Skip to main content
August 3, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 252
Dossier: The Fate of Krajina Serbs

To Stay or to Leave

by Filip Svarm

So far 32,000 refugees from Krajina reported to the Helsinki committee for human rights in Belgrade, claiming they wish to return to their homes. However, most demand that certain conditions are met before they return. Most frequent demands are for unambiguous interpretation of the Croatian amnesty law, and legal protection of private property. Reason for this lies in the fact that many of those who already returned found Croatian families from Central Bosnia living in their houses and thus had to move in with family or friends. Others, who were lucky enough to find their homes vacant, now form the colony of returned refugees.

It is estimated that between six and seven thousand Krajina Serbs returned to Croatia. A substantial proportion of those who managed to return and obtain Croatian documents, financial situation permitting, visit their relatives and friends in Serbia. For the refugees in Serbia, they are the only reliable and relevant link with their native soil. They are keen to find out who else had returned, what state their house is in and if anyone moved in, the attitude of the authorities towards the Serbs, if there are any local Croats among the authorities and what they are like, what is the procedure for obtaining documents and pensions etc. Most frequently, the returned refugees complain of high living costs. They claim there is no harassment by the officials although they fear for their safety especially in villages, at night. They say they have no problems with Croats from Banja Luka ("My new neighbour spent longer in the Serbian army than myself"), though the same can not be said about Croats from central Bosnia...

While closely following the normalization of relations between FR Yugoslavia and Croatia, and weighing the pros and cons of returning to their homes, refugees who are still in Serbia receive no financial help. Once a month they receive humanitarian aid, mostly food. Each person receives two cans of fish, two cans of beef, a liter of cooking oil, a kilogram of sugar, a kilogram of pasta and sometimes some chocolate mousse. Once every three months refugees receive a parcel containing soap, toothpaste and washing up liquid. In some places, like in Sabac, refugees are also given nine bread tokens every month.

Some of the Krajina Serbs in exile were lucky enough to find employment. This applies to a few judges, pharmacists and employees of "Politika", Red Cross and the Krajina Revenue office. However most of them are only in temporary employment. There are also those who work in the private sector, and their experiences vary, ranging from those who pulled a few strings, got working permits and now own their businesses, to those who are being exploited in the worst possible way.

Refugees have particular problems with their papers. The refugee ID, for which they had to wait for months after entering Serbia, is supposed to be the only necessary proof of identity. However it is not. As a further proof of refugee status, one has to show his census card, issued by the Serbian Commissariat for refugees rights at the recent census which according to Bratislava Buba Morina was "voluntary and not compulsory". In order to obtain humanitarian aid, health care, register a vehicle or anything else, refugees must show this document. Things become even more dramatic when it comes to obtaining a passport. While women can get them without any problems (their home town in Croatia is entered as the place of residence) passports are inaccessible to men between 18 and 60 years of age.

For many of these people, a tractor or a car is the most valuable asset. However, having a car at one's disposal is not easy. In order to register a vehicle one must first obtain a Custom's declaration required by the legislation on passengers and goods from former Yugoslav republics which are no longer part of Yugoslavia. Refugees and exiles are not charged any custom duty, accept a demurrage fee (3-5 days) for the time which the vehicle has to spend at the border pending the declaration. The owner of the vehicle must then go to the finance office of the local council where he is registered and hand in his census card and a signed statement from whoever gives him shelter stating that all obligations towards the state had been met. Only then can the owner register his vehicle, of course after paying relevant taxes and registration fees.

This procedure applies only if the owner still has his original registration document. Otherwise, the original receipt is required as a proof of ownership. It is in the realm of science fiction to suppose that someone fleeing Krajina would remember to take anything of the kind.

It is easy to spot Krajina Serbs in Serbia proper. They are mainly stooped and gloomy. They exchange mostly bad news. If someone steps on their toes, they are the ones to apologize. However, among them are a few former chiefs who have apartments, houses, businesses, firms, "Rolexes" and BMWs and who work out in the local gyms. They are ready to kill everyone opposed to the Z-4 plan, just as a year ago they were ready to kill anyone in favour of it. They advocate the protection of human rights with the same eagerness with which they once violated them. They are now prepared to do for integration into Europe all that they were once prepared to do for Greater Serbia. They are not politically active, except when they occasionally offer support to the President of Serbia and his men. That is what these people are meant to be doing, and in doing so they made quite a good living, together with the local state Mafia.

Krajina Serbs are not the kind of people who complain or protest. They know from experience that law, the constitution and international conventions are applied in ways that suit the authorities. They also know that their fate is not in their own hands.

After reporting their assets in Croatia to the Yugoslav government, Krajina Serbs were told by Tomica Raicevic the Minister of finances that the "data collected will constitute a permanent document which might be used for other purposes, such as settling the account with Croatian authorities". This suggests that Yugoslavia will use this property for resolving the issue of succession with Croatia, and then offer compensation to its rightful owners.

If they decide to stay in Yugoslavia, Krajina Serbs face the new citizenship legislation, which requires the police to provide an evaluation of each refugee's loyalty to the authorities. If refused citizenship, refugees would loose both the minimal help they receive from the state and their property in Croatia.

These people are left with no other option but to wait for the results of future agreements and deals, the arrival of a new government or the return of this country to the civilized world, under international pressure.

Until then, they can only continue to live, ashamed of both their Serbian nationality and their Croatian homeland.


General Dusan Pekic, from the Association of Serbs from Croatia: " Refugees from Krajina are in a dreadful situation. They are forced to fight for survival, and the only solution is the normalization of relations between Yugoslavia and Croatia. International community should insist on total abolition for exiled Serbs and their immediate return."


Svetozar Oro, from the Society for spreading the truth about the fight against Fascism in Yugoslavia: "Refugees are having a hard time, but I believe that, one day, they will all return."

Gorjanka Metikos, Group 484: "The future is uncertain. Group 484 is caring for 484 families from Krajina- altogether around 2,000 people. We bring them together, offer them legal and humanitarian aid, psychological support. We also organize weaving workshops where people from Krajina can earn their living. Ninety percent of people cared for by this organization would like to return."

Borislav Mikelic, of the Committee for refugees at the Krajina Bureau was too busy to talk to "Vreme".


Confession : Milan Martic

"Milosevic betrayed us"

"Krajina fell because of Milosevic's betrayal while we believed in him like we believe in God."...and more about Milan Babic, Borislav Mikelic and General Mrksic.

Milan Martic is still a president: he has a "residence" in Banja Luka, with a flag fluttering on the roof. He has bodyguards, his most loyal followers who in their spare time help their boss on his farm outside Banja Luka. He says he is homeless, supported by friends, but that he will not go across the Drina, although that is where his family is, as long as "Milosevic the traitor" is in power. It has now been a year since president Martic lost his state and since his people found themselves scattered between Prijedor and Prizren. In an interview given to Slobodan Nagradic, Milan Martic tells the story about how he became president and about the fall of Knin. He also reveals who ordered the evacuation of civilians, who ordered the army to retreat and explains the role of Milan Babic, Borislav Mikelic and general Mile Mrksic.

According to Martic's testimony it all began and ended with Slobodan Milosevic. "I would say that we were completely betrayed by the Serbian regime and Slobodan Milosevic..."

What were his thoughts when he first encountered Milosevic (in July, 1991): "I believed he was God, and saviour of Serbs. I would have done anything for him at the time."

"There was a unified defence plan for Krajina, Srpska Republic and Yugoslavia, which had been signed by all three parties including Milosevic. Milosevic broke the agreement after the attack by the Croats on Western Slavonia, when he prevented the Slavonia and Baranja Corps of the Yugoslav Army from intervening. Similar thing happened after Operation 'Storm' ", Martic explains.

Where was Martic at the time of Operation "Storm"? Martic claims everyone new of the oncoming attack except himself: "Some people may find this funny. I was with my family in the attic of a house in Knin where we lived. We survived the first attack by chance...The military headquarters and general Mrksic new of the oncoming attack but failed to inform me. It was the chief of staff who shamefully ordered the army to retreat. I never spoke of these things before, but now the time is right for the truth to come out, since most brigade generals whom I contacted confirmed the accuracy of what I just said."

Martic admits that he signed the order concerning the evacuation of civilians from the endangered areas, but also that he gave a few orders that made him eligible for the Hague:

"Milan Babic, who was with the government in Belgrade, called me five times on the phone - I later found out that it was from Mr. Milosevic's office- begging me not to bomb Zagreb. I said nothing at the time, but I thought that, since bombing Zagreb was part of our defence plan, we will do so when the time is right. At the beginning of the offensive most Croats were in shelters anticipating retaliation, so I thought that an attack at this early stage would be pointless. However, that same evening on the 19:30 news bulletin, the military commander and I saw Croatian General Tolj invite the population to come out of the shelters since Zagreb is out of range of Serbian guns. It was then that I ordered for Zagreb to be shelled with all weapons that have the city within their range."

What else has he got to say about Babic, and especially Mikelic: I did not suggest Babic for prime minister since I considered him not to be competent for the job...Mikelic, I admit, was a mistake. Everything that man does is dishonest..." He says he lost contact with both Mikelic and general Mrksic, about whom he said the following: "I am offended by the fact that his name and my own are on the same list. His crimes were ordered by the Serbian regime, so he should be tried by the Serbian people and not by some tribunal in the Hague."

"Most shameful of all is the fact that when the army was given the orders to retreat, the command and the Chief of staff failed to wake me up and inform me of their decision. They practically left me there, asleep, shattered by fatigue, pain and despair. When I arrived at the headquarters the next day and found that everyone fled to Srb, I knew it was over..."

How did his last conversation with Milosevic end: "It was before the fall of Krajina. When Grahovo fell, I went to Belgrade to beg him, for the last time. He did not wait for me in Belgrade: he was on holiday, tired of all the work and concern for the people. However, with a little help from my friend Brana Crncevic I managed to get in touch with him on the phone and said: "Mister President, I beg of you, for the last time in my life, to issue a statement, to deny reports that Croatia has your guarantees that Yugoslavia will not interfere if they attack Krajina. Just give them a verbal warning saying that Yugoslavia will not stand aside, and that will be enough". He refused to do anything.


Veljko Dzakula

For Krajina not to become wild

I am an optimist, though many would call it "sick optimism", but realistically speaking, Krajina is left empty, deserted, with only a few old people, so I am sure people will want to return. In Croatia they are beginning to realize that without people there is little hope that the region will ever be revived. Unless people come back, the region will become wild, it will once again become overgrown with trees, and all the roads, waterworks and energetic infrastructure will be ruined.

The so called humane repatriation of people did not bring satisfactory results since the repatriated people are not satisfied and do not feel at home in the new environment. Also, local inhabitants can not accept them since they do not share the same mentality, culture or customs in spite of the same ethnic origin.

I believe that the international community should help these regions through development projects and creation of jobs, so that people who return can find work. Work and employment are the best proof of revival in this region.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.