AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED – TWENTY-FIVE YEARS since the Dayton Agreement brought an end to the Balkan war, life in Bosnia Herzegovina remains riddled with conflict. The Catholic minority in the country continues to be discriminated against, as Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka reports. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he criticizes the lack of action on by the international community.
In a recent interview, you called Bosnia Herzegovina “Absurdistan,” a ridiculous state. Why?
The international community, particularly the Europeans, tolerated the proxy war that was fought here from 1992 to 1995. Bosnia Herzegovina has had a provisional system since the war ended and so everything remains at a standstill. The country has been de facto governed by an international representative who bears the title of High Representative. Even though the eighth officeholder since 1995 has taken office, the presence of the representative has not made the country a constitutional state. Local politicians neither fulfill the necessary prerequisites nor have the power to transform Bosnia Herzegovina into a functioning constitutional state.
The state of Bosnia Herzegovina is made up of three constituent peoples (Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats; editor’s note) and two entities (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska; editor’s note). While Republika Srpska maintains strong ties with Russia, the Federation is strongly influenced by Turkey and the Islamic world. The third people, the Croats (who make up most of the Catholic share of the population; editor’s note), are going under. There is simply no place we can call home.
How are the Catholics being discriminated against?
In all respects: politically, socially, and economically. Catholics often have problems when they have Croat names. It is difficult for them to find work. There is one part of the country, West Herzegovina, where they can more or less live in peace. However, Catholics are leaving the country even there.
What does the migration of the Catholics mean for the country?
The Catholic Croats act as a sort of “adhesive” for the Serbs and the Bosniaks. Should this adhesive disappear, then these two worlds—the Islamic and the Orthodox—will drift ever farther apart. This will give rise to even greater unrest.
Catholics already fled during the war. Does the current situation keep them from coming back?
Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement, which was to oversee the return of all refugees and displaced persons, was never implemented. The agreement also stipulated that Bosnia Herzegovina and the international community were to provide political, legal and material support to those who returned. This did not happen in the case of the Croats. I held the documents in my hand that said, “so and so many millions are allocated to the displaced Serbs, so and so much for the return of the Bosniaks.” This was followed by one sentence, “There is no such thing as the return of the Bosnian Croats.” This means that we are not receiving anything from them.
How important was and is the assistance of Aid to the Church in Need for you?
If there is any Church in need in Europe, then it is ours. In my Diocese of Banja Luka, 95 percent of the Church buildings were destroyed or severely damaged during the war. ACN did a great deal to help us rebuild. The organization was involved in many other projects as well. However, it is also important that ACN understands our problems, listens to us and that we can count on their understanding in the future. ‘God bless you’ to all benefactors who are investing in a matter of God! Aid to the Church in Need is not a matter of bishops and priests, not a matter of any one community, it is a matter of God.
Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to be a priority country for ACN in south-eastern Europe. The primary focus is on enabling the necessary renovations of churches, monasteries, and convents, as well as parish houses. We ensure the continuity of pastoral services by equipping priests with the vehicles they need to serve their extensive parishes. ACN also provides regular funding for the spiritual formation of seminarians and novices. In 2021 alone, the organization supported 48 projects, distributing some $860,000 in financial aid.
—Volker Niggewöhner, AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED. Published with permission.