thirty years ago, Edmund Stillman, an American writer, wrote:
“We will never know the real story about the different
wars in the Balkans.” Words of caution to remember when
considering the recent war in the former Yugoslavia.
By focusing the cover story on the national Red Cross societies
in the former Yugoslavia, we are not attempting to write a
definitive history, rather we wanted to ‘flashback’
to events which began in 1991 and quickly grew into a huge
international humanitarian challenge. The local branches of
the Red Cross were the first in the Movement to respond to
this emergency, with the ICRC, the International Federation
and numerous sister National Societies joining the effort
as the crisis spread.
Our purpose is to show, as objectively as possible, the sometimes
painful and often dangerous path the Red Cross found itself
upon during and after the war. A path where volunteers from
different ethnic groups attempted to save lives, build shelters
and provide safe passage for civilians fleeing the conflict.
And when the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina ended,
the National Societies assessed the rehabilitation and reconstruction
tasks ahead, and began the long process of rebuilding which
Three elements deserve particular emphasis. Firstly, ethnic
conflict affected all levels of society, including the Red
Cross, which was made up of ordinary people confronting on
a daily basis the tragedies and dilemmas brought on by the
war and its divisions. In the midst of the troubles, the presence
of the Red Cross was invariably a source of comfort for the
most vulnerable, even if on occasion its efforts were insufficient
or, in hindsight, misguided. To better appreciate the difficulty
of being consistently neutral and impartial, consider for
a moment how you would react if a war broke out in your country.
Secondly, and it is a source of encouragement, the Red Cross
kept working during the war and, against all odds, maintained
social links between divided communities. It is the only institution
in the former Yugoslavia which can claim such an achievement.
Finally, and this is the challenge for the future, the National
Societies in the region must move on and tackle the demands
they are now facing.