Daily Archives: June 1, 2010

Half full or half empty? Reflections on restitution and return in Bosnia by a returned expat

by Massimo Moratti

The implementation of ‘Annex VII’ is again hitting the headlines in Bosnia as the Parliament discusses a national strategy for return and restitution. One of the most contentious issues, if not the stumbling block of the whole process, is the issue of compensation for those who don’t want to return to their previous homes.

The conflict in Bosnia was waged between the three predominant ethnic groups of the country (Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks), each of them represented by one main ethnic political party. It lasted from 1992 to 1995, killing between 100,000 and 200,000 people and causing the displacement of half of the population. It ended only with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which foresaw the continued existence of the state of Bosnia in the form of two largely autonomous entities with a weak central government.

One of the key provisions of the peace agreement was Annex VII, which granted to all IDPs and refugees the right to return home or be compensated for the properties they lost. However the positions of the three warring parties was not symmetrical vis-à-vis Annex VII. Bosniaks, being the relative majority were strongly in favor of return and adamant in asserting the “svaki na svoje” principle, e.g. that everybody should go back to his home, in a unconcealed attempt to blur the dividing line between the two entities. Meanwhile, the Croats and Serbs favored local integration and thus compensation of lost property for IDPs.

For many who worked on return in Bosnia immediately after the end of conflict, reading about the current debate over this contentious issue will have a rejuvenating effect. It will make them feel as if time didn’t pass since the end of the conflict, as the topics remain largely the same as during the initial phases of the return process. For those few who have been following this issue since its early phases, the debate is also incredibly frustrating. For the majority of expats working in today’s Bosnia, however, it will sound like just another dispute between the eternally litigious Bosnian politicians, who can’t agree on anything. Continue reading