Widespread unemployment continues to thwart integration of returning Serbs in Croatia. Although there are no statistics available on the unemployment rate among them, interviews with returnees, and other information, indicate that their access to work is limited, particularly in public services and in the local administration. Employment discrimination on ethnic grounds is difficult to prove, particularly in areas of high unemployment, but some elements give rise to concern about denial of equal opportunities for employment to the returning Serbs.
Beyond discrimination, Serbs have difficulty getting government jobs because of Croatian laws that give priority to defenders, that is, those who were members of the Croatian armed forces during the war. The preference for defenders encompasses not only state administration, the judiciary, and executive bodies and administration of self-government units, but extends to public services and enterprises owned exclusively or predominantly by the state.69 During the war years, large numbers of Croatian men were in the armed forces and now have the status of defenders.
In December 2002 parliament enacted the Constitutional Law on National Minorities, which obliges the state to ensure proportionate representation of minorities in the state (national government) administration and the judiciary, as well as the executive bodies and administration of municipalities, towns, and counties.70 The law does not cover employment in the public services or state-owned enterprises. For over two years the law was little more than a political proclamation, because of the absence of implementing legislation, but in 2005 parliament adopted several laws requiring that the provisions of the Constitutional Law on National Minorities on the representation of national minorities be taken into consideration in the decisions on employment. These laws are:
In July 2003, Croatian parliament adopted amendments to the Labor Law, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, among other grounds.74 However, Human Rights Watch has not received any information during the research for this report that would indicate that Serb returnees are making use of the provision, or even have knowledge of its existence.
As discussed below, the limited number of Serbs employed in local government and the judiciary suggests that further efforts are necessary to ensure greater employment opportunities for Serbs in state employment.
In contrast to the poor record of employing Serbs in public agencies, local government and the judiciary, the private sector has taken initiatives to bring Serbs into the workforce:
In the municipalities, towns, and counties to which most returns have taken place, few Serb returnees are employed in local government. Allegations about employment discrimination in the administration are difficult to corroborate, because of the scarcity of available jobs and sparse information on Serb applicants. It is telling, however, that in the areas in which Serbs form a substantial part of the population they are usually not employed in local government where ethnic Croat parties dominate. By contrast, in the municipalities in which Serb parties rule or are the major partners in the ruling coalitions, both Serbs and Croats work in the administration. While this is not conclusive evidence that the Croat-dominated authorities stifle access of Serbs to work in the municipal or county administration, it raises legitimate concerns that it may be the case.
In Knin, none of the thirty-three employees in the towns administrative bodies is a Serb, although 21 percent of the population at the time of the 2001 census was Serb.80 The situation is identical in the towns of Glina (29 percent of the population of Serb ethnicity)81 and Pakrac (17 percent),82 as well as in Ličko-Senjska county (12 percent).83 In the municipality of Plitvička Jezera, where Serbs make up 31 percent of the population, there are no Serb returnees among the thirteen persons employed in the municipal administration.84 In contrast, in the municipality of Gvozd, in which a Serb party dominates the ruling coalition, six out of eight employees in the local administration are ethnic Serbs.85 In Udbina, where a Serb party rules alone, six Serbs and three Croats work in the municipal administration.86 In the neighboring municipality of Donji Lapac, eight Serbs and five Croats are employed in the administrative apparatus, in addition to the head and deputy head of the municipality (both are Serbs).87
In some instances where administrative positions in majority-Croat municipalities become available and Serb returnees learn about them, there are discrimination concerns. In May 2006, the head of the local Council of the Serb National Minority in Knin told Human Rights Watch that two posts were available at the towns administrationone in the Department of Economics and the other in the office of the mayor, dealing with issues of infrastructureand the Serb community proposed two experienced candidates for the posts. According to the head of the local Serb council, some parties in the towns all-Croat ruling coalition blocked the appointment of these candidates.88 In Plitvička Jezera, the local authorities allegedly intended in 2005 to open a position for a person whose task would be to create economic projects to be submitted for funding to the European Commission under the so-called Regional Operative Programs. After the Serb party that acts as the junior partner in the ruling coalition insisted that a Serb be appointed to the post, the Croat party in the coalition abandoned the plan to create the post.89
It appears that in some areas in which Croat parties hold local power Serbs rarely learn about the available administrative positions. Vacancy notices are usually made in the Official Gazette or local newspapers, which are not widely read by Serbs or Croats. The key to learning about a vacancy is to receive the information directly from someone working in the administration. The mayor of Udbina, a majority-Serb municipality which belongs to Ličko-Senjska county, told Human Rights Watch:
Similarly, a Serb member of the town council in Glina told Human Rights Watch that it would be very difficult for Serbs to learn about vacancies in the towns administration.91
Encouraging greater numbers of Serb applicants is an essential precondition to increased representation of Serbs in local government employment. Local authorities should therefore ensure that local Serbs are notified of job openings in the offices of county and municipal administration. For that purpose, local authorities should establish communication with the elected councils of the Serb national minority, which have been established in recent years on the basis of the December 2002 Constitutional Law on National Minorities, and with the offices of the Serb Democratic Forum, a respected nongovernmental group with years of experience in direct communication with the returnee population.
Only thirty-four of Croatias nearly fifteen hundred judges are ethnic Serbs.92 The figure amounts to 2.3 percent of all judges in the country. Serbs made up 4.5 percent of the population at the last census. While that level of overall representation may not therefore appear especially problematic, in areas of return there are almost no Serbs sitting as judges.
A group of experienced middle-aged Serb judges have for years tried to find jobs as judges in Kordun and Banija, returnee areas, without success. Each of them had worked as a judge in the self-declared Croatian Serb entity during the war. They include Ninko Mirić, former president of the court in Vojnic and (after his return to Croatia), a lawyer with the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Radovan Jović, a former judge in Croatia and international judge in Kosovo. Given their professional qualifications, the inability of Mirić, Jović, and other qualified Serb judges to obtain appointments suggests that other factors are being taken into account.
Schools, hospitals, post offices, forestry enterprises, national parks, and kindergartens in Croatia employ very few Serbs. With very sporadic exceptions, the situation is virtually the same in most areas of return: Pakrac, Glina, Gvozd, Vojnić, Krnjak, Plaki, Plitvička Jezera, and Knin.93 The relatively high number of jobs available in those services and enterprises, and the accounts of Serbs who unsuccessfully applied, give rise to credible concerns about discrimination in hiring decisions.
Public education is a characteristic branch in which Serb returnees have little access to employment. In the two primary schools in Knin, there are no Serbs among the tenured teaching staff.94 The situation is similar in most schools in other return areas, such as Krnjak, Vojnić, Plitvička Jezera, and Donji Lapac.95 A few Serbs work in those schools on a part-time basis, in the supplementary courses in Serb literature and history.
Human Rights Watch interviewed two Serb schoolteachers who have for a number of years tried without success to get a job in their profession. Forty-nine-year old Branko Vasiljević, from Knin, has failed to find a job as a gym teacher since 1996, despite having teaching experience in pre-war Croatia and a university degree. He told Human Rights Watch that he has applied for teaching posts around fifteen times, in Knin and elsewhere in Croatia, but has never even been called to a job interview.96 The circumstances strongly suggest that his Serb ethnicity was a factor.
Forty-five-year-old Nada Pleća returned in 2001 to Krnjak, a municipality twenty-five kilometers south of Karlovac. Before the war she had taught children in the Krnjak primary school for ten years. She has a degree from the Pedagogy Academy in Zagreb.
69 Law on the Rights of Croatian Defenders from the Homeland War and the Members of Their Families, Narodne novine, no. 174/2004, December 10, 2004, article 35.
70 Constitutional Law on National Minorities (CLNM), articles 19-22.
71 Law on State Employees, Narodne novine, no. 92/2005, July 27, 2005,article 42 (2).
72 Law on Amendments to the Law on Local and Regional Self-Government, Narodne novine, no. 129/2005, October 31, 2005, article 20 (introducing article 56a in the Law on Local and Regional Self-Government).
73 Law on Courts, Narodne novine, no. 150/2005, December 21, 2005, article 74 (7) and (8).
74 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Mission to Croatia, Status Report No. 13, December 2003, p. 9.
75 Human Rights Watch interview with an officer in the OSCE Field Office Gospić, May 19, 2006; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nikola Lalić, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Korenica, June 7, 2006.
76 Human Rights Watch interview with Danica Kovačević, Bruvno, May 19, 2006.
77 Human Rights Watch interview with Jovan Tima, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Knin, May 10, 2006.
78 Human Rights Watch interview with Dragić Popović, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Vojnić, May 17, 2006.
79 Human Rights Watch interview with Petar Linta, bus driver in Auto-transport, Gornji Sjeničak (near Karlovac), May 6, 2006.
80 Human Rights Watch interview with an officer in the OSCE Field Office Knin, May 12, 2006; Human Rights Watch interview with Dragan Jerković, president of the Council of the Serb National Minority in Knin, May 12, 2006.
81 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jelena Sunjević, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Glina, June 14, 2006.
82 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Obrad Ivanović, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Pakrac, June 14, 2006.
83 Human Rights Watch interview with an officer in the OSCE Field Office Gospić, May 19, 2006.
84 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nikola Lalić, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Korenica, June 7, 2006.
85 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jelena Sunjević, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Gvozd, June 14, 2006.
86 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Stanko Momčilović, mayor of Udbina, June 6, 2006. According to the mayor of Udbina, it was relatively simple to ensure a greater participation of Serbs: We first won municipal elections in 2001, and then again in 2005. In 2001, there were four persons working in the municipality, all ethnic Croats. In the meantime, some posts got vacated. Also, because of the return of Serbs, the overall number of people in Udbina municipality has increased compared to 2001, so there has been a need to employ additional persons.
87 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Milan Đukić, deputy mayor of Donji Lapac, June 7, 2006.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with Dragan Jerković, president of the Council of the Serb National Minority in Knin, May 12, 2006.
89 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nikola Lalić, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Korenica, June 7, 2006.
90 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Stanko Momčilović, mayor of Udbina, June 6, 2006.
91 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nikola Sunjević, member of the town council in Glina, June 14, 2006.
92 The total number of judges is 1,492. Government of the Republic of Croatia, Izvjeće o provedbi Ustavnog zakona o pravima nacionalnih manjina u Republici Hrvatskoj za 2003. i 2004. godinu (Report on the Implementation of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities in the Republic of Croatia in 2003 and 2004), February 2006, p. 40 (table).
93 Human Rights Watch interviews with Rade Kosanović, head of Krnjak municipality, Krnjak, May 4 (Krnjak has a 70 percent Serb (returnee) population); Radmila Medaković, former mayor of Plaki, currently head of the local branch of the Independent Democratic Serb Party, Plaki, May 5; Jovan Tima, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Knin, May 10; and Dragić Popović, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum, Vojnić, May 17, 2006. Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Nikola Lalić, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Korenica, June 7; Obrad Ivanović, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Pakrac, June 14; and Jelena Sunjević, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Glina, June 14, 2006.
94 Human Rights Watch interview with Jovan Tima, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Knin, May 10, 2006.
95 Human Rights Watch interviews with Rade Kosanović, head of Krnjak municipality, Krnjak, May 4; and Dragić Popović, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Vojnić, May 17, 2006. Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Nikola Lalić, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Korenica, June 7; and Milan Đukić, deputy mayor of Donji Lapac, June 7, 2006 (Donji Lapaca has a 90 percent returnee population).
96 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Branko Vasiljević, Knin, May 14, 2006.
97 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nada Pleća, Krnjak, May 9, 2006.