'The day I told Niall that I was exploring the possibility of linking up with Bothar to support a farm animal project in Serbia, his eyes rolled up towards heaven'

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'The day I told Niall that I was exploring the possibility of linking up with Bothar to support a farm animal project in Serbia, his eyes rolled up towards heaven'


Frank was employed by Trocaire to manage the Balkan Programme.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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As a follow up to the Kosovo crisis of 1999 Trocaire established a Balkans Programme, which was implemented by local NGOs in Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. In 2002, having failed to find a local person who would be welcome in both Kosovo and Serbia, Trocaire employed me part - time to manage the Balkans Programme. In 2001, at the request of the Irish catholic bishops, Trocaire relocated from Booterstown, Dublin, to Maynooth in north Kildare. When I started working in Maynooth in 2002 the office that I occupied, on Long Corridor, was two doors away from the room I had occupied as a student there in 1963. One third of Trocaire's staff decided not to make the move to Maynooth. They were replaced by well educated, talented and committed young people, a majority of them female, and all energetic and friendly. It was a wonderful place to work, and had me feeling at least ten years younger than my age. I was not surprised to see Trocaire listed among the best companies to work for in Ireland in 2003 and 2004. I shared an office with Bea and Ann who, with great patience and friendliness, helped me overcome basic computer difficulties. I got along very well with my Head of Department, Niall. When he wanted a one - to - one meeting he would tap me on the shoulder and say: 'Could we have a bit of lunch together? There's something I'd like to talk about'. We both liked the apple - sponge and custard, but knew that a full helping would tend to put us to sleep, so we got one helping and two spoons and fed out of the same trough. Serbia The day I told Niall that I was exploring the possibility of linking up with Bothar to support a farm animal project in Serbia, his eyes rolled up towards heaven as he said: 'Frank, I have haunting memories of Bothar cows staring at me through iron bars in Rwanda'. During the genocide in Rwanda, in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis were killed, most of their cattle were also slaughtered. In a joint effort Trocaire and Bothar sent 80 cows to Rwanda to help rebuild the stock of cattle. Unfortunately the arrival of the cows in Rwanda coincided with an outbreak of BSE in the UK. The minister for agriculture in Rwanda ordered that the cows be put into quarantine, and there they stayed for over a year. My arrangements went ahead. This time we sourced good quality cattle, sheep and goats within Serbia, and handed them over to struggling small Serb farmers in Kurshumlija, near the Kosovo border. Bothar's Peter Ireton and Brendan Mimnagh were a pleasure to work with. They were not interested in elaborate proposals or reports. They visited Kursumlija, Brendan delivered a training course in animal husbandry to the recipient farmers, and returned after six months to check that the animals were being properly cared for. I liked their simplicity and admired their professionalism. Staff from Caritas Belgrade and the Serbian Orthodox priest in Kurshumlija worked together, for the first time ever, in managing the project locally. They were helped by staff from the local veterinary service based in Nis. Once as we travelled by car from Belgrade to Kursumlija my Caritas Belgrade colleague proceeded to enlighten me on the fact that the Albanians in Kosovo would never be capable of governing themselves, because of the mental damage caused by in - breeding over a long period. When we reached Kursumlija the enthusiastic Orthodox priest lost no time in ensuring that we all had generous helpings of the local brew, raki, in us before we met with any farmers. The farms that I visited were all in rough hilly areas and reminded me of the poorest farms I had seen in Westmeath in the early 1950s. When I travelled by road from Belgrade to Kosovo a Caritas Belgrade vehicle brought me close to the Kosovo border, which Serbia refused to officially recognise. I then walked through the border check points to a CRS vehicle waiting for me on the Kosovo side. A couple of times I travelled by bus from Skopje to Nis, and on to Belgrade. The first part of that journey was through a disputed area, along the Macedonia/Kosovo/Serbia borders, where Albanian extremists were active. A couple of months after my first bus journey on that road a bus was attacked and a number of people killed. I travelled a couple of times after that, always without incident. The CRS education unit in Belgrade evolved into an independent NGO, called the Centre for Quality Education (CQE). CQE was managed by three capable and energetic Serbian ladies, Iskra, Marijana and Jasna. One afternoon I travelled with Marijana to the Sandzak territory, which straddles the Serbia/Montenegro border. During the 1990s it was a place of brutal killings, torture and ethnic cleansing. Before the war Sandzak was 80% Bosniak Muslims and 20% Serbs. By the end of the war the situation was reversed - 80% Serbs and 20% Bosniak Muslims. We were there to meet with an integrated youth group of boys and girls, Serbs and Muslims, who had been camping in a forest area for a few days. The boys and girls seemed to be having a good time. Local adults who joined us for a while seemed to have sorrow written on their faces, but the naturally vivacious Marijana helped everyone to relax and feel a touch of happiness. We waited for the closing celebrations, during which the youths entertained us with some singing and dancing. We then drove in darkness for nearly an hour before we came to our hotel for the night. The following morning I was surprised to discover that we were in a holiday resort. Families from Belgrade came here during the summer months to relax around a small lake and walk in the forest. In winter they came to ski on the mountain slopes nearby. On one occasion when Monica came with me on a visit to Serbia, we travelled with Iskra to the Drina Valley area, near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. This area experienced a bitter campaign of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnia War in the 1990s. The people we met were very grateful for the training they had been receiving from CQE, which was aimed at helping parents, teachers and local community leaders, work together in providing good pre - school and primary education for their children. With support from Trocaire CQE had established and trained local teams in three regions of Serbia. These teams soon moved on from pre - school education and started using their skills to mobilise local communities to discuss challenges they face and develop strategies for action. When I first visited Serbia in 2002 I found a country in depression. For a majority of the population their world had literally fallen apart. As in Kosovo the fall of communism ended easy access to employment, housing, health and education. With the breakup of Yugoslavia came defeat in wars, large numbers of war wounded, refugees and displaced people, international sanctions, NATO Bombings and widespread corruption. Many people were experiencing harsh poverty for the first time. Many had gone along with the story of victimised Serbia, with the whole world against it, as promoted by Milosevic, but a new generation of Serbs got tired of Milosevic. When he altered the presidential election results in 2000 thousands poured on to the streets of Belgrade in a non - violent protest and he was overthrown. From then on a majority of the population was keen to move forward with building a modern democratic state that would be economically successful. While they had turned their backs on Milosevic most of the Serbs I met were still in denial about Serbia's role in the Bosnia and Kosovo wars. For them Serbia had done no wrong, and NATO had punished them unjustly. In support of this view the damaged buildings in central Belgrade were still untouched four years after they were bombed by NATO. They stood as daily reminders of the injustice inflicted on Serbia by NATO. I frequently heard the sound bite about Kosovo being the heart of Serbia; Serbia without Kosovo is like a body without its heart. This kind of mantra was keenly supported by the Serbian Orthodox Church. During the years 2002 to 2006 I noticed many improvements in and around Belgrade. On my first visit it struck me as being dull and neglected. The international sanctions seemed to have had a big impact on daily life. Over the following couple of years the city seemed to come to life. Footpaths were repaved, streets were cleaned and brightened up, and on summer evenings large crowds came out to enjoy themselves. I gradually came to like the city. Monica joined me on a couple of trips to Belgrade and together we explored some very good restaurants on the banks of the Danube. One evening, as we were exploring Belgrade Fortress, we came on an interesting looking restaurant and decided to have a meal. The Fortress is majestically positioned overlooking the confluence of the Danube and the Sava rivers. We were in a relaxed mood, and when the wine waiter came along we were foolish enough to say 'whatever you recommend'. We enjoyed the meal, and the wine. When the bill came we decided we would have to pay it off by instalments - the bottle of wine was the main culprit. The Trocaire funded projects in Serbia that I helped manage were good projects and were aimed at having a long - term impact. The following are a few examples. Findings of a research project on domestic violence against women, in partnership with Autonomous Women's Centre, fed into policy development in the Ministry of Health Findings of research into access to education for Roma children, in partnership with Roma Children's Centre, fed into policy development for Roma education in the Ministry of Education Support for vocational education for refugees and displaced persons, in partnership with International Aid Network, resulted in a self - sustaining vocational education school in Belgrade The farm animal project in Kursumlija introduced better quality cows and sheep, improved the network of veterinary support services, and encouraged non - project farmers to improve the quality and care of their livestock.




Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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