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18 years after war, Croatian Serbs still trying to find a place to call home

Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Drazen Matovic, a 36-year-old Croatian Serb, brushes his teeth in the bathroom of an abandoned primary school in the village of Strmica that serves as a makeshift refugee camp for a small group of mostly Serbs, who are waiting to be rehoused, Feb. 20, 2013.

By Antonio Bronic, Reuters

Ethnic conflict shook Croatia to the core during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Today, both Serbs and Croats in the country still bear the scars – something clearly visible if you visit the areas around the southern town of Knin.

Before the war broke out, most of Knin’s citizens were Serbs. When Croatia declared independence in 1991, Serbs who wanted to remain part of Yugoslavia staged a bloody rebellion, and Knin became their stronghold. The town was recaptured by the Croatian army in 1995 and the Serb population fled in the thousands, leaving behind their homes, most of which were soon torched or blown up by the Croats.

After the war ended, some of the Serbs returned and Croatian authorities promised they would receive equal assistance in rebuilding their damaged properties. But 18 years after the conflict, many are still making do with basic or temporary living arrangements. 

Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Drazen Matovic eats food in his room in an abandoned primary school. In 1992 when Matovic was 15-years-old, he fled to Serbia with his parents to escape the fighting.

Drazen Matovic has been living in an abandoned primary school for eight years. He wants to work, but he faces a major obstacle: he can’t get papers. This means that any work he does would be illegal, and he is not eligible for welfare payments either. The problem is a Catch 22: The Croatian government says that he is Serbian, so he can’t have Croatian papers, while the Serbian government says he is Croatian, so can’t have Serbian papers. Read more at Reuters' Photographers Blog.

Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Drazen Matovic puts his hand on a copy of the bible in his room in the abandoned school. Drazen came back to Croatia in 2005 and was sent to Strmica by the UN refugee agency. Croatian authorities have promised that returning Serbs would be given equal assistance in rebuilding war-damaged properties.

Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Matovic carries some food into an abandoned primary school in the village of Strmica that serves as a makeshift refugee camp for a small group of people, mostly Serbs, who are waiting to be rehoused, Even though Croatian authorities have promised that returning Serbs would be given equal assistance in rebuilding war-damaged properties, 18 years after the conflict, many are still making do with basic or temporary living arrangements.

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