BALKANS: Images Bring the Wars Back

  • Vesna Peric Zimonjic interviews war crimes prosecutor VLADIMIR VUKCEVIC (belgrade)
  • Tuesday, March 10, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

The two-year study among 2,399 soldiers in 40 municipalities shows that 84 percent of war veterans have chronic health problems, most frequently coronary and blood vessels diseases, and 54.1 percent have mental health issues.

A third of veterans are fighting depression and alcoholism. The average age of the surveyed veterans is now 45.7 years.

An estimated 400,000 Serbs participated in the 1991-95 wars in Croatia and Bosnia and the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo. Serbia has a population of 7.5 million.

'War veterans are a vulnerable section of the population,' Serbian minister for work and social affairs Rasim Ljajic told reporters. 'However, they are not socially recognised, and their needs were long neglected.'

The public is deeply divided over Serb role in the wars. Many believe the wars were fought in defence of Serbs living outside of Serbia; others say the wars were a political mistake and a crime, and consider the veterans losers.

'Their health problems are serious and are here to stay for a long time,' psychiatrist Zeljko Spiric, co-author of the study told IPS. Dr Spiric is from the Military Medical Academy (VMA) that conducted the study together with the Medical Faculty in Belgrade and the Ministry for Work and Social Affairs.

The study titled 'Health Status and Health Needs of War Veterans in Serbia' says the veterans surveyed spent on average seven-and-a-half months on the front. Some 52.5 percent fought in Croatia and Bosnia, 37.3 percent in Kosovo, and 10.2 percent in more than one conflict. All of them witnessed violent deaths, severe injuries and destruction of all kinds.

Most have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to traumatic events. It is a severe and long emotional reaction to extreme psychological trauma.

The survey shows that 8.8 percent of war veterans still suffer from PTSD, and that an additional 20 percent suffered from PTSD in the past.

'PTSD is a serious problem, and the study showed it was rarely treated, with patients trying to overcome it on their own,' Spiric said. 'International studies show that a third of people suffering from PTSD overcome it on their own, a third seek treatment, while a third remains somehow stuck in it forever.'

PTSD is a problem across the region. Last weekend, a war veteran in Croatia killed four people after a family dispute over a piece of land. His friends and relatives said he had suffered from PTSD for years.

In Bosnia, an association of Muslim war veterans from the town Tuzla recently announced that 518 of its members had committed suicide since 1995, and that about another 300 had attempted it. The association asked the Bosnian public to pay more attention to PTSD and other problems of veterans.

In Bosnian capital Sarajevo a local association of war veterans has reported that one in five of 55,000 demobilised fighters suffer from PTSD but were unable 'to find adequate help and understanding in society for their problems.'

According to the independent Centre for Non-Violent Action (CNA), about 800,000 people participated in wars in former Yugoslavia on all sides. The population of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia is together around 16 million.

'This is a deeply traumatised region, and the veterans are not the only ones who have suffered trauma,' Nenad Vukosavljevic from the CNA told IPS.

'There were at least three million civilians on all sides (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs, and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo) who left their homes - some temporarily, some for ever. Some 200,000 people were forced into one or the other form of detention camps, and they have many problems they're trying to overcome either on their own or with little expert help. This is a region where a lot has to be done in order to provide peace for minds and souls of people and bring reconciliation. And that will be a long process.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?

Other options