Non-Serbs Are Forced From Vojvodina Region
Their homes are appropriated for arriving Serbian refugees
UNTIL two months ago, Milhailo Molnar and his family knew only the hard scrabble existence endured by generations of peasants in the ethnic melting pot of Serbia's agriculturally rich Vojvodina province.Skip to next paragraph
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But the violence and communal hatreds that destroyed Yugoslavia finally swept into this once sleepy farming town, transforming the Molnars' lives.
Like other non-Serbs, they have been tormented by what they claim is an officially-sanctioned campaign to force them to leave Serbia and turn their homes over to Serbs seeking refuge from war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and persecution in Croatia.
"I'm not leaving. Where else can I go?" asked Mr. Molnar, an ethnic Hungarian whose wife is half Croatian and half Albanian. They have one son.
But diplomats and human rights activists say that unlike the Molnars, thousands of Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks, and other minorities have succumbed to bombings, gunfire, beatings, and death threats, and fled the most ethnically diverse Balkan region over the past year.
The exact number of departures from Vojvodina is unknown. But the exodus and a massive influx of Serbian refugees from the newly independent former Yugoslav republics has shattered the delicate comity that once bound its 340,000 Hungarians, 80,000 Croats, and thousands of other non-Serbs in peace with the 1.4 million local Serbs.
Serbia denies the allegations of forced expulsions, contending that only Croats have departed after voluntarily agreeing to "swap" their properties for those belonging to Serbs from Croatia.
"Those that leave get an address on the other side. They get twice as much [property]. The houses here are small," asserted Blagoje Maksimovic, a Serb from the Bosnian town of Bosanski Brod, who works as a volunteer in Hrtskovci's municipal hall.
"There were no threats. People came and just asked if they wanted to swap houses," he said.
Local Serbs and non-Serbs agreed that up to 80 percent of what was Hrtskovci's 3,600-strong Croatian majority has departed in the last two months along with large numbers of Hungarians. More than an estimated 3,000 Serbs, mostly refugees from Croatia, have taken their places, many through coerced house exchanges. Others merely broke into abandoned properties or the homes of residents working abroad. Allegations of purges of Serbs from Croatia are also widespread.
Non-Serbs claimed that one man in Hrtskovci, Milan Pivsic, was murdered for his house. His body was found by the police last month and several suspects were arrested. No official findings have been revealed in the case.
"We were expelled from here," Marco Fumic, who is half Serb and half Croat, said last week as he watched the contents of his small moldmaking shop being loaded onto a truck bound for Croatia's capital of Zagreb.
"I was given three days to leave my home or I would be killed," Mr. Fumic said. "That is why I decided to leave."
Fumic, whose wife is a Serb, said he was exchanging his home for that of a Serbian family in the Croatian town of Podravska Slatina. But the father of two said he did so only after weeks of duress.
"We are all losing here," he said. "[The Serbs coming here] feel they are losing. I feel I am losing." Serbia's sanction
He echoed charges that the expulsions have been sanctioned by Serbia's bankrupt Communist regime as it desperately seeks to settle up to 400,000 Christian Orthodox Serbs uprooted from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.