name of "all Serbs in one state", so that many believe that they simply cannot go back. Who can return to Foca (B-H) - which is supposed to become a Moslem province and look one's former neighbors in the face. How many Serb refugees can return home before around two million Moslem and Croatian refugees do so? Even though the Krajina states cannot survive on their own, and even though the majority of those in Serbia who have been left destitute cannot eke out a minimal existence, Serbs outside Serbia cannot abandon the concept they have embraced. To admit that so much blood had been spilled in vain, does not seem possible right now. That is why they will desperately support an Ostoja Sibincic in Hrtkovci (Serbian Radical Party local branch leader), in the hope of getting some kind of a house where they will be able to live with their families. They will also support Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj and his fascist statements. They will support anyone who is willing to tell them that their struggle will not end. Perhaps they are aware that they are striving towards an unattainable goal, and that they have been manipulated, as a man from Daruvar who returned there saying that he preferred to sit it out in a jail in Croatia than live in Serbia without any future. After all that has happened, they cannot agree to the kind of peace they are being offered. It could even happen that those who pushed them into war and suffering, after changing their priorities, proclaim them rebel elements. At any rate, Serbs outside Serbia will try to maintain the current situation for as long as possible, trying all the time, as the man from Benkovac said at the beginning, to find a place in Serbia. And when the majority of them do remain, the saying that Milosevic succeeded where Independent State of Croatia (NDH) leader Ante Pavelic did not, will become reality. Namely, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be cleansed of Serbs.