In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), out of an estimated 2.2 million people who were forcibly displaced during the ethnic war, more than 1 million exercised their right to return to their places of origin following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in December 1995. Nearly half of them were “minority returnees” who returned to territory controlled by one of the other ethnic groups. Accordingly, the ethnic cleansing that occurred during the war was partially reversed. BiH succeeded in regaining the character of a multiethnic society to some extent.
However, the actual number of returnees, particularly for minority returnees, has been estimated to be considerably lower than the statistical figure. The reason is, that many returnees did not permanently stay in their places of return, primarily owing to the lack of economic opportunities there. In search of better socioeconomic opportunities, most young IDPs remained in the places of migrate. Returnees who went back and settled permanently in their places of origin were mostly the elderly and they tended to live in rural areas. There was thus no sustainable return for minorities. This conclusion was reached in previous studies about the return of refugees.
Nevertheless, in some areas in BiH, there do exist minority people who have remained permanently in their places of origin. They are people who did not leave their places of residence during the war or those who returned home soon after it ended. The question then arise as to whether they are going to have families in the near future. If they can, they can their minority communities may be sustained. If they cannot, their current communities will disappear at some point. The answer to this question requires empirical studies.
In this paper we examine the results of field research conducted in two areas of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the units of state (entity) where the Bosniaks and Croats politically predominate. One area was in a suburb of Mostar, the other was in a suberb of Drvar. Living in the former are middle-aged and elderly people but there are also younger residents. Here there are families with children who were born in the postwar period. With the other area, though Drvar had the largest number of Serbs returnees in the Fedeartion, almost all the returnees were middle-aged and elderly. It is thus possible to observe generational reproduction in the Mostar suburbs, but not in the suburbs of Drvar.
We found that this difference between the two cities derives from differences in their socioeconomic structure and convenience. Mostar has a decided advantage over Drvar in such factors as population size, employment opportunities, size of consumer market, opportunities for higher education, and healthcare environment.
However, Drvar does have a striking advantage over Mostar in another way. In Drvar the Serbs hold political power in the local municipality, because they constitute the vast majority of the city’s population. That provides a sense of security to Serb returnees and encourages them to reside permanently in their places of origin. In Mostar, though the Serbs who constitute a small portion of the population are virtually excluded from political decisions in governing the municipality. This works to the detriment of the Serb inhabitants in various aspects. Therefore, it appears that the process of generational reproduction of returnees in the suburb of Mostar will not reach stability without a substantial improvement in the situation.