From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
War-weary Balkan People Search for Real Peace
04 May 1996 21:50:34
95446 War-weary Balkan People Search for Real Peace
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--How to have peace in real life -- not just on paper -- is
the quandary facing survivors of four years of war in the Balkans, which
left more than a quarter of a million people dead and displaced 2.5 million
While commentators argue about weaknesses and contradictions in the
Dayton peace agreement and 60,000 NATO troops prepare to enforce its
provisions, tired residents from Zagreb to Belgrade are trying to pick up
what's left of their lives and muster some hope that war just may be over.
At the same time, they are aware that the end of war does not mean the
same thing as peace.
"People are skeptical. They think, 'If it works out, great. If it
doesn't, well, I won't have gotten my hopes up for nothing,'" says Mark
Jantzen, a volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee who has been
assigned for the past two years to Bread for Life, a church-based relief
organization in Belgrade. "There's not too much talking about [what peace
"People are wondering if they'll make it through the winter," he said,
pointing out that at least 95 percent of Belgrade's households are
absorbing family members and friends who are refugees from other parts of
the former Yugoslavia. Though sanctions have now been lifted by the
international community, the cost of living isn't cheap. Gasoline runs
about $5 per gallon. And though meat and frozen vegetables can be bought in
Belgrade's markets, unemployed refugees seldom have cash.
Jantzen said at least 180,000 Serbian refugees flooded Serbia in
August in the aftermath of Croatia's summertime offensive in the Krajina --
and people are expecting more refugees to arrive when Serb-controlled parts
of Sarajevo are transferred. At least 30 percent of Belgrade's refugees
are now living in public shelters.
Bishop Endre Langh of the Reformed Church of Croatia talked about
property disputes that have erupted in the wake of politicians' promises
that displaced Croats may go home in weeks or months, especially along the
30 percent of Croatia that has been the war's front line.
"Many can't return," he said, with his voice rising. "Their houses
are broken, shattered, plundered. Many have been blown up."
Rebuilding is frustrating for those who fled but have returned. But
rebuilding is less searing than returning home to find that another family
-- often from a rival ethnic group -- has usurped their property.
"My people are farmers. They want to return to their native villages
and farms. They want very much to tend the land ... land they inherited
from their father and their father's father. It's more than earth or soil
or crops. Their primary concern is not for their houses or their
furniture," Langh said. "They want to work the land."
The process of rebuilding itself is where he predicts hope will emerge
within a seemingly hopeless conflict. "When people start rebuilding, it
will no longer be about politics or nationalism. ... Now everybody is a
politician. In the marketplace ladies of 80 talk politics. ..."
But politics is not how this paper peace will become a reality.
"I don't think anyone feels like they have peace, even though the
fighting has stopped. True peace includes some reconciliation; these
people have to learn to live with each other," said Alice Jantzen, who is a
member of Bread for Life's medical team in Belgrade. "And I think
reconciliation will take a lot longer."
Langh agreed. "Healing these wounds will be very, very difficult.
There still is a lot of hate. And from a human point of view, for very good
reasons," he said, pointing to all the atrocities committed during this
The majority want peace, Langh said, but fear that extremists will
still destroy what hope there is for real peace. "There are warlords,
especially along the front lines. They're numbers aren't big, but they are
dangerous," he added.
In Zagreb, Boris Peterlin of the Christian Information Service says
many in Croatia consider the territorial divisions of the peace pact
unjust, particularly a much-disputed corridor in northern Bosnia inhabited
by Croats and Muslims that the agreement grants to Serbia. "They'd rather
have peace than war ... but very few are convinced it's lasting because
they do not think it's just," he said.
The worst scenario skeptics lay out is that the agreement is just a
prelude to further territorial concessions to Serbia, Peterlin told the
Presbyterian News Service. Those fears will probably not be allayed, he
said, unless the boundaries of the Dayton agreement are strictly enforced.
And that has yet to be proven.
"Since [Croatians] lost confidence in the United Nations, we've turned
from one hope to another," said Peterlin. "So now the hope is NATO. ...
"But people have hoped before and been disillusioned. They have hoped
and been disappointed so many times," he said. "[For many] it's so
difficult to be convinced, enthusiastic about any plan."
That sense of weariness sounds familiar to Alice Jantzen in Belgrade.
"People are very tired of the war. Politicians would have to work really
hard to get it to go [again]," she said. "The majority of people don't
want war anymore."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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