Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnian Victims Allegedly Manipulated

Report by Balkan think-tank says victims' groups are exploited by local politicians across the country.
By Marija Arnautovic

Victims of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war are hostages to political elites who use them for their own agenda, a recent report by the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies in Ljubljana, IFIMES, suggests.

Although all victims in Bosnia and Hercegovina, BiH, regardless of their nationality, should have common interests - such as financial support and the protection of their rights – they too are divided along ethnic lines, the report states.

According to data from IFIMES, over 12,000 NGOs are registered in BiH - more than half represent victims or deal with the protection of victims' rights. The organisations are divided into those from the Federation, FBiH, and Republika Srpska, RS, and are consequently divided on national grounds.

IFIMES director Bakhtyar Aljaf told IWPR that victims’ associations are easy pray for the local political elites because they depend on them financially.

“In BiH, the difference between ‘state’ and ‘non-governmental’ organisations almost doesn’t exist. That makes manipulation of NGOs possible, particularly organisations representing victims,” he said.

"When we were doing our research, we found out that almost all NGOs in Republika Srpska are under direct control of the RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and his entity's government. Financing NGOs is even an official item in the RS government's budget, which is unacceptable.”

Nedeljko Mitrovic, president of the Organisation of Dead and Imprisoned Soldiers in Republika Srpska, does not agree with these claims, insisting that his NGO is not being manipulated by anyone, including the RS government.

"No one uses us for their own political goals. We have been completely neutral during recent pre-election political campaigns,” Mitrovic said, referring to Bosnia’s general election held on October 4.

In a statement, the press office of the RS government dismissed all the allegations made in the IFIMES report as “false and malicious”.

“This report didn’t come as a surprise to us, because this is not the first time that IFIMES used their so called 'analysis' to present the RS government in a bad light, instead of focusing on proper research and methodology which would lead them to realistic conclusions,” the statement said.

“Apart from the financial help provided to NGOs in Republika Srpska, which deal with Serb victims of war and their relatives, the RS government also allocates part of its annual budget – around 140,000 US dollars – to NGOs helping Bosniak and Croat victims.”

IFIMES also states in its report that NGOs in FBiH are not immune to political manipulation either. The only difference is that, unlike in RS, NGOs are under the influence of several political parties.

“In the Federation, the divided Bosniak political elites have transferred their political division onto associations of victims, so the victims are now divided, too,” the report states.

Mustafa Mujezinovic, the prime minister of the Federation, insisted that the Sarajevo government has no involvement with such groups.

"As a premier, I've never had any contacts with associations or non-governmental organisation representing victims in the Federation. Our government doesn't interfere with their work and has nothing to do with them. I really don't know who has influence on these organisations, but it's certainly not our government," he said.

International organisations assisting war victims which operate in BiH have not been spared criticism either. IFIMES states in its report that they should be encouraging their local counterparts to overcome their differences and work together to reach the same goals - protection of victims and financial independence from ruling political parties. But, according to Ajaf, that is not happening.

The report specifically mentions the Bosnian branch of the international organisation Society for Threatened Peoples as an NGO which appears to be protecting only Bosniak victims in BiH.

Ajaf claims that this organisation has not done enough to help Serb and Croat victims of the Bosnian war.

"A victim is a victim, regardless of their national or religious background. We think it is unacceptable that an international organisation protects only interests of Bosniak victims,” he told IWPR.

President of the BiH branch of the Society for Threatened Peoples Fadila Memisevic dismissed these claims as “ridiculous and completely false”.

"We protect all victims. Our society works with victims of persecutions, genocide and rape, but the fact is that most victims in Bosnia and Hercegovina were Bosniaks – that’s why we deal with so many Bosniak victims,” Memisevic said.

“We even published a book titled ‘The Need for Justice’, in which we have written about victims of persecutions who were Croats and Serbs. IFIMES’s claims are truly ridiculous.”

Marija Arnautovic is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

More IWPR's Global Voices