By Peter Annear
PRAGUE — When 400 peace campaigners set out at the end of September in buses on the road from Trieste through Croatia, Vojvodina, Serbia and Bosnia-Hercegovina to Sarajevo, they made a small breach in the war mentality that has engulfed Yugoslavia.
The political tensions were evident from the start as the caravan entered Rijeka in western Croatia, where houses were fortified with sandbags and posters directed at the caravan read "Traitors, Out of Croatia".
"No-one imagined the caravan could stop the war", Vedran Vucic told me in the Prague office of the Helsinki Citizens Association International Secretariat, a sponsor of the caravan, and the reception was sometimes mixed. "But the goal was not just to hear everyone say the same thing. The caravan was symbolic of the idea that it is possible to oppose the war." Vucic is from Split on Croatia's Dalmatian coast.
At each stop the caravan joined activities organised by peace, women's, environmental, ecumenical, trade union and political organisations, and talked with leading politicians, including Slovenian parliamentary president Franc Bucar and member of the federal presidency Ciril Zlobec, president of the Croatian parliament Zarko Domljan, Serbian foreign affairs representative Aleksandar Prlja, Macedonia's President Gligorov, and the president of Hercegovina, Alija Izetbegovic.
In both Slovenia and Croatia local representatives emphasised that their national independence was the only way to stop the war, though civic groups also pointed to the responsibility of the republican governments for fuelling the conflict, Vucic added.
The caravan was the first autonomous peace initiative to appear at the Serbian parliament, an important achievement.
With federal TV coverage, the caravan climaxed in a day's peace activities in Sarajevo that finished with a 10,000-strong human peace chain. But in this as yet unaffected city, the capital of Bosnia-Hercegovina, it was already possible to detect "the silence before the storm", said the protesters.
According to Vucic, the main aim of the caravan was to overcome the problem of the media, which in every republic are politically motivated, inaccurate and manipulative. Among the 400 participants on the caravan were 25 international journalists, but even so, some publications, like Der Spiegel, refused to print stories.
The demands of the caravan were for an immediate cease-fire, for a peaceful solution through negotiations, for the right of civil society to intervene to protect human rights, for the right of resistance to laws that violate human rights including the right of soldiers to desert, and respect for the right of self-determination.
The caravan was organised by the Italian HCA, the Prague HCA at, HCA coordinator Sonja Licht in Belgrade and local groups in Slovenia, Croatia, Vojvodina, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Hercegovina. Participants came from Germany, France, Hungary, Romania, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, UK, USA, Canada and Yugoslavia.