Crush Of Migrants At Common Border Reignites Serbia-Croatia Hostility
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
For weeks there's been a historic exodus of people fleeing war and violence into Europe. And nearly all of those folks are traveling to the Balkans, an area that was engulfed in war a little over two decades ago. Tensions are still raw among the countries in the former Yugoslavia. Border closures, which ended today, have inflamed tensions between two former rivals in those wars - Serbia and Croatia. Joanna Kakissis sends us this report.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Nikolai Iliev is standing on a Serbian highway looking at line of semi-trailer trucks that stretches on as far as the eye can see. The Bulgarian truck driver is trying to transport an order of pizza ovens to Genoa, Italy, but he's stuck at a border crossing into Croatia.
NIKOLAI ILIEV: (Foreign language spoken).
KAKISSIS: "We've been here for five, six days, just waiting," he says. "Everyone is losing money."
Croatia closed several parts of the border because it blamed Serbia for busing tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to cross here. But Serbian truck driver Dragan Jucic blames the Croatians.
DRAGAN JUCIC: (Foreign language spoken).
KAKISSIS: "There are no refugees in the trucks," he says. "Croatia is just looking for excuses to make problems for Serbia."
The two countries fought each other in a bloody war about 20 years ago, when the former Yugoslavia fell apart. Now they're both straining to manage the largest migration crisis in Europe since World War II. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told Sky News that Serbia was colluding with the nationalist, populist government of Hungary to keep refugees out.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ZORAN MILANOVIC: So I'm not a enemy of Serbia. I'm not the enemy of Serbs. But I'm the opponent of populists and nationalists, and I'll always be.
KAKISSIS: The Serbs say it's Milanovic's government that's behaving like fascists. Serbia has now banned the entry of Croatian goods and cargo vehicles.
Caught in the middle are the people fleeing wars and conflicts themselves. Few know about the troubled history here. Some don't even know what country they're in. It's raining when I meet Mohammad Darwish at a border crossing near a cemetery. He's a Syrian who says the hard road to Europe is bringing his people together. He just turned 20 years old.
MOHAMMAD DARWISH: Actually, today is my birthday - my 20 birthday.
KAKISSIS: Your 20th birthday? Happy birthday.
DARWISH: Thank you very much. It's OK to be with my little fellow citizens. They want to get to Europe to start a new life. We hope to start everything from the beginning.
YASHAR GHASEMI: (Singing in foreign language).
KAKISSIS: At another border crossing near some dying cornfields, an Iranian musician named Yashar Ghasemi sings as he shares a granola bar with Laith Saleh, a computer scientist from Damascus, Syria. Their countries don't get along, but the two men are friends now.
GHASEMI: We will continue our trip with each other.
LAITH SALEH: Together.
KAKISSIS: Vladimir Andric is a Serbian doctor volunteering at the border crossing. He says the Serbian and Croatian governments should work together.
VLADIMIR ANDRIC: It's like domestical quarrels that's going on - really unnecessary. They act like they don't know how to behave, you know? It's like politics on the low levels.
KAKISSIS: Andric watches as refugees walk together from his country to Croatia - sharing umbrellas, holding each other's children. It's a scene of unity he would like to see in the Balkans. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Belgrade, Serbia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.