Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kozluk: A Bosnian Story of Refugee Return

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kozluk: A Bosnian Story of Refugee Return

Article excerpt

MOST BOSNIAN Muslims consider Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia (the Republika Srpska, or RS), the worst thing since the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. So why were returned refugees in the RS village of Kozluk singing and roasting lamb with Dodik last summer?

Kozluk, a village in the Zvornik municipality in the northeastern part of the Republika Srpska, is home to the charismatic refugee return leader Fadil Banjanovic. Before the war, Kozluk was populated predominantly by Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), and Banjanovic was already a leader of his fellow citizens. Along with them, he was displaced from the village by Serbian paramilitary formations sweeping through the eastern part of Bosnia in early 1992.

After the war, Banjanovic succeeded in leading his neighbors back home to Kozluk. The fact that, unlike many other prominent representatives of displaced communities, he himself moved back to the village confirmed the sincerity of his leadership. Then, last summer, Bosnian newspapers announced a celebration in Kozluk, where RS Prime Minister Dodik was to be the honored guest. Not usually on good terms with the Bosniaks, Dodik had approved reconstruction of the road and water supply to Kozluk.

Return to Kozluk began in 2001, and was mostly completed by 2003. Because the economy is poor in this region, however, some people from Kozluk work in Austria and other parts of Europe. Discrimination is part of the problem; in the nearby water-bottling factory, only 3 of 150 employees are Bosniaks. The rest are Serbs.

Reconstruction of services such as roads and water supply to returned Bosniak settlements is a widespread problem, due to the apartheid-like conditions under which the majority of the returning population lives. So it was surprising that Dodik had approved the reconstruction-and even more so that he was celebrating and feasting with the local population. Because I was interested in learning about Kozluk's success, and curious about Banjanovic's relationship with Dodik, I decided to visit Kozluk and talk to Banjanovic.

He met me in the modest village square that, together with a nearby café, served as his office. Banjanovic had just finished campaigning for a position on the Zvornik municipal council on the Social-Democratic Party (SDP) ticket, and posters with his likeness still lined the walls of the cafe and billboards on the square.

Banjanovic was in an expansive mood, celebrating the results of the elections, which had taken place the day before. His party had won two seats on the municipal council. As we talked, Banjanovic answered phone calls every few minutes; people from all over the country were calling to hear the election results and to congratulate him. He held forth about his victory on the phone, speaking as much for my benefit as anyone else's.

"In Bosnia and Herzegovina, what happened, happened," he stated. "Some say it was a religious war, or a civil war. I say that it was total aggression for a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia. But everyone was hurt in this war, regardless of whether they were Serb, Croat or Bosniak.

"After the war, I saw that the only solution was return. In 1996 and 1997 I helped organize return to Jusici. We mobilized, and we returned to Dugi Dio, to Mahala. The international community didn't initiate any of this. There was obstruction. In those two years 13 people were killed, whether by bullets or bombs. …

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