These Pawns in Balkan War Remain Pawns in the Peace
FOR four years, Krajina Serbs like Zoran heeded the call for a ''Greater Serbia.''Skip to next paragraph
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He and fellow minority Serbs in Croatia waged a war against what they saw as a resurgence of Croat fascism, forging the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Krajina in a northeastern crescent of Croatia in 1991.
But today those calls for Serb unity ring hollow to the 180,000 Krajinans expelled by a lightening Croatian offensive in August from the land their ancestors lived on for more than 400 years.
Zoran, a slight man wounded three times in combat, lost his family home and farm. But he is more angry that his wife was forced to give birth to their first child in an old Fiat during the refugee caravan that brought them to Serbia.
Zoran and other Krajinans blame Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for their misfortune. Mr. Milosevic is seen as the mastermind behind the vision of a Greater Serbia. But with his country pinched by economic sanctions, he bowed to international pressure and sacrificed his vision by standing aside when Croatia retook Krajina this summer.
Although repatriating or compensating refugees was part of the agreement initialed by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday, UN officials say few Krajina Serbs will be allowed to return home.
The Croats ''don't want them [Serbs] back,'' said a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Croatia's capital, Zagreb. ''If there is a peace settlement, perhaps they will allow a token number to return.''
''We had our state, and Milosevic sold us out,'' Zoran says bitterly, cradling his son, Alexander,. ''I don't believe anyone anymore.''
Krajinans are stunned by their status as international pariahs. They paint themselves as the Balkan conflict's true victims.
Unlike Croatian and Bosnian refugees, who have garnered global sympathy and are comforted in the knowledge that their compatriots gradually recaptured Serb-held lands, the Krajina Serbs feel utterly alone.
''There is no sympathy in the world for Serbs,'' said Rade Dubajic, general secretary of Red Cross Yugoslavia.
UNTIL run out of the Krajina this summer, everything had gone the Serbs' way. Supported by Serbia's ultranationalistic Radical Party with cash and arms, the rebels successfully beat back the Croats they call Ustashe, referring to Croatia's Nazi-backed regime accused of slaughtering about 350,000 ethnic Serbs during World War II.
On the scorecards of humanitarian observers, the August expulsions were perhaps the most effective ''ethnic cleansing'' the war has seen.
Refugees recount harrowing treks eastward toward Serbia, inching along a road in searing heat while attacked by snipers and rock-throwing Croats.
The reception in Serbia has been equally unkind. Some Serbs chided Krajinans for giving up their land so easily. Scores of Krajina men were sent to the front lines in Eastern Slavonia, the last Serb stronghold in Croatia.
While the UN High Commission for Refugees defines all those forced from their homes as refugees, Serbian authorities classify these Krajinans differently. The Republic of Serbia Commissariat for Refugees calls them ''expellees,'' in that they were ''forced to leave.'' The agency defines ''refugees'' as those who ''left by choice,'' says Vladimir Curgus, assistant commissar for refugees.
Perhaps partly because of this rationale, Belgrade has been slow to respond to the Krajinans' needs. Only on Nov. 9 did they officially begin to receive basic ''refugee'' benefits.
The recent refugees also say they were duped into believing there would be houses and jobs awaiting them in Serbia. An estimated 80 percent are living in private homes, relief officials say. The rest are sheltered wherever there's room - in cultural centers, school gymnasiums, bath houses, and a bowling alley.
By now, many refugees simply want to leave the war behind. ''I don't want anything from the Serbian government,'' said Krajinan Mira Puskar, ''except the chance to go somewhere abroad and live a normal life - in peace.''