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Archive file

Interim report: Jan '96 - June '96
Brief history; Situation in the region

Pakrac August 16, 1996

"If we are aware of our lifestyle,...our way of looking at
things, we will know how to make peace right in the moment
we are alive." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Brief History

The Volunteer Project Pakrac has been working in the area since July 1993. The Project was initiated by Croatian peace activists from the Anti War Campaign in Zagreb and comprised of international volunteers and locals. The aims of the project were initially to work in a town that was divided by a cease-fire line, and to begin the peace process through activities that would start to bring normalization to the area. This has meant many hours of work on reconstruction, both physical and social. Our present work spans from the reconstruction of buildings to social reconciliation through activities, seminars, workshops, the establishment of a youth club, community visits to the elderly and disadvantaged, and ongoing training for volunteers and community members in trauma healing and conflict resolution. We are now conducting e-mail lessons, initiating a small repairs program including a Tools Library, a bi-weekly photo group, and organizing a puppet theater workshop for children. The project works on both sides of the former cease-fire line to address the population of Croatian and Serbian people divided by war. Although the normalization and peace process has not been allowed to happen at an equal rate on both sides due to the political situation, it has progressed positively and the project continues to address these issues in the area.

Due to the events of May 1st, 1995, our present work in Pakrac continues with an even stronger emphasis on the peace and reconciliation process. Although much of the physical reconstruction we were doing has lessened, (as private firms are becoming more active) our social reconstruction projects are expanding to address the current situation.

Situation in the region

After Operation "Flash" on May 1st, 1995 during which the Croatian police and the Croatian Armed Forces regained control of the whole region, the situation in Pakrac has changed dramatically. The majority of the Serbian population has left the region and is now living in exile in Serbian parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Slavonia and Serbia. Though a significant number of people from the Serbian community still remain and some who fled are interested in eventually returning to their homes, many of those who did not flee Pakrac directly after the action are slowly and silently leaving the area now. Actual repatriation of refugees remains difficult to implement due to the lack of normalization in Pakrac. A fear of residual ethnic discrimination remains as well as the influx of refugees of Croatian nationality from the Banja Luke region and the Vojvodina (the northern part of Serbia) who are presently "squatting" in the unclaimed houses of refugees from Pakrac. At the present time, according to the Human Rights Center, Gavrinica, approximately 900 Serbs live in the Pakrac municipality.

Although it was proclaimed by the Ministry of Reconstruction and Development that the reconstruction of Western Slavonia (where Pakrac is located) is complete, work still continues in and around the town. Destroyed houses are numerous and visible, causing intense dissatisfaction on the part of the inhabitants of Pakrac. They are keenly aware of the corruption, governmental insensitivity and ethnic discrimination regarding the needs and complaints of the population.

The post-war economic infrastructure is almost non-existent in Pakrac. Even those areas that were not destroyed during the fighting are presently in the process of reprivatization with all the "usual" consequences. So, in addition to the expected effects of a post war situation, the inhabitants of Pakrac must also endure a huge unemployment rate, as well as the resultant uncertainty and bitterness regarding the lack of opportunities. For example, in February, 1996, 600 men were demobilized from certain Special Units of the Police Force. Though we considered this a positive sign of decreased tension and normalization, the economic repercussions are substantial on these families as in many cases, their sole income came from these men's salaries.

Numerous psychological problems have been noted recently. Alcoholism has become a significant problem as unemployment rises. Violence has been witnessed sporadically and appears to contain ethnic undertones. In addition, teenage pregnancies have become a more frequent occurrence in Pakrac and the surrounding areas.

The reconciliation process has not yet begun in earnest due to the enormous residual mistrust and fear in both communities. This renders our work even more important as our activities provide both discrete and overt methods of bringing members of the two communities together to play, work and dialogue.

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