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The Coalition for RECOM Helps ‘the Erased’

 

The Coalition for RECOM has made a contribution to the resolution of the issue of ‘the Erased’ in Slovenia. During 2013, the project has been implemented with the active participation of activists of Civic Link, the Civil Initiative of the Erased Residents of Slovenia (CIERS) and the Association of the Erased of Slovenia (AES).

According to official figures from the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior, Slovenia has unofficially ‘erased’ 25,671 of its residents originating from other republics of the former Yugoslavia. According to figures disclosed recently by the Slovenian Minister of the Interior, Gregor Virant, only 8,000 of them have so far succeeded in partially recovering their rights (or at least in making applications for their restitution). This means that more than 18,000 ‘erased’ people have yet to realize their right to return. Until the Coalition for RECOM held a press conference devoted to this matter, many of these people living outside Slovenia were not even aware of this right. Due to the scanty and poor information provided by the state, and the tight deadline and the high charges, which have been criticized by, among others, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, this group in particular will not even be able to exercise its right to compensation.

These matters, as well as the need to compensate the victims and establish the background of the ‘erasures’ by a ‘truth commission’, were widely discussed by guests and panellists at the conferences organized by Civic Link and the Coalition for RECOM in Ljubljana on 19 April and 28 June.

The report on Transitional Justice and on the state of Transitional Justice in the region was presented in Ljubljana on 19 April 2013. The presentation was held in the European Commission Hall in the very centre of the city. Views on Transitional Justice, youth problems, massive human rights violations and reconciliation were presented by Spomenka Hribar PhD (a sociologist and publicist who worked as a professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana before becoming an MP in the first Demos government – she was the first to raise the question of reconciliation in Yugoslavia 30 years ago), Matjaž Hanžek (a sociologist, poet and former human rights defender/Ombudsman in Slovenia), Sergej Flere PhD (a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Maribor and the Director of the Center for the Study of Post-Yugoslav Societies – CEPYUS), and Jelko Kacin (a Member of the European Parliament and the European Parliament’s Rapporteur for the Western Balkans). Of the diplomats from the countries in the region who had been invited, the presentation was attended by the Chargé d’Affaires of the Republic of Croatia. Also present were the Director of the Peace Institute, Boris A. Novak (a writer and the Vice-President of the PEN International) and representatives of other civil society organizations. All who attended the event spoke about the RECOM Initiative in positive terms.

The European Parliament MP, Jelko Kacin, said that an excellent moment had been chosen to present Transitional Justice in the region, because 19 April was a historic date (a reference to the Brussels agreement between Pristina and Belgrade). He said that the presentation was taking place on a date which marked a turning point in the history of the Balkans, a development which could be likened to the end of the Cold War in the world. Kacin set forth his views on the situation in the Balkans and in Slovenia as regards the matter of dealing with the truth. “The break-up of Yugoslavia and the existence of Slovenia are proof that we were part of that ‘package’ and that we ourselves are still ‘Western Balkans’; this is why it is incorrect to expect a relaxation of tensions in the Balkans unless Slovenia makes a contribution to regional reconciliation.” he said.

Spomenka Hribar paid special consideration to the question of reconciliation. “There is also a personal touch to reconciliation. After a war, people desire to live peacefully, they want to trade, even though they might be shedding tears inside themselves. If politics at party or state level allows people to grieve in peace and bury their dead, then the circle which runs from authoritarian politics to the people, who are still controlled by grief and hatred, will be broken. If, however, state and party politics are built on enmity, then there is no way we can achieve reconciliation. For with every state or people, that very people must be the first to deal with its own past and its guilt for what happened,” Spomenka Hribar concluded.

Sergej Flere PhD said, “I believe that reconciliation should be pursued because relations in the Balkans are still tense. This is so not only in Kosovo but in other states with serious problems. This is why help, which could be obtained from an institution such as RECOM – which represents a novelty, given that such commissions have so far only existed at national level – would be precious indeed… As MP Kacin has pointed out, special monitoring is vital nearly everywhere, in all the countries on the territory of the Balkans…”

The conference was reported on by numerous media outlets. Večer of Maribor stressed that the Hague Tribunal (ICTY) was only one of the mechanisms of Transitional Justice, and that the ‘victims are expecting more’ – something which, the reporter observed, “should be done precisely by RECOM, the first intergovernmental reconciliation commission.”

Equally successful was the conference held in Ljubljana on 28 June under the title ‘Mechanisms of Restorative Justice: The Erased and the (In)Appropriate Rectification of Injustices’. Appearing as guests at the conference were Professor Lojze Ude (a constitutional judge), Professor Božo Repe (a historian), Neža Kogovšek-Šalomon (the Director of the Peace Institute) and Boris A. Novak (a writer and the Vice-President of PEN). Participants also included representatives of ‘the Erased’ from the Civil Initiative of Erased Activists of Slovenia (CIEA) and the Association of the Erased of Slovenia (AES). The moderator on both 19 April and 28 June was Igor Mekina. The participants all agreed as to the importance of restorative justice, as well as relating their intimate personal experiences regarding ‘erasure’ (Boris A. Novak in particular). They also analysed the Slovenian government’s draft law on compensation that was presented the same day. The conference took place two days afterthe expiry of the deadline set by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in its judgment, which instructed Slovenia to regulate the matter of compensation to ‘the erased’ by 26 June 2013. Slovenia failed to comply.

Participants in the debate stressed repeatedly the importance of truth commissions, citing various examples and describing the roles they had played in other states in the past. They also attached great importance of the fact that an initiative such as RECOM was not imposed from above but emanated from citizens and organizations and was therefore of exceptional importance for all the states in the region and for reconciliation (Božo Repe).

Lojze Ude and Neža Kogovšek-Šalamon raised a number of issues regarding the law and the mismatch between a number of specific arrangements and the judgment of the ECHR. Boris A. Novak talked about the pressure to which Slovenian intellectuals were subjected for their defence of ‘the erased’, while Božo Repe discussed the importance of reconciliation in the Balkans. He attached importance to judicial proceedings, judgements, the erection of monuments to the victims, the recollection of crimes and the rectification of injustices caused by death and suffering. “Some of the criminals were convicted, others were acquitted. This attests to the great influence of individual states, above all the US and Great Britain, in relation, for example, to the work of the ICTY. Within states, these processes take place slowly and in different ways, on a case-by-case basis. Worst of all, criminals at lower levels will never be convicted and in some environments, above all in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH), surviving victims today live alongside criminals and meet them daily, which is particularly traumatic for the victims. Compensations, too, are rare and are often awarded to ‘one’s own kind’, or injustice is only rectified on paper, as is the case with the return of the Serb refugees to Croatia… Without wishing to be pessimistic, I think that these things are often done out of necessity, as a result of external pressure – that is, out of political necessity, as well as in order to exert pressure in a ‘carrot and stick’ fashion, at least as far as the Yugoslav example is concerned… This work is very difficult, it is looked upon with distrust and ignored by the media; however, taking the long view, it alone can lead to reconciliation and living alongsideothers, given that living together with others may not be possible and can hardly be expected after wars of this kind. However, one should differentiate between initiatives coming ‘from below’ and those imported ‘from above’, i.e. from the US, EU and even the United Nations, which often have counterproductive effects… This is why I think that one should persist with an idea such as RECOM. However, the most important thing in this regard is that the generations who took a direct part in the events of war should vacate the positions of leadership in the countries in the neighbourhood as soon as possible, regardless of their role, even if it was positive. The time is right for that. Without that there will be no progress. Second,” Božo Repe concluded, “it is very important for the younger generations to dissociate themselves from the ideologies advocated and, unfortunately, realized by those leaders, and to look to the future.”

The conference held on 28 June in the European Commission Hall in downtown Ljubljana was covered by several media organizations, i.e. the SiOL portal, STA agency, Radio Študent, Mladina, Times.si, Dnevnik and RTV SLO.

Because the deadline set by Slovenia by which ‘the erased’ could apply to have their status regulated was scheduled to expire on 24 July 2013, the Coalition for RECOM organized press conferences in Belgrade and Sarajevo devoted to the problems of ‘the Erased’.

The press conference held in Belgrade on 9 July 2013 was entitled ‘The Erased – the conditions for rectifying the injustices and paying compensation by the state of Slovenia’. The ‘erasure’ and its consequences were discussed by Aleksandar Todorović, founder and member of the Presidency of the Civil Initiative of Erased Residents of Slovenia, Igor Mekina, the Executive Director of Civic Link and public advocate of the RECOM Initiative, and Nataša Kandić, public advocate of the RECOM Initiative from Serbia.

‘The Erased’, both those living in Slovenia and those living outside it, are entitled under last year’s judgment of the ECHR in Strasbourg to ask for and receive compensation from the Republic of Slovenia for the injustices inflicted on them. A precondition for this is an administrative procedure being prepared by the Slovenian government.

A citizen ‘erased’ in Slovenia can also obtain compensation on the basis of the ECHR judgment, but they must first apply for a permanent residence permit in Slovenia in order to demonstrate to the state ‘their interest’ in having their unlawfully revoked right restored. The deadline for making applications to the Slovenian authorities expired on 24 July 2013. Igor Mekina called attention to the incomplete information displayed on the Internet presentations of all Slovenian embassies in the states of the region in which ‘erased’ people live: all of them referred consistently to a non-existent webpage of the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior, although, judging by the title of the website, “Information for ‘the Erased”, that website should contain information and instructions for the ‘erased’ citizens pertinent to the regulation of their status. RECOM’s public advocate in Slovenia recalled that by being removed from the register of permanent residences on 26 February 1992, ‘the Erased’ were left without any documents and lost their entitlements to work, social welfare and social protection, “faring worse than the refugees in possession of at least some legal status.”

Nataša Kandić pointed out that there was strong support in the region for reinstating the status of the people deprived of their rights after 1991 on account of their ethnicity alone. At the conference in Belgrade it was pointed out that one could seek compensation on the basis of the ECHR judgment only if all legal remedies in Slovenia had been exhausted, i.e. including those provided under the law on ‘the Erased’ which would cease to have effect on 24 July 2013. “All those who have lost their right to permanent residence in Slovenia and have given up ought to know that there is strong support from the courts and the civil society there to resolve the matter. The remaining two or three weeks should be used to let everyone know (about the deadline) and make sure no one is left out, so that proceedings can be instituted,” Nataša Kandić said.

The press conference in Sarajevo on 18 July 2013 was held by Dženana Karup-Druško, the public advocate of the RECOM Initiative in BH. The Together with Aleksandar Todorović and Igor Mekina, she briefed the media on the activities of the Coalition for RECOM aimed at assisting the ‘erased’ residents of Slovenia.

The ‘erased’ citizens of BH were urged to “request a return to the state of affairs existing prior to their ‘erasure’, namely to the permanent resident status they had in Slovenia.” At the conference, it was stressed that the 2010 law gives the right to recovery of permanent residence status not only to those citizens who have continued to live in Slovenia without obtaining Slovenian citizenship, but also to those who were ‘erased’ after temporarily leaving Slovenia and were not able to return to their homes there. Aleksandar Todorović, who was himself ‘erased’ by Slovenia, described the state authorities’ treatment of their non-Slovenian residents. “They would ‘punch’ [and thus destroy, invalidate] all your documents, after which you no longer existed and they could throw you out of the state,” he said.

Both conferences of the Coalition for RECOM devoted to the status of ‘the Erased’ were covered by numerous media outlets in the region. Civic Link, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and CIERS, as well as members of the Coalition for RECOM, were later contacted by many ‘erased’ people, who had been supplied by activists of the Coalition for RECOM with information on how to make applications to the Slovenian authorities before the expiry of the deadline and sent scanned copies of the Slovenian forms that were to be filled out and forwarded to the competent authorities in Slovenia by 24 July 2013, in order to be able to exercise their right to return to Slovenia or to receive compensation in accordance with draft legislation pending before the Slovenian Parliament.

Coalition for RECOM activists replied to inquiries made by telephone or electronic mail, supplying the information requested, assisting with translations, procuring the addresses of the competent authorities in Slovenia, explaining the procedures and giving additional information regarding status and compensation in each specific case.

After the conferences, Civic Link, HLC and CIERS, as well as members of the Coalition for RECOM, were contacted by numerous ‘erased’ people who wanted to know how to make applications to the Slovenian authorities in order to be able to recover their right to return to Slovenia or to receive compensation in accordance with a law pending before the Slovenian parliament.

They also pointed to numerous irregularities and problems they had encountered while trying to exercise their rights. For instance, Ranka Petronjić, the daughter of Dragomir Petronjić, a man who had been ‘erased’ and expelled by Slovenia and handed over to the Croatian authorities at the height of the wars in Croatia and BH, told the RECOM Initiative !Voice that she doubted that the question of ‘the Erased’ would be solved in a just manner. In September 1992, her father, a Serb civilian in temporary employment in Austria, returned to Celje to see his family who lived there. He was first taken to a police station and then to the Slovenian-Croatian border in the middle of the war. She later found out that her father had been handed over to Croatian forces in BH, where he was tortured and liquidated; his family learned about his fate only after his mortal remains were found 15 years later in a concealed mass grave in BH. Since the Slovenian draft law does not provide for compensation in cases like this, there are no legal grounds for applying for compensation.

“Slovenia’s treatment of my dad was an absurdity which should never have been allowed to happen. The state of Slovenia can never do anything to right the dreadful thing done to my father and me, to our family. As regards the law, I personally think that it is not just. That law makes no provision for me. It is futile even to talk about that,” Ranka Petronjić said.

The members of the Coalition for RECOM from Slovenia criticized the small amount of the ‘non-material compensation’, which the Slovenian draft law sets at only € 40 a month. Sergej Flere PhD, a professor at the University of Maribor and member of the Coalition for RECOM, drew attention to Articles 538-544 of the Slovenian Criminal Procedure Code, which provides that persons unlawfully deprived of their liberty must be paid compensation by the state which, according to figures released by the Public Attorney’s Office of Slovenia, amounts to € 42 a day.

“The amount which the government proposes as monthly compensation for ‘the Erased’ could end up being the same as the amount of daily compensation, in accordance with Slovenia’s legal standards. In the penal practice, the amount being proposed for ‘erasure’ at present for a full month almost equals compensation for one day; therefore, such a proposal is disproportionate to the amount of damage caused and cannot stand up to criticism. The appeal for cutting down state expenditure in this case is quite inappropriate… It would make sense to apply such practice as minimum compensation for “the Erased”. Unlawful deprivation of liberty is invariably the result of a legal act which fails to stand up to revision at a later date, such as, for instance, an unconfirmed indictment. As the Constitutional Court confirmed back in 1999, ‘the Erased’ were ‘erased’ without any legal grounds and unconstitutionally. This point was especially made by the European Court of Human Rights. In the instance of ‘the erased’, the violation of their rights is actually more serious than that specified in the Criminal Procedure Code. Apart from that, ‘the Erased’ suffered violation of a broader scope of rights than do persons who are detained without cause; ‘the erased’ had neither health nor pension insurance, no right to work nor many other rights; at the same time, they had no right to freedom of movement, which impaired their right to family life, something the Criminal Procedure Code regulates, among others,” Sergej Flere PhD said.