AIM: start



SAT, 08 DEC 2001 01:21:00 GMT

Invalids Between Promises and Oblivion

Shattered Illusions

Tears, despair and anger were reactions provoked by the new draft Law on the Rights of Disabled Veterans and Families of Killed Veterans, prepared by the Government of the B&H Federation. The story about war promises and post-war oblivion ha been repeated once again in the Balkans.

Almost one century after it was written, Laza Lazarevic's short story "The People Will Plate it All with Gold", which was once an integral part of the compulsory school reading list, is more topical than ever.

AIM, Sarajevo, November 30, 2001

The public received the draft Law on Right of Disabled Veterans and Families of Killed Veterans with hostility interpreting it as another attack on its bare survival. The attempt of the Minister in charge of veterans' issues in the F B&H Government, Ms.Suada Hadzovic, to explain the essence of new legal solutions, fell through. Rational arguments and use of precise indicators were of no use when confronted with emotions, while dissatisfaction, despair and hopelessness accumulated over the years came to the fore.

War promises made to fighters, disabled veterans and families of killed veterans that after the war they would be "eating with a golden spoon", as well as care for the families of killed veterans as the absolute priority, were soon forgotten even before the gun smoke dispersed over B&H, after four years of war (which was ended by the Dayton Accords). As the last six post-war years have been marked with the regular march of the seasons and elections, for the sake of securing votes and buying social peace the then authorities (represented by the coalition of national parties: SDA and HDZ) once again resorted to promising the sun and the moon, although they knew that they would not be able to keep these promises. Without any specific reason, they distributed privatisation certificates as a substitute for unpaid veterans' wages over a period of four years.

Certificates were worth DM twenty thousand on average and were meant to ensure fair large-scale privatisation. Privatisation was four years late and in the meantime, the value of certificates was reduced on free market to barely three percent of their nominal value.

Resigned to the fact that these certificates would bring them nothing, families of killed veterans and disabled veterans were comforted by promises that they would be given roof over their heads. Thousands of deserted flats and houses were given to these people, although, in all fairness, other "meritorious citizens", primarily politicians from all levels, also stole a ride. When the time came to implement in practice the programme of "everyone returning to their own" it suddenly turned out that "final decisions" made just after the war were worthless and that disabled veterans (RVI) and families of killed members of B&H Army and HVO (Croatian Defence Council) were once again on top of the eviction lists. Thus, their lives became constant anticipation in a state of anxiety, where each visit of the postman created a dilemma whether he was bringing an eviction order or disability pension, which was several months late. The result of war and post-war parallelism of national authorities were also different disability allowances the amount of which depended on whether a veteran lived on the territory controlled by the SDA or that controlled by the HDZ.

Thanks to ample financial assistance from the neighbouring Croatia, RVI and families of killed HVO members had much higher allowances than those who fought in the war as members of the B&H Army. Therefore, veterans' associations in F B&H insisted for years on the adoption of a new, unified law that would specify and make their rights uniform. When the current F B&H Government finally presented a new draft law, it turned out that it was not what RVIs and families of killed veterans had been expecting. For a vast majority of beneficiaries of these allowances those hundred German marks were the only income in their family budgets sufficient to keep them from starving if they economised carefully. There was no money for anything else.

At the same time, for a budget of a country whose economy was still languishing, regular payment of these allowances was an enormous burden. Consequently, out of this year's F B&H annual budget of DM 997 million as much as DM 263 million should be allocated for RVI allowances, which is slightly over one fourth of the total budget. As a result, the state will be unable to regularly honour the assumed obligations.

Everyone was aware that needs would have to be adjusted to actual possibilities, but no one had political courage to clearly and loudly speak the painful truth that in the existing situation there was not enough money for these purposes and that none would be coming in foreseeable future. Only when the IMF and the World Bank put an ultimatum to the new authorities to adjust their budget spending to realistic possibilities, meaning restricting the rights of RVIs and families of killed veterans to various allowances, it became clear that facing merciless facts of life and dissatisfaction of beneficiaries of these allowances could no longer be put off. They decided to resolve the situation by abolishing and restricting rights to disability allowances for those with lower percentage of disability so that the available funds could be used for regular payment to the most vulnerable categories and even for a slight increase of their allowances.

It's quite another thing to what extent was the disagreement of leaderships of associations of RVI and families of killed veterans with solutions offered in the draft law a result of principled concern for the survival and dignity of their members and how much was it politically motivated. The fact remains that in past years current leaderships of these associations, which are formally non-governmental, had been very close to the authorities personified in the SDA and HDZ coalition, and very frequently used as "transit" for channelling budget funds to party accounts. Naturally, their members did not benefit from these transactions, although everything was done in their name. After their "spiritual guides" explained that the new law would mean that they would lose what little they received till now, a quite expected stormy reaction, primarily addressed to the SDP Minister, followed. Leaving aside the involved daily-political interests, the hardest challenge for the current Government (i.e. a coalition of non-national parties) would be to tell the population a simple truth that there is not enough money and that everyone will have to be grateful for what can be realistically provided. Since pensioners have already learned this lesson, this will have to be explained to the already existing army of unemployed, as well as those who will become jobless once privatisation is over.

Shattering of unrealistic illusions is every politician's most hated task, especially before the elections, which will be held in B&H in less than 11 months. Over the long-term, turning a blind eye to the fact that B&H is a poor country whose budget can barely cover the basic needs and that, therefore, it cannot ensure adequate support for the most vulnerable population categories (like other wealthier countries), irrespective of wishes and needs, even just for the sake of winning the next elections will bring no good to anyone(least of all to those for whom disability pensions worth some DM 100 are the only source of income).

Tanja IVANOVA

(AIM Sarajevo)