VIEWPOINT FROM LONDON
RESETTLING CROATS IN POSAVINA
by Brian Gallagher
The Croatian Herald, Australia No. 1018 - 11.06.04
Croat refugee return in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been
unsuccessful. However, whilst in Sarajevo I learnt of
an important project to help resettle Croat refugees
to the Posavina area of BiH on a sustainable basis.
Concerns were expressed to me in Sarajevo that Annex
VII of the Dayton Accords - which deal with refugee
return - may be declared to be fully realised. This
would mean declaring that the refugee problem is
effectively over, and no funds will remain for Croats
who want to go home. This possibility is given
credence by Paddy Ashdown's continued declarations on
the success of refugee returns - conveniently not
mentioning the failure of Croat returns. Unlike the
Serbs and Bosniaks, Croats only started returning
after 2000 rather than in 1995 - when the war ended.
The seriousness of the situation is demonstrated by
figures from the Franciscan Bosna Srebrena Provincial.
In the areas they administer there were 158,246 Croats
in 2003 as opposed to 295,060 in 1991.
However, this does not mean the situation is hopeless.
A new project funded by the Croatian American
Association may help in returning Croats to their
homes in BiH.
The CAA project is taking place in Plehan, in the
Posavina region of northern BiH, which borders
Croatia. Plehan falls within the Serb controlled part
of BiH. Historically, Posavina has a large Croat
population. During the war, the Serbs ethically
cleansed the region of Croats. They also destroyed the
St. Marko Monastery.
The United Nations Development Programme, which has
been involved in attempting to return Croats to the
area, has written an unusually sympathetic report. It
points out the great significance Posavina has for
Croats in BiH, Croatia and the Croatian Diaspora,
referring to the "continuing breathing" between
populations across the border.
However, refugee BiH Croats who fled to Croatia have
little incentive to return. The conditions - economic,
health care, education etc - are much better in
Croatia than BiH. There are few employment
possibilities in Posavina, never mind the implications
of living in Republika Srpska; it is only relatively
recently that Croats have been able to return safely.
Few have actually done so. In 1991, Plehan itself had
6,000 Croats; in 2003 it just had 161.
The CAA project in Plehan is geared to the micro level
- a grass roots approach. A local who returned from
Croatia is receiving CAA funds to build a store.
Currently, there is no such store and locals have to
be ferried to nearby towns for their supplies. Some of
the profits will go into a community fund to expand
A local, integrated approach - homes, churches,
schools and employment are all needed for sustainable
return. This is recognised by bodies such as UNDP. The
CAA project is working on the same lines. If it works,
then it can create an ongoing success. In so doing, it
can bring attention to the Croat refugee return
problem and put off any notion of stating that Annex
VII has been realised.
© Brian Gallagher
My 'Viewpoint from London' column appears fortnightly
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at