Activities of the group in Croatia and Bosnia

The activities of the Commissione Consiliare per la Pace of the Comune di Bagno a Ripoli (Peace Commission of the City of Bagno a Ripoli, Florence, Italy - CCPB) in Former Yugoslavia began in 1993 with interventions aimed at providing support for the war-s tricken populations residing in the refugee camps along the Croatian coast south of Split. A "family package" project was set up in which Italian families "adopted" a refugee family and prepared a monthly package containing food and personal hygiene suppli es, as well as letters, photos, etc., which the CCPB then took to Croatia and delivered. From December 1995, this intervention moved also to the area of Knin on the border with Bosnia, which had been heavily attacked during "Operation Storm". Until May 199 6 both the coastal and Knin areas were covered by the group that delivered over 650 packages per month. With the return of the refugees to Bosnia and other areas, and after the group's widespread efforts in Italy to promote the return of tourism to the Dal matian Coast to improve the economic conditions in the zone, in May 1996 it was possible to end the coastal aid and to concentrate efforts in the area of Knin.

In summer 1996, thanks also to ICS, a month-long work camp was set up in Knin, in collaboration with the local authorities, in which over 50 Italian volunteers participated. The activities, which have been regularly continued since then, included sports a nd games for all children and young people of all ethnic groups, creative activities and concerts with Italian rock groups. In addition, aid and recreational activities were provided for the elderly disabled who live on the third floor of the hospital in K nin whose families are mostly Serb and, because of the war, now live far away. Woodcutting was started for the elderly in the countryside near Knin, this being their only means of heating and cooking. They, too, are mostly of Serbian origin and the prese nce of the group has been a deterrent to discriminatory criminal acts carried out against this ethnic group. Another month-long work camp was held in summer 1997. Shorter work camps have been carried out at every Easter and Christmas period with the parti cipation of 30-40 Italian volunteers each time.

Due to a decrease in interest in Italy and consequent ebbing of donations of food, clothing and other supplies and because of a change in the application of customs regulations in Croatia making entry into the country ever-more difficult, in June 199 7 the monthly "family package" project was interrupted. The emergency phase could be considered over and energy was directed toward re-construction and the re-creation of a valid social structure, which would include all ethnic groups working together.

For this reason, in collaboration with the association "Assieme" of Calenzano (Florence) and the Association "CerchiamoLaPace" of Torino and with the support of the UNHCR, the CCPB began co-operation with the Croatian association "Suncokret" for the creation of a permanent Youth Centre in Knin. This Centre is becoming a place for weaving new social relationships and of creating socio-cultural exchanges and of providing job opportunities. In the future, this structure can be autonomously managed by the local population and offer a number of educational and assistance services, as well. The large building has been given to "Suncokret" for a period of 7 years for this project. In January 1998, all the groups involved cleared the building of war rubble so that re-construction could begin. The CCPB was present with 20 volunteers. The fact that a great number of local residents of all ages helped in this job is extremely significant. The same numerous group, especially the local young people, also helped the Italian volunteers during the Easter work camp in 1998. There is still a great necessity for humanitarian aid in this area which counts 85% unemployment and an overwhelming presence of one-parent families (mostly widows) with numerous children, as well as a great number of elderly people. For this reason, the CCPB continues to bring clothing, medical and hygienic supplies, etc., four times a year, in spite of difficulties with customs. Recently, a gastroscope was also donated to the hospital of Knin by the City of Bagno a Ripoli.

In spring/summer 1998 funds were raised to take 30 children from the Split orphanage camping for 2 weeks on the island of Solta, in addition to the usual month-long work camp in Knin at the new Youth Centre which has been almost completely rebuilt. These two camps were run by 40 Italian volunteers in collaboration with the association Assieme and local groups. The CCPB has been working with the orphanage in Split since 1993.

The trip to Croatia in August 1998 was the group's 49th expedition to Former Yugoslavia. Over 200 tons of humanitarian aid have been taken over and directly distributed to the population, including the donation of two vans, 1 to the Medical Centre of Mostar in 1994 together with an electrocardiograph and other medical supplies. Over 350 different Italian volunteers of all ages, though mostly young people between the ages of 20 and 30, have participated. Activities in Italy include photographic exhibit ions and meetings to increase awareness of the problems in the area of Former Yugoslavia, as well as to raise funds. The CCPB is composed entirely of volunteers and is self-financed.

Nancy Bailey Ferroni, coordinator