Mai 2006


The Return Coalition

Final Report on My Activities in Bosnia
from 01.12.1997 to 01.12.1998

Bärbel Bohley, Sarajevo


  • Measures creating trust among municipalities and minorities

  • Contacts between old and new neighbors

  • Contacts among refugees, displaced persons and their homeland municipalities

  • Contacts between both entities with the help of refugees’ and displaced persons’ associations

  • Coordination of international organizations that are involved in reconstruction of the communities

  • Support of the local NGO on that field

  • Explanation of the correlation of the issues of displacing and reconciliation

Situation in 1998

The economical and social position of one part of the inhabitants has improved in comparison to 1997 due to the support of the international community. However, a big part of inhabitants, primarily the displaced and refugees, still live under very difficult circumstances. Although the year of 1998 should have been the year of the return, the process of returning went only slowly and not satisfyingly.

This applies also to the development of new structures. Legal uncertainty, corruption and misinformation are still present and have a significant impact on the process of returning. The elections have not established a breakpoint for the return issue, because the nationalist parties still determine the public life in the same way they did before. The return of the Bosniak to the Republic Srpska is still almost impossible. Even within the Federation the return of the minorities to the areas inhabited by the majorities is hard and made difficult by nationalists in some areas. However, the practice of aggravation of the return has become more difficult, as the donation of financial means depends on the readiness to support the process of returning. In the meantime numerous municipalities have declared themselves to be an “open town” just because of that. However, only few really support the process.

After two years of working in Bosnia one can get an impression that the assumptions for the return were better in 1996 than in 1998. The political situation was more open because it was not clear how the representatives of the world community would react to the resistance against the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Today nationalist have a stronger position because they can foresee the reactions of the international community.

“Return Coalition” – a roof organization for refugees’ association from Bosnia and in third countries

Even though the positive attitude of the political parties towards the process of returning were only words spoken during their campaign, they were forced to express their opinion about the topic because of the pressure coming from the international community and, first of all, from refugees. A significant contribution was achieved by the Return Coalition.

The Return Coalition has always been the only organization, in which refugees coming from all ethnic groups set together their efforts to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement. Last year contacts were made among Serbian, Croatian and Bosniac refugees’ organizations. During last year some other refugees’ organizations and single persons joined the Return Coalition.

The Coalition was also supported by OHR, OSCE, UNHCR, ECHO, SFOR and other international and local organizations.

The contacts made last year with international organizations, NGO, political parties, domestic and foreign politicians, representatives of the opposition, of the churches and media were built up. The most important contacts are quoted in the attached address booklet. (Enclosure 1)


In 1998 the organization of visits of smaller refugees’ groups to their former native municipalities was one of my main tasks, too. 

OHR and UNHCR supported first visits of refugees in their old municipalities, as well as talks with local administrations first of all in this year, too. Both gave transportation facilities at disposal and offered thereby a certain safety at crossing of the entities’ border.

Numerous regional meetings took place in both of the entities. There it was explained if, when and under which conditions the return was possible. Round tables were organized where representatives of the municipality, of the parties, of refugees and of the local NGO and GO branch offices took part. It was also tried to talk to new inhabitants. They often learned for the very first time only from the representatives of the Coalition that the return to the Federation is possible and under which assumptions. Visits and meetings that took place in 1998 are documented in the attached history of the Coalition. (Enclosure 2)

Information and Publicity Work

As the national parties strengthen their political position through the displaced issue, they make attempts to manipulate with the displaced by giving them insufficient or incorrect information. They approach the topic from one side only in order to blame the other side for flaws in the process of returning. Because of that it is still important for refugees to have their own information net at disposal, which both refugees and the international organization can dispose with.

This year the Information Centers that were opened last year in Sarajevo, Zenica, Banja Luka and Bihać have been strengthened with a new Information Center in Bugojno, whose primary task is to organize the return of Croats to Bugojno. The Information Centers employ therefore the total of 18 employees.

The Return Coalition has become an institution that is recognized in whole Bosnia. Therefore the Bosnian media cannot ignore it. Večernje Novine, Oslobođenje, Radio Zid, TV OBN, BH-TV, UN-Radio Deutsche Welle etc. have often reported about the work of the Coalition.

“Putokaz” (published in 10,000 copies), the monthly information brochure of the Coalition, appeared in 1998. Other newspapers publish articles from the “Putokaz” when they want to report about the refugees’ issues. (Enclosure 3) The information brochure is distributed through refugees’ organizations, embassies, NGO and SFOR.

Representatives of the Coalition have visited for several times refugees’ camps at the Croatian coast, in the Republic of Srpska and Serbia. They have informed the refugees there about the possibilities of their return and they have also distributed compensation requests for their apartments, which they forward then to the municipalities in charge.

Self-Helping Project

The self-helping project “Thousand Roofs for Bosnia and Herzegovina” could be continued in 1998, too. The German humanitarian organization Cap Anamor provided funds for the construction of 900 further roofs in 1998.

Besides that, a similar project was financed by the EU in the amount of 1.9 million ECU. This project also had the target of building 900 roofs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The planned resources were not exhausted and therefore it was possible to construct further 299 roofs.

In 1998 the total of 2,200 roofs were built in 52 places throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The construction went under the same conditions as in the previous year. Within three weeks the submitter of the request had to put up his roof by himself. The submitters came from the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most of the requests were made by the members of the Coalition. The selection of the favored was influenced by social and political standpoints, because first of all the return of minorities should have been encouraged. As in that year the return to the Central and Mid Bosnia made a special emphasis in the process of returning, the submitter of requests coming from these regions were taken into consideration more strongly. A representative of the Coalition took part in the monthly IMG meetings in the Zenica – Doboj Canton.

The Return Coalition became through the project politically stronger, because it was the only organization that could help fast and directly in cases of a spontaneous return of refugees and the displaced. The project helped the Coalition to become known in public and reinforced the position of refugees’ associations in their negotiations with the municipalities.

The experiences within the project from the previous year were also confirmed in 1998:


Putting-up a roof does not mean in each and every case that the house would also be settled. About 10 % of the favored do not live in the house, because:

  • they have occupied a second apartment

  • they do not have any financial means to be able to proceed with construction works


However, it was the right decision to limit the material help to the construction of a roof, because a large portion of the house owners continued to re-build their houses with their own money. That money wouldn’t have been spent, if they had been offered a further help.


Although the target was a cooperation with the municipalities, it was sensible to give the material directly to the submitters of requests. In the case, when it did not happen, the municipalities tried to manipulate and to distribute the building material according to the ethnic principle.


A house with a roof is classified in a higher category, because the grade of the destruction is not the same. That fact encourages other NGOs to join the project. PIU Housing built 16 living units under our roofs. A common project, together with Help, was completed for 55 Rome families in Staro Selo and Sarajevo, who obtained the building material for the roof from the Return Coalition and the material for building a living unit from Help.


  • resistance in many municipalities against the realization of the project because it is connected with the return of minorities. Especially in Bugojno, Stolac, Čapljina and Busovača there was trouble resulting in all the four municipalities with seven houses being destroyed again. After the talks and negotiations that were condudted through the OHR the houses were built again by the municipalities.

  • the material had to be taken away from some of the favored by IPTF because they did not obey the provisions of their contracts.

  • the additional project created by CIMIC “Windows and Doors for Bosnia and Herzegovina” hasn’t been approved, and that would be the next step in order to make houses suitable for living in them.

Political and Substantial Work of the Coalition

The Return Coalition has become representative of the refugees, accepted by the population. At the beginning its members didn’t want to activate themselves politically. Their only wish was to get back home again. During last year the members of the Coalition became more and more political. The crucial reason for that was their experience with the ruling political powers in the country that only verbally support the return, but actually obstruct the return.

The pressure at the local authorities coming from the refugees’ associations and the international community, in order to make them fulfill their obligations that were stipulated by the Dayton Peace Agreement (annex 7), as well as the publicity made by refugees, contributed to the fact that possibilities of returning were opened at some places where the return would have been unimaginable only a year ago. In spite of all the resistance the Coalition succeeded for example to bring back Croats to Bugojno, Bosniacs to Stolac, Čapljina, Šipovo, Doboj and Serbs to Glamoč, Drvar etc. Only in the aforementioned regions 578 families obtained building material from the Coalition to put up the roof on their house.

Today some of the representatives of the Coalition have political functions. Some associations followed the example of Mile Marčeta who founded the political party “Coalition for Drvar” and was elected the mayor of Drvar at the communal elections and they transformed themselves into parties. The parties “Coalition for Return to Modriča and Vukosavlje” and “Coalition for Return to Doboj” were founded to take part at the following local elections.

Representatives of the Coalition have been invited to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, America etc in order to present the goals and the work of the Coalition. Talks with politicians and refugees have been organized in various German towns to discuss the conditions and the possibilities of returning.

The request of the Coalition to be included in the process of making of decisions that concern its destiny has been fulfilled only partially. However, representatives of the Coalition already work as experts in different workgroups of the international community. Those are among others Sarajevo Housing Commission, RRTF, Sarajevo Return Commission, IMG, Workgroup for Education Issues.

Two representatives of the Coalition work as experts with the Sarajevo Housing Commission, which takes place on weekly basis. On the basis of the experiences with the submission of the requests for reparation of apartments the deadline was prolonged from October 1998 to April 1999.

As many municipalities refused to accept those requests or increased non-allowed fees, an agreement was made between OHR, UNHCR, OSCE and the Coalition, which authorizes the representatives of the Coalition to take over those requests and deliver them in corresponding municipalities. . Since August of this year 1066 requests have been collected and forwarded at the Information Centers. The above-mentioned Agreement is an important step in the right direction, because it is the beginning of a constructive cooperation between the Return Coalition and the international community.

In Sarajevo, Bihać, Zenica and Banja Luka a lawyer makes a legal counseling every day. Today the ownership issues still present the main problem. While the legal counseling in Banja Luka can be done only in a limited way, because necessary laws have not been passed in the Republic of Srpska yet, the legal representation was taken over in 137 cases in Sarajevo. 18 people were given back their apartments.

This year the requests for roofs have also been taken, and build projects have been prepared. Representatives of the Coalition have participated at all talks in the municipalities.

Since August there has been a database in the Information Center in Sarajevo that collects information from other offices. This information is used primarily by international organizations, when they try to find suitable participants for their projects. From August till now 1271 visitors have been received.

The cooperation between the Return Coalition and the international mediator Christian Schwarz-Schilling continues in this year, too. Representatives of the Coalition participated in the negotiations and controlled the implementation of the contracts that were made with the communities.

Particulars about the political work of the Coalition can be found in the enclosed history of the Coalition.

The political work of the Coalition for Return, as well as the Information Centers, are financed by ECHO with 142,500 ECU till January 1999.


In order to provide funds for the Coalition, a project request must be made through a NGO, because the Coalition is not a legal person. In 1997 and 1998 the NGO Help made two project request at ECHO. This NGO also made a subsequent request for 1999 at ECHO. Although the OHR should continue to support the Coalition in future, it hasn’t been decided yet, who will be in charge of the Coalition after my departure.

Future of the Coalition and Its Projects

The Return Coalition has been gaining more and more importance as the dialogue partner of the international organizations because it has at its disposal detailed information concerning the total refugee issue.

One of the targets must be to integrate the Coalition more strongly in the activities of the international community, so that it can have influence as an expert partner on the making of decisions regarding the return.

The Coalition is still as important as it used to be, as it represents a place of dialogue and meeting. Its future depends on the political development in Bosnia. If the development is positive, one day the Return Coalition would become redundant, because the right on return would be enforced. A long way is to be passed until then.


As the roof project has been finished, there is no project at the time that could help the Coalition to gain further recognition in public. It would be very positive, therefore, if the Return Coalition was to receive funds for another self-helping project. This is especially important, because the Coalition enjoys the reputation in Bosnia of being the only organization that helps in a fast and non-bureaucratic way.

* in Vorbereitung