Serbia Dragan Velikić

Dragan Velikić
Photo: Milovan Milenković

What does the term refugee mean to you?

Injustice, weakness, necessity to help, regardless of whether it stems from wars, general poverty or climate change.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

No, these are all equally legitimate reasons for leaving one’s country.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

This is another legitimate reason. We have no right to deprive another of the possibility we have not deprived ourselves of.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

One ceases to be a refugee the very moment one is able to take care of oneself, when one’s existence depends on one’s decisions and the ability to put these decisions into action.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

For me, it exists. This is within the human rights sphere. Anyone who has not committed a crime of any sort, violence or theft, has the right to seek asylum if they do not feel safe in the country of their origin.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

This should be unconditional.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

The limit exists for sure, but it is much higher than the public would believe it to be.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

Ten per cent of refugees compared to the number of citizens of the country offering refuge, is the number which is absorbed without any consequences for the society which is accepting these refugees, especially when we speak of the democratic societies of European Union.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

Serbia is no longer a country in which certain refugees are privileged. Unfortunately, in Serbia there are still some Serbian refugees from Croatia living in temporary placement, with temporary ID documents. However, this does not make the refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – who are trying to get to European Union – come second. This is not the question of propaganda, but the question of an indisputable fact that the refugees from Asia and Africa, who entered the territory of Serbia in 2015 and 2016, encounter a far more humane and organised treatment in Serbia than is the case with some EU countries, such as Bulgaria and Hungary.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

We cannot generalise here. In Serbia, a lot of people have offered support to refugees, but there are also those who have been against it.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

In Serbia, the restrictions in the social system have been carried out for a quarter of a century now. Therefore, this is not the area that should be additionally burdened, but surely there are other sources which can provide funds to help refugees.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

When it comes to refugees, they should agree to accept the laws and customs of the society from which they expect to receive help.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

When it comes to those that are granting asylum, they should have more understanding for the situation which the refugees have found themselves in.

Do you know any refugees personally?

Yes, I do. Some of them arrived after the Operation Storm of the Croatian Armed Forces in August 1995, when more than two hundred thousand Serbian citizens from Croatia were expatriated.

Do you actively support any refugees?

Yes, occasionally.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

This will not merely be a concern of the NGOs and the civil society, but of the country, most of all. A new wave of refugees coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the African countries threatens to turn Serbia – due to the restrictive politics of Hungary and Bulgaria in relation to refugees – into a refugee camp, for whose maintenance more help from European Union will be needed.

b) over the next two decades?

For Serbia any plan that implies a decade as the measurement unit is completely unrealistic.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

I can imagine a world like that. In reality, however, that kind of world has never existed, ever since the time the Jews fled from Egypt.

If yes: what does it take?

To begin with, this would be a world in which war would not be a constant. However, civilisations disappear, develop and go out of existence due to this continuous change in which wars play a prominent part. The human race has not yet reached the level of consciousness in which it would organise life according to the postulates of justice and equality.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

I have had this experience. During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, I was a refugee in Budapest. I am well aware of how important the unconditional help of an individual is, even though it is the gesture of an individual who is often left anonymous.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

I cannot know this in advance.

- How do you prepare yourself?

This kind of preparation is futile.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

Austria.

How much “home” do you need?*

This amount is not expressed in measurement units. Just like freedom, it is either full or it does not exist. Home is where I feel content.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.