By Biljana Pekusic
Many unresolved issues still linger and adversely affect relations between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), 16 years after the two countries signed the Dayton Peace Accords, according to the latest study by the European Movement in Serbia, published last week.
“Interstate demarcation has not been completed, the status of pre-war assets of business subjects is not resolved, succession is at a standstill and war crimes [cases] processing faces big problems,” European Movement member and study co-author Dragan Djukanovic told SETimes.
The incomplete demarcation in particular prevents free movement of people and goods, and otherwise complicates the day-to-day lives of citizens in both countries.
Those who live in the BiH enclave of Medjurecje — 400 acres in the territory of western Serbia — seem to suffer the worst consequences.
“Sometimes I have to go twice a day to the Serbian municipality of Priboj to visit a doctor or buy something, and every time they identify me and treat me as if I am foreigner, even though I have been living here for over half a century,” Madjurecje resident Mahmut Fejzic told SETimes.
Fejzic explained that part of his arable land is also located on Serbian territory, but for 15 years he has been unable to obtain documents in Serbia showing the title. He fears his successors will lose the right to inherit the land.
Similarly, an important railway artery that connects Belgrade and the town of Bar in Montenegro crosses BiH territory. On this short trip, passengers are required to pass passport control twice.
“Serbia favours one entity in BiH — Republika Srpska (RS) — with which it signed the Agreement on Special Relations in 2006, and that puts citizens living in the [other entity] Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in a discriminated position,” Djukanovic said.
Belgrade’s privileged relations with Banja Luka have also created difficulties for students in the region who want to study at Serbian universities. Many say they want to study under the same conditions as Serbian citizens, but this is only possible if they confirm Serbian nationality in a written statement.
The Serbian Ministry of Education and Science has denied that students of other nationalities face discrimination.
“They can be educated in Serbia under the same conditions as students of Serbian nationality, except as foreign citizens they pay for their education,” says Education and Science Ministry State Secretary Radivoje Mitrovic.
Belgrade University spokesperson Marijan Nikolic told SETimes that state financial support is not guaranteed for Serbs in the diaspora or living in countries like BiH, of which RS is a part, but only the right to apply.
“All foreign students, regardless of whether from the region or other European countries, are treated as foreign and fall under a different application policy,” Nikolic said.
Another major problem is the unresolved status of refugees. There are still about 25,000 living in Serbia because numerous administrative obstacles prevent their return to FBiH.
While almost all requests for returning BiH refugees’ pre-war property have been resolved, about 2,000 apartments belonging to former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) employees who worked there until April 1992 have not been returned to the owners or their heirs.
Serbia’s relations with BiH are more complex than with any other regional country. Leaders of the two countries have not shown enough interest to establish good neighbourly relations in the past, evidenced by the fact that the Intergovernmental Co-operation Council has not met since 2005.
“Serbian politicians have almost exclusively met with RS politicians, practically ignoring Bosniak politicians,” Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia President Sonja Biserko told SETimes.
The annual report on human rights in Serbia, published last year by the Committee for Human Rights, concluded that Belgrade’s policies towards BiH are inconsistent.
It also states that relations with RS, which Serbia defines as strategic, have consequences to establishing better relations with Sarajevo. It lists as an example the Istanbul Declaration, which Serbian President Boris Tadic and BiH Presidency Chairman Haris Silajdzic signed in 2010.
“The declaration points out that regional policy should be based on ensuring security, permanent political dialogue and preservation of the multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural characteristics of the region, but RS did not accept that document because it is considered harmful to its interests,” Biserko said.