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Kotorsko
Kotorsko

Some 500 displaced Serbs were also at first settled in Bosniak houses in the village of Kotorsko north of Doboj town, with 3,300 pre-war inhabitants once the largest village in Doboj municipality. When Bosniaks started to return in substantial numbers in 2000, they too had to vacate these houses. The municipality gave the Serbs 126 plots of land on the other side of the main road along the river Bosna. The Bosniak returnees to Kotorsko claimed that the land allocated to the displaced Serbs - which had been used by an agricultural cooperative before the war - was historically theirs, having been taken away from them by the socialist authorities without appropriate compensation in the 1960s. The fact that the land plots were located next to a furniture factory, which was once Kotorsko's employment base but now employed solely Serbs - including some of the displaced new settlers - was another source of resentment.

In April 2000, the OHR had banned all transfers of socially-owned land in Bosnia unless specifically approved by the OHR. Initially, OHR permitted the Kotorsko land allocation. However, faced with a possibly complex legal case, in August 2001 the OHR changed its mind and ordered the municipality to halt the construction of houses while the dispute was resolved by the courts. The displaced Serbs continued to build. Seeing this as defiance of its authority, OHR forced the resignation of one mayor of Doboj, Nikola Gavric, in June 2002. A few months later OHR also dismissed his successor, Mirko Stojcinovic. However, this show of force proved ineffective.

In May 2003, OHR lifted the construction ban again and let domestic courts have the final say. Different aspects of the case have been before the Basic Court Doboj, the District Court and the RS Supreme Court. The latter finally issued a decisive ruling on 27 June 2006. The Court rejected the Bosniak claims, concluding that the process of expropriation of land in the 1960s had been done in accordance with the legislation in force at the time.

While the land dispute created headlines, the reconstruction of Kotorsko advanced rapidly. Some 800 of the 1,100 Bosniak houses of Kotorsko have been rebuilt, many by the Swedish development agency SIDA; almost 1,500 people have returned. The municipality assisted in the reconstruction of Kotorsko's two mosques. It gave the village 70,000 KM to build a new community centre and co-financed a ferry for the villagers to reach agricultural fields on the other side of the river Bosna. Thanks to a Lutheran NGO, the street lighting works again. Currently an Italian investor is opening a small shoe factory in Kotorsko and has already concluded employment contracts with 50 Bosniak returnees. Villagers were happy to acknowledge the support of mayor Obren Petrovic and municipal assembly speaker Enes Suljkanovic. "Well, we can mobilise a lot of votes," said Sado Mesic, the head of the local office of the Social-Democratic Party in Kotorsko, explaining the support of the municipal authorities to Kotorsko. The relationship to the Serbs across the road is cold: "We do not socialise. There are no contacts, hence there are no provocations."

Nearby, where the displaced Serbs live, the houses are visibly smaller. With no street lighting, it is pitch-dark at night. The streets are muddy because the roads are not asphalted. The settlement is not connected to Doboj's water system, but relies on water from wells which is not potable. "The Bosniaks have everything, we have nothing," Djordje Pavlovic, a refugee and pensioner from Zavidovici, complained to ESI. "Neither Obren nor Enes have ever visited us." In January 2006, the furniture company closed down and the last 30 displaced Serb employees lost their jobs. Although this hit the community hard, they are determined to stay. They obviously welcomed the RS Supreme Court ruling. "This is my home now," said Djordje. "I no longer feel like a stranger here. This is how all of us feel." He said his house in Zavidovici in the Federation is destroyed. He is not looking for a donor since he does not want to return (wanting to return is a precondition for receiving reconstruction assistance). The relationship to the Bosniaks in Kotorsko is simple: "We do not know each other, and we do not want to know each other." Nonetheless, Serb and Bosniak children attend the same primary school (which operates based on the RS curriculum, but employs four Bosniak teachers).

December 2007

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