Rebuilding Communities Devastated by War
by Peace Watch
Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Rebuilding Communities Devastated by War." Peace Watch. United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC. V. 11, No. 6. Pp. 1, 8-9
This article describes several peace-building projects operating on the community level in Bosnia. After the Dayton agreement, the main focus of international forces was to separate the parties, maintain the cease-fire and keep the election process going. After presidential elections were held, the goal of promoting integration in Bosnia became essential. The grassroots projects described in this article aims at community building, which is the major key for the survival of the state.
In Tuzla, a local nongovernmental organization lends money to refugee families who want to open or restart businesses. Samed Salic, for example, borrowed $350 to reopen a hairdressing business. The program has already lent 45 loans with 10% interest. The money comes from the World Bank, which in turn uses funds provided by the Dutch government. One of the aims of the program is to help people to regain trust and self-sufficiency. A loss of people's trust in anyone except their immediate family is the result of war. The future plan of the project organizers is to get enough funds to provide larger and more commercial loans.
Another project was developed in Gornji Vakuf, the town located on the border dividing the Croat and Muslim parts of the federation. During the war, the front-line was right in the middle of the town. The Croat-Muslim federation is a major part of Dayton establishment. But the fact that people from both sides are not willing to cross the line between the two sections shows that a lot has to be done on a grassroots level to make this arrangement work. Fifteen international volunteers work on a project that serves this purpose. The goal of the project is to bring the two communities together by making them work for the common goal of rebuilding houses destroyed by war. The condition for getting help from the international community is that they assist each other. In order to participate in this program, people would have to cross the border and work together. In addition, they would have some incentives to preserve each others' houses.
A third project is also directed at making the Dayton agreement work on the level of common people. Under the agreement, movement within Bosnia was supposed to be free. In reality, Serbs prevented it from happening: until recently there was no free movement between the Serb Republic and the Croat-Bosnian Federation. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) decided to intervene and created a free bus route uniting the two areas. This is an example of direct involvement of an international organization in a peace-building initiative. There were a lot of complications: Serbian local authorities pressured bus companies to stop participating in the project. Then the Danish Refugee Council hired its own drivers and buses. This did not stop the problems: the buses were stoned and stopped by Serbian police. The buses now are escorted by international police and sometimes by NATO's implementation force. The question is, what is going to happen after those forces leave the area?
This question leads to a general problem of making peace-building projects sustainable. Sufficient funds and long-lasting presence are important, but it is necessary to incorporate those projects into a national program. Only in this way can the danger of fragmentation of peace-building efforts, which even might harden ethnic separation, be avoided.