Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnia Film Elicits Serb Returnee Assistance

An IWPR TV feature on problems faced by returning refugees draws official offers of support for them.
By Merdijana Sadović

The head of a Bosnian municipality has vowed to address complaints by Serb returnees featured in an IWPR film.

The story, about Serb returnees to the village of Nisici near Sarajevo, was part of a mini TV-series IWPR produced in cooperation with Mebius Film, which was broadcast on RFE’s television arm, TV Liberty.

Tales of Transition: Villagers Put Past Behind Them

The four transitional justice reports, which focused on refugees who returned to their homes following the end of the Bosnian war, were also broadcast on state television, BHT 1, as well as 30 local stations throughout the country.

During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Nisici was held by Bosnian Serbs, but in 1995 it came under the control of Bosniak authorities.

Some Serbs who had fled Nisici returned after the conflict, such as Zdravko Kojic, who told IWPR he had left the village at the beginning of the war because he didn’t want to witness the murder of his neighbours.

Serb returnees featured in IWPR’s report said that they had no problems with their Bosniak neighbours. Kojic related that he has many friends among local Bosniaks, who regularly visit him; they even helped Serb returnees repair a church which was damaged in the war.

However, the returnees complained about the treatment they received from the local authorities, who they claimed ignored their pleas for small improvements that could make their lives much easier.

The returnees said that they felt the municipality had neglected the village because it had such a high number of returnees – 65 of the 155 households belong to them.

The Serb returnees say the improvements would instil in them a stronger greater sense of belonging and encourage more Serbs to return to their homes in this area.

Among their requests was the restoration of the local community office - shut down in 2002 - which would give locals a higher degree of autonomy, allowing them to make decisions on everyday issues.

Since 2002, villagers have had to go to the town of Ilijas, some 30 kilometres away, to deal with all local concerns

Returnees also noted the lack of proper road signs, which meant that tourists and visitors had a hard time finding their way to Nisici.

Another concern was employment - most locals live off their land and very few have stable jobs. They argue that there should be more job opportunities for them at a well-known local nature park, Bijabmare, which lies close to Nisici.

Also on their wish-list was a football club for the younger villagers. There was one before the war, and locals say they’re prepared to pay for a new ground but would like the authorities to buy the equipment.

After watching the IWPR TV feature on Nisici, the head of Ilijas municipality Nusret Masic said that most of the returnees’ requests could be met and he promised to do everything in his power to ensure that they were.

He said that the local community office in Nisici was closed because it was considered a waste of money, as the villagers had made little use of it.

But as Sarajevans were increasingly buying land for weekend houses in the vicinity, he said there was a good argument for opening an office to give locals more control over new building.

Masic also promised that the municipality would help villagers revive the Nisici football club, address the road signs issue and help villagers find employment at the Bijambare nature park.

“Bijambare has great potential because it attracts a lot of tourists from this part of Bosnia,” he said. “We plan to invest more money in developing this park further, and the villagers of Nisici will certainly benefit from that.”

Masic added that agriculture is already well developed in Nisici, but the Ilijas municipality is planning to put more money into it in the near future.

“People in this area who live off their land can earn a very decent income because the land is very fertile,” he said. “The Ilijas municipality will invest about 180,000 euros (250,000 US dollars) – a big chunk of our annual budget – into local agriculture in the next 12 months, which should help the local economy.”

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague Tribunal programme manager in Sarajevo.