The LWF is Building Bridges

A UN resolution from 1994 has given the work of the Lutheran World Federation in ex-Yugoslavia new spark.  International law now recognizes the "Krajina", the Serb-occupied portions of Croatia, as Croatian soil.  The Croatian government would therefore be weakening its claim to the Krajina territories if it completely rejected aid to them.


Despite the imminent threat of war, the LWF has capitalized on this opportunity by launching a new program.  Plans are afoot to supply schools and a soup kitchen in Vukovar with 5,900 meals daily.  Hermina Nikolaisen, the new, German director of the LWF's program for ex-Yugoslavia, lives only a few miles across the frontier in Osijek.


According to John Wood, LWF's outgoing director, "Almost all European Community aid goes to Bosnia.  Nobody talks about the UNPA's (Krajina).  They get left out."  Despite a nearly equal number of refugees, Serb-held territories have received only 20% of all humanitarian foreign aid.


The LWF has also begun projects elsewhere in the Krajina: In Drvis and in Knin, which is capital and stronghold of the Serb rebel government, LWF has been - or will be - involved in water supply projects.  "We've been fairly careful about this," Professor Wood insists.  "We're operating under the umbrella of UNHCR (United Nations) and the European Community."  The Croatian government in Zagreb could use its veto to block any aid to the Krajina.


The LWF is present even in the war-torn enclave of Bihac in Bosnia.  Audunn Olaffson of Iceland is supplying farmers with seed and fertilizer only several miles from the active front.  According to Wood, LWF is active so near to the hostilities because "it's so difficult to get food in.  We never know when transports will be stopped again."


Besides heightening morale among the farmers, such aid also lowers the incentive to flee.  Empty land is most easily conquered, while populated territories make "ethnic cleansing" more difficult.  "We can't have more refugees," Wood insists.  "The Muslim areas of Bosnia are terribly overcrowded and the international community is getting tired of refugees.  Where else do you go?"


Olaffson, who is able to shuttle between the rebel Muslim forces of Fikret Abdic in the north of the enclave and the Muslim forces loyal to the Sarajevo government, serves as a vital news courier.  Asked what profit he gains from placing himself in such danger, Olaffson responds: "The 'thank you's' of the children in Bihac hospital are profit enough for me."


Dr. Bill Yoder

Berlin, March 11, 1995


Written for “The Lutheran” in Chicago, 406 words