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Refugees Magazine Issue 111 (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 50th Anniversary) - Slavonia: A Silent Exodus

Refugees Magazine Issue 111 (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 50th Anniversary) - Slavonia: A Silent Exodus
Refugees (111, I - 1998)

1 March 1998
A roundup of world refugee stories

Serbs continue to leave Eastern Slavonia despite government promises ...

It has been a volatile melting pot and scene of wars for centuries. Croats, Serbs, Hungarians and Slovaks all settled on the flat, fertile plain along the Danube River at various times. The region's main city of Vukovar was a pearl of Baroque architecture and a tourist mecca. But as Yugoslavia began to break apart in the early 1990s the region, known as eastern Slavonia, experienced the most bitter fighting in Europe since World War Two.

The Yugoslavia People's Army staged a blitzkrieg through the region, severed Eastern Slavonia from the newly proclaimed state of Croatia, turned Vukovar into a heap of rubble and expelled the entire non-Serb population. As Croats, Serbs and Bosnians fought in other parts of the Balkans, the United Nations eventually established a transitional administration in Eastern Slavonia. After delicate and protracted negotiations, the U.N. administration returned the territory to Zagreb earlier this year.

The question now is: which way will the region go? There are tentative signs of revival amid the ruins of Vukovar. The European Community has helped repair two high-rise apartment buildings which tower over the shattered city. Serb para-military forces which once strutted through the rubble, have withdrawn. Croats have begun to return.

The Zagreb government promised to deal fairly with Serbs who decided to stay in the area, but the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said recently there had been a 'silent exodus' of at least 40,000 people in the last two years and one official called it "administrative ethnic cleansing."

The U.N. Security Council in March expressed its concern "about increasing incidents of harassment and intimidation of the local Serb community" and the failure of the Croat government to implement an effective programme of national reconciliation.

Inevitably, after so much hatred and with so much work to do to patch the region together again, everyone is apprehensive. Some Serbs fled from other parts of Croatia during the fighting and now live in formerly Croat homes. Once the original owners return, these Serbs, many with no money or property, fear they will have to leave.

"We get nasty phone calls, strangers come to our houses, ordering us to leave within 24 hours," one Serb said. "Young hooligans rule the streets." Police respond quickly to calls, but the harassers return at night. "Each and everyone of us will leave if this continues," says another young Serb. "Many have already gone and more will follow." Not all Serbs agree the future is so bleak. One community leader insists that though it may take time for the situation to settle down "this will blow over." Only time will tell who is right.

Source: Refugees Magazine issue 111 (1998)