Citizens and governments are doing their part to help a longtime friend and donor in its time of need.
By Biljana Pekusic in Belgrade, Bedrana Kaletovic in Sarajevo, Natasa Radic in Zagreb, Klaudija Lutovska in Skopje, Linda Karadaku in Tirana – 21/03/11
Citizens of Balkan countries are expressing their sympathy and solidarity with Japan. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
For years, Japan has been one of the largest aid donors to the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Now people in the region are repaying that generosity as they seek to help Japan recover from one of the worst disasters in its history.
A 9.0 magniture earthquake struck the island nation on March 11th, and was followed by a tsunami that washed away homes and buildings. Authorities are still struggling to avert the threat of meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, located near the quake epicentre.
The catastrophe drew an immediate response in the Balkans. In Serbia alone, assistance has surpassed 200m euros, with the funds going towards vital services – schools, hospitals, the water supply and traffic infrastructure.
Prokuplje, one of Serbia's poorest towns, sent Japan over 7,000 euros in assistance. Japan has funded renovations at a school and health centre in the town, to the tune of more than 200,000 euros.
"My child goes to the school which has been renovated through their donations and I am really thankful to them because I know how the school looked before," said Nina Djordjevic, an area resident.
In the city of Kraljevo, which itself has not recovered fully from a massive earthquake four months ago, residents were collecting financial aid.
"We know the best that at this time, every bit means a lot. Each sign of appreciation and solidarity shows that you are not alone," said Mayor Ljubisa Simovic. Japan provided 62,000 euros to repaair the town's primary school.
The Serbian government, meanwhile, has earmarked 50m dinars, or around 485,000 euros, in aid.
"We are deeply grateful to all those who have shown goodwill in assisting the rescue of people in Japan. For us, at this moment, any help is appreciated," Japanese Embassy First Secretary Tetsuia Tsubota told the Serbian daily Blic.
In neighbouring Macedonia, the government has sent 100,000 euros in assistance, while the city of Skopje contributed another 25,000. In Albania, which is providing around 70,000 euros, Prime Minister Sali Berisha expressed his respect for the Japanese people's resolve.
"We follow with a lot of concern, but also with a lot of admiration, the extraordinary potential of this country in facing this catastrophe," he said.
In Zagreb, people attending an antigovernment protest walked to the Embassy of Japan to leave flowers and light candles.
"It was a very emotional moment. We are here because we want to deal with the issues in our country, but the Japanese tragedy is bigger than all of this. I wanted to leave a flower, just to make this small gesture ... we need to show the solidarity towards each other. We love you, Japan! Hang on!," said a 23-year-old participant, Marin F.
President Ivo Josipovic, Foreign Minister Gordan Jandrokovic and Defence minister Davor Bozinovic all signed the condolence book at the Japanese Embassy. The Croatian government will provide 500,000 euros to help families who have lost their homes, while the Rebro Medical Centre in Zagreb has offered to help those suffering from radiation exposure.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), students at schools built with financial assistance from Japan organised performances to raise funds for victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Since the end of the BiH conflict, Japan has provided hundreds of millions of euros in assistance to school renovations, mine-clearing efforts, construction of medical facilities and an improved water supply.