Fears, migrations and divisions in Sanjak

Enes Halilovic

WED, 15 MAR 2000

Podogorica, March 10, 2000 - As of recently, the denizens of Novi Pazar are again queuing for passports, as they usually do whenever there are stories about the war and new troubles. In the last ten years each new controversial political event tripled the queues in front of the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) and communal offices in charge of issuing citizenship papers. Is this the destiny of all those who feel threatened or just a silent exile? For the time being, the troubles in these parts have passed without bloodshed or damages.

Each time something similar happened, most of the Sanjak citizens would return to their towns and only few would stay behind in the Western European countries, first temporarily and then for good.

This time the situation in Montenegro and tension that has developed between the Montenegrin MUP and VJ (Army of Yugoslavia) has forced people in Sanjak to apply for passports. In case conflicts in Montenegro escalate, Sanjak as a boundary area would become a scene of fierce fighting, and, as it is commonly believed here, the Bosniacs would be used as a "bargaining counter".

At the last elections in Montenegro Bosniacs gave a solid vote to Milo Djukanovic and his party, so that they now fear that in case of war that could provoke the resentment of Milosevic's forces and followers. In view of what is happening between the two federal units, the fear of war in Montenegro is quite realistic, and the Bosniacs in Sanjak are not so forgetful and still remember Srebrenica and other events in the war-torn Bosnia. No one runs away from good, the proverb says.

Recently, the Novi Pazar branches of the Democratic Party, Social-Democratic Party and of the New Democracy issued a statement regarding the exile of Bosniac population and called upon all citizens of Sanjak to stay in their homes and work together for the sake of cohabitation and good-neighbourly relations, as well as richer Serbia. The Bosniac parties also gave several statements about passport queues and the exodus of the population. Only the Communal Council of Novi Pazar remained silent ignoring the queues on the ground floor of its building. One citizenship certificate costs 50 dinars (needless to say, it is just one piece of paper).

"You can see for yourself why the people are leaving" says Mirsad (aged 21), "there is no future, no money, no work. I am ashamed to ask my father for money each time I go to town when I know that he doesn't have enough even for food, let alone my goings out. And now this with Montenegro. I listen to the news all the time. Things are getting complicated by the day, a war after war. I want to go abroad, come what may. I can somehow get a visa for two thousand dinars. There I will have a chance, while here there is no chance of better life for another then years".

True, visas are no problem if you have the money. It is public knowledge that an official of a party (probably the only member of his party) got rich by sending "members of his Main Board" to West European countries to "symposia and party consultations". Every citizens of Sanjak who is ready to work at German building sites, has a party membership card and a mock invitation to a "symposium". Officials in Belgrade Embassies still fall for it. In Pazar you can easily get a certificate and passport so that resourceful people can get over the border in no time on their way to a "scientific gathering".

Those who want to seek an asylum usually use certificates that they are "members of the Main Board" of some party and are granted asylum as "prominent party officials who are persecuted by Milosevic's regime". Everything is possible and everything has a price.

"If I manage to get there nothing in this world will force me to return to this absurd country! I will call no one, not anyone. Not my cousins, nor colleagues or friends. I will just disappear one day and goodbye! My wife has been on forced leave for over five years and has not received a penny all that time. I work with a tailor who has more money than the state itself, but is also worse than the state. If he could he would take my soul too. And you can write that there will certainly be a war as these authorities cannot live without shedding blood. My children want to go to school and live a normal life. I hope to give them that. They do not have to know where they come from. Everything is breaking apart in Montenegro and we will pay for it. Surely, the Serbs and Montenegrins love each other more than they love us"

Thirty-five years old R.I. says he cannot get his papers so quickly as he is not well connected and has no money to pay for visas, but that he knows someone who can get him from Bar to Bari, and "then it will be a piece of cake". A philosopher Dr Sefket Krcic, President of the Bosniac National Society told us that Sanjak is now in a "Hamlet-like" state not knowing whether "to be or not to be". He thinks that people are being intentionally alarmed and encouraged to move out. "The regimes in Belgrade and Podgorica are responsible for this. They are prefect for each other. This time again the Belgrade and Podgorica regimes are doing everything they can to divide Sanjak as much as possible in order to be able to introduce even greater sanctions against citizens of this region. Milosevic's regime is spreading defeatism and instilling panic among citizens. Queues for passports suit them quite well.

The picture is horrifying. The Bosniac National Society sent an appeal to Sanjak citizens to stay in their homes and do not fall for rumours", says Krcic.

This situation suits some people, and a photographer form Novi Pazar, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told us that he makes better money than ever before: "Everyone wants to obtain papers and by the number of those who come to be photographed for passport every day you would say that no one had a passport before. It was the same when air strikes started. I do not like to see people going, but I like the money. Those who want to go now need passports, and if things blow up then you would need no passport but only to take to your heels".

Worried Bosniac population in Sanjak follows the news and reads papers more carefully than ever. Politics is the only subject and there are now even speculations whether the Bosniacs should have at all voted for any of the presidential candidates in Montenegro. In Pazar there are rumours about the annexation of Sanjak to Montenegro in exchange for some other part of that republic, and so on and so forth. Pazar denizens joke about this saying that there is nothing for them in Montenegro as they were born in Serbia and are living in Serbia.

"I am afraid and that is why I want to take out a passport", says a worker Abit Mavric (aged 57): "I had a life, but I worry about the children. I live in fear that a war might break out and then Europe would issue statements and our local politicians would travel around the world and make profit on our misfortune. I am afraid that that is what will happen".

Everyone who stays here must wait for bread and oil, and everyone who wants to leave must wait for citizenship papers and passport. Queues everywhere, but order nowhere.

Original article