Migrations and politics, the mutual influences - Case study Serbia by Jelena Grujic
Written form of the speech regarding the ELF Event, June 19, Belgrade
Migrations and politics, the mutual influences - Case Study
Dissolution of the former Yugoslavia produced devastating atrocities, with around 150.000
people killed or dead due to wars, at least 4,3 millions of refugees and 2 millions of internally
displaced persons. Close to 30 per cent of total Yugoslav population had to move away from
home, and most of those never came back. Entire population of former Yugoslavia ethnically
regrouped, and seven new born countries were swarmed with people of same ethnic background.
For most of the people in migration those days, mother land, even if a new born "attraction", was
a queen bee that saves lives.
More than 20 years after the war break down, one of the "random" questions that could be raised
is why large number of the refugees1 is still out there, in practically all countries in the region?
Why people, even in "their own" parent states, rather choose to be in fragile and exposing
refugee status, than to reborn as citizens, and as voters?
The term "refugees" in this presentation refers to both refugees and internally displaced persons, and to the
incomers, former refugees that choose to take a citizenship.
Statistical Snapshot UNHCR*
Serbia (and Kosovo;
The former Yugoslav
* As at January 2012
Table 1: A number of refugees and IDP's in the region of Former Yugoslavia in 2012.
Nevertheless, a focus of my research that will present it today was on the incomers of Serbia.
More than 20 years after dissolution of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY),
Serbia remains as a state with one of the largest number of refugees in the Europe.i Together
with those refugees who all ready integrated into Serbian society, obtaining a citizenship in the
meantime, political parties are facing with a rather large group of present and soon-to-be voters
to work with.
Such large number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP's) in Serbia might be
surprise for someone, but reasons are very clear. Serbians are largest ethnical group in the region,
and their members were spread all over Yugoslavia. No any other ethnic group had so many
members outside of the motherland. Even more contributing fact is that Serbia participated in
almost all armed conflicts, from 1991. until 1995, and then again 1998/1999.
At least 700.000 people integrated in Serbia, without IDP’s. So far, it can be easily estimated that
are at least 350.000 voters with the refugee background (compared data; census 2001 and
For the record, following is a table with dynamics of refugees' arrival in still critical postwar
years. As is this obvious, number of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia are dropping down, and a
number of IDP's are growing. That does not mean first table indicates less of that category of
people in the country. On the contrary, that shows growing number of voters – more and more
people took citizenship, and simply integrated.
Refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in Serbia, 1996-2007
IDP's from Kosovo in Serbia, 1996-2007
They settled in the area shown on the map:
Table 3: First map shows where are settled refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and second shows
concentration of the settled IDP's.
Interestingly enough, despite of very potential electorate it did not seemed many political parties
were addressing refugees directly in pre-electoral campaigns, actually until 2004.
Generally, in Serbia both the public and the influential members of the dominant Serbian elites
believe up to date that refugees are one of the key electoral strongholds of the nationalist and
populist political parties. For more than a decade since breakdown of Milosevic regime,
especially in the early years after his fall, refugees were seen in public as a voting force that was
keeping wartime past alive. Refugees were routinely addressed as a threat to the fragile
democratic power oriented towards European future of the country. Even though could be
expected to observe constant intentions of the democratic bloc (Democratic party, Liberals...) to
embrace a war victims as a natural alliance against nationalistic an conservative political parties
all past years, it had happen exactly the opposite: Democrats were essentially surrendered the
refugee electorate to its rivals by treating them as a monolithic, radicalized mass.
I strongly argued against such understanding of political orientation of refugee voters. As is the
case with any "other" voters in the world, political affiliation of refugees is dependable on their
respective cultural background from the place of origin, the circumstances of exile as well as
their integration into the new environment.
Most of the Radicals’ supporters are among incomers from Croatia. At the same time, they are
twice as numerous as the incomers from BIH.ii "Radicals" are former nationalist and populist
Serbian Radical Party (SRS), now “democratized” Serbian Progressive Party (SPP), last one year
in the power in Serbia. However, in my view, the refugee population in Serbia was never
politically compact. As I show in the paper published 2006iii, those differences stem from the
specific features of their respective cultures, circumstances of exile and the way they have
integrated into Serbian society.
There are several important cultural characteristics of Serbs from BIH, which I believe reveal
that they do not fit the profile of Radical voters as much as the Serbs from Croatia, despite their
shared immediate experience of war. These characteristics include education, cultural
specificities of the community in exile and the model of their integration in the community of
The Serbs from BIH rather fit the profile of liberal voters drawn by the Centre for Free
Elections and Democracy (CESID) in its analysis on how the political parties are rooted in the
structure of society. The analysis revealed that liberally and democratically oriented political
parties are rooted among highly skilled professionals (50 %), white collar employees (45 %), and
pupils and students (32 %) while the social nationalist parties including SRS gain their ballots
from farmers (44 %) and workers with low or partial qualifications (39 %)iv.
In general, incomers are better educated than the domicile population in Serbia and
Montenegro.v However, refugees from BIH are far better educated than those from Croatia and it
is particularly obvious in the case of higher education. The 2001 census showed that in Serbia 13
percent of refugees from BIH had higher education compared to 8 percent among refugees from
Croatia. This discrepancy was even higher in Montenegro where 12 percent of BIH refugees had
a university degree or had undergone post-graduate studies while only around 5 percent of
refugees from Croatia achieved the same level of education.
The professional characteristics of the refugees from BIH are another important indicator
of their political affiliation. There are twice as many farmers in the population of refugees from
Croatia than among those from BIH (8.4 % and 4%, respectively). There are also more blue
collar workers (33.3 %) and less white collar workers (9.8 %) among refugees from Croatia than
among refugees from BIH (25.5 % blue collar workers; 13.3 % white collar workers). Finally,
there are also more highly skilled professionals in the population of refugees from BIH (4.4 %)
than among Serbs from Croatia (2.8 %).
Moreover, refugees from BIH, according to the refugee censuses, mostly descend from larger
urban areas, which is not the case with refugees from Croatia.
So, to summarize, this is the profile of refugees by origin:
The 2001 census (Bosnian : Croatian origin)
Blue collar workers
~ 25 : 33%
White collar workers
~ 13 : 9%
Highly skilled professionals
~ 4 : 2%
~ 4 : 8%
~ 13 : 8%
BH – more students, more women.
incomers are better educated than the domicile population in Serbia
Significant number of youth among refugees
The type of integration
Descend from larger urban areas
Mistakes made by liberal-democratic parties in the politics towards refugees/incomers are
big. They missed to focus on refugees as a source, or as a labor force. Above all, they have
tremendous lack of communication with this group. Focus of those political parties,
especially of liberals – whom kept very clear and strict towards responsibility for Milosevic
deeds - should be on a new generation of incomers, which are highly educated, and proactive
IDP's are not addressed by politics at all. UNHCR study (March 2011) has shown there are about
22,886 households or 97,286 IDPs in need, and are mostly concentrated in Belgrade (21,9%),
Kragujevac (11,6%), Novi Sad (9%), Niš (8,2%). Good political strategy that will take into
consideration background of the IDP's should be one of the priorities of political parties as soon
2012 UNHCR country operations profile – Serbia, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e48d9f6.html. By UNHCR
statistics, total number of refugees and internally displaced persons is close to 300.000.
According to data from the 2002 census, in Serbia there were 233,125 refugees from Croatia and 131,469 from
BIH; source: “Refugee Population in Serbia based on the 2002 census in Serbia,“ Ministry of Human and Minority
Rights of Serbia and Montenegro.
The figure is a percentage of supporters in a specific category. See more at: http://www.cesid.org/
Under incomers I understand those who have decided to remain in Serbia, regardless of whether they have
obtained citizenship or still have refugee status, or neither of the two. The data given is from the 1996 and 2001
refugee censuses, both publications of UNHCR and the Commissariat for Refugees of Serbia and the Commissariat
for Refugees of Montenegro. The most comprehensive data is contained in the 2002 population census (ibid).