Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International
Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
Montreal, November 28th, 2013 – “Politicians from the West must put pressure on Bosnian politicians so that Catholic war refugees can also return to Bosnia at long last,” Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka demanded when talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need”. Bishop Komarica is also Chair of the Bishop’s Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Catholics from the territory of the present Bosnia and Herzegovina are ethnically Croats. Politicians must ensure that their basic rights are respected, the Bishop stressed.
To date Croats had not been placed on equal footing with the two other ethnic groups living in the country, Bishop Komarica explained. “From the funds provided by the international community to enable former refugees to return Catholic Croats have not received a cent for years. Nobody raises a voice in their support.”
Significant decrease of Catholics
According to the Bishop, more than 4,000 families were willing to go back, but at the present time they had “no guarantee for a sustainable return, no houses, no work, no electricity, no roads, no medical provision and no schools.” Having a Croatian name was often a drawback when someone was looking for work. “Very many Croats have held passports which make them citizen of the European Union since Croatia joined the EU, but in Bosnia they are citizens with no fixed basic rights,” Bishop Komarica complained. “For many of the disenfranchised Croatian Catholics, especially in the entity of Republika Srpska, hardly any of the local politicians take up their cause. But in the past few days some promises have been made which arouse hope for better times for at least some of these disadvantaged people.”
The Bishop believes that, on top of this, the unstable situation will mean foreign investments will fail to materialize. “This country, which was divided unnaturally and unjustly into two by the Dayton Accords in 1995, is sinking into social and political chaos. The only future prospect we see is of a chaos controlled by the EU and the USA. But the entire post-war practice shows that life can’t function like that. This is a betrayal of European values and principles, a failure to comply with international agreements and a disgrace both for the domestic politicians as well as the international politicians who are responsible for Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Komarica states.
The Church’s past and present demands were clear, the Bishop stressed. “Croatian Catholics must finally be put on an equal footing with the other two ethnic groups. They must be allowed to return from abroad and possibilities must be created for them to build up a life in their hometowns.” For its part the Catholic Church had been attempting for years to contribute to a harmonious common life in the country through social and educational projects. One example was the Church-run European schools, which were open to children from all ethnic groups and religious communities. These schools, which had been supported by “Aid to the Church in Need” from the very beginning, received more applications than they could accept, he explained.
According to figures supplied by the Catholic Church, of the approximately 835,000 Catholics who had been living in Bosnia-Herzegovina prior to the war fought between 1992 and 1995, only about 440,000 were living in the country today. In the entity Republika Srpska the number of about 220,000 had fallen to only about 11,500 today. In October this year a census was conducted for the first time in 22 years and in a few months it will yield information on the current figures. According to unofficial estimates Catholics account for approximately 10 % of the population.