Anna Bu – Serbia

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “I hoped we would not repeat history, that there would be no more wars or concentration camps. But like an evil spirit from Pandora’s box – hatred, war, internment camps, and prosecutions returned”.

Read: Critical Successes and surprising challenges in the faith-based experience responding to the HIV and AIDS pandemy, Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization EHO.

Read: EHO – with people, by people, for people.

Anna Bu - Serbia rogne 95p.jpg.

Anna Bu – Serbia

She works for the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization EHO.

Anna Bu was born on Human Rights Day in 1946, in a concentration camp in the town of Pancevo in northern Serbia. This was a place where members of the ethnic German minority were interned, after they were deprived of all civil rights in the aftermath of the World War II. Some 80,000 of those interned, ethnic Germans living along the Danube River, died in the camps of the former Yugoslavia after World War II, many of them elderly and children. Until recently it was still forbidden to talk about these victims and the camps.

Thanks to the brave and persistent efforts of her father Janos, Anna and her ill mother were released from the camp in Gakovo in August 1947. The family stayed in Pancevo until 1951, after which they moved to the town of Zrenjanin, where they lived with her father’s family in a part of town mainly occupied by ethnic Hungarians. As the neighborhood children called Anna a “stinking German,” she did her best to learn Hungarian as soon as possible. She attended primary school and grammar school in Zrenjanin, where she engaged intensively in various student associations, and was always among the best of students.

For two years Anna studied civic engineering in Belgrade, after which she married Istvan Bu, a technology engineer. She moved to the city of Novi Sad, and in 1971, as the best student of her generation, she graduated from the German Department at the university. During the second year of her studies she gave birth to her first son Lorant, and in 1973 to her second son Robert. At that time she was already employed at an architectural bureau, where she worked until 1993, when a colleague from the office, Karoly Beres, invited her to join him at the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization.

When Anna thinks today about her motives for joining a church-based humanitarian organization, she thinks it was a combination of many diverse motives and feelings, that were more or less shared by everyone in the former Yugoslavia, all the people who stood by helplessly watching as the bridges among communities collapsed, who heard the hate speech grow stronger every day, and who could only prepare for the bloody disintegration that ensued.

Apart from sadness and helplessness, another feeling that she clearly remembers from this period was anger, as her younger son, who served his time in the Army in 1993, was secretly transported to Bosnia with his unit, at the time when Slobodan Milosevic claimed that none of his troops were there. This anger initiated a desire to do something that would prevent her from turning into a passive, apathetic and submissive observer, and this was another important reason why she joined EHO.

The Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization was set up to provide efficient distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy in Vojvodina, via a shared commitment among local churches and international faith-based development agencies dedicated to addressing need wherever it manifested itself in the province.

This combination of local ownership and international solidarity proved an effective vehicle for identifying and responding to basic needs, more so because it was able to call upon the voluntary help of the 90 church-based community groups (also known as diaconal groups) that sprang up around the province, for shelter, food, water, clothing, heating, medical attention and the many other requirements of uprooted families.

In the early nineties, the most visible element of the work was the distribution of food, medicine, and clothes: statistics record that 3.5 million soup kitchen meals were prepared; 400,000 meals for school children; 2500 tons of hygiene items distributed; 250 tons of medicines; 450,000 packages of vegetable seed, and so on.

But the most important impact on Vojvodina has been the encouragement of civil society. EHO has a unique reputation as a church-based organization concerned about broader social problems, and has used material assistance as an opportunity to learn and teach broader lessons about the need for civic initiatives.

At a time when the Serbian Government harassed independent voices, the EHO set an example through citizens addressing social problems. It was the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to initiate a project linking young volunteers with the elderly, and it was also the first in all of Serbia to start an HIV/AIDS helpline providing confidential information and counseling on a subject otherwise considered taboo in the society.

In addition to successes, there were also many hardships and obstacles to overcome. When the organization started out, the hyperinflation in Serbia caused money to lose value rapidly. The economic embargoes made it difficult to purchase goods for humanitarian aid.

For these reasons, and with a lot of difficulty, EHO used to buy food for the soup kitchens in Hungary, while the petrol needed for distributing aid was obtained on the black market. Even later it was not possible to buy food legally because the authorities and the criminals worked together, so EHO continued to do so either abroad or on the local black market.

The customs authorities constantly harassed organizations: despite the fact that all the papers were always duly provided, trucks with humanitarian aid were kept at customs for days and sometimes weeks, and after that the goods were either kept in the customs warehouses for months or were taken away without any explanation, especially in the case of expensive medicines.

EHO was constantly intimidated by the authorities who threatened to close the organization down. In 1994 the authorities accused EHO of smuggling arms to Kosovo via humanitarian deliveries. The news of a humanitarian organization alleged to be smuggling arms from the West was publicized by all the media in Serbia.

During the NATO bombing of 1999, EHO was the only organization that worked without interruption in a city without bridges, without electricity, and without water supply, providing help – just like in 1995 – to everyone who was a refugee or displaced, never asking about their religious affiliation or ethnicity.

The unstable political environment remained a constant threat. The authorities have always been suspicious of the organization because it supported peace initiatives, because it cooperated with the political opposition parties, because it is ecumenical (i.e. promoting collaboration among Christian churches), and because it was founded by minority Protestant churches whose members also belong to various ethnic minorities. This sense of suspicion did not disappear after the fall of the Milosevic regime.

The EHO continues today (2005) to pioneer new, creative responses to social problems, and to encourage other organizations. As the social and political environment has changed, the aims of EHO have in turn responded, and today relate to: developing a healthy civil society and increasing local capacity to respond to basic social and economic problems caused by the first years of transition in Vojvodina; and maintaining EHO capacity to ease the natural and political emergencies in the region (emergency preparedness).

Today, Anna looks back at the twelve years she spent working at EHO with boundless gratitude. She has found it a privilege to work with an organization that assists and empowers people, always initiating enough hope to make it through the day despite times of overall despair and deprivation.

To her, the EHO served as witness to the fact that there were still people in Serbia who disagreed with official policies, such as activists initiating peace prayers at a time when the very word “peace” could not be uttered, or people appealing for assistance for Muslim refugees from Bosnia at a time when Muslims were being killed elsewhere.

EHO initiated a revival of volunteering as a way out of apathy and a means of showing solidarity. (1000peacewomen).

(scroll down to ‘OTHERS WRITING ABOUT US – ROMA RESOURCE CENTER’): The first results of the initiative of Roma Resource Center of the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization (EHO) are quite visible in the settlement Bangladesh, because of several settlers who whole-heartedly attended vocational training courses for bricklayers in past three months. There are also planned courses for electricians and tinsmiths after the edifice is finished, and they will be trained on the same object whereby they should finish the installations. This is actually a goal of this year’s project – to instruct Bangladesh settlers on one edifice how to repair and improve their settlement. Beside these mentioned courses, within this project EHO shall provide new craftsmen necessary tools for repairing the settlement and for becoming competitive workers in the labor market … (full text).

links:

TATJANAPERIĆ;

Vesti Crvenog krsta – Temerin;

Info Centar;

The EHO on Novi Sad;

Third Partners Meeting of the Capacity Building Hub;

One World Southeast Europe;

ACT SITREP.

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