Rebuilding a Multi-Ethnic Sarajevo: The need for Minority Returns
Rebuilding a Multi-Ethnic Sarajevo: The need for Minority Returns
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 30 / Europe & Central Asia

Rebuilding a Multi-Ethnic Sarajevo: The need for Minority Returns

To many who followed the Bosnian war from abroad, Sarajevo symbolised Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rich tradition of multi-culturalism and multi-ethnicity.

To many who followed the Bosnian war from abroad, Sarajevo symbolised Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rich tradition of multi-culturalism and multi-ethnicity. While the Bosnian capital came under daily bombardment from Republika Srpska forces, its citizens of all faiths, Bosniacs, Serbs, Croats and others, suffered and survived together in the spirit of tolerance in which they had lived together for centuries. For multi-culturalism and multi-ethnicity to re-emerge in Bosnia after the war, this spirit must be rekindled in peace.

The Sarajevo Canton, which comprises nine municipalities, is one of the few areas in Bosnia in which a significant, albeit drastically reduced, proportion of minorities continue to live among the majority Bosniac population. Indeed, more than half of all minority returns which have taken place since the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed have been to this canton. Sadly, however, this stresses the generally grim state of minority returns rather than Sarajevo Canton’s good record. Though Bosniac political leaders have generally supported the DPA, their actions have fallen behind their words and the overall record is poor. Minority returnees face a variety of problems, including discriminatory property legislation; administrative obstacles; threats to personal security; discrimination in employment and a hostile school curriculum.

According to statistics from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sarajevo’s population has slumped from 500,000 in 1991 to 349,000 today. At the same time, the Bosniac population has jumped from 252,000, or 50 percent of the total, in 1991 to 303,000, or 87 percent, today; the Serb population has dwindled from 139,000, or 28 percent, in 1991, to 18,000, or 5 percent, today; and the Croat population has fallen back from 35,000, or 7 percent, in 1991, to 21,000, or 6 percent, today. Sarajevo is also home to a large number of internally displaced persons who make up about a quarter of the canton’s population. Of these, some 89,000 are Bosniacs, 2,000 Croats and 1,000 Serbs. The UNHCR estimates that 13,200 Croats and 5,600 Serbs have returned to the canton since the end of the war. Meanwhile, 75,600 Bosniacs have either returned or resettled in the Bosnian capital in the same period.

While much of Sarajevo’s housing stock was destroyed in the war, the principal obstacle to returns is not space. Indeed, the number of people per property, that is the housing crush, is actually less than before the war. In practice, much of Sarajevo’s housing woes are the result of the often deliberate misallocation of property, and the fact that many politically-connected families have come to occupy several homes in the course of, and since, the war.

In the former Yugoslavia, housing was both privately and socially-owned. Socially-owned property belonged to the state or a state-owned company and the construction was financed out of a fund to which every working person was obliged to pay. The tenant of a socially-owned apartment paid minimal rent and the occupancy right could be inherited by a family member. The Sarajevo Canton had 80,400 socially-owned apartments before the war, comprising 56 percent of the total housing stock.

War-time legislation on abandoned apartments stipulating that occupancy-right holders must reclaim their apartments within seven days, or within 15 days if living abroad, of the end of the war prevent most displaced persons from returning home. Most occupancy-right holders did not even know of the existence of the legislation until after the deadlines expired. The Office of the High Representative has drafted amendments to both the war-time property legislation and a series of additional property-related laws which impede the right to return as specified in the DPA. Despite a 31 January 1998 deadline (set at December’s Bonn meeting of the Peace Implementation Council), the Federation parliament is yet to adopt the amendments. The fate of the Jewish community is especially illustrative. Despite drawing up a legal agreement with the city authorities and applying to return to their homes by the draconian deadline set in the war-time laws, all but a handful have failed to get their homes back.

Aspiring returnees often find themselves in catch 22. In order to reclaim their homes, they must have a Federation identification card, to get such a card they must have a home address and without a home address they cannot register for basic food or medical assistance. There have also been a series of attacks on minority members and buildings owned by minority communities. The incidence of these attacks has been declining and the International Police Task Force (IPTF) feels that the cantonal police perform their tasks professionally. Nevertheless, minority representation on the police force is well below the ratios agreed in February 1996. Of certified officers, 1,358 are Bosniacs, 102 Croats and only 19 Serbs. Moreover, employment ratios are similar in other fields.

In order to revive multi-culturalism and multi-ethnicity in the Bosnian capital, the Office of the High Representative is hosting a conference on return to the Sarajevo Canton on 3 February. International Crisis Group (ICG) has a series of recommendations contained at the end of the report which, if implemented, could expedite the process. Above all, ICG recommends that, since the Federation parliament has failed to adopt amendments to the property laws by 31 January, the High Representative should invoke his power to impose them.

Sarajevo, 3 February 1998

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.



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For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

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