- Title: BOLIVIA: Independence movement in Bolivia points to Kosovo model
- Date: 18th March 2008
- Summary: (CEEF) SANTA CRUZ, BOLIVIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF SERBIAN IMMIGRANTS TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER FIRST GENERATION CROATIAN IMMIGRANT, ROBERT JAKUBEK AND HIS FAMILY WALKING IN HIS GARDEN JAKUBEK'S IDENTIFICATION DOCUMENT FOR YUGOSLAVIA VARIOUS OF JAKUBEK FAMILY LOOKING AT PHOTOGRAPHS OF THEIR LIFE IN THE FORMER REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA PHOTOGRAPH OF YUGOSLAV IMMIGRANTS (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) FIRST GENERATION CROATIAN IMMIGRANT, ROBERT JAKUBEK, SAYING: "When you get to the second, third, fourth generation of immigrants they are always much more integrated into society, and they don't keep to themselves and they marry with other Bolivians. Often, the only thing they have left is part of their surname." VARIOUS OF JAKUBEK'S FAMILY PREPARING A MEAL VARIOUS OF JAKUBEK SPEAKING AT THE TABLE (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) FIRST GENERATION CROATIAN IMMIGRANT, ROBERT JAKUBEK, SAYING: "If we sow friendship we are going to harvest good relations. We are tired of wars and the Balkans have had to enter each of these sad situations with fighting." VARIOUS OF JAKUBEK FAMILY SPEAKING IN GARDEN
- Embargoed: 2nd April 2008 13:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA2WCAC0AZT5ZNNKB3U7ERXCFRR
- Story Text: The independence of Kosovo has created disquiet in far-off Bolivia, where a push for greater regional autonomy in the provinces is being led by immigrant groups from the former Yugoslavia.
In a public hospital in Bolivia, huge waiting lines, insufficient staff and nonexistent medicines are something everyone is used to.
Bolivia is the poorest country in its region and although two years ago President Evo Morales boasted he would turn Bolivia into "the Switzerland of South America," locals say they are yet to see any great difference.
Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president. He did nationalise the energy industry soon after his election to provide a flush of new funds, but social spending has been hampered by corruption and inefficiency, and as Bolivians still struggle to get by, the country's regional differences have been exacerbated.
Eight of the country's nine regions are calling for greater independence from Morales' central government and have been leading sometimes violent protests, even drawing up two statutes outlining demands for greater autonomy.
The movement has been gaining strength for over 18 months, and many of the secessionist leaders are immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, which has just seen a declaration of independence by Kosovo.
Divisions, especially over a new multicultural constitution, seemed destined to plunge Bolivia into a new cycle of political instability and that is something Morales says he is desperate to avoid.
"The land cannot be divided. The Bolivian family cannot be divided, because we are all family. For example, if we talk about the Orurenos or the Pacenos, they are our brothers and our relatives, in Santa Cruz, in Beni, in Pando. Because the statutes for autonomy are practically orientated towards a division. Recently I was reading something that said: "We want to be like Kosovo", and that is something very grave," he said.
When Kosovo separated from Serbia last month, it was given approval from the United States and most European nations.
The West insisted it would not set a precedent, but other breakaway regions around the world disagree.
Branko Marinkovic is the mayor and regional governor of Santa Cruz and one of the leaders of the secessionist movement.
Santa Cruz is Bolivia's economic powerhouse, located in the country's fertile lowlands, and Marinkovic is a descendent of immigrants from the Croatia.
He forms part of a community of Yugoslavian immigrants that have become wealthy and powerful in Bolivia, and that the government has accused of inciting separatist feelings.
But Marinkovic denies that his demands for greater regional autonomy are at all like the situation in Kosovo.
"You cannot in any way compare Kosovo with Santa Cruz. I don't believe that Santa Cruz at any time will break away from the rest of the country," he said.
In the streets, however, it is a different story. Separatist graffiti plasters the walls of Santa Cruz, calling the people to arms and saying "the time is near."
Analysts agree that ethnic tensions are playing a huge role in the current calls for greater independence.
Like Marinkovic, most of Santa Cruz's residents are European-descendents. They have ruled Bolivia for centuries, and they refused indigenous people like the family of Morales the right to vote until the 1950s.
These days, and especially under Morales' mandate, institutional racism is no longer tolerated.
But many European-descendent families still believe they are different from other Bolivians and, as such, want some independence from them. One such person is Svonko Matkovic, the son of a Croatian immigrant, who lives in Santa Cruz.
"We cannot forget that Santa Cruz is part of Bolivia. But we need to remember that, without running away from what we want, with the rights that we deserve, and remembering that there are differences that exist between each of the regions." Matkovic said in an interview with Reuters.
Matkovic is second-generation Croatian. He used to be a senator during the rule of former Bolivian strongman Hugo Banzer Suarez, and his family still maintains their religious and cultural customs from Croatia.
He believes the problems in Bolivia are largely ethnic.
"The problems between different regions and internally in countries comes from religious and ethnic differences, that is for sure. The problems in Bolivia come from the ethnic side," he said.
Street demonstrations by the autonomy movement have been frequently marred by racist attacks on both sides of the fence.
Things have become so tense that several people Reuters approached about this story declined to speak to our cameras for fears of reprisals from pro-government supporters.
Robert Jakubek, a Croatian who moved to Santa Cruz 27 years ago, was also reluctant at first, but eventually agreed to an interview.
In Jakubek's household, Croatian is still spoken and traditional meals are spoken.
He has also sent his three children to visit their grandparents in Croatia, even during periods of ethnic violence. He says he believes the visits are important for reminding his children of their roots.
"When you get to the second, third, fourth generation of immigrants they are always much more integrated into society, and they don't keep to themselves and they marry with other Bolivians. Often, the only thing they have left is part of their surname," Jakubek said.
Yet Jakubek does not believe in the separatist movement. In fact, part of the reason he sent his children back to Croatia was so they could see the violence and problems that ethnic tensions can create if they get out of control.
"If we sow friendship we are going to harvest good relations. We are tired of wars and the Balkans have had to enter each of these sad situations with fighting," he said.
He also says that as the father of a family that has already fled ethnic tension once, he hopes history will not repeat itself in Bolivia.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None