SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — A bishop in Bosnia-Herzegovina says that Catholic refugees from the Yugoslav wars conducted in the 1990s continue to suffer and face barriers to their return home.
“Croatian Catholics must finally be put on an equal footing with the other two ethnic groups,” Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka told the charity Aid to the Church in Need Nov. 29. “They must be allowed to return from abroad and possibilities must be created for them to build up a life in their home towns.”
In the early 1990s, the breakup of Yugoslavia worsened tensions over territory and the future of minority ethnic groups, and erupted into wars primarily involving Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks.
The war killed more than 100,000, and displaced hundreds of thousands. After NATO bombings, the Bosnian war ended in 1995 with the Dayton Accords, signed by the presidents of the countries of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia.
Church sources say only a little more than half of the 835,000 Catholics who had lived in Bosnia-Herzegovina before the civil war live there today. In the Bosnian Serb Republic, one of the two constitutive divisions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Catholic population has fallen from 220,000 to 11,500.
Bishop Komarica, who is head of the bishops’ conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina, lamented that Catholic Croats “have not received a cent” of international funding intended to help repatriate refugees.
Catholics who return to their homes have “no guarantee for a sustainable return, no houses, no work, no electricity, no roads, no medical provision and no schools.” He stressed that Croats “must finally be put on an equal footing with the other two ethnic groups.”
Catholics with Croat names often have more difficulty finding work, he added.
The refugees are “citizens with no established rights.” The bishop said “hardly any of the local politicians take up their cause,” especially in the Bosnian Serb Republic, though some have promised action.
Bishop Komarica warned that Bosnia-Herzegovina suffers from instability that discourages the foreign investment needed to help the economy.
“This country, which was divided unnaturally and unjustly into two by the Dayton Accords in 1995, is sinking into social and political chaos,” he said.
The Dayton Accords split the country into two autonomous entities: the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Banja Luka, Bishop Komarica’s see, is the de facto capital of the Bosnian Serb Republic.
The bishop charged that there has been a “betrayal of European values and principles” and “a failure to comply with international agreements” in the country. He called this a “disgrace” both for the country’s politicians and “the international politicians who are responsible for the Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Bishop Komarica said that the Catholic Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been working for years to advance social and political harmony through its social and educational projects.