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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - Koprivna: Hopeful signs in a splintered village

Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - Koprivna: Hopeful signs in a splintered village
Refugees (107, I - 1997)

1 March 1997
Serb refugees find it hard returning to their former homes in Bosnia but plan to stick it out.

Koprivna was the first place in Bosnia to witness the spontaneous return of minorities when a few Serbs began trekking back to their old homes in February 1996, following the arrival of NATO's field force known as IFOR. Today there are 12 Serb households, approximately 30 people here. They tell a story of a difficult year with serious problems, harassment and even violence, but also one of hope for the future.

Interviews by Mans Nyberg

We step into the house of Bozo Knezevic. A man in his fifties, he moved back to Koprivna with his wife and mother-in-law exactly one year ago. Their house lies in a remote part of the village, two kilometres inside Federation territory. Four other families have returned here. "Yes, it was a brave decision to return," he tells us. "But we had to do it. We just could not go on living as refugees anymore." He has not had any serious problems, but he tells us of four returnees living close by who were beaten up by unknown persons last summer and another neighbour had his tractor stolen. Despite these incidents other former inhabitants intend to return this spring according to Bozo.

As we are sitting in his kitchen, a policeman and an official from Sanski Most making a survey of returnees entitled to humanitarian assistance pay a call. Bozo's mother-in-law complains to the policeman about a person who had entered the village one hour ago, asking strange questions and giving threatening statements. The official who conducts daily patrols, promises to investigate. "Without them (the police) we would for sure have been in real trouble," Bozo nods appreciatively.

Other returnees have been less fortunate. Mirko and Luka Milanovic are brothers, both tough, weather-beaten peasants in their sixties. The house they are staying in is not their own; it belongs to someone who is a displaced person in Prijedor. When they returned to Koprivna last February, the brothers moved back to their own houses a few kilometres down the road towards Sanski Most. They began household repairs but soon had to flee to their current temporary sanctuary.

"People came to our houses and threatened us. Someone shot through my windows. They robbed us of our belongings. Now there is nothing left, not even the window-panes," says Luka. He complained to the local police for whom he and his brother express a high regard, but in this case no one was arrested. Now, though he is planning to start cultivating his fields again, he does not contemplate trying to move back into his old home. "The best solution would be to exchange this area for some other place so that we would become a part of Republika Srpska," he says.

Koprivna is like countless other villages in Bosnia - empty and silent, the houses deserted, many without windows and doors. But somehow, in spite of all this, there is a fragile hope for the future. Some people have returned and they seem determined to stay whatever happens. Others have declared their intention to follow suit.It is an attempt in miniature to rebuild the pre-war multi-ethnic state. As one returnee told us: "There is no alternative for us but to stay here, even if this is Federation territory. This is our home."

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)