Serbian-Croatian bank to help refugees return

BELGRADE -- The Serbian government expects that establishment of the Tesla Bank, with Croatian-Serbian capital, will speed up return of Serb refugees to Croatia.

The Diaspora Assembly (Beta)
The Diaspora Assembly (Beta)

Only a little more than 50,000 Serb refugees, mostly elderly people from rural areas, have so far returned to Croatia. It is estimated that around 700,000 Serbs used to live in Croatia before the war and there is 500,000 less Serbs today.

Almost 16 years since the Operation Storm, during which majority of Serbs left their homes, the bank will be established and its primary goal will be to enable as many refugees as possible to return to Croatia.

Serbian Diaspora Minister Srđan Srećković called the Tesla Bank a “pioneer project” that should encourage good neighborly relations and economic cooperation at the Diaspora Assembly which was attended by Serb representatives from the region.

However, refugees’ representatives do not see the Tesla Bank as a possible encouragement unless the bank renounces its profit for the sake of the returnees.

They do not believe that the bank will offer loans that refugees would be able to pay back. They also do not believe that banks will improve business environment for Serbs in Croatia.

“As far as regional cooperation is concerned, we think that another way is far better. Namely, Croatia opened more than 200 firms with more than EUR 500mn of invested capital, while the number of [Serbian] firms opened in Croatia does not exceed 10. Meaning, we are asking Croatia to allow an approximately equal number of Serbian firms to enter Croatia, in returnee parts and allow us to bring the same amount of Serbian capital,” Coalition of Refugees Associations President Miodrag Linta stressed.

Another obstacle to encouraging return with Tesla Bank loans is an age limit. According to a poll carried out in 2007 by UNHCR, more than 60 percent of returnees are older than 55 years of age and majority of them are incapable of getting a loan.

The Tesla Bank was established at Serbian National Council in Croatia’s initiative and support of the Serbian government and Vojvodina Executive Council. The Serbian government invested EUR 1.5mn while the Vojvodina Development Fund paid the same amount before recapitalization.