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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

    TUE, 28 SEP 1999 22:34:45 GMT

    Non-Governmental Organisations in B&H

    From Declaration on Rights to the Country of the Child

    AIM Sarajevo, 22 September, 1999

    The question of existence, but also of the establishment of non-governmental organisations in Bosnia & Herzegovina, as the basic bearers of the idea of civil society is quite debatable. But so is the question to what extent the idea is acceptable for the society in B&H in general.

    Historically speaking, non-governmental organisations such as those known nowadays do not have a long tradition. Organisations of the citizens existed, but their objective was mainly to satisfy certain interests, with no major attempts to improve the society in general. Only at the beginning of the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina, a new way of gathering of citizens appeared, also in order to satisfy their interests, but this time they have a significant influence on the society. It was necessary to answer to the needs, and the answers could not come individually. It all began with foundation of small societies which primarily tried to react to the misfortunes of the war and help refugees and displaced persons, but also the local population.

    In the beginning of 1993, first associations appeared which, based on voluntary work, were intended to help primarily the civilian victims of the war and horrors of the war. That is why this year can be taken as the year when non-governmental organisations not only started acquiring the form they are nowadays known by, but also as the year when a large number of international organisations and institutions started sending their representatives to Bosnia & Herzegovina. Every one of them that set feet on the ground of B&H brought along his/her experience and transferred it to the local population. Although in very slow steps, this was the beginning of creation of a civil society.

    Until the end of 1995, non-governmental organisations did not take any significant steps towards what is usually said to be politics, because their main determinant was apolitical. However, after the Dayton accords and "recutting" of Bosnia & Herzegovina according to the standards of the international community, the influence and the role of NGOs significantly changed. It is interesting that in the very beginning of 1996, women's organisations (and there were 53 registered ones only on the territory of B&H Federation) began playing an important role. One of the reasons for such a position was the very fact that majority of foreign organisations worked exclusively with women. Women simply had no adequate place in politics or the peace process. One can say that two parallel political scenes were taking place: one of them official, represented by state administration and men who were sitting in it, and the other, unofficial, headed by women who on their own examples proved that the people wanted something else. Women's groups begin to spread, they cross entity borders and widen the circle of people interested in social changes through the idea of a civil community. Slowly representatives of mixed groups join work. Ideas which the citizens were guided by in their wish to join associations are changing. Support to victims of war is not priority any more, nor refugees and displaced persons, but the guiding principles are support to returnees, achievement of human rights, reconstruction, economic development, culture...

    On the whole territory of B&H there are more than 600 international and local non-governmental and humanitarian organisations. Most of them apply for money at the same addresses, so it is no wonder that finances are one of the biggest problems. On the one hand, some of them have too much, and on the other, many of them are hardly capable of covering expenses of maintenance of premises they work in. Reasons for such a situation vary: lack of communication with the donors; acting in the spheres which are not politically recommended (the so-called "black holes"); the objectives and the target groups do not coincide with the current policy of the donors, bad management. There is not a single institution in B&H which would try to gather all the donors in a single place and which would be some kind of a mediator. At the same time, the law on non-governmental organisations in Bosnia & Herzegovina has not been defined yet. NGOs are mostly registered as associations of citizens based on the law on gathering. A big discussion is going on about a clear definition of the status of NGOs and persons employed in them. Although a large number of groups has undertaken the task to elaborate the draft law, no significant step forward has been made so far.

    Morality and ethics might not be the greatest problems of the non-governmental sector in B&H, but they are present. The question is what persons involved in the work of NGOs think about their purpose: do they see them as a place where it is possible to make easy money or as a place which requires great devotion, plenty of work and self-sacrifice. This is still not publicly discussed. There is also the question of financing, lack of communication among non-governmental organisations, absence of a uniform way of informing and exchange of information which often causes open conflicts. Lack of political support of local authorities perhaps is not a problem as big as it used to be two years ago, but it still exists. A large number of groups are engaged, among other, in arousing sensibility of representatives of the authorities on all levels to problems of the citizens themselves.

    What they have in common are the principles, such as promotion and protection of human rights, building of civil society, helping return. Only few of them have a specific goal such as for example finding donations for curing sick children or assistance to self-supporting mothers, raising the level of awareness about mines; care of the elderly and the feeble; agriculture, health, work with media, psycho-social support, religious activity in the sense of reconciliation.

    Selma HADZIHALILOVIC

    (AIM Sarajevo)