Later this month a delegation from Croatia will be visiting Georgia, with guidance from Rusty Brooks, a professor in UGA’s International Center for Democratic Governance, a part of the Vinson Institute of Government. Columns talked to him about the long-term goals of the Croatia project, being funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Columns: How many people will be in this group of visitors?
Brooks: There are 15 people coming, and the cities they’re from are right along the Serb-Bosnian border. These are the cities that were absolutely devastated in the Serb-Croat war, and there were a lot of displaced people. There were Serbs who lived in these villages, there were Bosnians, there were Croats. And the question is how you bring displaced people back.
Columns: To where they were before the war?
Brooks: Yes. How do you create housing. How do you create job opportunities so that people will want to move back to these villages. Another problem in these small towns is that there’s not a very strong revenue base for local government to work with. USAID thinks that one of the things that we do well here in the United States is to create these effective multi-sector partnerships-government and the private sector and
non-profits like the University of Georgia.
So we’re going to bring the group here and we’ll visit Ellijay, Dahlonega, Americus and Camilla. The delegation includes mayors, some people involved in small businesses, and some people who represent microfinance lending organizations. The goal is to help the local governments re-establish revenue streams, to rebuild the communities, to get businesses going, so people will move back into these places.
Columns: Seems a lot to ask, to move back after such a war.
Brooks: It’s an underlying problem-people don’t forget easily. The Serbs, Croats and Bosnians who are moving back to these villages had lived next door to each other for 30, 40, 50 years.
Columns: And there were more ethnic groups than that in the former Yugoslavia.
Brooks: Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Kosovars, Montenegrins, Albanians, Mace-donians-in a small area. And not just the ethnicity-the relationship of the ethnicity to the religion. Very staunch Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, together in one country.
Columns: Has the process of resettlement begun?
Brooks: Yes. The Croatians hope to be part of the European Union, and one of the EU concerns is the re-integration of war-displaced persons. A new government was just elected in Croatia, and the new government has taken more aggressive steps to re-integrate war-displaced persons.
Croatia could be a stabilizing influence in south-central Europe. Right now, the EU border is on the Croatian-Slovenian border. If Croatia enters the EU, the border becomes the Croatian-Serbian border. So it’s critical that this area become stable.
Columns: Have you had Croat delegations here before?
Brooks: The University of Zagreb has sent a couple of delegations here, and we have another one coming in September. I’ve been working with the University of Zagreb for a couple of years. In Europe, for the most part, a university like the University of Georgia doesn’t exist. There’s no outreach-they don’t have small business development centers or institutes of government or extension services. That tends to get handled at government ministries. So we’re trying to show what a university can do. They are intrigued by this notion of a university being engaged outside the classroom, addressing real problems.
At first they asked us why we do this. Then they began to realize it builds a constituency for the University of Georgia-we have these sidewalk alumni, who don’t have allegiance because of football but because they know the University of Georgia provides unbiased assistance, help with environmental situations or agricultural problems or forestry problems or government problems. We are a resource. The University of Zagreb is beginning to understand.
Now they’re going to build the first center at the University of Zagreb, in the next couple of months. It will be a test case for them, to see how they can begin to get faculty out of the classroom to work with local governments, with small businesses, with agriculture, with non-profit organizations, to help address the problems in Croatia. The university would be extending their research, extending their teaching, extending that knowledge.
Columns: But the group coming this month is not from the university?
Brooks: It is not, but I want to show this group how the University of Georgia is engaged in these multi-sector partnerships in communities around the state. The university is seen as a very important partner in economic development in this state. I want to show the people who represent these Croatian communities that if it can happen here, it can happen in Croatia. Then we can begin to link this group to the other groups we’re working with.
The case we’re making to USAID and U.S. aid organizations is that we can’t just keep sending money to Croatia. At some point in time we have to help Croatians build the capacity to address their own problems. They need to see and hear about alternative models of addressing economic development, environmental problems, agriculture, leadership.
One of the best models I think we have is the land-grant university model, where we extend the university beyond the traditional classroom into applied research and technical assistance and consulting that benefits the state. The same thing can happen there. This project will demonstrate to this visiting delegation some examples of partnerships-local governments, non-profits, profit sector business, but working with the University of Georgia.