FECL 14 (April 1993):

PRESSURE ON NON-SERBS IN VOJVODINA: THE CASE OF HRTKOVCI

The Humanitarian Law Fund, a Belgrade based NGO that collects information on crimes committed during the war on the territory of former Yugoslavia, has published a report on the case of Hrtkovci, a village in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. Serbian nationalists are stepping up harassment of members of non-Serb minorities and Serbian citizens acting against discrimination. According to the NGO, the recent developments in Hrtkovci are characteristic for the situation throughout Serbia. Nonetheless, the report seems to contradict allegations by Western media of widespread and outright atrocities committed by Serbs in their strive for "ethnic cleansing".

Last summer, the village of Hrtkovci was the scene of numerous violations of the private safety and the right to property of non-Serbian citizens by Serbian nationalists. Bowing to complaints of village residents and mounting criticism from civil rights groups and the independent media, the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and of the Republic of Serbia finally responded with the following measures:

These measures led to a temporary relaxation of inter-ethnical relations during autumn 1992. Nonetheless, 350 families of Croatian origin, accompanied by their Serbian and Hungarian family members, left the village at that time.

A court decision to release the two Serbian agitators Sibincic and Cakmak and the December elections won by the Serbian nationalists put an early end to this period of relative calm. The two ringleaders, together with Serbian refugees, resumed their agitation against both non-Serbs and Serbian village residents known for their equal rights standpoint.

These people are constantly threatened. At its meetings, an extremist Serbian group, the so-called "Assembly of the Local Community Srbislavci", draws lists of "non-fitting" citizens who are to be pressed to leave. Croat professionals and Serbian human rights activists loose their jobs. In one case, Ostoja Sibincic personally called on the post administration to fire the non-Serbian postman in Hrtkovci and replace him by a Serbian refugee from West Slavonija.

Posters announcing a dead-line for "evacuation" are publicly posted. People have been threatened in streets with knifes, others are hit by stones, bombs have exploded in front of homes. Some "non-fitting" residents were told to abandon their homes on the grounds that an orthodox church was to be built on the site.

Prominent opponents of Serbian nationalism, among them Members of Parliament, frequently receive death threats.

The "Local Assembly" has taken control over the distribution of humanitarian aid to refugees. Refugees loyal to the group are privileged, male Serbian refugees from Croatia, who did not take part in the war are denied assistance.

The group organised around the two local agitators Sibincic and Cakmak has forcefully squatted 168 homes of Croats now residing in Western Europe.

Sibincic and Cakmak have organized their followers into groups prepared to resist by force any attempt by the authorities to prevent "expropriation" actions and judiciary authorities are reluctant to enforce the law, because of possible "grave consequences".

The report underlines that developments as in Hrtkovci are common throughout Serbia. According to the Humanitarian Law Fund, more than 10'000 people received threats by phone or anonymous letters, alone in Belgrade and more than 1'000 people moved from the city because of pressure from unidentified militant groups.

After the December elections, the report concludes, both institutional and non-institutional pressure against members of ethnic minorities, religious groups, political organisations and even of certain professions has significantly increased.

 

Condensed from: The case of Hrtkovki, 12.2.93, report by Natasa Kandic, Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Fund, Belgrade.
Contact: The Humanitarian law Fund, Terazije 6/III, 11000 Beograd, Tel:+38/11 658430, Fax:+38/11 646341.