Biserka Momcinovic – Croatia

Linked with Center for Civil Initiatives CCI.

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

Biserka Momcinovic, a mother and grandmother, accountant and commercial officer before the war, was born on 9 December 1946 in Zagreb, Croatia. In 1991, the year when war broke out in Croatia, Biserka, moved from Zagreb to Porec. Having ethnic Serbs as friends made her a strong believer in a multi-cultural society where people practice respect and tolerance. For this reason, she was one of the signatories in the 1991 Antiwar Campaign Charter declaration that affirmed that, despite cultural differences, people can work together. (1000peacewomen).

She says: “Peace building is the first prerequisite for development, along with respect for human rights”.

Biserka Momcinovic spoke of the importance of the support from the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in enabling the Croatian Women’s Network to meet and grow strong … (full text).

… “We know there are verbal provocations,” said Biserka Momcinovic and Veronika Reskovic, activists of the Croatian Anti-War Campaign and civil human rights board … (full text).

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Biserka Momcinovic – Croatia

She works for the Center for Civil Initiatives CCI (named on Bosnia News; on Caucasian Knot.ru;
and on Center for Citizen Initiatives.ru).

For the last 13 years, she has engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights and helped hundreds of people, especially the missing Serbs to reunite with their families. She was co-founder of the Civic Committee for Human Rights, which was later renamed the Center for Civil Initiatives (CCI), and led its office in Porec. She has organized public discussions in order to promote human rights, while simultaneously offering direct support to victims of human rights abuses. She was the first coordinator of the Women’s Network of Croatia and has contributed significantly to its becoming one of the biggest and most respected Croatian NGO networks.

Before the war formally ended in August 1995, the Croatian military and police undertook several operations that were intended to drive out the ethnic Serbs from Croatia. This resulted in many deaths and destruction among the Serbs and many of them were expelled. Whatever was left in their homes was either stolen or burned. In May 1995, operation Flash was launched by the Croatian military. Biserka immediately went to the heavily destroyed town of Pakrac, together with other human rights activists from Croatia (e.g. Veronika Reskovic and Petar Ladevic). They supported the remaining ethnic Serbs there in their fight for their citizenship. They also monitored the Croatian authorities, the civil, police and military institutions and applied constant pressure on them to respect the rights of the remaining Serbs and to respond to their needs. While in Pakrac, Biba and her group established the Human Rights office, which continued to function for several years after they left.

A few months later, another military operation was again undertaken by the Croatian military: Operation Storm began in August 1995 in Sisak and Petrinja. Biserka, together with the Open Eyes team of civilian international observers, were the first ones to go to those towns. In Sisak, the aim was the search for missing Republika Srpskka Krajina (RSK) citizens from Istria. Biserka’s intuition was that the Croatian Army put them in “safe” places while ransacking their properties because she had seen columns of RSK refugees on their way from the suburbs of Sisak to Popovaca going in the direction of Belgrade. They carried stuff that looked disordered and hurriedly picked up. Biserka and her group visited the former Krajina area every weekend. Soon they started to find people they were looking for and linked them with families. Some had already left for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. It was a painful experience. Every weekend, usually after a military operation, there were more and more despoiled and burned houses. Cattle roamed around, a few remaining elderly people were confused and scared.

In October and November that year (1995), she took unpaid leave to work as field officer in the Karlovac for Vojnic – Slunj – Glina area. Again, her task was monitoring the human rights situation, giving out information to the Serbs and helping them contact the authorities and police. She also called on the local Red Cross to deliver aid to the Serb population and sometimes she delivered the aid herself too. She and colleagues had a series of talks with the new Croatian authorities. It was a time of large-scale immigration of Bosnian Croats and re-distribution of properties, real estate and land including those owned by the Serb population who had fled their land.

These mistakes are still being corrected today and some properties that were taken have not yet been returned to the real owners. It was a time of building new communities of immigrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there was also need to help the remaining population to survive. Biba found herself in a dilemma: whether to stay on Kordun (Krajina) or return to Istria. She chose to return and continue the work she had started in Porec. She also remained in contact with the people and problems in newly liberated areas. Aware of the tremendous need for her Center for Civil Initiatives, she decided to support the work of the Association for Human Rights and Citizens Freedom, HOMO – Pula, in the Lika region of ex-Krajina. CCI collected aid and the first shipment was brought to the Vrhovine area during the Orthodox Christmas in 1996. Several cars brought cakes, wine, plum brandy, donuts, bread, smoked ham and other food. This was the beginning of many visits that brought aid from Istria to the Lika area. The CCI office became a storehouse for food aid, and soon, tools and equipment were also brought in. The Krbavica – Ostravica – Korenica area became the area for early return of Serbs, young and old alike. CCI not only delivered aid but also called on other organizations like the anti-fascist association to do the same. The journalist and CCI member, Snjezana Matejcic, made several comprehensive reports about the complex situation in Lika for the Istrian Daily Glas Istre. This was a time of intensive contacts with international agencies and NGOs, other Croatian NGOs, meetings, field visits, and talks with local authorities. The CCI organized a public collection of more tha 250 books for the Vojnic library in Porec. This was volunteer work, requiring public exposure of unpopular issues and constant personal engagement.

In 1998, Biba and her colleagues implemented a project that aimed to raise the sensitivity and awareness of local authorities on the human rights conditions in their towns in the ex-Krajina area. The project also aimed to link local authorities with the Serbian Democratic Forum, an influential and big but ignored organization. The constant visits made an impact and initiated some changes in Vojnic and Gvozd. Ensuring the presence of Serbian Democratic Front representatives during the meeting with local authorities slowly changed the Croatian rhetoric. Biba recalls that the biggest success at that time was when the Mayor of Gvozd saved and kept a house for the Serb returnees. This was when owners (mostly Serbs) did not have priority over temporary tenants (mostly Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina or local people). Every step toward the rule of law was very significant. On 16 January 1998, the day after Croatia took over responsibility from the United Nations Transitional Authority in the Eastern Slavonia area, CCI together with a Baranja NGO, organized a public discussion with Croatian members of Parliament, university professors, and human rights activists.

In the period 1996 – 2004, Biba organized meetings of the Women’s Network Croatia, consisting of 45 women’s and peace NGOs, whose work is based on feminist principles. She was the national coordinator of the Women Network Croatia from 2002 to 2004, and since then has been the regional coordinator for Istria. During the time of crucial change, in the parliamentary election of 1999 / 2000, Biba was one of the national coordinators of the Women’s Ad Hoc Coalition for Elections. Biba has dedicated herself since 1999 to strengthening the NGOs and building a network of local institutional support for gender equality. As result of her advocacy and lobbying, a commission for gender equality has been established in Istria to serve as advisory body to executive councils in the towns of Pazin, Porec, Pula, Novigrad, Buzet, Rovinj and Labin. Biba considers gender equality as one of the preconditions for a democratic and balanced development. She invested great energy in the creation of women’s NGOs that help to build institutional support for the protection of women’s rights. As part of the Enough of Wars campaign against the war in Iraq, she organized two anti-war protests in Porec and participated in activities in Zagreb. Her motivation and interests have always been the preservation of human dignity, respect for human rights and the rule of law according to international standards. (1000peacewomen).

The cesi annual report 2006, 16 pages.

links:

Central and Eastern European Citizens Network;

PROTECTA – Center for Civil Society Development;

Invisible Barriers for Women in Political Parties;

LoLaPress.com;

Croatian Animals are Part of Europe Too;

TRANSEUROPEENNES WOMEN’S ACTIONS ACROSS BORDERS.

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