Evictions in Croatia

(Editor’s note—the following article was written before the scheduled October 3 eviction. On October 3, many prominent people, including Members of Parliament, showed up and the authorities postponed the eviction.)

by Kathryn Turnipseed and Vesna Kesic

On September 28, police in Zagreb evicted a woman and her two children from her flat, using physical violence and verbal assaults against the 60 people who had come to protest this action. This was a case of business as usual for the Croatian Ministry of Defense that has pursued a policy of “reclaiming” flats that formerly belonged to the Yugoslav National Anny (JNA) without due process or protection of the legal rights of the residents.

Under the rule of Croatian democracy, over 5,000 flats throughout Croatia have been “reclaimed” by the government in this manner. Between 15,000 to 20,000 people have been thrown onto the streets. The government has tacitly approved the evictions of people of Serbian ethnicity, including women who years ago divorced former JNA officers and women who stayed in Croatia although their husbands left after the outbreak of war. Some people faced public harassment and were fired from their jobs. They fled from their apartment without resistance, while others had their homes blown up. In other cases, police and/or soldiers used physical violence, intimidation (e.g., threats, carrying a gun), and ethnic and gender based slurs, like screaming “You are a Chetnik whore!” There are cases of residents protesting such actions through the court system and receiving favorable judgment that the police ignore.

State officials have “justified” evictions on the grounds that they need to provide apartments to Croatian soldiers, invalids and widows. Under socialism, the state or companies issued apartment rights to people to live in state or company owned property.

These rights were analogous to ownership, as they were inheritable and exchangeable. Tudjman’s government passed a decree on July 24, 1991 that invalidated all transactions involving JNA-owned property. This decree was issued during a moratorium (summer 1991) when no decisions were allowed concerning independence or Yugoslav state-owned property. Officials use this decree to argue the state’s right to evict people in Zagreb, Split, Pula, Osijek and other locations.

While popular opinion persists that it is “only Serbians” that are being denied their legal rights, the reality is that ethnicity is not a determinant of evictions. At a press conference on July 12, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, claimed “Only, and exclusively, evictions are being done on the basis of court decisions. You mustn’t forget mostly these people who are evicted are people who are directly or indirectly involved in aggression against Croatia.” Ninety percent of the evictions are not supported by a court order. Tudjman’s assertion of “indirect involvement” suggests, contrary to principles of law, that” guilt” can be transferred from one family member to another, to people who worked in JNA hospitals or to anyone granted apartment rights by the JNA. It is widely believed that the Ministry of Defense is taking advantage of the unclear legal situation to accumulate property.

Women and children comprise the majority of persons being evicted. Women are subjected to intimidation and physical abuse by policemen and are subject to gender-based harassment. At Wednesday’s eviction a woman attempted to stop a policeman from hitting her by claiming to be pregnant. The policeman replied, “You are so ugly who could fuck you, someone can fuck you only if they cover your face with a blanket. “

Police called another woman, who is married to a Muslim man, “a mujahadeen whore,” and beat her with their fists.

The majority of evicted people are unable to afford private accommodation and must move in with family or friends. After the police have evicted a family, Croatian soldiers move their belongings into storage (which must be paid for by the family). A social worker then appears to offer to place children in an orphanage: this is the only support provided by the government.

Dom (“Home”), an association of citizens directly effected by these actions, and human rights activists are campaigning against evictions. Following the eviction of the D. family on September 14, in which the police forcibly removed the 34 peaceful protesters and arrested 13 men and women, Ms. Vesna Bernadic (DOM) and Ms. Draga Krstekanic (Anti-war Campaign) started a hunger strike in front of Parliament. They demanded a halt to evictions from flats without court decisions; a review of all cases by the Constitutional Court, the establishment of a neutral judicial commission to address the problem; and the establishment of the Court for Human Rights that the Croatian President promised in 1992. Some opposition party members supported this action, while officials dismissed the demands. The strike, called off for health reasons after ten days, raised visibility and popular support for DOM.

On September 26,60 people showed up to protest the eviction of Mrs. M., including friends, family, journalists and activists from DOM, Citizens Committee for Human Rights, the Anti-War Campaign, Center for Women War Victims, BaBe, Otvorene Oci, Zagreb Women’s Lobby, and other human rights organizations. More than twenty policemen were ordered to use force to remove people from the apartment. Policemen hit and kicked many of the protesters, including those who were handcuffed. Police took away cameras to expose the film, ordered people not to write notes and to leave the parking lot outside the apartment. Thirteen men and women were arrested, including Mr. Dragan Hinic of the Serbian Peoples Party and member of Parliament, who in solidarity refused his “diplomatic” immunity.

Following this well-publicized peaceful resistance to police violence, the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission has invited representatives DOM and other human rights organizations to discuss the evictions on October 5.

A family in Zagreb is scheduled to be evicted on October 3. Activists will protest and expect that police will continue the policy of using violence to remove people from the apartment. On October 5 a family in Split will be evicted following a judgment that they are illegally occupying a flat which was given to them by the JNA. Since August the family has been forced to live in their apartment with Edo Aljinovic, a soldier who forcefully entered the apartment with a tank of gasoline and a bomb. Aljinovic claimed the apartment was his on the basis of a Ministry of Defense “decision” granting him the right to the apartment, before the appropriate office had decided that the apartment belonged to the Ministry of Defense.

You can protest these actions by writing to:

Nikica Valentic, President of the Croatian Government, fax # 385 41 277082. Copies of these letters and messages of solidarity should bc sent to: Coordination of Croatian Human Rights Organizations and DOM, fax # 38541271143. Email ARK_ZG@ZAMIR-ZG.ZTN.ZER.DE

Kathryn Turnipseed and Vesna Kesic work with the women’s human rights group, B.a.B.e (Be active, Be emancipated), Petreticev Trg 3, 11000 Zagreb, Croatia. Tell Fax +385 41419302. Email: BABE_ZG@ZAMIR-ZG.ZTN.ZER.DE. Watch for more information about B.a.B.e. in the next WRI Women’s Newsletter.