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Forced Migration During and After the War in Bosnia

Contemporary World History, HIS 370

Filip Lazarevic
The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was caused by the breakup of SFR
Yugoslavia. As the Socialist/Communist regimes of East Europe were
collapsing, and the world order was being re-established, Bosnia and
Herzegovina fell into a crisis that developed into an overall civil war, which
will be the cause of some 2 million internally displaced people and refugees,
adding up to more than 40% of the overall population. This is the largest
example of forced migration in Europe since World War II. As such, due to
unresolved ethnic conflict and a underdeveloped economy, many of the
displaced persons are still away from their original homes, out of which many
still live in inadequate housing. (IDMC 2012, 46)(UNHCR 2013).
Ethnic differences remain a means of separation rather than a source
of societal wealth and divisions are palpable at all levels of society,
impinging upon the everyday lives of citizens of the country, and by
extension its stable functioning. This has created a situation whereby people
from all backgrounds hold deeply rooted fears of what they perceive to be
the other, which manifests itself in towns and cities in which divisions have
led to a situation of dual existence, as well as being characteristic of isolated,

homogenous, and rural communities. This situation is particularly pertinent

in the context of youth, who have often never been provided with
opportunities to meaningfully and sustainably interact with people from
other ethnic groups. A prominent study identifies youth as one of the
prominent risk factors in society, constituting a clear phenomenon of
second generation nationalism, a result of the lack of opportunities for
dialogue and the pervasive nationalistic rhetoric (Nansen Dialogue Centre
Sarajevo and Saferworld 2010, 24). Political figures uphold the status quo
and benefit from it as nationalist rhetoric is more influential in a divided
environment, which is then amplified and echoed by the media. Victims and
veterans of the war both constitute a generation carrying a collective
memory of the horror of war and who, intentionally or not, perpetuate
grievances and division. These grievances and psychological needs have
remained largely unaddressed and as such are major obstacles to
sustainable reconciliation. The lack of adequate commemoration of the past
is an issue. Public spaces in many cities are often named after war events or
figures, considered heroes by one ethnic group, highlighting their
dominance, and thus the exclusion of another. Religion also constitutes an
impediment to reconciliation, as it is typically a part of national identity and
prominent religious leaders promote the same hard-line ethno-nationalist
ideas. In this context, religion has for many lost its original teachings and
values and constitutes another tool of divisiveness (Nansen Dialogue Centre
Sarajevo and Saferworld 2010, 3-12) (IOM 2012)

This paper will look at how the political elites, media, religious
institutions and educational system have perpetuated the cycles of ethnical
hatred and/or stagnation in the improvement of the situation that most
refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) found themselves in.

Issues of IDPs and Refugees, Present and Past

The conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been resolved with general
success by the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995. The agreement had
several provisions on IDP's and refugees. The International interests in these
provisions were fueled by several factors.
1. The number of IDPs was increasing drastically. In 1982, these were an
estimated 1.2 million refugees, this number escalated to 20 million in
2. As seen in Burundi and Rwanda, refugees had often had a spillover
effect on neighboring countries as well as entire regions. With Bosnia
being on the gates of the European Union, this was seen as a great
3. The countries that act as hosts to the refugees suffer economic and
political burden, as refugee protection and assistance are costly

endeavors for the host, while the refugees themselves suffer too,
creating discontent on all sides.
4. Repatriation is also important for a sustainable peace, as it reflects a
reversal of ethnic cleansing and helps to create a peaceful multi-ethnic
community. (Cox and Garlic 2003, 1-26; 35)(Herman and Peterson
This said, the Dayton Agreement set forth to establish a guiding provision for
the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to a summary of the
Dayton Agreement by the US Department of State:

Annex 7: Refugees and Displaced Persons

The agreement grants refugees and displaced persons the right

to safely return home and regain lost property, or to obtain just


A Commission for Displaced Persons and Refugees will decide on

return of real property or compensation, with the authority to issue

final decisions.

All persons are granted the right to move freely throughout the

country, without harassment or discrimination.

The parties commit to cooperate with the ICRC in finding all

missing persons (Department of State, as quoted by PBS 1995)

While these provisions were a viable starting point, several issues

remained that complicated the issue further.
Bosnia-Herzegovina was part of the SFR Yugoslavia, and as such, a
federative republic in a socialist state. This meant that much of the real
property was state owned. Some 30-40% of the property was under state
ownership. This divide is parallel to the urban-rural division of the country.
Namely, the small rural farms were privately owned, while the urban housing
was mostly publicly owned. The publicly owned apartments in cities were
issued to lifelong usage, and could be passed down generations. However, in
the war time, this ownership was blurred, with records being lost, as well as a
range of accompanying problems, such as a reluctant bureaucracy unwilling
to help members of the other or the enemy move back. The second issue
was that some 450,000 housing units were damaged, almost one half of the
pre-war figures. This meant that one half of the population did not have a
home to return to. Lastly, the psychological aspect of the return was
tremendous as well. Returning to the previous home (if it still existed) meant
dealing with a traumatic past and, with the demographic drastically changed,
dealing with the uncertain future based on what was perceived as an
unstable peace. On the political side, the post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina saw
challenges to resettlement as well. This issue could be explained in a
nutshell as nation-wide gerrymandering. All three political authorities (Serb,
Croat and Bosniac government structures) fought for the continuation of the
status quo, which provided them with an ethnic majority in their region of

authority. Alas, all three sided fought against the return of IDP's and refugees
to their native residence, as that would deplete their support base. The only
partial exception was (t)he Bosniac authorities, who retained a broad
political commitment to a multi-ethnic Bosnia, fought for the right of Bosniac
displaced persons to return to Republika Srpskabut made no effort to
support the return of Serbs to Sarajevo and other Bosniac-majority urban
centersthe Serb and Croat regimes engaged in aggressive campaigns to
encourage their own populations to settle permanently in areas under their
control, so as to cement their territorial claim (Cox and Garlick 2003, 68-69).
(Cox and Garlick 2003, 51-69)
This phenomenon is best seen in the example of the Serbian
authoritys resistance to the UNHCR's program of providing free bus rides to
the displaced. The Serbian authorities blocked the roads with police cars. The
resistance was escalating to the extent that the IFOR (international corps in
Bosnia) had to use armored vehicles to tow the police cars away, in order to
let the buses to pass (ICG, 1997).
This initial political environment of using the refugees and internally
displaced peoples as tools for securing power have had a tremendous impact
on future development of Bosnia as a whole. By creating an artificially
controlled environment for returning, an atmosphere of fear and
hopelessness was created, impeding any true reconciliation. Creating monoethic communities had the effect of limiting exposure of one ethnic group to
the others. This in turn had an effect of preventing exposure to the perceived

other. In terms of reconciliation, this was a major obstacle. With the

political elites supporting these divisions for personal gains, a vicious cycle
was inevitable. The separation of the ethnic groups created fertile land for
prolonged ethnic mistrust, as lack of contact with the other inevitably lead
to the demonization of that other. With the concepts of the demonized
other and the nationwide gerrymandering in mind, it is not hard to see how
political campaigns based on hate rhetoric could be more successful than
those based on reconciliation and peace. Appeal to fear based on a
concrete past are stronger than appeal to peace and an elusive future.
Exceptions to the political opposition of fair returns are rare, however,
in the case of Brcko District (the third autonomous unit in BH, accounting for
2% of the population) one can be found. In 1997, the Brcko Supervisor has
authorized a program that expedited the return of non-Serbs to the District,
while also supporting the return of Serbs to the Federation of Bosnia and
Herzegovina. With the Serb population being the majority in the Brcko
district at the time, this shows an exceptional policy for supporting returns
which is expected to change the demographics regardless of the interests of
the political party in power. (Chandler 2013, 112-127)
One of the most visible effects of the abovementioned political
environment are the so called divided cities. These represent cities with
relatively large populations of two or more ethnicities that are close in
numbers, and hence there is no hegemony of one over the other. Probably
the best example of such a city is Mostar. As a result of ethnic cleansing and

post-war migrations due to ethno-political interests, Mostar is a divided city

in the full sense of the term. Geographicaly, the city is divided into the East
and West side by a river that flows through the center of the city. The east
side is predominantly occupied by Bosniacs, while the west side is
predominantly Croatian. The city has two soccer teams, two downtowns, two
universities and many other social structures, divided primarily on an ethnic
basis. It is possible, an common, for the people of Mostar to live entirely on
one side of the river, never crossing to the side of the other. The one
exception to this rule is that of the Gymnasium high-school, which
accommodates students of both ethnicities. In the gymnasium, however,
students are divided according to their ethnicity by the classrooms. That this
is a mostly political issue, attests the fact that the city is divided in two
municipalities, hence the issue of gerrymandering reappears (Behram 2013).
The media in Bosnia and Herzegovina is, after the political elites, the
second biggest influencer in the issue of IDPs and refugees. Under the
Dayton Agreement, the issue was mostly ignored, due to a lack of concrete
plan on how to approach the issue. The dilemma arises from the fact that the
media had a tremendous impact during the war to inflame the conflict, and
hence the power and potential for reconciliation, but controlling the media
was seen as impeding the democratic process, and hence censorship was a
delicate topic. In response to the situation, the international community
created the In response to such situation, international community
sponsored the establishment of the Independent Media Commission IMC,

which was tasked to put some order among the electronic media in the
country through licensing and control of media content (Vajzovi and
Raidagi 2013, 14). The IMC was only responsible for electronic media. The
print media stayed unsupervised under this body, due to the decisions of the
founders of the IMC, who feared allegations of censorship. (Vajzovi and
Raidagi 2013, 12-15)
As a result of this lack of oversight of print media, political influences
are common or even prevalent, according to some sources. A study found
that most data available show the same results when it comes to print
media: namely, the print media are either owned or closely connected to
political or economic elites (Vajzovi and Raidagi 2013, 114).
Due to this, generally low standards are applied in print media, which
results in non-factual reporting and certain types of hate speech. Over time,
this has led to a low confidence in the print media, and, consequently, low
circulation of daily and weekly newspapers. (Vajzovi and Raidagi 2013,
Unlike in the times of the SFR Yugoslavia, when most media was owned
by the state, and hence regulated by the state (yet enjoyed a fair standard of
autonomy), the current case is that most influence on the press comes from
political elites from various sectors of the political machinery. This in essence
means that the reporting often represents individual interests, even if they
are contradictory to the interest of the state as a whole. This undermines the
power of the state as a whole and leads to bias reporting as influenced by

individuals, which is perhaps the worst of both the independent and

dependent press. These influences have created strong financial and social
incentives for individual journalists to follow the mainstream, and
consequently bias, paths of least resistance. The fact is that many journalists
that have tried to escape this path live under constant police protections,
due to threats to themselves and their family members (Vajzovi and
Raidagi 2013, 113-115).
As often seen in post-conflict states, a general apathy exists among
the public. This is highly detrimental to the state of affairs of the media, as
even when independent journalists publish controversial issues, the lack of
public outcry de-motivates any future publications. In recent years, the
media bias has been subsiding, with some newspaper agencies focusing on
an all-Bosnian image. This is in line with the overall progress of BH, but also
due the fact that the demand for newspaper decreased due to the biasness,
as well as the fact that the interned has reached a level of popularity with
the youth, an is seen by these as more independent than the printed press.
(Vajzovi and Raidagi 2013, 148-150)
As the combating sides in the Bosnian war were divided not only on
ethnical lines, but also religious, the religious institutions have had a large
influence in the post war era. Officially a secular state, the religious
institutions present in Bosnia have no direct influence on the government, at
least since the changes in the constitution of Republika Srpska in 2002. Prior
to the constitutional changes were implemented, the primarily Orthodox

Christian Serbian majority in the parliament of Republika Srpska, used

certain provision to prevent the Muslim and Catholic minorities from
participating in the political processes. (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2006, 3)
While religion has almost no formal influence in the government of BH,
the informal influences are still present. According to the Bertelsmann
Stiftungs country report, [informally], however, religious institutions
continue to significantly influence Bosnian politics. Religious leaders
extensive involvement in politics was exposed during the pre-election
campaign for general elections in 2002 and municipal elections in 2004. In
both cases, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina
reported on the significant influence of religious leaders on election
outcomes, exercised by directing the electorate toward three national parties
- the SDS, SDA and HDZ (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2006, 4). Due to a general
lack of interest groups and a relative strong trust in local religious
institutions, these have grown into strong interest groups themselves,
perpetuating ethnical divisions and impeding democratic processes on the
grass-root level. (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2006, 3-10)
Therefore, religious groups do not have so much of a direct influence of
IDPs and refugees, as much as they have a negative influence on the general
state of affairs on the socio-political level. On the other side, several religious
groups have helped returnees within their communities in the process of
reintegrating. However, the biasness in doing so cannot have a wholesome

positive effect in the process of reconciliation. (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2006, 49)

In the immediate post-war era, issues with education were another
area that was at the center of the lives of all people, but was also particularly
damaging to internally displaced persons and returned refugees. As noted
before, much of the state power is fragmented into lesser governmental
units, cantons and regions, and this meant that the education system was
fragmented too. Namely, 14 Ministries of Education are involved in running
and managing the educational institutions in BH. With so many actors
involved it was almost impossible for the system to function properly. This
posed two issues for the minority returnees; first it meant that the local
ministry could control much of the educational content, some of it highly
discriminatory, such as language (Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian) or History.
The other issue, or rather the logical consequence of the first, is that the
minority returnees would have to go to distant schools on a daily basis,
simply to be in an ethnically compatible school. The Commissioner of the
Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre expressed that he was extremely
concerned at the status of education in BiH: The policy of separating
children according to their ethnicity can only reinforce the prejudices and
intolerance towards others and ensure continued ethnic isolation
Ethnically-based and divided education systems remain an obstacle to
sustainable returns (IDMC, 2008). The extent of this issue is well described
by the Helsinki Monitor on Human Rights which noted in 2008 that 54

schools are operating in the system of two schools under one roof, that is a
segregation of children within the school. This in itself is in direct opposition
to relevant local laws as well as to all international documents pertaining to
this area (Helsinki Monitor, as quoted in: IDMC 2008). (IDMC 2008)
The lack of effective change in this matter, as many other areas as
well, can be rooted down to the constitutional issues themselves. Namely,
the constitution provides for equality of all constitutive peoples. This is
means that it accepts that BH is populated by three peoples. Eliminating
two schools under one roof is therefore impossible, as it would
disadvantage the students that are in minority or of a different ethnicity
than their teacher, i.e. being taught by a teacher who speaks a different
language. The differences of the languages are by no means large enough to
disadvantage anyone; however, constitutionally this logic can be upheld.
Despite the fact that 90% of respondents to a national survey stated that the
language differences are either minor or non-important, the political
atmosphere in the country remains an obstacle for full educational
integration. (IDMC, 2008)
As much as this is affecting the society as a whole, it can only be
imagined how these negative effects of the educational system are
amplified, as well as multiplied, for the minority groups, often represented by
returnees. Even more importantly, it is hard to imagine returnee parents
wanting to put their children through such a stress, and hence the

educational system of Bosnia and Herzegovina is yet another impediment to

the full return of the internally displaced persons and refugees.

The paper has looked at the issues that have impeded the
reconciliatory process for the IDPs and refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Focusing on the political elites, media, religious institutions and the
educational system as the main actors in this debacle, it aimed to shed light
on the complexities of the post-war era in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as
pertaining to the most sensitive group, returnees, but inevitably shed light on
the issues faced by the population as a whole as well.
To summarize, the political situation in Bosnia is the most complex of
the issues discussed, but in short, the lack of a unified goal in dealing with
domestic issues on a national level has created a cut-throat environment on
the more localized levels. This leads to a weak national government,
incapable to deal with complex issues such as IDPs/ref. The fragmented
political elites also struggle to maintain the status quo, as it is in their
political interest. The media is an effect of the political environment, and as
such, the issues that it faces closely resemble those of the political system,
with ethnical fragmentation and power struggles on the local level,
perpetuating the national issue. Religious institutions act as the only strong
advocacy groups in BH. However, their interests are many times mutually

exclusive, with all three religious groups engaging in political manipulation

for the sake of the nationalistic elemants amongst the political elites. While
these religious institutions have a great potential for positive impact on
reconciliation in the field of IDPs/ref. they have not developed their potential
in this direction for the most part in the past. Education is the institution that
has to provide the foundation for future stability and returnee integration,
alas, due to constitutional, political and managerial issues it has gone in the
opposite direction for the most part in the past.
The future of the state of the IDPs and refugees in Bosnia and
Herzegovina is slowly looking brighter, however there is still much impeding
the full reconciliation and integration process.

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