Over the past 30 years the region of Banija has experienced a number of waves of destruction and suffering, with some families now having to rebuild their homes for the third time. One of the accompanying phenomena have been strong ethnic divisions in the area.
Five stakeholders spoke to Hina about the fairness of humanitarian assistance in such circumstances, while the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, the Croatian Catholic University and Caritas Croatia did not send their answers.
Red Cross Croatia spokeswoman Kristina Zorić said that the Red Cross had at no moment felt any divisions in the region.
We never made any distinctions when distributing humanitarian aid and we were never approached in that sense, she said.
The Red Cross distributed and continues to distribute aid to citizens in need, regardless of the degree of damage to their properties, Zorić said.
No ethnic bias in distribution of aid
Aneta Vladimirov of the Serb National Council (SNV) pointed to the decades-long state of neglect of Banija and its status of transition loser.
Also visible in this region, where the beauty of nature is in strong contrast to poverty, is the legacy of the 1991-95 war, difficult for all residents regardless of their ethnic background, she said.
Vladimirov noted that apart from isolated incidents, no ethnic bias could be noticed in efforts to remove the consequences of the earthquake and help the victims.
A sociologist from the Zagreb Faculty of Law, Siniša Zrinščak, said that there were no studies on possible ethnic bias in the provision of assistance and there was too little information on that in the public sphere.
“We have seen people saying that they have received aid. We have also heard Caritas say that aid has been distributed evenly to everyone, and there is too little information in the media to make a different conclusion.”
Earthquake brought people together
Hrvoje Sekulić, who coordinated a volunteer unit in Petrinja, said that up to 300 people, mostly volunteers, had provided help to earthquake victims through that unit.
The earthquake did not reflect any divisions, it elicited unity. Volunteers and war veterans were glad to provide help to everyone, he said, adding that local residents were grateful for the help.
“Maybe initially it was difficult to reach all hamlets in the area, but (Red Cross executive president Robert) Markt told me they had done their best to reach everyone. I cannot speak about state services. Being part of a large system, it took some time for them to start functioning but I believe they, too, have done a good job,” Sekulić said.
Serb villages in state of neglect
Vladimirov pointed to the success of the SNV’s campaign “Banija is our house” and its having underlined the importance of coordination between state agencies and nongovernmental organisations.
She commended as impressive the solidarity of Croatian citizens, as well as people from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and other non-EU countries.
Glina Deputy Mayor Branka Bakšić Mitić said earthquake assistance was provided evenly, and she estimated that post-war reconstruction, too, was evenly accessible to everyone who applied for it.
However, of the 72 families who still do not have housing containers, 50 are Serb families, and there are also Roma and a few Croat families, she said, warning that housing containers were not an adequate type of accommodation, especially in the current winter conditions.
Asked to comment on the assessment that the state the region was in was due to both social and ethnic factors, Bakšić Mitić said: “You can go through Croat and Serb villages and see for yourself. Serb villages lack public lighting, roads are in a poor state, waste is not being collected, not to mention water supply and sewage infrastructure. Serbs were the only ones in the area of Glina without electricity. Those who returned to their villages (after the war) have left in the meantime.”
Vladimirov agrees that the origin of problems in Banija is definitely to some extent attributable to the fact that the implementation of basic infrastructure projects in villages inhabited by ethnic Serbs has been slow.
Development instead of empty words
Sociologist Zrinščak was critical about some of public references to the region’s suffering in the war.
“What is the purpose of those references if you do not see how it contributes to help that area, if there are no changes in development policies? I have not seen any changes in the region’s level of development in the past 30 years,” he concluded.
Vladimirov believes that the success of the SNV’s humanitarian campaign is also owing to the cooperation between the two deputy prime ministers heading the task force dealing with the earthquake aftermath (Boris Milošević and Tomo Medved) even though, she says, the state must learn from the example of Banija with regard to solidarity as a policy and investment in the system of civil protection.
“We did not have that until now,” she says, hopeful that changes will happen in that regard.