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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SUN, 26 SEP 1999 16:28:34 GMT

    NGOs in Republika Srpska

    Bashful Support of the Regime

    AIM Banja Luka, 20 September, 1999

    On the territory of Bosnia & Herzegovina, according to the data of the International Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, there are 359 non-governmental organisations.

    This form of association of citizens on the territory of B&H Federation was established during the war already, but in the Republic of Srpska the first NGOs were registered only in the second half of 1996.

    The first ideas about establishing NGOs on the territory of B&H Federation were developed in the course of 1992 and 1993 by women who first exchanged experiences in their work and views on the forms of future activities in June 1996 at the conference of NGOs in Zenica, and then at the First Conference of Women of B&H held in that same month in Sarajevo. Through the Helsinki Parliament of the Citizens of Tuzla, Corridor of Sarajevo, Medica Zenica, Bosfam Tuzla (only some of these NGOs are mentioned here), both during the war and in the postwar period, it was attempted to work with women and the young, with refugees and displaced persons as the most vulnerable population, in order to help them overcome their traumatic experiences and determine directions of operations in the country deeply divided on ethnic and political grounds. The first ideas about development of civil awareness and therefrom building of a civil society which almost nothing was known about in former Yugoslavia, acquired a form when the Forum of the Citizens of Tuzla was founded, which is still the largest and the best organised NGO in B&H on the basis of the experience of which similar NGOs were founded in both entities after the war.

    During the first postwar year, work of NGOs in the Republic of Srpska proceeded quite bashfully, mostly within closed and comparatively small groups in Banja Luka and a few cities of the western part of this entity. The first NGO was Duga (Rainbow) the main task of which was offering assistance to women - victims of the war. The only target population Duga directed its activities towards were the refugees and displaced persons. In 1996, the Citizens' Forum of Banja Luka also started operation, and then United Women and Zdravo da ste (Hail to You).

    In the following year, 1997, NGOs have experienced quick expansion, and the trend of founding new such organisatons continues at the same rate. Nowadays there are 184 NGOs in RS. The disproportion in the number of founded NGOs in the eastern and the western part of RS is still evident, so that in the western part of the Republic of Srpska there are 134 and in the eastern only 50 NGOs which have begun work only last or in the beginning of this year.

    The legal foundation for registration of NGOs is not the same in the two entities. In B&H Federation a new law was passed, while the law of former SFR Yugoslavia on foundation of associations of citizens is still in force in RS. Lack of adequate legislature in this field, as it is claimed in all NGOs from the Republic of Srpska, has increasingly become an obstacle for operation of these organisations.

    The spheres of interest for associations are numerous and range from economy, development of civil society, offering psychological and social assistance to persons suffering from war trauma, offering help in the process of return of refugees and displaced persons, development of agriculture, environment protection, all the way to professional association.

    An analysis of the work of NGOs in RS shows that majority of these organisations have not managed to interest a large number of citizens for their ideas, so that their work is focused on very small target groups. In talks with representatives of ICVE we learnt that one of the reasons why NGOs have not attracted more supporters lies in the fact that, as a rule, there are several NGOs in a town which are all engaged in the same type of activities. Another problem is the lack of any communication and cooperation among these organisations, so it often happens that such NGOs apply to the same donor with almost identical projects for the same target group. Such cases sometimes result in rejection of all projects, which induced a part of NGOs in Banja Luka to organise the Forum of NGOs.

    Nowadays the Forum of NGOs in Banja Luka gathers thirty local non-governmental organisations. According to the words of the coordinator of the Forum, Mira Makivic, the task of the Forum is to enable its members free expert and legal assistance, to facilitate contacts with the government and the media, to stimulate development of NGOs and enable contacts with donors. However, not even the Forum could significantly contribute to uniting of NGOs which have identical objectives, so that, for instance, just in Banja Luka legal assistance to returnees from the group of refugees and displaced persons in the field of property and housing rights is offered by six NGOs. "Unfortunately, the quantity did not result in the quality", claims Makivic and stresses that this will bring about withdrawal of donors from B&H and therefrom shutting down of a large number of NGOs.

    What is especially stressed both in the Forum and ICVI is that the greatest number of NGOs is concentrated in large urban environments. The work of organisations which are engaged in building civil society and recognition of the rights of women and the young in small towns all around B&H, is just at its beginning or there is not any.

    The situation is not any better when cooperation between NGOs of the two entities is concerned either. This cooperation is still sporadic and it is rarely manifested through joint activities. Meetings of NGOs of the two entities are still mostly held under patronage of representatives of the international community and they come down to exchange of experiences. Although freedom of movement has become normal in the past two years, the zeal for inter-entity cooperation, even through round table discussions and workshops, has significantly decreased. Key persons especially those engaged in revival of civil society, unwillingly talk about it, even after frequent remarks that the topics they are discussing are of common interest for all the citizens of B&H. That is why it is no wonder that these gatherings are criticised as debate clubs of like-minded persons. An exception is the Citizens' Alternative Parliament (GAP) established in 1996 in Tuzla which tried to gather together the non-governmental sector of B&H, at least its part which is engaged in development and promotion of civil society in B&H. By its activities during three years, GAP has attracted the attention of the public in B&H and the world and forcused its attention on non-governmental organisations which could become a serious corrective factor in the country.

    ICVA is the organisation which deals with development of NGOs in B&H since 1996. Except for collecting data on non-governmental organisations, it creates and supports mechanisms for exchange of information and formulation of common policy of NGOs in B&H. ICVA also offers local non-governental organisations which have begun work without any previous experience, guidance and technical assistance in order to increase their individual and collective capabilities. This type of assistance spurred the local non-governmental organisations to demand passing of relevant legislature in the entties which will support and not prevent their work.

    Work and survival of non-governmental organisations depends solely on donors and their interest in B&H. NGOs are financed by a series of government and non-governmental organisations from the United States of America, primarily US agency for development - USAID, from Canada, and a number of Western European countries. Donors provide means for work of NGOs (premises and necessary technical equipment), they finance specific projects. The authorities on the level of the entities have not manifested any interest in non-governmental organisations so far. There is no obstacles either, because the procedure for foundation and registration of NGOs prescribed by law is quite liberal, and there is resistance to their activists mostly in small towns where rigid ethnic parties play the dominant role. The problem lies in the fact that there is almost not a single NGO that can rely on any unconditional material support of the regime, either on the local or the level of the entities.

    Among donors who come from the countries in which a part of the money for financing projects of non-governmental organisations is allocated from the budget fear prevails that NGOs could soon win general social support and become capable of supporting themselves on their own. There is fear among representatives of local NGOs, too. They think that after withdrawal of donors whose attention is increasingly diverted towards other endangered areas in the region, very survival of many NHOs will come into question.

    A certain number of NGOs, using their own potentials in expert cadre and technical equipment, through a series of training courses which they organise and charge for, raise means of their own in order to survive when the donors withdraw or reduce the amount of money for financing the local non-governmental sector. The experience of each NGO in cooperation with state institutions on realisation of actual projects differs. This cooperation was and still is very slow, but it can be said that interest for what NGOs are doing is growing. As a good example, local NGOs state the fact that City Assembly of Banja Luka has opened an office for cooperation with non-governmental organisations.

    The work of NGOs on the whole territory of B&H is still insufficiently covered by the media. Representatives of NGOs say that state media are a special problem since they usually do not inform about activities of NGOs at all or just carry curt agency news about them. The stand of alternative media towards the activities of the non-governmental sector is somewhat better, as their representatives claim, adding that a large number of citizens of B&H still have either very vague or no knowledge at all about what the objectives of the non-governmental sector are.

    The future of majority of NGOs in B&H equally depends on support of the donors, the regime and recognition of the media. The truth is that only uniting of the numerous small NGOs into larger organisations and full definition of their objectives can enable their survival. That is why, they say at the Banja Luka office of the Helsinki Committee, the future is in establishing connections among NGOs not only within B&H, but also on the regional level on the principles promoted by the Summit of Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.

    Gordana Katana

    (AIM)