Apartheid on the Drina
by Rade Vukosav
The river Drina forms the border between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H). On its right bank is the Serbian border police, on its left the Bosnian. One of its crossing-points is Karakaj near Zvornik. To cross the border citizens of Serbia and Bosnian citizens from Republika Srpska (RS) need only identity cards, while Bosnian citizens from the Federation (FB-H) must show their passports - even though they and those from RS come from the same country. The border regime is thus based on open discrimination. On the other hand, we from Serbia can cross into Federation territory further on without having to show any documents.
Travelling from Sarajevo to Novi Sad, I tried to cross the border at Karakaj using only an FB-H identity card. There was no problem on the Bosnian side. On the Serbian side the policeman looked at it and it seemed at first that all would be fine, when he turned it over and said: 'This is a Federation document, you must show me your passport.' 'This is my citizen's protest at the discrimination against citizens from the Federation, where we can travel freely', I said, while handing him my Serbian identity card. The policeman was fair: he let me pass. A woman in the bus angrily complained: 'Why do you make needless problems?' 'It is my civic right to complain about the discriminatory treatment of B-H citizens, particularly as they [in FB-H] do not ask for anything.' A man in the bus joined in: 'They have charged us with aggression.' 'The worse for you.', I said, thus ending the conversation.
The regime on the Drina is replicated further inland. The politicians responsible for this state of affairs clearly do not care much for Bosnian unity. The buses that travel from Serbia to so-called Srpsko Sarajevo (SS) pass through the centre of Sarajevo and make for Dobrinja, the bus station of SS, which is 15 kilometres from the main bus station in Sarajevo whence buses travel to all parts of B-H. Travellers who need to go to other parts of B-H, if they have luggage and most of them have, must pay a 13-mark taxi fare per head to take them back to the inter-city station. A woman who was travelling to Mostar, pulling one heavy bag and carrying another in her hand, complained: 'They can no longer challenge us with arms, so they challenge us with restrictions.'
This is a policy of conflicting interests. The politicians on both sides have no desire to remove this absurdity. If they were at all human, they would allow the revival of the train service Loznica-Zvornik-Tuzla-Banja Luka and beyond. Also the service from Belgrade and Novi Sad by way of Vinkovci, Vrpolje, Bosanski Š amac to Sarajevo and Ploče. The restrictions are favoured by politicians who wish to stress what is 'Serb' in B-H, and what serves to maintain the division of B-H created during the war. This may be welcomed by those who fought the war for we know what reasons, but ordinary people suffer. Does the international community see what is going on? It is necessary to harmonize the system and decide that citizens of Serbia and B-H can cross the border on the same basis - either with just identity cards or solely with passports.
Translated from Helsinška povelja, Belgrade, October 2003