The Balkans are still reeling from the consequences of the severe drought that stretched across the region this past summer. Agricultural losses ran into the billions: the corn crop was completely destroyed, orchards and vineyards ruined, and feed for livestock is in short supply. An upgraded irrigation network could speed up the recovery, but the cash-strapped governments in the region don’t have the money to invest in modern farming methods.
Croatia is faring better politically than its neighbors and it is on course to join the EU next year. While Croatia’s government is becoming more democratic, Serbia is intent on preserving its strong nationalistic and patriarchal approach to politics. Meanwhile in Bosnia, disputes over how the Constitution treats minorities is threatening to unravel the country’s shaky democracy. Hilary Clinton’s recent visit to the region underlined the tensions that still exist among Serbs and their neighbors. The ongoing political and economic uncertainties make life difficult for everyone, but especially for activists. Our Heart & Hand grantees have been doing incredibly hard work for years for low pay, no job security, and little time to take care of themselves. The high emotional and physical toll of nonstop stress was shockingly illustrated in a poster I saw in the Belgrade office of the Women in Black: it displayed photos of 14 activists who died from stress-related diseases.
From the start, The Heart & Hand Fund has been concerned about the physical and emotional well-being of our grantees. Over the years, we’ve offered massage for grantees and organized trips to the sea. It’s wonderful to see how a week of good food, relaxation, and fun can restore spirits and re-energize one for the work ahead. We’re also on the lookout for fellowships and internships that our grantees may qualify for and which offer them opportunities to study, write, or work abroad.
You can judge for yourself the importance of these programs by reading excerpts from the writings of fellowship recipients included in this newsletter.
I’m pleased to report that more NGOs and foundations are talking about the need to sustain workers as well as their organizations. Let’s hope the trend becomes common practice.
I can’t close without mentioning the surprising selection of the European Union as the winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Tanya Domi, an adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University where she teaches courses on human rights in the Balkans, reflects the bewilderment of many people in the region. “When the EU accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, will it do so mindful of the 30,000 people who remain missing and unidentified in the Balkans? Will it accept this prestigious prize knowing that 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the Bosnian war? Will it acknowledge that European refugees from the Balkans fled the European continent to more than 80 countries? The most decent thing the EU could do is to contribute a substantial portion of the prize’s financial award to those humanitarian organizations that continue to support the survivors... Until there is justice, there will be no peace.”